In This Article Overqualification

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Theoretical Background
  • Measurement of Overqualification
  • Permanence of Overqualification
  • Mediators of Overqualification
  • Observer Reactions to Overqualification
  • Cross-Cultural Studies of Overqualification

Management Overqualification
Berrin Erdogan, Layla Mansfield
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0088


Overqualification is a situation in which a person’s education, experience, and skills exceed job requirements. As a result, an overqualified person has significant amounts of skills and qualifications that are not needed to obtain or perform the job. Overqualification is regarded as a subcategory of underemployment, which refers to subpar (or deficient) employment. However, the two terms are not synonymous, because underemployment includes other forms of undesirable employment such as being employed part-time on an involuntary basis, or being underpaid compared to one’s prior job. This review will focus primarily on overqualification and not the other forms of underemployment. This bibliography will review the literature in both overqualification and overeducation literatures. Further, because studies of overqualification emerged in diverse fields including education, labor economics, sociology, management, and psychology, this review is intended to be interdisciplinary. This article reviews the literature on overqualification, highlights work that has shaped the field over time, and summarizes the literature by way of suggesting and emphasizing work on its antecedents, mediators, consequences, and moderators regardless of the literature in which it emerged.

General Overviews

This section features reviews and articles that may be regarded as highly influential summaries and reviews of the field. An early and informative work on overeducation is the qualitative study Burris 1983: based on interviews with clerical workers, this paper provides a vivid introduction to the topic by explaining what overeducation is, how job incumbents perceive overeducation, and what attitudinal, psychological, and behavioral consequences may follow from overeducation. In addition to this early primer, there are several conceptual pieces that promise an easy introduction to the topic. Feldman 1996 presents a review and organizational framework for studies of underemployment. This paper presents five different dimensions of underemployment, two of which (overeducation and overexperience) are regarded as dimensions of overqualification. A follow up to this landmark review is McKee-Ryan and Harvey 2011, which takes stock of the underemployment literature and focuses on antecedents, consequences, future research directions, and measurement issues. Maynard and Feldman 2011 is an edited volume on underemployment and provides a comprehensive, rich, and interdisciplinary treatment of the subject of underemployment, with chapters contributed by scholars from diverse disciplines. This volume has chapters devoted to theoretical background, populations at high risk for underemployment, and consequences of underemployment. Erdogan, et al. 2011 is a focal article in the journal Industrial and Organizational Psychology. The article presents a comprehensive overview of the literature on overqualification, focusing on measurement issues, antecedents, consequences, and moderators; it also emphasizes some potential advantages of hiring overqualified applicants. In the same issue of the aforementioned journal, readers may find commentaries related to the focal article and the responses of the authors to these commentaries, which highlight some dilemmas and unresolved issues. Finally, Liu and Wang 2012 presents a comprehensive and concise overview of the status of overqualification theory and research, explaining the theoretical bases of this topic, antecedents, consequences, and future research directions.

  • Burris, Beverly H. “The Human Effects of Underemployment.” Social Problems 31 (1983): 96–110.

    DOI: 10.2307/800412E-mail Citation »

    A qualitative study of clerical workers, exploring the effects of overeducation for job attitudes, coworker relations, and intentions. Presents a historical theoretical overview while showing that overeducation is not limited to highly educated workers. Discusses the ways in which individuals report coping with its effects.

  • Erdogan, Berrin, Talya N. Bauer, José M. Peiró, and Donald M. Truxillo. “Overqualified Employees: Making the Best of a Potentially Bad Situation for Individuals and Organizations.” Industrial and Organizational Psychology 4 (2011): 215–232.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1754-9434.2011.01330.xE-mail Citation »

    This accessible introduction to the topic describes the phenomenon, reviews the research on its nomological network, discusses its potential advantages and disadvantages, and points to unresolved issues. In the same issue of the journal, there are nine commentaries on this article, as well as the authors’ responses to the commentaries.

  • Feldman, Daniel C. “The Nature, Antecedents and Consequences of Underemployment.” Journal of Management 22 (1996): 385–407.

    DOI: 10.1177/014920639602200302E-mail Citation »

    Overeducation, as well as being overskilled and overexperienced, are defined as dimensions of underemployment. In this theory piece, propositions about antecedents (economic factors, job characteristics, career history, demographics, job search strategies) and consequences (attitudes, well-being, and behaviors) were included. This article has been the basis of much subsequent work on overqualification.

  • Liu, Songqi, and Mo Wang. “Perceived Overqualification: A Review and Recommendations for Research and Practice.” Research in Occupational Stress and Well Being 10 (2012): 1–42.

    DOI: 10.1108/S1479-3555(2012)0000010005E-mail Citation »

    In this accessible and comprehensive overview, the authors discuss the theoretical background of overqualification and move beyond overqualification as a directional mismatch to present overqualification as an assessment of opportunity-based fairness. A model that encapsulates both objective and subjective overqualification details a multilevel approach of antecedents, mediators, moderators, and outcomes.

  • Maynard, Douglas M., and Daniel C. Feldman. Underemployment: Psychological, Economic, and Social Challenges. New York: Springer, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4419-9413-4E-mail Citation »

    Edited volume on underemployment that focuses on economic and behavioral approaches to the study of underemployment. The volume is a go-to resource for underemployment researchers, summarizing research on the different aspects of the topic highlighting future research directions. Helpful to students and anyone interested in this topic.

  • McKee-Ryan, Frances, and Jaron Harvey. “‘I Have a Job, But . . . ’ A Review of Underemployment.” Journal of Management 37 (2011): 962–996.

    DOI: 10.1177/0149206311398134E-mail Citation »

    Underemployment literature is reviewed in this follow up to Feldman 1996. Antecedents, consequences, and implications for careers and personal well-being are discussed. The authors also discuss measurement issues and future research directions. Not limited to overqualification, this is a comprehensive and informative review.

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