If You’re Overqualified, You’re Qualified

While running errands this afternoon, I had occasion to listen to Professor Jonathan Walton, who teaches Religious Studies at U. of California Riverside, pontificating about the evils of omitting degrees and experience on one’s resume (see: http://www.jonathanlwalton.com/Site/Blog_and_Book_Reviews/Entries/2010/5/16_%E2%80%9CWhat_Should_I_Do_Who_Should_I_Be%E2%80%9D.html) No, he wasn’t talking about omitting felony convictions. He really was saying that a Ph.D. who applies for a job as a stockboy is being unethical if he omits the Ph.D. from his resume, even if nobody is hiring Ph.D.s and the stockboy position is the only one out there.

Let’s get the obvious straw people out of the way. Of course it’s unethical (not to mention illegal) to pad one’s resume with credentials and experience one has not in fact earned. And of course it’s illegal and unethical to omit, say, a record as a sexual child abuser from one’s application for a position in a day care center. It’s certainly unethical (dunno about illegal) to neglect to mention that one’s previous employment was terminated as a result of blowing up the cafeteria. And, OTOH, it is also illegal for the prospective employer to refuse to hire an applicant on grounds of being “overqualified”, when in fact that is merely code for “too old.” It is not illegal, but is perhaps unethical, for an employer to turn down an applicant merely because the applicant has too many other options and is therefore in too good a bargaining position vis-à-vis the employer.

What information does the prospective employer have a right to from a job applicant? It’s simple: can s/he do the job? That covers the obvious stuff, like high school diploma, and college degree with the appropriate major, and in some instances advanced degree of the appropriate sort, as well as a certain amount of relevant job experience, plus no felony record, plus having left one’s previous job on good terms with the employer. The employer may have the applicant pass a test for the appropriate skills. That’s it. It is well-settled law that the applicant’s family status, religion, and ethnic background are none of the boss’s business. If the applicant can somehow manage to disguise his/her gender or race, that would be legitimate too. A person who applies for a job is not undertaking to marry the boss’s daughter or son.

And the fact that, in addition to being able to do the job s/he is applying for, the applicant can also swim the English Channel, perform marriages in three states, remove your appendix, and/or prepare desserts in a gourmet restaurant, is none of the employer’s business. The employer is entitled to a person with the skills, credentials, and experience necessary to do the job—not to the corporation’s ideal of the perfect switchboard operator/waittress/stockboy/whatever. Sorry, Professor Walton, you blew that one.

Red Emma

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