The Dangers of Being Overqualified for a Job

Posted By Terri Williams on August 22, 2017 at 3:00 pm
The Dangers of Being Overqualified for a Job

While many employers require a college degree for jobs that previously required a high school diploma, and less than half of college seniors feel very prepared for a career, the reverse is also true. Many college grads are employed in jobs that do not require a college degree, and they believe that their talents are being underutilized.

And, according to a new study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University, workers who believe that they are overqualified are not happy.

In the study, which was published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, these employees tend to be frustrated and unsatisfied. And, because they’re not engaged, they are less likely to be loyal to the organization.

The negative effects of perceived overqualification

“When pursuing education and developing skills, we have come to expect that our efforts will result in the attainment of a particular type of job, and when that job does not meet these expectations, we feel deprived, which leads to anger, frustration, and resentment,” says Michael Harari, assistant professor in the department of management at Florida Atlantic University and one of the study’s authors.

“Further, when investing efforts at work, we expect rewards in return, such as esteem and career opportunities, and for overqualified employees, this expectation is violated, which acts as a stressor.”

However, Harari says perceptions of overqualification can negatively affect both employees and employers.

“Overqualified employees are unsatisfied with their jobs and uncommitted to their organizations,” he explains. “They are also likely to experience psychological strains, such as depression, anxiety, and job burnout.”

And, Harari adds, “Overqualified workers are less likely to engage in voluntary helping behaviors at work and are more likely to engage in counterproductive behaviors, such as absenteeism, lateness, and interpersonal mistreatment.”

Overcoming these negative feelings

If you perceive that you’re overqualified for your job, what can you do?

“Research tells us that building a social support network goes a long way. Social support from friends, family, co-workers, and one’s supervisor helps overqualified employees to cope with their circumstances, lessening the impact of overqualification on attitudinal and wellbeing-related outcomes,” Harari says.

Stacy Kaiser, Live Happy editor-at-large and licensed psychotherapist, agrees. “Commit to infusing positivity into your day: Focus on a co-worker you enjoy spending time with, think about what it is that you do like about your job.”

Kaiser says that many of the people she counsels have a hard time letting go of their workplace challenges and complaints.

“Make a concerted effort to let the difficult things roll off of your back, while focusing on what makes you happy, such as having enough money to pay your bills, or having the ability to take lunch at a flexible time, etcetera.”

In addition, Harari says employers can play a role in helping these individuals.

“Research suggests that managers should empower their overqualified employees, as this leads to a reduction in the negative outcomes of overqualification,” Harari explains. “This could include allowing overqualified employees greater autonomy in how they carry out their jobs or helping them to see the positive impact that their jobs have on others.”

Changing jobs?

Would it be better for overqualified employees to change jobs? Harari says their research indicates that these individuals are more likely to be actively looking for employment elsewhere.

“We also found that this wasn’t just due to the fact that overqualified employees are unsatisfied and uncommitted, but rather, that there is a desire to self-select into a job where the fit is stronger.”

And, Harari says the research also reveals another interesting fact.

“At the same time, employees can think that they are overqualified for a number of reasons in addition to so-called ‘actual’ or ‘objective’ overqualification,” he explains. “For instance, we found that employees that are narcissistic and who tend to be in negative moods are more likely to think that they are overqualified for their jobs.”

But Harari says he’s not sure if changing jobs would make a difference or if these employees would bring their same negative feelings with them.

The skills gap is costing companies almost a million a year, and employees looking for new opportunities could benefit from gaining skills in one of the in-demand areas.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

While some employees may genuinely be overqualified, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is a theory of psychology based on a series of experiments that found people who are actually incompetent in an area tend to overestimate their skills because they lack the ability to objectively evaluate themselves.

Also, many people in general tend to overestimate their skills and abilities. When debating whether pay transparency will either shrink gender inequality or cause more hostilities, critics note that the majority of employees tend to overestimate their worth to an organization, and don’t believe they’re paid what they’re worth – even those who are paid above market value.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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