Skip to main content

“You are overqualified” is a term many people hear more than once in their careers. It’s commonly used to close a conversation, typically a job interview or some other discussion with a mid- to senior-level professional. A question that many of us want to ask, but usually do not, is “What makes you say I am overqualified?”

In reality, there is no clear answer to that question, yet there should be if a person is being deemed as overqualified in order to be removed from competition for a role.

Being judged “overqualified” is exactly that – being judged.

No one likes being judged, especially when there’s not really a clear or fair standard of reasoning behind it.

Likewise, if you find yourself ”judging” that someone is overqualified for a key role on your team, keep in mind a few key points.


Many people are judged as overqualified simply by title. After all, if someone is a director, why would they want to be a manager or “just” a specialist?

Simply put, title has nothing to do with being overqualified. Too often, job titles will differ wildly between sectors, and between companies of different size. That makes the job title on its own a poor criterion for understanding qualifications.

Digging deeper is always necessary. An applicant with a more senior title may have done enough of the leadership/management thing, including all the supposed “perks” that come with it: long hours, high demands on time, stress-related health problems and maybe even a failed relationship or two. The applicant may have made a conscious decision to pursue a role that will give them a life back. They are not overqualified, and simply may want a change with better balance.

Years of experience

Why would anyone want a job that requires 15 years of experience when they have 25? Bear in mind that the difference between 15, 25, or even 30 years is more about a person’s overall base of experience than it is about their qualifications for a specific role.

Indeed, for a potential employer, a candidate offering more experience than the stated minimum can be a significant bonus. If the applicant has taken the time to fill out a lengthy online job application, coupled with a customized résumé and cover letter, they likely are confident they can do the job, and able to enjoy the role regardless of years of experience.

Places of work

More-experienced candidates are often looking for new and different experiences, which makes the size of company they work for less of a personal criterion. If, for example, they’re seeking to go from a big, powerful industry player to being part of a small business of less than 20 people, the decision is often based on the quality of the role and the team they would work with, not on a sense of big-company entitlement.

If a person is used to the big-company environment, they may simply want to make a different choice. The questioning should be around their specific qualifications, not based on a bias around big-versus-small business cultures.


Curiously, education can be a reverse form of discrimination. If the job requires a bachelor’s degree, and someone has two master degrees or a PhD, this does not make them overqualified. They just have more education than the minimum listed in the job.

Many times, I hear people wanting to “dumb down” their résumé because their education appears to intimidate people. Equally fascinating is how people with little or no postsecondary education are in roles that clearly should require some. I have met many executives with high-school diplomas and controllers without any accounting designation.

Do not think of significant education as being “overqualified." If anything, it qualifies them even more, and demonstrates their capacity to learn.

What this “overqualified" argument boils down to is a form of bias as to why a person has applied for a role. The assumption is “overqualified” people will not be engaged, will look for a new job soon, or will not do well in a role that requires them to work with merely “qualified" people.

Chances are, the “overqualified” person is none of the above – just someone with talent, skill and education built up from experience and choices. That is not being overqualified – it’s being real.

We’ve launched a new weekly Careers newsletter. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe