Friday, October 21, 2016

The Heartbreak of Overqualification

People who are hired usually have been scrutinized very carefully for company "fit," even if that fit is to maintain service which is failing... if you show up on the scene appearing too shiny, some of the stars nearby may be concerned about looking less so. 


My friend Melinda's story was not uncommon:  her heart had just been broken. It happens all the time, both in personal and professional lives, but knowing that didn't make it any easier for her.


But being rejected for being overqualified is one of those weird phenomenon that really only happens in careers, and until I read this article by Alison Green, I didn't quite have a handle on how to approach it. The danger with getting better at anything is there might be someone, somewhere, that can help you reach your dream one day... but they won't, because being better at something is not always a good thing.

We never see this in our personal lives, do we? Or at least I never have - either in my own or in any of my friends. As Alison alluded to in her article, I have yet to hear of someone saying to another person they've been dating, "I really think you're nice, but honestly, you're just too good looking, too funny, too polite, too caring, too stable, too rich, and too good in bed. I'm sorry, but this just isn't going to work!"

But it happens daily in countless interviews for candidates who may have just a bit more of something than the job they just applied for requires, and the employer or their hiring agent gets spooked that "this just isn't going to work." 

What's going on here with rejecting people who have the qualifications and then some plus added on? What's good about seeking to hire those with less talent, not more? 

Most people won't need to read further than this to know, as most people at some point in their career have run into the same difficulty and already figured it out. But what's important is not just the why, but what to do about it. We'll get to that later. For now, Alison's article lays out some ideas about what's happening and I'll focus on a few of my favorite points, edited with the help of Melinda and her recent experience.
  • Pay misalignment.  If you're now making $100K and your dream job pays $75K, you'll be immediately suspect of not showing all your cards. Remember, we live in a capitalistic society... why do you want to throw all that money away? That's the hurdle you may be up against, so be prepared to show that you can live just as well on the new lower salary, why the new job has those dream elements incorporated which make losing $25K/year acceptable to you, and in addition to concrete examples on why going for a job that pays $125K isn't on your radar instead. Sad, but for those in our world who money really isn't a motivating factor in determining job fulfillment... they have a lot of explaining to do.
  • You think the job is A, but someone else thinks it's really B.  Sometimes a candidate will be so excited about one or two items in a job summary posted online, that they forget the rest of the job is really mundane and would be too boring. Or, perhaps that thought is only in the mind of the recruiter, and he/she doesn't understand that what looks from the outside as mundane and boring is exactly what the candidate now wants, for a variety of reasons. Aside from that, the job may really be A, and not B, but the recruiter hasn't fully understood the needs of the employer, or the candidate. Getting to know people is incredibly time consuming, and with the pressure most recruiters are under to juggle multiple job orders, the burden of proof will usually rest upon you to assure him/her that whether the job is A or B doesn't matter, because the foundation of the job represented by those items which popped out at you in the first place, makes it the perfect match.
  • You're presence could be a threat to the status quo.  People who are hired usually have been scrutinized very carefully for company "fit," even if that fit is to maintain service which is failing. It's often said that the smartest people in the room always recognize that they're not the smartest people in the room - and they hire accordingly, so they can surround themselves with people who are even more talented than themselves - and the organization (i.e., estate) wins and gets hold of the best and brightest. But don't count on that happening in every organization, especially with those whose workers may not feel their jobs are very secure. Passion for improvement isn't shared by everyone, and if you show up on the scene appearing too shiny, some of the stars nearby may be concerned about looking less so. This is a tricky area to navigate, as you'll never know during the interview what the backstory is with the personalities involved, so it's hard to know how much enthusiasm to show. On the other hand, show too little, and you could be branded as lazy.

Various strategies have been suggested such as toning down your resume to reflect the "less" qualified nature of the dream job you're now applying for, yet I think that can backfire, especially when an authentic copy of your resume pops up somewhere... and you'll have to explain why you've been hiding your other talents.

As Alison suggests in her article, honesty may just be nutty enough to work. Instead of grinding with angst over how much or how little smarts to show during the interview, or how much to fudge your resume and cover up past successes, the best course of action may be simply addressing this topic head on. That means having an honest, person to person discussion with your interviewer, perhaps at the moment toward the end of the interview when they give you opportunity to speak freely and ask more questions. Instead of tip toeing around the pink elephant in that room, just come right out and say it: 

Yes, you are, indeed, overqualified for this job - but that will not prevent you from being 100% successful in this role, nor will it prevent you from being an amazing, valuable employee at the estate.

Address head on each of the above three areas of concern - and more if you can think of them. Talk about what sparked your interest in this job, what makes it a great fit for you now, not just for the "you" on your resume and those past positions... positions which may have been you then, but are not you now

Being honest about your talents and your dreams is no guarantee that you'll be heard,
respected, or hired, but in this author's humble opinion, you'll know in your heart of
hearts that you were honorable and sincere, and if you are once again rejected... the ensuing and painful heartbreak will then not have been for naught.









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