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Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 4 (2011), 240242.

Copyright 2011 Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. 1754-9426/11

Overqualified Job Applicants:

We Still Need Predictive Models

Midot, Ltd.
University of Haifa

Erdogan, Bauer, Peiro, and Truxillo (2011) the predominant attention that has been
describe several research advances that given to this topic in the literature. First,
have been made in recent years, from nearly all the work on overqualification
multiple disciplines, which afford us a has focused on employees, rather than job
better understanding of the frequency, applicants, and second, that overqualifica-
antecedents, and potential consequences of tion is something to be managed, rather
overqualified employment. These advance- than necessarily prevented. In these regards,
ments notwithstanding, from the perspec- Erdogan et al. suggest intervention strategies
tive of personnel selection, the field of for reducing the potentially negative effects
overqualification remains greatly under- of overqualification. Although we agree
studied. Erdogan et al. acknowledge this that management interventions could be of
and appropriately end their article with a significant value for dealing with overquali-
number of unresolved issues and possible fication among employees, we would argue
directions for future research. We would that such an approach may be likened to
like to raise an additional outstanding issue intervening with under qualified employees
that we believe is fundamental to both to reduce their negative outcomes.
selection theory and practice, irrespective Alternatively, another approach to deal-
of the possible positive or negative out- ing with the phenomenon of overqualifica-
comes of overqualified employment: the tion may be via the use of valid selection
need for predictive models of overqualifca- solutions for identifying overqualified job
tion among job applicants. applicants. That selection models of this
kind have not been well researched is
Job Applicants and perhaps related to the fact that in order
Valid Constructs to reliably decide whether or not to hire
overqualified job applicants, one first needs
The absence of predictive models for
to objectively define overqualification in
overqualification is aptly reflected in the
terms of valid knowledge, skills, abilities,
title of Erdogan et al.s focal article, Over-
and other personal characterisitcs (KSAOs).
qualified Employees: Making the Best of
Until now, objective measures of overqual-
a Potentially Bad Situation . . . This title
ification have been primarily offered in
makes two important inferences regarding
terms of overeducation and have thereby
failed to include some of personnel psy-
Correspondence concerning this article should be chologys more valid constructs of job
addressed to Saul Fine. suitability, such as ability and personality.
E-mail: saul@midot.co.il
Address: Midot, Ltd., 11 Ben Gurion St., Vita Therefore, not only are existing measures of
Towers, Bnei Brak 51260, Israel overqualification greatly reduced to single
Overqualified job applicants 241

dimensions, but they are ironically based relationships already reported between per-
on some of the least predictive constructs of ceived overqualification and attitudinal or
job performance available. If education, for behavioral criteria cannot necessarily imply
example, is known to be a generally weak causality. Perceptions of overqualification,
predictor of job performance (Schmidt & for example, can cause job dissatisfaction
Hunter, 1998), it is somewhat unreason- just as job dissatisfaction can cause feelings
able to presume that over education would of overqualification, whereas objectively
be a good measure for personnel selec- defined overqualification might provide an
tion (as demonstrated by some of the weak important reference point for measuring
validity results in the literature; e.g., Bolino both. Accordingly, in terms of selection,
& Feldman, 2000; King & Hautaluoma, perceived overqualification should most
1987). Moreover, an argument could be likely be treated as a criterion (or media-
made that if we use KSAOs to measure job tor), rather than a predictor. Indeed, when
under qualification and job qualification, measuring overqualification objectively in
should we not use these same constructs terms of high test scores, Fine (2007)
to measure job over qualification as well? found that cognitive ability and open-
Such was apparently the deciding ratio- ness to experience were predictive of per-
nale in the case of Robert Jordan v. City of ceived overqualification and that perceived
New London and Keith Harrigan (1999), overqualification was then associated with
which Erdogan et al. present as a clas- work dissatisfaction. Still, there are currently
sic example of overqualification. In that no real guidelines for incorporating these
case, Robert Jordans application for the attitudinal outcomes into actual selection
job of police officer was rejected for being decisions.
overqualified after he scored 2 standard Developing selection decision guide-
deviations above the mean on a widely lines for dealing with objectively defined
used test of general mental ability. Outside overqualified job applicants can be fur-
of that case, however, overqualification is ther complicated when trying to predict
rarely described objectively in terms of high job performance. On the basis of what we
test scores. As a result, predicting the out- know about the consistently positive validi-
come of hiring individuals in such cases is ties for ability measures in predicting job
still very unclear. performance, for example, an interesting
conflict exists between science and prac-
tice. Although science has generally taught
Objective Measures and
us to give preference to applicants with
the highest test scores, in practice, hir-
As opposed to measuring overqualification ing managers may reject such applicants
objectively, the great majority of psycho- for being overqualified (Maynard, Taylor, &
logical research has measured overqual- Hakel, 2009). Resolving this issue requires
ification as an on-the-job perception or carefully investigating nonlinearity in the
attitude, referred to as perceived overqual- predictorcriterion relationship. In other
ification. Although perceived overqualifi- words, we may need to re-ask ourselves the
cation can be informative for studying classic question: Is more always really
overqualified employees, it is, de facto, better, as described by our ubiquitous
inappropriate for assessing job applicants. linear models? Or, at some point in the test
Therefore, studies focusing on the out- score continuum, do higher test scores fail
comes of perceived overqualification are to yield higher (and possibly even lower)
not necessarily applicable to personnel job performance, as suggested by nonlin-
selection, without first showing their rela- ear/overqualification models?
tionships to objective overqualification. Of the theoretical models that Erdogan
Whats more, without including objectively et al. describe, this question is best answer-
defined measures of overqualification, the ed by personjob fit theory (Edwards, 1991).
242 S. Fine and B. Nevo

However, while personjob fit models can far-reaching consequences on an organiza-

be nonlinear, current methods for measur- tions personnel selection processes. Further
ing job fit in selection scenarios (e.g., pro- developments in this area may help to
file matching) do not generally distinguish improve selection decision accuracies as
between low and high scorers, as would be well as provide more realistic estimates of
needed to study overqualification. A more selection system utilities. Future research
direct examination of curvilinearity in the should therefore continue to examine non-
predictorcriterion relationship may there- linear components in predictorcriterion
fore be required. Specifically, if the predic- relationships as a means to objectively
torcriterion relationship is wholly linear, measure overqualification and predict sub-
then measures of job fit (or overqualifica- sequent behaviors. In the meantime, the
tion) would not offer anything new to tradi- field of overqualification is, as they say,
tional selection methods. Take for example, still wide open.
general mental ability, for which meta-
analyses have long since shown negligi-
ble amounts of curvilinearity for predicting Bolino, M. C., & Feldman, D. C. (2000). The antece-
dents and consequences of underemployment
job performance (Coward & Sackett, 1990; among expatriates. Journal of Organizational
Hawk, 1970). Accordingly, many people Behavior, 21, 889911.
might argue that because of a strong linear Coward, W. M., & Sackett, P. R. (1990). Linearity of
abilityperformance relationships: A reconfirma-
relationship, there is little room to consider tion. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75, 297300.
overqualification in terms of high ability lev- Edwards, J. R. (1991). Personjob fit: A conceptual
integration, literature review and methodological
els. Nevertheless, Fine and Nevo (2007) rea- critique. International Review of Industrial and
soned that while the abilityperformance Organizational Psychology, 6, 283357.
relationship may not be significantly curvi- Erdogan, B., Bauer, T., Peiro, J. M., & Truxillo, D.
M. (2011). Overqualified employees: Making the
linear overall, as correlation coefficients best of a potentially bad situation for individuals
really only represent the average relation- and organizations. Industrial and Organizational
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all (R2 < .02) in the abilityperformance tional Journal of Testing, 7, 327352.
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as the points at which the upperscale test predictions, and policies of hiring managers. In
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applicants would have been overpredicted Robert Jordan v. City of New London and Keith
by linear models as a result. Harrigan. (1999). Civil No. 3:97CV1012 (PCD),
United States District Court for the District of
Assuming that overqualified employ- Connecticut.
ees behave differently to otherwise well- Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The validity
qualified employees, the development of and utility of selection methods in personnel
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