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“Overqualified” is Just another word for Age Discrimination

Sep 21

Had a really talented lady reach out to me the other day. 49 years old, college grad, great portfolio of work. She has been interviewing and is being told she is “Overqualified”.

There is some truth about her being called this. She does have more qualifications than the position requires, but she fully understands what the job is and she wants to do that job, with no notion of wanting to do more than that job, unless her performance shows she’s capable of moving up and the company needs her to move up.

“Overqualified” is just another way to say “Hey, I think you’re too old to work for me!”

Tell me I’m wrong! Give me all the reasons someone is “Overqualified” for a job they want to work at and understand what the job specs are?

I’m a Heart Surgeon but it’s a stressful job, so I decided to take a step back and just do some Cardiac Rehab work. Still get to work with heart patients, but it’s a less stressful workload and pays a heck of lot less, you need less education to do that job.

Am I overqualified to do Cardiac Rehab if I have experience as a heart surgeon? Only if you tell me I am! It’s a job I want, and I have the skills and desire to do that job, so I would say I’m quite qualified to do that job, not overqualified.

TA pros and hiring managers say someone is overqualified when they’re too stupid to come up with another reason about why they don’t want to hire someone who has great experience and more years of experience.

“Oh, Tammy, yeah, she’s overqualified to work in that job. I mean she wouldn’t be happy long-term reporting to me, and I mean she has more experience than I have!” Oh, she told you that? “Um, no.”

I constantly run into retired people who aren’t ready to retire and want to keep doing valuable work. They have great skills and knowledge, but 32-year-old Steve won’t hire them because Steve believes they won’t take his direction. That’s a Steve-issue, not the candidate’s issue!

By the way, this isn’t a young-to-middle-aged guy problem, women are just as bad! Turns out we all love to discriminate against old people, equally!

Tech companies are the worse. Creative companies are the second worse.

Tech companies believe only young people know technology. Creative companies think the only people who buy products and services are 26-year-olds on Instagram and Snap.

“Tim, you just don’t get it. I don’t want to hire someone who is going to retire in 5 years!” What’s your average tenure at your company? “4.2 years” Yeah, having someone for 5 years would really suck for you!

I had a hiring manager tell me this once when he interviewed a person who was 52! “I need someone who is going to stay long term!” Um, 13-15 years isn’t long term?! You’re an idiot!

I find telling hiring managers “You’re an idiot!” is super effective in getting through to them, and cutting straight through to their bias. It has worked 100% of the time in my career. It really works across all biases.

So, now tell me, why don’t you hire someone who is ‘overqualified”?

10 Comment to ““Overqualified” is Just another word for Age Discrimination”

  1. Preach! Maybe 3.7% unemployment will change some minds.

    Oct 5, 2018
  2. I agree Tim, we have a shortage of talent and we should find creative ways to engage those individuals who know the job and can fill those roles that are needed in the organization. If anything, they are prove to be a great mentor.

    Sep 24, 2018
  3. “TA pros and hiring managers say someone is overqualified when they’re too stupid to come up with another reason about why they don’t want to hire someone who has great experience and more years of experience.”

    A bit harsh – I have had this very discussion with candidates. Especially ones that were unemployed and “willing to accept anything” until something better came along. Are they sharing that information? NO! I will be the first to hire a very experienced candidate for a lesser role when I am reasonably convinced his or her choice is just that – a choice – and not because he or she can’t get something better at the moment. Last time I checked, training and orienting a new employee is expensive – I’d rather get it right the first time, thank you very much. So stupid? No – I say strategic.

    Barbie Simonson
    Sep 24, 2018
    • Barbie,

      I’m sure you’re brilliant! It’s all the other stupid people! 😉

      It’s for effect.


      Sep 24, 2018
  4. I have always cringed when I heard a manager use the “overqualified” excuse. I’m in what I call my “encore performance.” Retired and went back because I wasn’t ready for retired life. I told the hiring VP I would give her a good 4-5 years. m That’s more than most are getting from younger candidates. I thoroughly enjoy mentoring others and have gotten more satisfaction from this job than any in my 25 year career.

    Sep 24, 2018
  5. Couldn’t agree more. If you want to get the most “bang for your buck” in the talent game you hire the over-qualified. I’ve written similarly.

    Sep 21, 2018
  6. Accepting a job is a personal choice. It only needs to make sense to the person making the decision. There really is no place for judgement from the person offering the job if the qualifications are met. A self-aware leader might turn a situation such as that into a learning experience for themselves.

    Donna Millett
    Sep 21, 2018
  7. I see no problem with a heart surgeon applying for an RN job. Or a CNA job. LISTEN to what they want and why. And, to Tim’s point, if they don’t stay “forever” – look at your turnover. Are you really at that much risk? And I bet your ramp-up time was significantly lower, too.

    I recently hired someone with ~5 years left to retirement into a job that makes a fraction of her former pay. She convinced me that the pay wasn’t as important as doing meaningful work, which is helping people get employed when they would would struggle to get job – even in this low unemployment environment. She has been an *amazing* positive influence on our organization.

    Sep 21, 2018
  8. Totally get what you’re saying, Tim, and agree for the most part. But what if that same Heart Surgeon applied for a RN job? How many steps down the rung can you go before it truly doesn’t make sense?

    Ken Gardner
    Sep 21, 2018

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