Why Not Hire Educated People?

Employers often disregard applicants that they deem to be over educated and PhD graduates are victims of this senseless exclusion. Is education ever a waste of time? Is there such a thing as over-educated? Why can’t employers recognize a good thing when they see it? When did hiring educated people become out of fashion?

You’ve read the job description and submitted your resume, highlighting the key attributes mentioned by the employer. One of two things happen: either you get an interview, or you don’t.  In the first scenario, you show up for the interview, with all your researched facts about the company, and well rehearsed answers to speak to in the interview, only to discover that the employer doesn’t really sound interested. In fact, it can sometimes feel like they invited you just to see what a PhD grad looks like!  They don’t ask enough questions. They don’t get to the meat of your expertise, and they don’t give you the openings to speak about your experiences or how your education can benefit them. They look at you with sympathetic eyes, heads tilted slightly and say, “You’re over educated. You’ll just get bored and leave. We can’t offer what you need here.”  Its frustrating and discouraging, and if you’ve heard those phrases or others just like them, you most likely lose interest in the interview and allow them to escort you to the door with nothing more than a handshake. There are a few brave souls that might jump on this opportunity to take over the interview and ‘sell’ themselves to the employer. They rush through a mini presentation of their rehearsed questions and answers, highlighting the skills they feel are relevant to the position. This might spark some interest, but inevitably, the interview ends and you are left wondering if you said enough or too much.

Scenario two is where you don’t get an interview and you reach out to the employer to get some helpful feedback. If you’re lucky, you’ll get someone who is honest and knowledgeable and can detail where your skill set is lacking as compared to what they are looking for. In most cases the vague response is simply, “We only interviewed a select group based on some very specific criteria.” This is where you get the “Although you’re very well educated, I think that you would be bored here and we really can’t offer what you are looking for” response. How do you respond to that? How do they know what you are looking for? How can anyone be over-educated? These same or similar responses are recycled and reused after an interview when you don’t get the position.

What happened to hiring educated people and watching them grow and learn within your company, all while reaping the benefits of their education?  As an employer, shouldn’t you be pleased that a graduate is interested in working for your company? I know that some employers are intimidated by seemingly over educated people, and sadly I have been party to a conversation where a recruiter made disparaging remarks about over-educated and under-employed people applying for jobs. The topic of conversation was a 50 year old woman with a PhD who had apparently ‘done nothing but’ administrative office work and university teaching all while earning her Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD degrees. The comments were derogatory and belittled the work experiences this woman had gained. The fact that this woman had the perseverance to work and study her way through three degrees, says a lot about her and the skills she applied to accomplish this. Employers that have not gone to graduate school, often don’t recognize the experiences and skills gained through a graduate education.

When an employer is looking for someone with great communication abilities, wouldn’t you think that a university instructor would have those skills? If you’re looking for a leader, how about the graduate instructor that has taught several classes and led several groups in project and research work? Leading a class of forty in a focused discussion to arrive at a lesson goal is not something to be overlooked. Leading a group of research participants through various exercises takes a strong, organized individual. These two examples alone speak volumes of the skills obtained from a graduate education.  As an employer you should be looking for someone who can apply critical thinking and decision making. The ability to look at a problem from all angles, critically analyzing the possible outcomes and researching possible solutions, is a winning combination for any employee; so why not hire a grad student? Why not hire an educated person who has been trained to do this?

I know that this problem is worldwide, and while I have tried to educate employers on the benefits of hiring graduates in Canada, I have heard from other PhD graduates on how difficult it is to get employers to recognize their value, their skills set, and their expertise. When will employers understand and recognize that there is no such thing as being over-educated!