‘Overqualified’ Is Just Another Word for Age Discrimination

Had a really talented lady reach out to me the other day.; 49 years old, college grad, great portfolio of work. She has been interviewing and is being told she is “overqualified.”

There is some truth about her being called this. She does have more qualifications than the position requires, but she fully understands what the job is and she wants to do that job, with no notion of wanting to do more than that job, unless her performance shows she’s capable of moving up and the company needs her to move up.

“Overqualified” is just another way of saying, “Hey, I think you’re too old to work for me!”

Tell me I’m wrong! Give me all the reasons someone is “overqualified” for a job they want to work at and understand what the job specs are?

I’m a heart surgeon but it’s a stressful job, so I decided to take a step back and just do some cardiac rehab work. Still get to work with heart patients, but it’s a less stressful workload. It pays a heck of lot less and you need less education to do that job.

Am I overqualified to do cardiac rehab if I have experience as a heart surgeon? Only if you tell me I am! It’s a job I want, and I have the skills and desire to do that job, so I would say I’m quite qualified to do that job — not overqualified.

TA pros and hiring managers say someone is overqualified when they’re too stupid to come up with another reason about why they don’t want to hire someone who has great experience and more years of experience.

“Oh, Tammy, yeah, she’s overqualified to work in that job. I mean she wouldn’t be happy long-term reporting to me, and I mean she has more experience than I have!”

Oh, she told you that?

“Um, no.”

I constantly run into retired people who aren’t ready to retire and want to keep doing valuable work. They have great skills and knowledge, but 32 year-old Steve won’t hire them because Steve believes they won’t take his direction. That’s a Steve issue, not the candidate’s issue!

By the way, this isn’t a young-to-middle-aged guy problem — women are just as bad! Turns out we all love to discriminate against old people, equally!

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Tech companies are the worst. Creative companies are the second worst.

Tech companies believe only young people know technology. Creative companies think the only people who buy products and services are 26-year-olds on Instagram and Snap.

“Tim, you just don’t get it. I don’t want to hire someone who is going to retire in 5 years!” What’s your average tenure at your company? “4.2 years.” Yeah, having someone for 5 years would really suck for you!

I had a hiring manager tell me this once when he interviewed a person who was 52! “I need someone who is going to stay long term!” Um, 13-15 years isn’t long term?! You’re an idiot!

I find telling hiring managers “You’re an idiot!” is super effective in getting through to them, and cutting straight through to their bias. It has worked 100% of the time in my career. It really works across all biases.

So, now tell me, why don’t you hire someone who is “overqualified”?

This was originally published on The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


5 Comments on “‘Overqualified’ Is Just Another Word for Age Discrimination

  1. This is so true. I was actively looking for a job after being laid off in a RIF and it took me nearly two years to land the great job I have now. I applied to over 250 jobs during my search. In most cases, my skills, experiences and background matched 70-100% of the listed job requirements yet I rarely got an interview when I listed my college graduation date – 1986 – on my resume. When I removed the date along with my first couple of jobs from my resume, lo and behold, I started getting interviews.

  2. Love the candor and speaking the truth as it must be spoken! Though, how should organization’s / society combat the issue of ageism? Do you believe there is any hope?

    1. Robin –

      Like most biases, I think we’ll see certain organizations realize they have this bias and they’ll work on correctly it. Most won’t even see the bias they have and it will perpetuate. What I love about this is that the organizations that figure it out, will have a competitive advantage! There is some great talent in an older workforce and if you figure that out, you can cherry pick that great talent!


  3. As a counterpoint, I’ve been told I’m overqualified for a position, and I’m still comfortably mid-career. The earliest I heard that was age 32. I think it may have been code for “this guy is going to rock the boat in uncomfortable ways, and we’re happy the way we are,” but it didn’t really come up until I was describing my then-current job responsibilities. They may have meant it as-is.

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