With the pandemic pushing unemployment rates up, you might think the most highly qualified and experienced job seekers will be first to be snapped up as new opportunities emerge.
Yet as it turns out, highly experienced and qualified workers who put their hat in the ring are increasingly faced with a challenge more difficult than catching a shadow: how to deal with the perception they are overqualified.
Being overqualified or "over-experienced", terms that are trending among bosses, refers to a candidate's combination of experience and formal qualifications that exceed the requirements of a job on offer.
Overqualification is a difficult pill to swallow for those who worked tirelessly to build a resume, only to abruptly discover their experience and qualifications are the very things holding them back from finding a job.
The overqualification obstacle can occur at any time, but is far more common during economic downturns, when there is a glut of highly qualified workers entering the race for a job.
But here's the thing: labelling a job applicant as overqualified makes no sense.
All things being equal, including salary and benefits, why would an employer want to hire someone who is inexperienced over a qualified and experienced job seeker?
The answer is simple: we tell job seekers they are overqualified because it is a cover for bosses' real fears, concerns or prejudices.
This has been going on since before the pandemic wreaked havoc on employment markets.
Now is the time to reset and pivot to a new normal - and that means coming clean about some of these so-called concerns.
Among them is a belief by some bosses that an overqualified job seeker will move on as soon as the economy picks up and a better position becomes available.
There is also a thought experienced and highly qualified workers will get bored and lack engagement, and that their overqualification will cause them to want to "rattle the cage" - and disrupt an existing team dynamic.
Some bosses might even feel threatened by the thought an overqualified job seeker will compete with them for their own role.
A benevolent boss who rejects a job seeker's resume may do so on the well-intended grounds that the applicant should really be aiming for a higher-level position.
And, unsurprisingly, there is the very real potential that some bosses are using the overqualified pet phrase as cover for "you are too old for the job".
This is not only unfair, but eliminates a pool of people who could end up being very good for a business.
For those with loads of experience under their belt, the best defence is a good offence - so take control of the situation. Allay your bothered boss' fear by explaining up front why you want a particular position even though it might seem beneath you, the value you would bring to the role and the high level of your commitment.
For bosses who regularly overlook those with experience and qualifications, here's a new idea: find the most qualified candidate and discuss your apprehensions with them. If those concerns fail to stand up, make an offer.
- Professor Gary Martin is a workplace expert with the Australian Institute of Management.