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Is Hiring Smart Applicants A Dumb Move?

A new study says that employers should be taking their chances on overqualified job candidates.

The researchers conclude that certain myths about overqualified job applicants -- namely, that they'll get bored and quit too soon after being hired -- just aren't true in many cases. In fact, overqualified applicants tend to work out well for companies, the researchers say, and at the very least they should get a chance to interview:

"A manager trying to fill a job that demands less-than-top-level smarts should never reject a candidate out of hand just because the applicant's score on the company's intelligence tests labels him or her as smarter than the job requires," said [USC Professor Anthony] Nyberg, an assistant professor of management and an expert in strategic human resources. "If anything, our research suggests that such a candidate could be expected to stay longer and perform better than an applicant whose scores make him supposedly a better fit."

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of South Carolina, St. Ambrose University and the University of Connecticut. It appears in the fall issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

It's no secret that the Great Recession has made overqualified job applicants feel like they have to dumb it down during the application process. This is a job market where very smart, highly-educated applicants might include one or two strategically-placed incorrect answers on the employer-mandated test just so they can look smart, but not too smart, for a job that's below their skill level.

Most employers are so worried about applicants inflating their resumes that they're not clued into the whole idea of resume deflation -- that is, downscaling a resume to improve the chances of landing a job. Maybe the master's degree the applicant is so proud of conveniently gets left off the resume when applying for retail jobs, for example. It's a lie of omission, but one that might just work. Just like brainy high school kids, overqualified applicants are stuck downplaying certain aspects of themselves to fit in with picky hiring managers who wonder why these applicants applied in the first place. "Please look past the work experience on my resume" is the new "I dropped to a 3.85 GPA on purpose so someone will finally ask me to the prom."

Studies aside, the fact remains that over-qualified applicants face a steep, uphill climb in convincing potential employers they can stick with the job without turning into bored, condescending jerks. I've watched employers hire overqualified applicants who quickly walked out the door with a "see ya, wouldn't want to be ya" attitude on the way to greener pastures. It's not a pretty picture. The abrupt exit leaves the employer smarting and determined never to hire another overqualified applicant. No employer wants to feel like a quick rest stop on the road to Careertown.

Overqualified applicants who land jobs in this terrible hiring market should set a good example by sticking with the job for a respectable period of time. Don't take the job unless you plan to stick it out for awhile, because if you quit too soon you'll back up the employer's gut feeling that hiring smart, overqualified candidates is always a dumb move.


  1. It is remarkably sad when a job candidate is rejected because they are "too smart". I would almost say it reflects on the employer, who probably feels threatened, possibly envious. I know people who weren't hired because they scored too high on tests, went to an expensive private college, or had too many degrees. These people are literally being punished for their achievements.


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