High Unemployment and ‘Over Qualified’ Attitudes Can Get Companies In Trouble – Rev. 9/09

In the United States,
Tough Economic Times With High Unemployment Is Stimulating The Paradox of
Candidates Being Viewed As ‘Over-Qualified’ Possibly Being In Violation of The Federal EEOC Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws

Michael Marshall, PhD


It is important that senior management and human resources management in the US understand this situation and possibly rethink their attitudes towards candidates that
they would possibly view as ‘over-qualified’ and eliminate from possibly hiring.

High unemployment has put many people into the job market who have high levels of education, trainings, skills and experience.

Concern, frustration and depression are evolving into personal anger.

These individuals are competing for the same jobs that others with less education, trainings, skills and experience are applying for.

Higher education, trainings, skills and experience are often associated with individuals further on with a professional career and older than those that are in the early stages of a career or those that simply lack such.

This often equates to age which is a factor protected under the US Federal EEOC Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

On the employers’ side, one often hears:

1. We do not want to hire individuals with high levels of education, trainings, skills and experience for many job positions because their immediate supervisors and managers are at a much lower level with these things.

2. We do not want to hire such individuals because their immediate supervisors and managers would be younger than them.

3. We do not want to hire such individuals because they may want to speak up about suggestions and improving things.  Maybe we do not want to change anything or if we do, their immediate supervisors and managers would look poorly since they did not have the skills to know these things prior to this.

4. We do not want to hire such individuals because they would expect to be promoted to higher level positions eventually and we do not have such positions to promote them onto.

5. We do not want to hire such individuals because we will never pay them anywhere near what they once earned.  Once the economy gets better and more jobs are available, they will only leave us.


On the candidates’ side, one often hears;

1. We have a right to work and support my family. Discriminating against us for higher level skills, education and experience that correlates with age is wrong and against the law

2. In the United States, it is our culture to strive for higher education, skills, experience and competence.  If we achieve some of this, it is not right for employers to hold this against us.

3. We have spent a lot of money and time to get educated and trained.  The educational system never told us that this would be held against us one day and prevent us from getting a job

4. It is our right to have a job even if it is at a lower level and lower pay than we once had.  Viewing us as ‘over-qualified’ only to hire those at lower levels of education, training, skills and experience does not make any sense. It seems to be counter productive to organizations who want to survive and hopefully grow

5. You would think that organizations would want to hire the highest educated, trained, skilled and experienced individuals even at lower wages and lower position levels.  This should be viewed as a bargain for them that would give them an opportunity to help improve their business.


Not every job position opening situation is age related but many are.

Now, let’s proceed to a few more details that will only add more debate on this subject.
Employment applications often ask for dates of education, trainings and previous positions and employment.

Dates of such can easily infer age; not always but often.

At the bottom of applications sometimes there is something about if untruthful or if information is left off the application it can cause termination later.

Obviously such information can be helpful to qualify a candidate but it can also be used to disqualify them due to age.

If a formal complaint is filed with the EEOC for discriminations, such things can be viewed as discriminatory.

Many companies and organizations remove these things from their employment forms and process to avoid legal issues.

This is a growing sensitive situation.

In 2005 the US Supreme Court ruled that employers may be liable for ‘disparate impact’ age discrimination under the ADEA Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 even if they did not intend to.

The primary focus of the ADEA, Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967, was for individuals 40 years of age and older and for both employees and for hiring.

This originally targeted employers with 20 or more employees.

As unemployment challenges continue, unemployed individuals with the higher level education, trainings, skills and experience are going to demand fair treatment under the United States EEOC  Equal Employment Opportunities Commission laws.

Under such there is formal recourse by a formal complaint to the US – EEOC where they will conduct formal investigations for any allegations or complaints and also by private retained attorneys.

Either of these will not be something that companies or organizations will like having to become involved in.

The FEPA Fair Employment Practices Agency also helps with age discrimination issues and complaints.
These laws apply to all business located within the US.

In 1996, 43 terminated employees from the Monsanto Corporation filed an age discrimination complaint with the EEOC and also filed a formal law suite through a private attorney.

In 1996, the EEOC settled with Monsanto for amounts ranging from $125,000. to $500,000. per each of these employees.

This settlement did not include the settlement amount reached by the private attorney that was retained.

Hiring individuals that are younger may be justified if they have higher education, more  training and have more experience.

Often, this is not the case though.

Not hiring or replacing older employers with younger individuals can be justified for safety reasons and ability to perform the job safely.

Despite federal and state laws prohibiting age discrimination, it still happens.
Formal statistics do not reflect the actual age discrimination.

To get a personal insight to this, just ask some people who are unemployed searching for a job position about how often they hear that they are ‘over-qualified’ for a job position.

Keep in mind that much of this is in violation of the age discrimination laws.

Get ready for a real surprise.  It is truly shocking and disturbing.

Can you imagine if everyone searching for a job position that is told that they are
‘over-qualified’ for the job position, actually filed a formal discrimination complaint or retained a private attorney and brought law suit.

The legal courts and the United States EEOC would get overwhelmed.

General perception is that age discrimination is commonplace well beyond formal statistics.

In the ‘fiscal year’ of 2008, the United States EEOC received about 24,582 formal age discrimination complaints, resolved 21, 415 and rendered financial settlements in favor of employees and candidates for hire, in the amount of 82.8 billion dollars.


United States EEOC Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ‘Annual’ Statistics:

Year       # Complaints    # Settled /$  Amnt      % complaints justified

2004        17,837             1,377    $ 69 million           39.4 %

2005        16,585             1,326      77.7 mil               47 %

2006        16,548             1,417      51.5 mil               48.2 %

2007        19,103             1,795       66.8 mil              48 %

2008        21,582             1,974       82.8  mi              48.1 %


These numbers do not include the settlements from retained private attorneys and not include the out of court settlements from retained private attorneys either.

The actual numbers are higher.

The US is not alone with this issue.

Other countries also have laws prohibiting age discrimination and they too struggle with this issue.

In New Zealand that also has discrimination laws, 10% of formal discrimination complaints are age discrimination for various reasons and various situations.

Of the formal age discrimination complaints, 19% are for pre employment and 24% are for employees in active employment.

This is 43% of age discrimination formal complaints are job or employment related.

Of New Zealand’s formal age discrimination complaints;

1 %       0-15  years of age
3 %       16-17
3 %       18-19
7%        20-29
6 %       30-39
17%      40-49
30 %     50-59
17 %     60-64
15 %     65-69
1 %       70-74


Let’s now bring to your attention another interesting situation that creates more dynamics.


US Federal legislators from the legislative branch, judges from the judicial branch, presidents
and vice presidents from the executive branch; have strongly encouraged and promoted the importance for individuals to seek out and obtain higher education and training to increase skills and knowledge.


The federal executive branch is also promoting the importance of business organizations to increase their ‘creativity’, ‘out of the box thinking’ and ‘innovation’.


Often, the well educated and higher trained individuals have more creativity and new ideas.

This benefits the United States in numerous ways, business organizations and the individuals.


When potential employers view candidates as ‘Over-Qualified’ and ‘Not a Good Fit” this is discriminating.


This does go against want the US federal government is promoting and directing others to do.


You may say that such employers are going against the US federal government directives.


This certainly opens up more legal issues.


Understanding this issue and possibly progressing companies’ and organizations’ attitudes of such may be a proactive approach to this rising situation and paradox.


Here are some questions and a rating scale to review and determine where your own company or organization is positioned on this subject or issue.

Just write in the points on each item that you qualify for.

0 to 10 points with 10 being the highest rating on each item

Add up your score and judge for yourself.


1. ______ 0 to 10 points  
The human resources director, senior executive (president or owner) and the senior management staff (VP’s directors, other upper management) have met to discuss this subject and issue extensively within the last 6-12 months with progressive efforts agreed to and implementation started

2. ______ 0 to 10 points
The human resources director has reviewed the employment applications and processes for anything that can be skill level and age discriminatory, and remove such items.
This needs to include recruiting, pre employment and current employee status.
Dates of education, trainings and previous employment on employment applications should be evaluated for removal because this can be considered discriminatory if a formal complaint of discrimination is filed with the United States EEOC.

3. ______ 0 to 10 points
A formal process with guidelines and measurements are in place to make sure the highest level of skills, experience, trainings and education of candidates regardless of age are being hired and not screened out due to ‘over-qualified attitudes’.

4. ______ 0 to 10 points
All hiring management and supervisory staff have been in training on this issue within the last twelve months.

5. ______ 0 to 10 points
To help overcome the natural tendency of staff to hire those below their own level of skills and education that is often associated to age, there is some type of an incentive program in place to encourage all supervisory and management staff to hire candidates above their own skill, experience and education levels, regardless of age. 

6. ______ 0 to 10 points
There is a program in place to utilize the skills and knowledge of new and current employees with higher level skills, experience and expertise, to contribute to the company or organization’s growth; especially with those of the higher age that may have such.
This to incorporate efforts to make sure the older individuals with higher levels of education, skills, expertise and experience are on committees.
The program also needs to have the proper recognition and adequate incentives for them.

7. ______ 0 to 10 points
There is an incentive program for the employees’ immediate supervisors and managers to promote the hiring of top level skills, experience and education regardless of age, even if such is higher than their own.
This will help gain the support and cooperation of supervisory staff and management.

8.  ______ 0 to 10 points
From an executive level, such things as formal mission statements and company values need to include the progressive approach and attitudes of hiring highest levels of education, skills and experience regardless of age.

9. ______ 0 to 10 points
All supervisory and management training programs to include discrimination laws and the company’s attitudes, compliance, processes and procedures to comply legally, ethically and morally

10. ______ 0 to 10 points
Utilizing an outside special consultant, conduct a formal annual review of all forms, processes and procedures for hiring and supervising of employees regarding discrimination.  This formal review is to include interviewing of all hiring supervisors and managers on this subject.


Score Results

80 to 100 points
Excellent attitudes and management    You are exemplary
You most likely are a growing company or organization

50 to 79 points
Good but from this list you now know what additional improvements you need to be implementing

20 to 49 points
You have a descent start with managing this issue but the above list will give you a road map and path as to the improvements you need to proceed with

1 to 19 points
Your company or organization started improving on this subject but somehow you have stopped      What happened?
You do have a potential for legal issues
Your growth is probably hindered and struggling
The above list gives the things that you need to consider implementing

0 points
You are positioned for legal problems
Your business growth is probably hindered and struggling far more than others
You need immediate improvement
The attached list gives you the things that you need to consider implementing



Michael P. Marshall, PhD
Senior Specialist and Advisor for Business Development, Marketing and Sales
Tele. 920-734-8678
Email:  michaelmarshall@new.rr.com
Michael has more than 30 years of business experience focusing on business development utilizing extensive skills in marketing, sales, and communications; both national and international.
This experience comes from starting at field staff level positions and then progressing up to senior level Director and Vice President positions in several industries and markets including medical and healthcare.
His expertise is also utilized in special advisory and consulting situations, as well.
Prior to his extensive 30-year business career, he studied advanced engineering and then transitioned to psychology and social human behavior.
He was a mental health counselor for several years in some major medical institutions prior to business.
In these endeavors he learned what makes people do what they do, what influences others, how to motivate positive behavioral change; and the importance to a strong foundation and the individual components in a structure.
Among the senior level positions held during his career, Michael was a vice president of marketing and business development for a healthcare organization.
Michael’s education and trainings include a PhD in business concentrating in marketing and business development, an MBA, bachelor degrees in psychology and social human behavior, advanced post graduate certification in marketing from UCLA, formally trained in ‘Creativity and Out of The Box Thinking’, federally certified in international business.
He has over 35 formal trainings and certifications covering the fundamentals of business development, marketing, sales, communications, management and leading a business to significant sales and profit growth.

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