Making the Most of the Overqualified: Advice for Employers and Employees

In a recent entry on her blog for The Career Life Connection, Leanne Chase discussed the idea of underemployment. She pointed out that most people, at some point in their career, will be doing a job for which they are overqualified. This can be due to a desire on the employee’s part to have a job with fewer hours or more flexibility, or as the result of a lackluster economy with fewer prospects for employment. Leanne’s article focuses on the hiring decision. Many employers will pass on overqualified applicants because they are afraid that overqualified employees will not embrace the job or that they will flee to a better position at the first opportunity.

Even once the hiring decision has been made, employers face a conundrum because so much of being a good manager involves maximizing the skills of your employees. When you have a Ph.D. answering your phones, it is hard to always see how you can get the most out of that employee. The answer to this problem lies, as always, in taking the time to get to know your employees and understand what brought them to this job. You may discover that your employee needs nighttime shift work because he has a small child at home or perhaps that, while she holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, she is willing to start at the bottom rung at your advertising firm because she wants to make a career change. This will give you the information you need to best decide how to use these people in your organization.

In addition, this communication needs to work both ways. The overqualified employees need to be honest with his employer about what they hope to get out of this job while recognizing what the employer needs. If you take a job in your desired field at a level much lower than what you think your qualifications indicate, you need to realize that the job you were hired for must get done. Employers will not care that you are able to excel at the next stage of the career ladder if you are incapable of answering the phones. You need to make yourself indispensible to the organization by doing your job impeccably and then suggest ways in which you might climb to the next rung of the ladder. This advice also holds for people who have taken a job for flexibility and lifestyle reasons. You will have far more options for flexibility down the road if you do an excellent job now.

Have you had jobs that greatly under-used your skills and abilities?

How did you address the situation?

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