Overqualified and Overlooked

For four months A.K., who has a doctorate in social sciences, could not find a job after leaving his position in a government office. He tried finding work through the Employment Services branch in his city and through a few human resources companies, without any luck. He then applied directly to companies through the Job Opportunities pages on their Web sites, but to no avail.

A.K. tried to understand what was preventing him from being hired. Was his resume not sufficiently convincing? Was the impression he made on the human resources managers at companies poor because of his laconic answers or his outward appearance? Or did companies advertise job openings just to gain media exposure, and not because they were actually hiring?

Only after A.K. despaired of finding a job and took a personal accounting did he realize that his doctoral degree made him overqualified in the eyes of potential employers.

"I recalled that one of my interviewers said that for someone with a Ph.D, to be in charge of an archive was no great find," says A.K. "The interviewer spoke to me kindly and with respect, but was direct. I understood he was telling me the position was not meant for academics and he therefore feared that a highly educated person like me must see the position as a springboard to some other job, and that at the first opportunity I would up and leave."

It was then that A.K. began using a different strategy. He completely concealed his doctoral degree both on his resume and during job interviews, and wonder of wonders, two weeks after he resumed his search for a job, he was hired by the auditing department of a bank.

Concealing overqualification so as not to intimidate potential employers was quite common during the last recession in the Israeli economy. Job seekers made every effort to adapt their qualifications to the requirements of a job. Those who were overqualified due to their education or a senior position they held previously tried to hide such facts, on the assumption that these could become an obstacle to their being hired. Now this phenomenon has returned.

Natty Avrahamy, CEO of Yael Software & Systems, which has over 400 employees, concurs that many employers are hesitant about hiring people whose education is beyond the requirements of a position.

"There are definitely advantages," admits Avrahamy, "in hiring an overqualified person: their experience and willingness to undertake tasks beyond the defined scope of the position and their broader outlook can contribute to a company's advancement. Such a worker on a high-tech project team, for example, can help a project overcome various difficulties."

Nervous and dissatisfied

Still, Avrahamy notes that there are also disadvantages that should not be ignored. First, when overqualified people are hired by an organization, the workers around them feel nervous or may be dissatisfied. Second, even if a person agrees to accept an "inferior" position relative to their education, within a short time they are liable to feel a lack of job satisfaction and might decide to leave - something that could cause damage to the company.

"Theoretically," says Avrahamy, "overqualified people or geniuses are a real find for a company, due to their tremendous knowledge, but it is often better to keep them away because they might not be suitable for the required tasks and could harm the morale of other workers.

"Even more important is the fact that if I hire an overqualified person, I know that as an employer I will have to promote them in the future, otherwise there will be tension between us and they will leave, resulting in considerable damage to the company."

Shachar Perlman, CEO of Methoda Computers, which has 60 employees, does not turn down overqualified job applicants, but does take precautions when hiring them. He makes sure they are the type of worker who sticks with a job and doesn't leave the moment their promotion expectations are not met. He also makes sure the applicant does not have high promotion or salary expectations.

"If the applicant responds that they is willing to fulfill an `inferior' position relative to their qualifications and accept a more modest salary, I will consider hiring them," says Perlman. Dr. Yoram Dubovsky, owner of Nofar, an organizational consulting firm, advises job seekers who have a master's or a Ph.D or have served in key positions in an organization not to omit these qualifications from a resume. Such concealment, he says, could harm their efforts to find work, particularly when they apply for work at a company with workers of their own caliber.

"Overqualified people," says Dubovsky, "should try to impress upon an interviewer that they do not pose a threat to the organization or other employees, and should display a willingness to be flexible regarding the type of position they are interested in accepting."