He's Overqualified, She's Highly Committed: Qualification Signals and Gendered Assumptions About Job Candidate Commitment
Evidence suggests overqualification (i.e., possessing more qualifications than necessary for a job) impacts hiring outcomes for women and men differently.
There is significant evidence showing that women tend to have lower returns to their careers in the labor force; in other words, they need additional qualifications to demonstrate their competence for a given position and to overcome the gendered double standards in the workplace.
This introduces a conundrum, as research indicates that hiring managers will reject job candidates whom they find to be overqualified for a position, since it raises concerns about the candidates’ commitment to the firm in the long term. Is there a double bind for women, where the additional qualifications they are required to have to overcome gender biases also raise questions about their commitment to the firm they are applying to as well as to their careers?
The authors of this article aimed to answer this question in two studies involving experimental and qualitative analyses. The first consisted of an experiment in which participants were given a position to fill and a candidate’s information, and had to answer questions about their perceptions of the candidate. For the second, they recruited hiring managers and asked them to answer questions about candidates’ qualifications, focusing on hiring managers’ assessments of women and men’s perceived commitment to their careers and future commitment to the firm to which they were applying.
There were gender differences in how job candidate overqualification impacted hiring outcomes, and they were due to the type of commitment—either to the hiring firm or to one’s personal career—that was inferred during evaluations.
- Overqualified women were more likely to receive a job offer than both qualified female and overqualified male candidates.
- Overqualified women were perceived to be more committed to their careers than qualified women. They were also perceived to be more committed to the hiring firm compared with both qualified women and overqualified men.
- Overqualified male candidates were less likely to receive a job offer than qualified male candidates. They were perceived to be less committed to the hiring firm compared with qualified men.
- In general, overqualification increased perceptions of female candidates’ career commitment and thus their likelihood of receiving job offers, whereas men’s qualification level did not influence perceptions of their career commitment.
These findings suggest that female candidates must demonstrate their commitment along two dimensions (to the hiring firm and their career) but male candidates only need to demonstrate their commitment along one dimension (to the hiring firm). Women, then, need to have more qualifications than is necessary for a job to overcome negative, gendered assumptions about their career commitment and competence.
The authors recruited 293 U.S. citizens on Amazon Mechanical Turk using CloudResearch. The sample was 60% male and 77% white/ Caucasian, with a mean age of 40 years. Participants self-identified as being currently employed full-time in a supervisory position and having prior experience hiring and evaluating job candidates.
Participants were instructed to take on the role of a hiring manager at an investment banking firm looking to fill an open Associate Analyst position. Participants were told that the position had previously been filled by individuals with “four to six years of industry experience” and “a degree in Economics, Finance, Accounting, or a related field.” This information provided participants with a reference point for what defined qualified for this position.
Participants were randomly assigned to one of four possible conditions. Each condition involved reviewing one profile of a job candidate who was described as having applied for the open associate analyst position, and answering questions about their perceptions of the candidate, with each of the four conditions being a combination of candidate gender (female/male) and qualification level (sufficiently qualified/overqualified). The candidate profiles included stereotypically masculine (Thomas) or feminine (Sarah) first names. All subsequent survey items included the candidate’s name to reinforce their gender.
All job candidate profiles contained the same educational and internship background. Qualified candidates were described as having four to six years of industry experience and currently holding an Associate Analyst position at a top-tier financial services firm, whereas overqualified candidates were described as having eight to ten years of industry experience and currently holding a Managing Analyst position (after having been internally promoted from an Associate Analyst position). Thus, overqualified candidates had nearly double the amount of industry experience and currently held a higher-ranking title compared with the qualifications necessary for the open position for which they were applying. Participants were asked to respond to a question designed to measure the job candidate’s labor market outcome: “How likely or unlikely would you be to offer [Thomas/Sarah] the Associate Analyst position?” on a 1-7 Likert scale (1 extremely unlikely, 7 extremely likely), used across all studies in this research.
To examine how firm and career commitment perceptions explained the gender differences documented in Study 1, the authors conducted an experiment using a sample of experienced hiring managers. Study 2 used the same 2 (candidate gender: female/male) by 2 (candidate qualification level: sufficiently qualified/overqualified) between-subjects experimental design as Study 1.
The authors recruited 215 hiring managers using Qualtrics panel data services. All participants needed to be based in the United States and be currently working as a hiring manager. Participants responded to all randomized questions below on a 1-7 Likert scale (1 extremely unlikely, 7 extremely likely).
To measure a candidate’s commitment to the firm:
- “How committed or uncommitted to the firm would you expect [Thomas/Sarah] to be?”
- “If the firm needed to ask [Thomas/Sarah] to work extra hours without overtime pay, how likely or unlikely is it that [s/he] would meet that request?”
- “How likely or unlikely do you think it would be for [Thomas/Sarah] to remain at the firm for the long term?”
To measure a candidate’s commitment to their career:
- “How committed or uncommitted do you think [Thomas/Sarah] is to [his/her] career, in general?”
- “How committed or uncommitted do you think [Thomas/Sarah] is to advancing in [his/her] career?”