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From Unemployment to Insights: The Overqualified Bias

Updated: May 7

Kicking off another week of job search and networking. Nearing two months of unemployment (10 days away from that nightmare of a milestone) and my experience isn’t nearly as long as many folx have experienced or are currently experiencing as I write this blog post. That does not make my experience any less or more than anyone else's. Unemployed and many under-employed folx are going through it and from the looks and real life experiences of job seekers (mine too!), this isn't ending anytime soon. I cannot solve the world's problems by pulling a Thanos, but I can share my experience, thoughts and hopes for a future where job seekers and candidates are treated with dignity and respect. It starts with communication and planning from the employer side but often - actually scratch that! It should start with communication and planning but from the looks of the job market and literal candidate experiences, we are no where close to hitting the mark (as a majority) in the world of work. I am not saying we will or won't but I am saying we should control what we can control. As job seekers, hiring teams and employers. So what does that mean? What is your recruitingSHEro babbling about??? Let's get into it.

The sting of every “you’re overqualified” rejection has me more than concerned for my unemployed recruitment community and has begun to feel less like a bee sting this week and more like a deep cut from a bread knife. Too imaginative or graphic? Keep reading, we need people to hear, know and take this in, for the sake of talent attraction and retention.

Language and bouncing topic disclaimer: Stay with me if you can. This one is important.

Overqualified” is just another bullshit reason to reject a candidate. That could be this entire blog post. But let's unpack what I mean. It’s typically a reason that is fear based. Assumptions are made, etc. Fear based hiring decisions are expensive for employers. When recruiting teams are not trained, supported, up to date on employment law, and truly understand bias and discrimination, it can lead to problematic decision making when rejecting candidates. One area that is not only problematic but also irrationally based is rejecting candidates for being “overqualified”.

OVERQUALIFIED is never the actual reason employers reject candidates. No one can convince me otherwise.

What is it then? Assumptions are being made about the candidate or the hiring team is questioning the candidate's previous experience and did not seek to find answers to their question(s) or concern(s). Overqualified is an uninformed, biased, and dare I say, lazy reason to reject. It is an unacceptable reason to reject a candidate or job seeker, period.

I've heard it all - here are a few:

1.) The candidate has more experience than the manager or leader on the team. It will never work.

2.) The candidate, if hired, will leave within the first year or two because we won't offer additional growth opportunities financially in the future.

3.) This candidate, if hired will likely make me or my team look incompetent.

4.) This candidate will not be able to take direction, they are used to giving direction.

5.) This candidate has not done the actual work themselves but has managed people who have and does not have the practical experience needed for the role.

6.) This candidate will try to take my job.

7.) Candidate will be difficult to manage.

8.) The candidate is desperate because they are out of work and wont be happy long term with less responsibilities.


Even number five isn't a reason to reject someone for being overqualified.

The problem with seven of the eight reasons, without interviewing the candidate, they are all biased and likely fear or insecurity based - having zero to do with the candidate as an individual applicant. They are assumptive and not confirmed reality. In the instance of number five, if the candidate does not have experience doing the work but has managed teams that have done the work, how in the world would they be overqualified? They would literally be - NOT qualified. Why? The role requires actual experience and states it in the job posting (because who would reject a candidate for being overqualified when the job post doesn't mention the requirement?).

Following me?

My point is that the rejection reason of "OVERQUALIFIED" is bunk.

It is junk.

It is crap.

It is a myth.

It is a word and reason used to mask fear and bias in hiring whether people understand it conciously or not. At the very least, it is used to mask another reason an employer is rejecting a candidate for. If a company is not rejecting candidates for biased and discriminatory reasons there should be zero reason candidates are rejected for being "overqualified". Either they are or they are not qualified.

Eleven times in the past almost two months, I've been told I am overqualified for this role or that role. Employers are overlooking talented experienced professionals because of fear, lack of training and up-skill opportunities, and assumptions.

Imagine passing on a loyal-to-a-fault, exceptional candidate that checks all the requirement boxes (and more!) because of something biased you've made up in your head or someone else in your org made up and isn't being questioned.

No really!


Employers are either forcing or allowing their hiring teams to operate like this.


Why is this happening?

Because no one is questioning, auditing or making sure the hiring process is how it should be. One of the things I love about recruiting outside of the people part is that it is always evolving and there are always opportunities to learn new things, evolve programming, innovate and luckily for me, my experience has allowed me to trail-blaze beyond limits. Some employers do not support, celebrate or promote innovation is what it boils down to.

If HR and TA teams aren't allowed to trail-blaze, aren't encouraged and given opportunities to up-skill (because the world of work and hiring is always evolving - just like the humans we hire!), and aren't audited regularly, how do you know if your org is missing mark in today's labor/hiring market?

You don't.

And let me tell you, you're likely hemorrhaging financial resources because of this. I'd guess if this is yor scenario, your org treats recruiting like the counter at Chuck E Cheese's to turn in your ticket for prizes but is expecting an actual Willie Wonka type of experience and prize. This completely contradicts the line of thinking behind overqualified. Make it make sense!

I've been told in the past week from a variety of people that the reason I am coming across overqualified is likely because:

  • I am too active on social media

  • I have a website /blog

  • I've been recognized as this or that with awards or being on lists of top professionals and ones to watch too much

  • I've been asked if I've "... thought about locking down your social media and removing your leadership experience from your resume so you might seem less intimidating to more junior recruiters or recruitment leaders"

Imagine working your ass off to brand yourself as a recruiter who gives a damn about candidate experience (or insert your field and passion), someone who tries to give more than you take from your professional community (and for me the job seeking community, too) and actually being who and about your brand. Now imagine being told, but don't be too this or that.

"Don't be too you, Rachel. Not everyone can handle or understand it."

I'd love to ask employers, what do you want? No seriously. If you're not looking to hire the experienced, what do you want? If it is only entry level experience you want, why do your job posts have requirements at all? This is secondhand embarrassing to watch. It is truly terrifying as a job seeker to watch and experience week in an out as a recruiter and a job seeker.

In this job market and time in the world-of-work, once again recruiters and skilled workers are being looked at as a nice to have and often not a necessity. It is hard not to feel like (and I know it's feelings but hear me out), this is another form of age descrimination when talking about "overqualified". It's not just HR/TA. I've also seen it quite a bit in marketing and customer success lately as well. I talk to or hear from job seekers daily and our experiences have so many scary similarities. A scary one that I am seeing the most, hiring teams that have no idea how reject candidates for unbiased reasons. This is in addition to a lack of clear communication from employers to job seekers during the hiring process that we continue to witness and experiecne firsthand.

It's nearly a week into May 2024. I should have already heard back from employers that I applied to on March 20th and so on. I have not heard back from 80% of the employers I've applied to. Not even a general rejection email. Only 59.6% of the applications I'e submitted have resulted in an email confirmation. I suppose all of this should make sense. If an employer is not prioritizing candidate experience and their employment brand reputation, they likely aren't prioritizing marketing, or their customers at the level they should - let alone their current employees.I say to notion, that it is an employers job market, WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK! If it truly is an employer's job market why are so many employers making such tragic decisions. 2025 is right around the corner and the world of work continues to change and evolve with the times.

Random Fact: Generationally speaking in the job/labor market, Baby Boomers will only make up about 7% of the job market in 2025 while Gen Z will make up 20%.

I have to ask - did employers trip and bump their heads on the recent technological advancements in generative AI? This isn't just an election year job market blip. It is way bigger than that. I am not sure how to explain all this back-stepping in providing just a bare minimum mediocre candidate experience (world-class candidate experience goals seem to be nonexistent) and a complete disregard or emphasis on DEIB. Although, as much as many won't admit, the backslide is most likely from organizations with executive leadership that never truly cared about people, DEIB or the human experience at work. It's an "employers" job market I keep hearing and reading about. I suppose even though it is incredibly difficult, these employers (organizations) are showing us what they truly value - so there is that. I can't help but wonder, do employers really know what their hiring teams are doing and do hiring teams have the autonomy within their org to even attempt to create or improve upon processes to encourage and build towards providing a world-class, let alone good candidate journey? Do the hiring teams have the tools and knowledge/support to reimagine their work and impact processes along with improving communication with candidates? Who is training your recruiters, coordinators, so on about candidate experience? So many orgs do get candidate experience but so many clearly do not.

On a positive note, this past week I had the opportunity to meet with my Work Source rep, Charles. If you're on unemployment, you're likely going to meet with a Work Source rep to continue receiving benefits. Work Source is valuable resource for job seekers whether we realize, remember or have experienced ourselves. It is literally a group of people put in place to help support job seekers (even experience recruiting and HR job seekers). I am so grateful I was matched with Charles (I do not have insight as to how people are matched with their support reps, but I think it was a great match). He confirmed that my job seeking experience is the experience many other who are considered "seasoned" or "experienced" or "senior", etc are having. In light of this and many other recent conversations, it is evident that we are facing a hell-in- a-hand-basket, much like the tumultuous times of 2020. Despite this unsettling realization (which feels like I keep having to accept it over and over like groundhog day or something - maybe its my neurodivergent mind - idk), I can find solace in the fact that I have maintained a keen awareness of the current job landscape. I am grateful for the hour and a half I was able to spend with him at the Work Source office last week. I left with some solid actionable advice and guidance to keep moving my job search forward.

New segment in the series:

People to know or follow -

If you're a recruiter or HR professional looking for someone to follow on social, business owner and HR friend, Laura Mazzulo is someone who understands that even HR and recruiting job seekers need support. And do we ever! If you're not following her on social media, do it!

Did I talk in circles or repeat myself too much? Not enoiugh I can promise you that.

I leave this rabbit hole post with a screen grab of an application I filled out last week, job seeker inspired music and questions for hiring teams/employers to ponder that likely are not. You can find the application screen grab I mentioned, here. The application asked me to guess how my current or most recent supervisor (for each role of my career) would rate my performance.

My questions for employers and hiring teams this week:

How often are you investigating hiring processes at your org? Who is responsible for it? Are they bringing in support from other departments and points f view? Have you thought about a "secret shopper" type experiment? If so, what do you think? Are you surveying all applicants, those you hire, or just those that officially interview with your org?

Are you hiring diversity focused recruiter(s) or have a role(s) open somewhere within your Talent Acquisition programming or management teams? I'd love to discuss them with you and/or your team.

Have you considered hiring a consultant to come in and audit your hiring processes? Look no further. I am available for short term, long term and gig/project based work. Let me show you how to set your organization apart when it comes to hiring and candidate experience.

Do you have question for me? Want to collaborate somehow?

Thank you for continuing to join me as I share my surprising discoveries and either confirm or debunk my own assumptions along the way. I invite you to not only follow this job-seeking blog series but to be part of it by sharing your experiences below in this blog post's comment section or messaging me directly. 

Whether it is day one of your job search or day 142, let's buckle up, and go on this job-seeking journey together! 


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