Does "overqualified" REALLY mean anything these days?
June 24, 2010 1:51 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to recommend a friend for a job that I know my institution will think she's overqualified for?

I've been at my job (in academia, not faculty) for a little over a year and have a fair degree of comfort and security. I'm certain that part of the reason I was hired was that I had some folks on the inside who knew and recommended me from the get-go. A friend of mine, who has been out of a stable job for quite a while, has asked me if I could talk her up for a couple positions she's applied for at my institution. I said I'd be happy to, but now I'm struggling a little.

Friend has worked previously and successfully as an academic staff member, and was laid off because of program budget cuts at her former institution. I personally know her to be decent and reliable and good at what she did, and if I were recommending her for a parallel position, I'd have no trouble. BUT, she's applying for administrative assistant jobs, and she has a master's degree. I strongly suspect our HR folk would immediately screen her out as overqualified and not likely to stick around if she were hired.

She needs a job and doesn't see herself as "above" this kind of position, but I don't quite know how to approach the HR staff. What's the most delicate and appropriate way to do so? Might they ask ME why the heck she's applying for jobs like this, or is that out of their purview? If they do, what do I say?
posted by dlugoczaj to Work & Money (8 answers total)
Best answer: No they won't. Do you have an automatic way to submit recommendations for hire (we do). Then at leat you forward it and forget it. They decide if she's too overqualified for it.

Look, she knows she's over qualified but needs a job. Unfortunately employers get scared of these people because they can't pay and know these people will jump as soon as something better comes along.

Don't make it out to be a big think. Casually ask (if you know the HR person) what's going on with the position, you know someone who is interested, pass it, forget it.
posted by stormpooper at 2:02 PM on June 24, 2010

There are a couple of reasons that HR worries about people who are "overqualified."
1 -- They're just spamming out resumes to anything remotely related to their field.
2 -- They're going to want a salary at the high end of the scale.
3 -- They're only going to stay at the job until something they're better matched for comes along.

So if you do talk to them -- which I would recommend at least trying, because "I can vouch for this person" is a great reference and serves to differentiate your friend from the pile -- address each of these concerns right off the bat:
1 -- She knows you and definitely wants this job.
2 -- Emphasize how she'd totally be worth the high end of the pay scale.
3 -- That one, you're gonna have to work with your friend to address.

As for how to approach them, just walk in and say, "Hey, I have a friend who's applying here. Can I talk to the appropriate person about it?" They may well have some sort of policy, so abide by it and be respectful, but do what you can within its confines.
posted by Etrigan at 2:03 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have been in this situation and I passed along a resume in an email to HR and let them sort it out for themselves. They will not ask you why your friend is applying and it is certainly not your responsibility if she is not hired. Or, you know, what stormpooper said.
posted by Kimberly at 2:05 PM on June 24, 2010

Might they ask ME why the heck she's applying for jobs like this, or is that out of their purview?

I doubt they will ask if only because they must see a lot of MAs cross their desks. They must see a lot because in my experience at the university I work, the one where I got my PhD and the other one where I did a post-doc, all in the US, they hire a lot of MAs for administrative assistant positions. It's common.

Maybe yours is different, but job applicants aren't going to know that.
posted by vincele at 2:24 PM on June 24, 2010

She could not mention the master's degree on her resume. When my lab was hiring a new research technician, we had about a dozen (out of a total of eighty) applicants with PhDs – several of them, my boss commented, "would have been perfect match if they didn't have a PhD. Why would they even disclose it when applying for this job?" None of them were interviewed, despite otherwise stellar credentials in a quite narrow field.
posted by halogen at 3:36 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

One way to address the whole "overqualified" issue is to be very clear that you want to grow with THIS PARTICULAR FIRM/COLLEGE. That is, you like this particular one so much (be able to enumerate the reasons), that you want to climb the ladder with them, as opposed to jumping ship when a better job offer comes along.

I was recently hired for a lab coordinator position that didn't require a graduate degree. I definitely included my degree on my resume. I then stipulated in my cover letter and in the subsequent interviews that my career goals were to grow with this particular college. In the final interview, I was asked "where do you see yourself in five years?" My answer was essentially:

"In five to seven years, I hope to have developed in my role and grown with the college so that opportunities for advancement become available. In five to seven years, I'd like to be teaching here. If that isn't possible, I would like to develop on a track toward senior management in an academic role that would allow me to promote student success. I definitely see the rest of my career being with this college, for the many reasons I mentioned earlier."

This helps address the overqualification. It offers a justification for why you're taking a job beneath your credentials (i.e., because you want to get in on the ground floor of a good organization) and it also tells them that all the training that they pour into you (and your higher qualifications) will come back to them as a return on their investment in you as you work your way up the ladder.

In my case, I sincerely passionate about wanting to work with this particular college. So I have no problem selling this. I can point out why this college is better than the others in town, why I want to be a part of this team, etc. That not only addresses the overqualification issue, but also encourages your interviewers that you are passionate about being a part of their team, have done your research, aren't just looking for a paycheck, etc.

God luck to your friend!
posted by darkstar at 4:22 PM on June 24, 2010

Contact HR yourself, with her resume; let them know you recommend her, and would like their opinion as to an appropriate level for her experience, as she's quite interested in working here and you'd like to recommend a good level fit for her to start at. If they say they have nothing at her level, state that she might be willing to come in lower for an opportunity to work here, and would they be open to that?
posted by davejay at 7:39 PM on June 24, 2010

Response by poster: She could not mention the master's degree on her resume.

Unfortunately, I know she already did.

I think I'm probably just going along with Kimberly and stormpooper's responses. (To my knowledge, stormpooper, we don't have a set recommendation structure--I think we're just too small to be that organized!) I will mention that she's out there and she's a good employee and leave it at that.

Thanks all!
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:10 AM on June 25, 2010

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