Ask the Headhunter: Why do employers reject ‘too talented’ job applicants?

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Business executive discussing with her client. Related words: Interview, job, jobs, job search. Photo by ONOKY - Eric Audras via Getty Images

HR can easily and thoughtlessly tag you “overqualified.” On the other hand, a smart manager to whom you were referred may more readily tag you “the exceptional person we need to hire.” Photo by ONOKY – Eric Audras via Getty Images

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: I just read an article you wrote earlier this year: “Are disappearing job offers a new trend?” I am hoping you can shed some light on my situation.

After eight years struggling to remain an independent consultant, I was ready to admit that I needed more steady income. So I prepared a unique resume to search for a position as a sales manager, trainer and consultant in New York City.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Are disappearing job offers a new trend?

I received a warm response to my creative resume (though I’m sure not all appreciated it). After several initial phone interviews (which I think I handle very well), I was told that I could expect an email about a meeting in person. To my surprise, not one such email came.

In retrospect, I realize that I do not interview like the average person. Having been a consultant, I’m accustomed to directness and a high standard of interaction, which I attribute, in part, to my winning the client I had as a consultant (which led to the testimonials about my work in my resume). It occurred to me that I may come off as being “overqualified” or as not being someone who will just sit in a chair and mindlessly go through some routine.

If I were an employer, I’d love to have someone like me on the team. But it seems employers think I don’t fit the mold. I’d appreciate any insight you care to offer.

The HR process is so prescribed and defined that it doesn’t know what to do with an outlier like you.

Nick Corcodilos: My guess is your resume generated the interview. What that means is you entered an HR process. (See “How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.”) This is also known as “entering HR Hell.”

As you’ve seen, that process is so prescribed and defined that it doesn’t know what to do with an outlier like you.

Ironically, HR loves to crow that it wants to hire “people who think out of the box.” But then HR forces you into the box! Worse, rather than gleefully hire someone who has extra skills, HR tags you “overqualified” and misses out on a superlative worker.

READ MORE: Why can’t new grads get jobs? Automated interviews

The only way to beat this is to avoid Hell — that is, stay out of the process — and that means applying for jobs without using a resume or any process-oriented methods (e.g., job boards, online applications and so on). The approach has to be personal, based on referrals and trust, in order to get the attention of someone with skin in the game who is actually thinking, not processing. (That’s almost always the hiring manager.) Make sense?

Unfortunately, job hunting has become a process-based racket. HR wants only to run the machine that does the processing — it doesn’t want to be bothered with actually getting out from behind the desk to recruit and talk to people. As you’ve guessed, an algorithm and the personnel jockey behind it can easily (and thoughtlessly) tag you “overqualified.” On the other hand, a smart manager to whom you were referred, who deals with you one-on-one, may more readily tag you “the exceptional person we need to hire.”

Worse, rather than gleefully hire someone who has extra skills, HR tags you “overqualified” and misses out on a superlative worker.

As for your comment about approaching interviews like a consultant, check this column I wrote for CMO.com: “Why You Should Treat Job Applicants Like Consultants.” For more about how to get past the HR machine, see “Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke.”

I wish a congressional committee would start asking why employers reject job applicants because they’re too talented, while Tom Perez, the U.S. Secretary of Labor parrots employers’ complaints that there’s a talent shortage!

I wish you the best.

Dear Readers: How many people reading this column have gotten rejected because they’re too good a new hire? “Overqualified” is such a stupid moniker that I can’t believe any employer even uses it as an excuse for turning down talent!


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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