Skip to main content Accessibility help

Overqualified Employees: Making the Best of a Potentially Bad Situation for Individuals and Organizations

  • Berrin Erdogan (a1), Talya N. Bauer (a1), José María Peiró (a2) and Donald M. Truxillo (a1)


One of the “truisms” of personnel selection is that overqualified applicants are likely to be a poor fit and thus experience low job satisfaction and performance and higher turnover. Recently, the issue of overqualification has come to the forefront because of the economic downturn, especially in some European Union countries where unemployment rates are extremely high. However, empirical research on overqualification in the industrial–organizational/organizational behavior literature is limited. In this article, we argue that although there may be drawbacks to overqualification for both organizations and employees, overqualification may also provide a number of positive outcomes for workers and employers alike. We review the limited research on overqualification, noting the positive and negative consequences of overqualification and the conditions under which overqualified employees may be a boon to organizations. We conclude by recommending some possible research streams to better understand the overqualification phenomenon and by making recommendations for organizational practices.


Corresponding author

E-mail:, Address: School of Business Administration, Portland State University, 631 SW Harrison Street, Portland, OR 97207


Hide All
Agut, S., Peiró, J. M., & Grau, R. (2009). The effect of overeducation on job content innovation and career enhancing strategies among young Spanish employees. Journal of Career Development, 36, 159182.
Alba-Ramirez, A. (1993). Mismatch in the Spanish labor market: Overeducation? The Journal of Human Resources, 28, 259278.
Allan, P. (1990). Looking for work after forty: Job search experiences of older unemployed managers and professionals. Journal of Employment Counseling, 27, 113121.
Aycan, Z., & Berry, J. W. (1996). Impact of employment-related experiences on immigrants' psychological well-being and adaptation to Canada. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 28, 240251.
Bashshur, M. R., Hernández, A., & Peiró, J. M. (in press). The impact of underemployment on individual and organizational performance. In Maynard, D. C., & Feldman, D. C. (Eds.), Underemployment: Psychological, economic, and social challenges. New York: Springer.
Battu, H., Belfield, C. R., & Sloane, P. J. (1999). Overeducation among graduates: A cohort view. Education Economics, 7, 2138.
Bewley, T. F. (1999). Why wages don't fall during a recession. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bolino, M. C., & Feldman, D. C. (2000). The antecedents and consequences of underemployment among expatriates. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 21, 889911.
Bruch, M. A., Fallon, M., & Heimberg, R. G. (2003). Social phobia and difficulties in occupational adjustment. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 50, 109117.
Büchel, F. (2002). The effects of overeducation on productivity in Germany: The firms' viewpoint. Economics of Education Review, 21, 263275.
Büchel, F., & Mertens, A. (2004). Overeducation, undereducation, and the theory of career mobility. Applied Economics, 36, 803816.
Burris, B. H. (1983). The human effects of underemployment. Social Problems, 31, 96110.
Cable, D. M., & DeRue, D. S. (2002). The convergent and discriminant validity of subjective fit perceptions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 875884.
Crosby, F. (1976). A model of egoistical relative deprivation. Psychological Review, 83, 85113.
Dekker, R., de Grip, A., & Heijke, H. (2002). The effects of training and overeducation on career mobility in a segmented labour market. International Journal of Manpower, 23, 106125.
Dooley, D., & Catalano, R. (2003). Introduction to underemployment and its social costs. American Journal of Community Psychology, 32, 17.
Dooley, D., Prause, J., & Ham-Rowbottom, K. A. (2000). Underemployment and depression: Longitudinal relationships. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 421436.
Ebner, N. C., Freund, A. M., & Baltes, P. B. (2006). Developmental changes in personal goal orientation from young to late adulthood: From striving for gains to maintenance and prevention of losses. Psychology and Aging, 21, 4, 664678.
Erdogan, B., & Bauer, T. N. (2009). Perceived overqualification and its outcomes: The moderating role of empowerment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 557565.
Erdogan, B., & Bauer, T. N. (in press). The impact of underemployment on turnover and career trajectories. In Maynard, D. C., & Feldman, D. C. (Eds.), Underemployment: Psychological, economic, and social challenges. New York: Springer.
Erdogan, B., Kraimer, M. L., & Liden, R. C. (2004). Work value congruence and intrinsic career success: The compensatory roles of leader-member exchange and perceived organizational support. Personnel Psychology, 57, 305332.
Evans, K. (2009, May 9). U.S. News: Ranks of older workers swell as losses shorten retirement. Wall Street Journal, A.2.
Feldman, D. C. (1996). The nature, antecedents, and consequences of underemployment. Journal of Management, 22, 385408.
Feldman, D. C., Doerpinghaus, H. I., & Turnley, W. H. (1994). Managing temporary workers: A permanent HRM challenge. Organizational Dynamics, 23, 4963.
Feldman, D. C., Leana, C. R., & Bolino, M. C. (2002). Underemployment and relative deprivation among re-employed executives. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 75, 453471.
Feldman, D. C., & Turnley, W. H. (1995). Underemployment among recent business college graduates. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 16, 691706.
Fine, S. (2007). Overqualification and selection in leadership training. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 14, 6168.
Fine, S., & Nevo, B. (2008). Too smart for their own good? A study of perceived cognitive overqualification in the workforce. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 19, 346355.
Frenette, M. (2000). Overqualified? Recent graduates and the needs of their employers. Education Quarterly Review, 7, 620.
Freund, A. M. (2006). Age-differential motivational consequences of optimization versus compensation focus in younger and older adults. Psychology and Aging, 21, 240252.
García-Montalvo, J., & Peiró, J. M. (2008). Análisis de la sobrecualificación y la flexibilidad laboral. Observatorio de Inserción Laboral de los Jóvenes 2008 [Analysis of overqualification and labour flexibility. Observatory of Youth Labour Market entry, 2008]. Valencia, Spain: Fundación Bancaja, IVIE.
Görg, H., & Strobl, E. (2003). The incidence of visible underemployment: Evidence for Trinidad and Tobago. Journal of Development Studies, 39, 81100.
Greenberg, J. (2006). Losing sleep over organizational injustice: Attenuating insomniac reactions to underpayment inequity with supervisory training in interactional justice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 5869.
Halaby, C. N. (1994). Overeducation and skill mismatch. Sociology of Education, 67, 4759.
Hausknecht, J. P, Day, D. V., & Thomas, S. C. (2004). Applicant reactions to selection procedures: An updated model and meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 57, 639683.
Hersch, J. (1991). Education match and job match. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 73, 140144.
Hung, C. Y. (2008). Overeducation and undereducation in Taiwan. Journal of Asian Economics, 19, 125137.
Johnson, G. J., & Johnson, W. R. (1992). Subjective underemployment and psychosocial stress: The role of perceived social and supervisor support. Journal of Social Psychology, 132, 1121.
Johnson, G. J., & Johnson, W. R. (1996). Perceived overqualification and psychological well-being. Journal of Social Psychology, 136, 435445.
Johnson, G. J., & Johnson, W. R. (1997). Perceived overqualification, emotional support, and health. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 27, 19061918.
Johnson, G. J., & Johnson, W. R. (2000). Perceived overqualification, positive and negative affectivity, and satisfaction with work. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 15, 167184.
Johnson, W. R., Morrow, P. C., & Johnson, G. J. (2002). An evaluation of a perceived overqualification scale across work settings. Journal of Psychology, 136, 425442.
Kanfer, R., & Ackerman, P. L. (2004). Aging, adult development, and work motivation. Academy of Management Review, 29, 440458.
Khan, L. J., & Morrow, P. C. (1991). Objective and subjective underemployment relationships to job satisfaction. Journal of Business Research, 22, 211218.
King, W. L., & Hautaluoma, J. E. (1987). Comparison of job satisfaction, life satisfaction, and performance of overeducated and other workers. Journal of Social Psychology, 127, 421433.
Kraimer, M. L., Shaffer, M. A., & Bolino, M. C. (2009). The influence of expatriate and repatriate experiences on career advancement and repatriate retention. Human Resource Management, 48, 2747.
Kristof-Brown, A. L., Zimmerman, R. D., & Johnson, E. C. (2005). Consequences of individuals' fit at work: A meta-analysis of person–job, person–organization, person–group, and person–supervisor fit. Personnel Psychology, 58, 281342.
Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 11211134.
Lee, C. H. (2005). A study of underemployment among self-initiated expatriates. Journal of World Business, 40, 172187.
Luo, M. (2010, March 28). Overqualified? Yes, but happy to have a job. New York Times. Retrieved from
Mavromaras, K., McGuinness, S., & Wooden, M. (2007). Overskilling in the Australian labour market. The Australian Economic Review, 40, 307312.
Maynard, D. C., & Joseph, T. A. (2008). Are all part-time faculty underemployed? The influence of faculty status preference on satisfaction and commitment. Higher Education, 55, 139154.
Maynard, D. C., Joseph, T. A., & Maynard, A. M. (2006). Underemployment, job attitudes, and turnover intentions. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 509536.
Maynard, D. C., Taylor, E. B., & Hakel, M. D. (2009). Applicant overqualification: Perceptions, predictions, and policies of hiring managers. In Chen, O. T. (Ed.), Organizational behavior and dynamics (pp. 1338). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science.
McGuinness, S., & Wooden, M. (2009). Overskilling, job insecurity, and career mobility. Industrial Relations, 48, 265286.
McKee-Ryan, F. M., Virick, M., Prussia, G. E., Harvey, J., & Lilly, J. D. (2009). Life after the layoff: Getting a job worth keeping. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 561580.
Nabi, G. R. (2003). Graduate employment and underemployment: Opportunity for skill use and career experiences amongst recent business graduates. Education + Training, 45, 371382.
New York Times (1999, September 9). Metro news briefs: Connecticut; Judge rules that police can bar high I.Q. scores. Retrieved from
Ng, T. W. H., & Feldman, D. C. (2008). The relationship of age to ten dimensions of job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 392423.
Ng, T. W. H., & Feldman, D. C. (2009). Re-examining the relationship between age and voluntary turnover. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 74, 283294.
Peiró, J. M., Agut, S., & Grau, R. (2010). The relationship between overeducation and job satisfaction among young Spanish workers: The role of salary, contract of employment, and work experience. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 666689.
Porter, J. (2009, May 26). Career journal: The new resume: Dumb and dumber—Job seekers play down their credentials to avoid looking overqualified. Wall Street Journal, D.5.
Roberts, B. W., Walton, K. E., & Viechtbauer, W. (2006). Patterns of mean-level change in personality traits across the life course: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 327.
Roman, K. (2009). The king of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the making of modern advertising. New York, NY: Palgrave McMillan.
Rubb, S. (2006). Educational mismatches and earnings: Extensions of occupational mobility theory and evidence of human capital depreciation. Education Economics, 14, 135154.
Rubb, S. (2009). Overeducation among older workers: Impact on wages and early retirement decisions. Applied Economics Letters, 16, 16211626.
Sauley, K. S., & Bedeian, A.G. (2000). Equity sensitivity: Construction of a measure and examination of its psychometric properties. Journal of Management, 26, 885911.
Sicherman, N. (1991). “Overeducation” in the labor market. Journal of Labor Economics, 9, 101122.
Verhaest, D., & Omey, E. (2006). The impact of overeducation and its measurement. Social Indicators Research, 77, 419448.
Wald, S. (2005). The impact of overqualification on job search. International Journal of Manpower, 26, 140156.
Williams, J. E., & Johansen, E. (1985). Career disruption in higher education. Journal of Higher Education, 56, 144160.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Overqualified Employees: Making the Best of a Potentially Bad Situation for Individuals and Organizations

  • Berrin Erdogan (a1), Talya N. Bauer (a1), José María Peiró (a2) and Donald M. Truxillo (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.