As an academic, I am tired of hearing of talented undergraduate engineering students that are not enrolling in graduate school because they fear they would become overqualified. Nobody is overqualified for a job! People might be underpaid given their qualifications, but not overqualified. Qualification only exists as a minimum requirement.

Unfortunately, in reality, recruiters are known to dismiss job candidates for being “overqualified”. The most common argument is that “overqualified” employees tend to seek for temporary jobs, sort of a stepping stone, until they find a position at their “qualification level” (i.e. that pays more). In my opinion, the real reason that a person should not be given the position for which s/he is supposedly “overqualified” is because they are not committed to the job; not because they know too much. In my opinion, the euphemism “overqualified” is sending the wrong message to our society.

If there is a job candidate who exceeds the minimum qualification requirement by a lot, and is genuinely interested in the job, why not hire them? I believe there tends to be some lack of confidence from management who worry about supervising someone as qualified or that could potentially replace them. Is this lack of confidence from management holding back companies to hire the best candidates at a discounted cost (given their real value in the market)?

Companies need to understand that a person with very high qualifications for a particular job is very likely to understand not only how to do the job more efficiently, but to understand how doing a good job benefits the company’s bottom-line. Companies worldwide should take advantage of the current economic situation to make strategic hiring of candidates with very high qualifications who are knowledgeable enough to challenge the current modus operandi.  Visionary companies who focus on strategic hiring at the value-added part of their respective processes, will have an incredible competitive advantage.

By hiring employees according to qualifications (yet paying according to the level of the position) will incentive potential candidates to increase their qualifications. This snowball effect would benefit companies (as there will be a larger pool of qualified candidates) as well as our society (which would further value education). In my opinion, this is a win-win situation. Of course, the candidates who have to continue their education will not initially feel it is fair for them; yet at the end of the day it would be on their best interest.

The natural question is why would someone with very high qualifications be interested in taking a position that pays significantly less? Well, the answer is in the money-time balance. People who have become VPs and general managers of companies tend to prefer a less stressful job towards the end of their productive life. They would not mind to have a 30 or 40-hours per week job with much less stress. However, companies would not consider them for such positions as they are overqualified (sometimes using the term to avoid age-discrimination allegations). If I were the CEO of a company, I would be looking for ways to attract what others consider “overqualified” employees by offering less working hours per week so the lower salary is compensated with more time for themselves. After all, it should take them much less time to do the same (or even a better) job than someone with less qualifications.

Would you care if the neighborhoods’ butcher is a surgeon? Would a restaurant with bad service benefit from having a lawyer as a waiter? Would you hire Donald Trump as a salesperson at your store? Would you hire a Ph.D. in Math or Operations Research to teach middle school math? Would you hire a Five-Star Army General as a private security officer in your neighborhood? If they want to do it, why not let them? After all, you cannot be “overqualified” to do what you want to do in life.

Education will always be one of the main keys to success. Do not let unfounded fears, such as being “overqualified,” limit your academic preparation as on the long run you are very likely to regret it.