If you are overqualified for your role, are you causing more trouble for your firm than you are worth? A negative attitude is a part of the surprising damage that smart workers can cause.
Amanda Hiebert was a communications director based in Calgary, Canada. She took a position at a vitamin supplements firm several years ago. Ms. Hiebert knew she was overqualified for the job.
The high salary and the opportunity of working for a big company attracted her. However, once in the job, she found the role was not demanding enough to keep her occupied.
"It was boring, it wasn’t challenging, and I wasn’t doing any meaningful work.” - Amanda Hiebert
She left after two years. Moreover, her experiences one that is all too common.
About one in six workers in Britain are thought to have too much education for the jobs they are doing. Fifty-eight percent of graduates are in roles that do not require university degrees. In the US, an estimated one in four employees with a bachelor’s degree are overqualified for their current position.
Many employers now use degrees as a standard entry requirement for roles that were traditionally done by non-graduates. This practice leads to a kind of job inflation where workers are taking jobs that they do not find challenging.
This trend may seem to be working in employers’ favour. They get to bring in many smart, highly-skilled graduates. However, the reality is it often backfires. Research suggests that companies may be harming themselves by hiring employees who are overqualified for the roles they are doing.
Resentment ripples — surprising damage smart workers can cause
Having a highly-skilled overachiever on staff should, on the face of things at least, be a boon. However, Berrin Erdogan, a professor of management at Portland State University warns that overqualified workers can develop negative attitudes. This behaviour includes a sense of entitlement about their skills or resentment through boredom. It can ripple out to every cubicle in an office.
The sense of entitlement brings everyone down
“That sense of entitlement brings everyone down, especially for those who work in teams.” — Berrin Erdogan
Ms. Erdogan's research suggests that being overly-skilled for a position can lead employees to feel different from their colleagues, which can fester leading to isolation and loneliness.
Moreover, if someone is overqualified, they might not be fully engaged in their assigned tasks they, which they may judge ‘beneath them,’ according to Bruce Tulgan, an expert in leadership training and author of The 27 Challenges Managers Face.
“They’ll get bored as a result of low morale, and they might not even do the work required in that job." — Bruce Tulgan
The feeling of overqualification that can lead to these problems seems to be particularly prevalent among younger employees. Millennials have higher expectations for themselves, and their employers, compared to other generations.
A study conducted earlier this year by researchers at the Florida Atlantic University showed that younger workers tended to be those who believe they are more talented than the position they have and often felt frustrated and disillusioned at work.
"These employees are also more likely to engage in more rebellious behaviour such as coming in late, leaving early, theft or even bullying co-workers." — Michael Harari, Florida Atlantic University
Popularity stakes — surprising damage smart workers can cause
Interpersonal influence means adapting to your surroundings, adopting a friendly attitude, and refraining from disparaging your job or boss.
However, this is not always the case. A recent study by Erdogan and Hong Deng, an associate professor at Durham University’s Business School, identified certain personality traits among overqualified workers that are crucial to help them fit cohesively into any workplace.
“Employees who are overqualified but equipped with good interpersonal influence skills can display appropriate social behaviours in interactions with co-workers and be competent and likeable. Those employees are popular and well accepted and therefore feel motivated to engage in positive work behaviours.” — Hong Deng
Put simply; interpersonal influence means adapting to your surroundings, adopting a friendly attitude, and refraining from disparaging your job or boss. Workers taking on that approach will be more effective performers in the office.
Furthermore, this is the point where strong leadership can make a difference. To keep overqualified staff engaged, leaders should give them more creative assignments, long-term projects or have them collaborate with other teams within the company, says Elisabeth Kelan, a professor of leadership at the Cranfield School of Management.
"To keep overqualified staff engaged, leaders should give them more creative assignments, long-term projects or have them collaborate with other teams within the company." — Elisabeth Kelan
Although if taking this route “leaders should be mindful of the fact that this might create even more resentment towards the perceived overqualified individuals,” she warns. “It is therefore important to discuss with the team why you chose one person for those special tasks.”
Be candid and authentic
Another way for leaders to combat negative feelings among overqualified employees is being frank about climbing the corporate ladder. Erdogan says she once spoke to a hiring manager who hired someone overqualified for the position and they had an open conversation about being patient.
“He said to the employee that if you stay in this position for a year, you’ll move higher up in the organization,” she explains. “That overqualified employee responded with a sentiment of ‘That’s great! I won’t be in this role forever, and I’ll get a better job down the road."
So, what if this applies to you? The same candidness can also help people who feel they are overqualified for their role. Many job seekers will find themselves in the same situation as Hiebert, having to apply for positions that do not call for the level of experience and expertise they have.
For those that do, Tulgan advises explaining why you want the job and emphasizing how you can fit into the company.
“Don’t dumb down your CV or downplay your achievements. Be candid and authentic.” — Bruce Tulgan
The commonly accepted formula for fulfilling goals and dreams is knowing your long-term goals, working hard, and staying the course in the regardless of obstacles until you reach your goal. This formula fails for far too many. The “dark horses” find success on their terms. The dark horse mindset can guide you to a life of purpose, authenticity, and achievement.
The secret to success is the pursuit of fulfilment that leads to excellence rather than the pursuit of excellence that leads to fulfilment. Your actions are genuine. Having this mindset empowers you to consistently make the right choices to fit their circumstances and complement your unique interests and abilities.
When you commit to embracing the diversity of your micro-motives and understanding your behavioural DNA, the most opposing of them can be reconciled, leveraged and consolidated into your unified sense of purpose. Your understanding leads to career satisfaction, something that fewer than twenty percent of people achieve. Understanding your micro-motives and your behavioural DNA is a better formula for success.
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