Further Questions: Is it possible for applicants to be too qualified to succeed in a position?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

Do you think it is possible for applicants to be too qualified to succeed in a position? At what point do you determine over qualification–application/CV/cover letter, phone interview, in person interview? Do you ever include a maximum amount of experience that you will accept in your (internal) rubrics? What are the possible pros and cons of hiring an individual who is too qualified?


I’ve been on both sides of that equation.


Once, I was working as a library director in a small town, which sounds fancy, but it was a 20 hour a week position. Obviously, I couldn’t live on just that, so I applied for a job at a library the next town over. It was for a basic clerk position. The director called me in for an interview and point blank asked me why I was applying for a clerk position when I was already a director. I explained to her my reasons and we talked about expectations and she was very clear about what my role was going to be, which I was perfectly fine with. I got the job and we worked together quite happily for two years.


Now, as a hiring manager, the above referenced story is always on my mind when I see a resume for a person who is completely over-qualified for a position. I don’t have any internal rubrics or  some sort of rule of thumb, I take each person as they come. Oftentimes, a person will reveal themselves in an interview-maybe they’re way-overqualified for a basic public services librarian position, but after talking with them, we learn this person’s spouse was posted here (we have a military base) and they just want to work. I’m fine with that. The interview is usually where you can figure out a person and their motivations. My only concern about hiring an individual who is over-qualified is that they will get frustrated in the position. My old boss at that small library was smart to lay out what the job was and what I was expected to do. If I was interested in hiring a very overqualified person, I would do them that courtesy so they could refuse or take the job with full disclosure.

– Margaret M. Neill, Regional Library Branch Manager, Main Library, El Paso Public Library

Christine Hage - Dark backgroundGenerally I don’t have a ceiling height on qualifications, but I do consider whether a person who is over qualified for a position will get board in the position.  Our bookkeeping operation is a one person job.  Last year we had someone apply for the position who had managed a large bookkeeping department.  We didn’t hire him because we wondered how long it had been since he had done the simple type of bookkeeping we needed.  Would he leave us as soon as a managerial position opened somewhere else?
For the same position we interviewed someone who had a masters degree and was working on a CPA certification.  She had to work under a CPA and we didn’t need a CPA.  How long would she have stayed.
Librarians applying for a page position?  A circulation assistant position?  Why would they settle for it?
When we hire, I don’t expect someone to stay a lifetime with us, but I don’t want to replace that person 3 months later because a better opportunity came along.
– Christine Hage, Director, Rochester Hills Public Library

Celia RabinowitzThese days it is not uncommon to see applicants who appear over-qualified.  This is particularly true for staff positions which don’t require the MLS but which attract MLS holders who are trying to get into a library job.  It is often easy to spot overqualified applicants from a resume or CV especially if we are advertising for an entry-level position.  I feel strongly that we should consider newly degreed librarians for those positions and not necessarily privilege experienced librarians primarily because entry level is where we get our new talent.

I know that one of the major reasons given for not hiring overqualified people is that they will be looking for better work and may not stay in a position but I am not sure that is necessarily a reason not to hire someone.  If the person applying for the job understands the work and its parameters (and that they may not be able to utilize all of the skills they bring) I consider them seriously.  I don’t want someone to be bored or feel unchallenged.  On the other hand someone with more experience than we advertised for may have lots to contribute that helps them later on.  Sometimes positions open up internally, but often they do not.

Both the applicant and the search committee need to think about what the person will bring to the position and whether there is a good match of skills and interest.  Every hire is a gamble in one way or another.  Being overqualified should not necessarily, by itself, be a reason not to consider an applicant seriously.
– Celia Rabinowitz,  Dean of Mason Library at Keene State College in Keene, NH

Laurie Phillips

Yes, I think it is possible. If a person is much more experienced than require or overqualified, they are less likely to be satisfied with the job. They’ll either want more money than the job description/title warrants or want to move up in the organization or position before that is possible. However, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that someone who is overqualified wouldn’t be right for a job. I would want to talk with the candidate and determine if they are aware of the level of position and how they feel about it and what that mean going forward. No, I have never included a maximum amount of experience. I recently hired a person for a position with more experience than the position required. However, her experience was not related to the position and, as it turns out, wasn’t particularly relevant to the position and she has still had a learning curve in the new job. So you never know!
– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

angelynn kingOne of the advantages of working in higher education is that there is no such thing as “overqualified.” Everything you know or can do will probably come in handy sooner or later.

If you come across as believing you’re too good for the position, though, that’s something else. Remember, you’re being hired for a job, not for your general awesomeness. We appreciate the latter, but it’s not a free pass out of desk duty. AND EVERYBODY SHELVES.
-Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email us at hiringlibrariansquestionsATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!  If you liked reading, you’re going to really love COMMENTING.

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One response to “Further Questions: Is it possible for applicants to be too qualified to succeed in a position?

  1. Pingback: Return to Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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