Society and Culture

Overqualification is the New “It’s Not Me, It’s You.”

By  | 

Coming off the heels of an economic recession, and in a job climate that is increasingly tenuous, there are various reasons why people apply for jobs that are: (i) seemingly beneath their skill level; (ii) not in line with their prior positions; or (iii) in brand new fields.  These reasons, to be further discussed below, should not become the sole reason to one’s consideration for a position.  Instead, it is an invitation for serious dialogue about careers vs. jobs, long-term vs. short- term goals, and attempting to achieve some semblance of a balanced life.  The frustrations that I, and others similarly situated, experience on a daily basis are indicative of a still-fragile economy, and a dialogue among this generation will serve as a catalyst for solution.

Where to begin? Well, let’s say that there was a 21-year old college senior who wanted to be a politician.  Let’s say that, because of real financial concerns, this 21-year old took a job at a defense law firm as a paralegal.  He didn’t take the job because he wanted to be a corporate lawyer, though.  Instead, the firm paid $15,000 more than a job he was offered as a political aide for a state representative.  Because of financial concerns, the 21-year old chose the job he applied for on a whim instead of the job that he was passionate about.  This dispassion led the now 24-year old to apply to law school, because that was the thing to do.  The 24-year old applies, gets accepted, moves to a different city, and eventually matriculates at a law school with an amazing reputation, both locally and nationally.  The 24-year old realizes on the third day that law school was a terrible decision, but believes that quitting is an inappropriate option.  The law student performs decently well in law school, along the way obtaining some of the most coveted internships that a law student can desire.  The student graduates law school at 27, and accepts the truth that the law will never be the professional area in which he truly thrives.  Indeed, he would be a decent attorney at best.  Never great, never game changing, never truly special.  Recognizing that mediocrity is akin to professional suicide, the 27-year old law graduate attempts to reintegrate himself into the working world, and is attempting to find his way among the plethora of options before him.  Surely, he says, with my pedigree, employers will be knocking down my door!  He applies to jobs in all of the fields in which he has experience: politics, policy, communications, marketing, sales, event planning, grassroots campaigning, and yes, the law.

He waits…

He waits longer…

He waits even longer.

And in the hours, days, weeks, and months that pass since the initial foray into a job hunt, he sees an unnerving number of rejection letters and emails clutter both his physical mailbox and inbox.

“What,” he asks, “am I doing wrong?”

How I feel about the job search.


The employers do not see it like that, though. Here’s what they say:

Mr. Davidson:

Thank you for your application.  After carefully reviewing your resume, we see that you possess skills that are above the call of duty for the aforementioned position.  These skills, while impressive, do not fall in line with our goals in filling this position.  As such, we have decided to go in a different direction.  Your resume and professional history, however, are extremely impressive, and we have no doubt that your valuable skills will best be utilized elsewhere.


Mr. Davidson:

Thank you for applying to the position of ___________.  We thank you for your time in submitting your resume and cover letter to us, but we have unfortunately decided that you will not be chosen for the next round of interviews.  Indeed, among the many factors we considered why someone with your resume is applying for a job like this?  Our position is that we need someone who could potentially grow with our organization, and do not desire a transient employee who will use this position until something more specially tailored presents itself.

Those are two actual examples of correspondence that I have received during my job search.  Telephone calls are even more blunt and dismissive.


Out of sheer frustration, and in an attempt to educate those in a position to hire, I’ve thought of reasons why overqualification is not always the best reason to reject someone.  In fact, sometimes it’s lazy.

(1)  I’m overqualified, but I’m also dispassionate at best, and indifferent at worst, with my present line of work.  I’ve always thought that I could be successful in [your field], but pursued other endeavors for fear of [financial concerns, societal pressure, etc.].  I think that an entry-level position could further the initial experience I have, while also sharpening the dormant skills I gained years ago in a similar position.

(2)  I’m overqualified, but I am also busy with a passion project, or a family, or attempting to reconnect with my long-lost social life.  This position may be less demanding or less-senior than a previous position, but I know that I will value the extra time I have and use it wisely.

(3)  I’m overqualified, but this is a new venture, and I don’t want to be the party taking the reigns.  I don’t want to be the person on whom the bulk of the responsibility falls.  I want to learn, and I want to learn from you, a respected expert in your field.

(4)  I’m overqualified, but I have long-term goals, and improving my skills in this particular area will make me more well-rounded for if and when I choose to pursue those goals.  I.e., if I want to be a politician and am seeking employment in a public relations firm, it’s because I’m interested in learning about relating to the public.  I want to become a pro at drafting a press release, and learning the art of spinning an issue.

(5)  I’m overqualified, but I’m also unhappy in my current job.  The money I’m making is a nice bonus, however it really just serves as icing on an unappealing cake.  In applying to this position, I’m taking a brave step in personal growth by choosing to be happy.

The reality is that this list could continue forever.  The myriad of possibilities all lead to one truth, though: over-qualification should never be a reason to deny an applicant a position.  At the very least, they should be offered the opportunity to interview and further explain their reasoning for applying.  In my mind, the over-qualification excuse is an overly simplistic, and frankly lazy, way of cutting down the size of an applicant pool.

I recognize that I am not all knowing, though, and I am extremely interested in how others feel.  Please leave comments! If you agree with me, great, but I’m also interested in those who disagree.  That, my friends, is called a dialogue, and as long as we’re respectful and professional we can get to the root of the problem.

So comment below!

Peter Davidson is a recent graduate of law school who rants about news & politics and raves over the ups & downs of FUNemployment in the current legal economy.

Featured image courtesy of [Gideon Tsang via Flickr]

All Housewives .gifs provided with permission by T. Kyle MacMahon from Reality TV .gifs, because Bravo makes everything less serious.)

Peter Davidson II
Peter Davidson is a recent law school graduate who rants about news & politics and raves over the ups & downs of FUNemployment in the current legal economy. Contact Peter at



Send this to friend