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Build Your Career Get the Job

Overqualified? Think Twice Before Taking That Job

Overqualified? Think Twice Before Taking That Job
Credit: Fotogestoeber/Shutterstock

If you are out of work, you might be inclined to take any job you can just to get yourself back into the workforce. New research shows, however, that taking a job you are overqualified for could hurt your employment opportunities down the road.

When workers accept jobs below their skill levels, it can significantly penalize them when applying for future jobs, because employers perceive these workers as not being committed or competent, found a study set to appear in an upcoming issue of the American Sociological Review journal.

As part of the study, researchers submitted 2,420 fictitious applications for 1,210 real job openings and tracked employers' responses. Each applicant had the same information, except for gender and his or her employment situation over the past year. This was that they worked full time, part time, in a temporary position, in a job below their skill level or were unemployed.

The researchers found that just 5 percent of those working below their skill level received a "callback," or positive employer response, which was about half the callback rate for workers in full-time jobs at their skill level. Additionally, less than 5 percent of men working part time received callbacks. The research revealed that working part time had no effect on callback rates for women, while temporary agency employment had little effect for either gender. [See Related Story: Quiz: Are You Making the Right Hiring Decisions? ]

"The study offers compelling evidence that taking a job below one's skill level is quite penalizing, regardless of one's gender," David Pedulla, the study's author and a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement. "These findings raise important additional questions about why employers are less likely to hire workers with these employment histories."

In a separate experiment, researchers surveyed 903 hiring decision-makers on their perceptions of the same fictitious job applicants and how likely they would be to recommend someone be interviewed, given his or her work history.

The study's authors found that that men in part-time positions were penalized, in part, for appearing less committed, while men employed below their skill level were docked for appearing less committed and less competent. Women employed below their skill level were hurt for appearing less competent, but not less committed.

"When it comes to thinking about the opportunities that are available to workers, unemployment is only one piece of the puzzle," Pedulla said. "Men who are in part-time positions, as well as men and women who are in jobs below their skill level, face real challenges in the labor market, challenges that deserve broader discussion and additional attention."

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation; the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy; the Employment Instability, Family Well-Being and Social Policy Network at the University of Chicago; the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Princeton University’s Department of Sociology; and the Fellowship of Woodrow Wilson Scholars.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.