When Emily wanted to move into her dream career, she assumed her best option was to apply for an entry-level admin position and work her way up. There was a vacancy at a major entertainment company in London; her five years working at other multinational corporations meant she fulfilled every requirement of the job spec.
The tactic seemed to work: the company’s hiring team contacted Emily within days. But there was good and bad news. “They said I had a very impressive CV and was an outstanding candidate,” she explains. “But in the interview, they told me I was over-qualified: that I’d quickly end up bored in a job that was beneath my experience.”
As a compromise, the company promised Emily a new role. Ultimately, however, the position fell through. Not only did it leave Emily stuck in a role she wanted to quit, but also in a Catch-22; she was too skilled for an entry-level position in her target career, but not skilled enough to apply for a vacancy that matched her current job title.
The whole process left Emily, who is using one name for job-security reasons, frustrated. “I’d rather have just been given the original role as advertised,” she says. “I may have found the job easy, but there was nothing stopping the company from promoting me if they thought it was a good fit. Hearing I was ‘too good’ was initially flattering. But when I realised I didn’t get the job, it felt like I’d been misled.”
On the face of it, being over-qualified for a job might appear to be a good thing. A candidate with more experience would logically be placed at the top of the applicant pile. And for an employer, hiring a worker who surpasses the job requirements would seemingly be a coup.
However, that’s generally not how it works out; in fact, being over-qualified can sometimes be a reason for employers to rule candidates out. Perhaps counterintuitively, employers often reject candidates based on an excess of skills and experience, even in a market where talent is hard to come by.
“Good isn’t necessarily good”
As workers’ careers progress, they typically ascend into more senior roles, gradually making their way towards management or executive positions. However, the higher employees go, the fewer the alternative jobs.
“They move towards the peak of a pyramid,” explains Terry Greer-King, vice-president of EMEA at cybersecurity firm SonicWall, based in London. “As they gain greater experience, there’s less breadth in terms of opportunities: trying something different would require scaling back down the pyramid.”