The Curse of the Over-Qualified


The office manager regarded me with a critical squint as he looked up from the copy of the resume I’d brought with me to the interview. “You seem to be over-qualified,” he remarked.

Of all the statements he might have made, this was clearly the one I was least expecting. Yes, I could type at 75 words per minute (w/o any errors), had a shorthand speed of 140+, was an excellent speller and proofreader, had a good education, and even possessed a modest string of publishing credits.

“Excuse me?” I said.

He removed his glasses and folded his hands atop his desk. “You’re much too qualified for this job. You’d probably be bored after the first day.”

What’s interesting to note here is that the only difference between the job I currently had and the one I was applying for was a 3% pay increase and a shorter commute.

I was also only a few months short of my 21st birthday. It struck me – as I’m sure it does most readers – that already being over-qualified at such a young age didn’t bode well for future career advancement. I candidly asked him what he thought I should do about it.

This being the 1970’s when prospective employers were saying all kinds of mindlessly inappropriate things – especially to females – he shrugged and replied, “You might want to think about dumbing down your resume.”

It was neither the first time – nor the last – that my credentials would be perceived as a negative. As recently as a month ago, my application to privately tutor aspiring writers garnered the response, “Oh, I’m afraid that you’re much too professional and over-qualified to mentor our students. I really can’t see why you’d even be interested in this.”

Hmm. Is it possible that it’s just because I love the craft of writing? That it’s rewarding to me to be able to ignite imaginations? To help others hone their wordsmithing skills? That I wouldn’t have applied if I didn’t have the time, commitment and passion to do the best possible job? That I truly think teaching others is fun and isn’t that a good enough reason? I was tempted at this point to insert a maniacal laugh and say, “Well, since you asked, I’ll tell you the truth.  You’re just another cog in my cunning plan for world domination…”

Whether it’s personal relationships or business, the more time you spend trying to convince someone that your awesomeness isn’t going to be a liability, the more opportunities you’ll lose being courted by those who recognize your worth from the get-go and, accordingly, can’t wait to put you on their arm or on their team.

As of this writing, a bachelorette friend of mine is lamenting that yet another lad has broken up with her on the excuse that, “You’re just so beautiful and smart and successful and confident that I don’t see us having a life together.” This, I tell her, is more of a reflection on him that it is on her. For in whatever context someone labels you as “over-qualified,” what they’re really saying is that they’re not good enough for you. And certainly since no one knows them better than they know themselves, the best thing you can do is believe them…and walk away.


Here’s this month’s line-up of guest blogs:

From High Fashion Footwear Boutique Owner to Online Marketing Nerd – by Emilia Rossi

Don’t Believe The Hype About Online Business – by Magda de Berg

Who Owns That Image? – by Michael Wong