Is “overqualified” code for age discrimination?


Image Credit: (

There are two sides to this argument. Let’s explore them.

“Overqualified” Is Just Another Word For Age Discrimination.

I like reading the eponymous The Tim Sackett Project. Tim is a shining star in the HR community and someone with whom I enjoy catching up at HR events across the country.

His post from last Friday, “‘Overqualified’ Is Just Another Word For Age Discrimination” definitely caught my attention.

My dude did not sugar coat it. Here’s a snippet of Tim’s take:

“Overqualified” is just another way to say “Hey, I think you’re too old to work for me!”

Tell me I’m wrong! Give me all the reasons someone is “Overqualified” for a job they want to work at and understand what the job specs are?

I’m a Heart Surgeon but it’s a stressful job, so I decided to take a step back and just do some Cardiac Rehab work. Still get to work with heart patients, but it’s a less stressful workload and pays a heck of lot less, you need less education to do that job.

Am I overqualified to do Cardiac Rehab if I have experience as a heart surgeon? Only if you tell me I am! It’s a job I want, and I have the skills and desire to do that job, so I would say I’m quite qualified to do that job, not overqualified.

Yes, if in that particular situation, the Heart Surgeon voluntarily decides to transition into Cardiac Rehab because that’s the lifestyle he or she wants, I’d say hire that overqualified person. This person will be more relaxed, fulfilled, and happy — a great addition to the workforce.

Here’s more from Tim’s post:

TA pros and hiring managers say someone is overqualified when they’re too stupid to come up with another reason about why they don’t want to hire someone who has great experience and more years of experience.

“Oh, Tammy, yeah, she’s overqualified to work in that job. I mean she wouldn’t be happy long-term reporting to me, and I mean she has more experience than I have!” Oh, she told you that? “Um, no.”

I had a hiring manager tell me this once when he interviewed a person who was 52! “I need someone who is going to stay long term!” Um, 13-15 years isn’t long term?! You’re an idiot!

I find telling hiring managers “You’re an idiot!” is super effective in getting through to them, and cutting straight through to their bias. It has worked 100% of the time in my career. It really works across all biases.

Again, yes, if a hiring manager is concerned that an older individual will retire quickly, there’s a strong possibility that age bias is motivating the hiring manager.

Tim ends his post by asking his readers to explain, “why don’t you hire someone who is ‘overqualified?'”

“Overqualified,” or just too old?

Ok, Tim. Here we go.

There are other reasons — good ones that have nothing to do with age — why I wouldn’t hire someone who is overqualified. For those, I’m going to borrow from another excellent post from a year ago called “‘Overqualified,’ or just too old?This one is from Robin Shea, Esq. over at Employment and Labor Insider. And I’m going to skip right to the good parts because she says it as well (and probably much better) than I can:

Here are three reasons why an employer might not think “overqualified” employees are such a bargain:

Reason No. 1: Money. Right now, [Mr. X] wants a job, and he says he doesn’t care about getting his previous level of compensation. If he’s been unemployed or underemployed for a few years, then I can easily believe that. But as his prospective employer, I’d be worried about that huge cut in pay. Will [Mr. X] take the job because he’s desperate, and then immediately resume his job search? Maybe not, but as the employer I’d be worried about “maybe so.” And even if he doesn’t look elsewhere, will he be bitter and miserable? Will he be constantly complaining about his relatively low pay? Again, maybe not, but as an employer, I might not want to take that chance.

Reason No. 2: Responsibility. …Will [Mr. X] even remember how to do [more menial tasks that he hasn’t performed in a while]? Maybe so. Maybe it will be like riding a bicycle. And maybe this simpler work will be Zen to him, after all he’s been doing in the past few years. But maybe not. Maybe he’ll start trying to find ways to do work that he finds more challenging and interesting. Instead of, you know, the work that the company actually hired him to do. The other thing that can happen with bored employees is that they begin to neglect even their simple assignments — because they just can’t be bothered….Maybe none of this would be an issue. But maybe it would.

Reason No. 3: Interpersonal relationships. If you’re paid way less than you think you’re worth and also bored to death, will that … start to show in the way you interact with co-workers and with your chain of command? Let’s take co-workers first. Will [Mr. X] be inclined to instruct (in a haughty tone) his peers about how to do their jobs, since he has so much more experience than they do? Will he be inclined to tell his peers that he knows better than their supervisors and that they should take his advice rather than follow the direction they have been given? Maybe not, but maybe so. Maybe without even meaning to come across that way. How about his relationship with [a younger supervisor]? Will he be able to accept direction from this relative greenhorn?…Will he try to undermine her in other ways, even with her own bosses? Will he be resentful that she is his boss and that he … is the underling? Maybe not. But maybe so.

There are good arguments on both sides. But, I’d like to hear from you. In your experience, is ‘overqualified’ just another word for age discrimination? Email me and let me know.


Posted in:

Comments are closed.

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
Contact Information