How to Tell If You're Overqualified for Your Job – and What to Do About It

Does your job fail to make use of your full potential? Do you find yourself twiddling your thumbs all day or constantly distracted because your work is too easy? Have you been stuck in the same role for years with little to no chance for advancement?

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If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," it's possible you're overqualified for your job – and you're not alone.

Overqualification, real or perceived, can cause psychological strain that manifests as stress, low job satisfaction, and a lack of commitment to one's company, according to a study coauthored by Michael Harari, Ph.D., assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University's College of Business Department of Management Programs. When a worker occupies a position that doesn't match their expectations, it can be difficult for them to dedicate themselves to their job.

Perceived Vs. Actual Overqualification

Before singing that old country song about taking this job and shoving it, take some time to appraise your situation. Find out whether you are actually overqualified or just have unrealistic expectations.

"In our research, we looked at the relationship between objective overqualification – usually measured as level of education in relation to job requirements – and overqualification beliefs or perceptions," says Harari. "Although they did overlap, there was also a good degree of distance between the two."

The study found that employees who are narcissistic, generally negative, or on the younger side are more likely to believe they are overqualified for their roles. It's easy to see why narcissistic and negative people are more likely to perceive themselves as overqualified, but why do younger employees tend to see themselves as overqualified, too?

Harari has a few thoughts: "We thought that the age effect could be due to the need to take a job below one's skill level to gain entry into the workforce. However, other factors could be at play. For example, younger workers might be more naive about the full scope of their job requirements or may overestimate how their skill set stacks up against those of their older (and therefore, generally more experienced) coworkers."

If an employee feels underutilized, they should bring this to the attention of their supervisor. That being said, it's important they take a good, hard look at their role before doing so. Otherwise, they could come across as arrogant.

"In order to determine if they are actually overqualified, employees should become familiar with their job specifications," Harari says. "They should, as objectively as possible, evaluate how their qualifications compare to each and every requirement listed, rather than focusing on one or two where they might be particularly strong."

Setting Realistic Expectations

On the recruiting side, it's important to set realistic expectations for applicants, lest they misinterpret their roles within the company.

"The recruiting and hiring process is a two-way street," Harari says. "Just as employers are making decisions about who to hire, applicants are making decisions about job fit. Because employees who feel overqualified are unsatisfied, withdrawn from work, and are more likely to quit, employers should provide applicants with the information needed to determine if the position in question matches their skill set."

By providing qualified applicants with the right information from the beginning of the interview process, recruiters can reduce turnover and dissatisfaction down the road. One great way to do this is by using realistic job previews (RJPs).

"This involves giving applicants a clear picture of what the day-to-day responsibilities are for the job in question," Harari says. "This could also include a clear picture of the types of skills required and how those skills are used on the job."

If candidates clearly understand the skills required for the job at the outset, they can make more informed decisions about whether the role is right for them. If they decide it isn't, they can remove themselves from the applicant pool – rather than apply, get hired, and leave right away.

Empowerment as an Engagement Tool

Of course, sometimes, employees really are overqualified. Workers who have properly evaluated themselves and their role with a company and still feel convinced they are overqualified should speak up. Managers should take this seriously, or else they risk losing the employee.

"Employers could empower their overqualified employees by, for example, providing them latitude and flexibility in carrying out their jobs or by helping them to see the impact that their job has on the lives of others," Harari says. "Overqualified workers who are empowered by management in this way are more satisfied with their jobs and committed to their organizations than overqualified workers who do not experience this kind of empowerment."

Social support can also help employees cope with overqualification.

"When employees have good relationships with their supervisors and coworkers, they not only feel less overqualified, but the overqualification that they do feel is less likely to have detrimental effects, such as poor job satisfaction," Harari says.