Over-Qualification: When a Higher Degree Doesn’t Pay

One of the biggest pitfalls in a bad economy is to assume you need more education. Sometimes, it’s true. Often, though, you’ll end up overspending and overeducating yourself. Employers are more likely to pass on an employee who has too many degrees because they’re seen as a liability for fast turnover. However, there are definite ways to further your education in a meaningful way that will help—not hinder—your career.

The notion that getting an extra degree in your field will automatically open doors is misguided. At best, you’ll spend money on a degree that will put you smack dab in the middle of the cesspool of overqualified candidates. At worst, you’ll lose several years of your life going back to grad school and end up in that same cesspool.

Combatting Over-Qualification

Considering how to go back to school is just as important as deciding whether or not to go. Employers give more weight to any graduate studies than they give to your undergraduate degree. If you go to Cornell for undergrad and then switch to the local community college for your master’s degree, be prepared for some questions.

Another thing to consider is that experience is often more important than a pile of certificates. It’s important that you’re able to work while you’re in school. Sometimes that means correspondence classes or looking into online degrees.  Remember that the whole goal of going. Remember that the whole goal of going back to school is to learn more and stay current in your field. Dropping out of the career path to take classes will only slide you further from your goals.

Decide if You Should do It

The best thing to do when deciding if you should pursue more education is to simply look around. Decide which position you want to aim for in your company, and ask to see what those people have a degree in. Don’t be afraid to talk to them directly—most likely they’ll be flattered that you consider them successful. Offer to buy them lunch to talk about their career path. Be very clear about your goals, and they may even offer to put in a good word for you the next time a spot opens up.

If you’re currently job seeking, go ahead and reach out to local industry leaders. People interested in journalism shouldn’t attempt to call up Barbara Walters for a chat, but the local news anchor may be persuaded to answer an e-mail with a few questions. You can also contact human resources departments and ask them what they look for in candidates. They likely won’t reveal specifics, but they’ll be more open to offering advice about whether or not your current education level is a perfect fit for their company.

Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. wrote on Quint Careers that often candidates won’t even know when they’ve been labeled as overqualified. The boundary isn’t always clear, since each company will ask different things of its employees. It’s important to get a sense of what’s standard in the industry and recognize the companies that hold other-than-average views on education.

The Other Roads you Haven’t Travelled

Sometimes there’s no getting out of being stuck in a field. After all, there’s only so much you can do with an art history degree. If you’re looking to slightly shift your career focus, consider getting a complimentary degree. Choose it based on where you want to end up.

For example, if you want to be a gallery owner, supplement your B.A. with a master’s degree in business. Diversity with purpose will add to your resume without derailing your career path. Just remember that every step you take towards education should be well-thought out with a distinct career path in mind.

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