Overqualification and selection in leadership training.

Author:Fine, Saul

This study examines perceived overqualification in a leadership training scenario. The results show that overqualification is associated with negative attitudes but not with poor performance. General mental ability and the Big Five personality scale of openness to experience are able to predict perceived overqualification (r = .53) such that individuals in the top 30% of these scores (aggregated) were more than twice as likely to feel overqualified than the rest of the sample. Possible implications for the selection and design of leadership training programs are discussed.

Keywords: leadership training; overqualification; selection


Overqualification can be defined as a situation of having higher qualification levels than are actually required for a given job. These qualifications are typically measured in terms of educational attainment, experience, and skills (G. J. Johnson & Johnson, 2000; W. R. Johnson, Morrow, & Johnson, 2002) and more recently in terms of general mental ability as well (Fine & Nevo, in press).

Overqualification is considered to be an important component of the broader term of underemployment (Maynard, Joseph, & Maynard, 2006), which refers to any situation of lesser quality employment according to some job standard and may also include dimensions of underpayment, involuntary part-time work, and employment outside of one's professional area (Feldman, 1996). Overqualification has been reported to exist in most industrialized countries, and although the exact number of overqualified workers is not known, under the broader heading of underemployment, conservative estimates indicate that approximately one quarter of the working population is overqualified for their jobs (Feldman & Turnley, 1995; Groot & van den Brink, 2000). Despite its high prevalence, however, the topic of overqualification has received very little attention in the organizational literature, and the psychological antecedents and behavioral consequences of overqualification are still largely unknown. Furthermore, in the absence of appropriate methods for identifying and predicting the performance of overqualified individuals (Feldman, 1996), properly identifying and processing overqualified job applicants has become a major issue in personnel selection today (Institute of Personnel & Development, 1997).

One of the main challenges in studying overqualification in terms of personnel selection has been its operational definition. Although overqualification can be defined objectively, particularly in terms of discrepancies between individual and required educational levels (e.g., Quinn & Mandilovitch, 1975), psychologists have almost exclusively studied overqualification as a perceived construct (G. J. Johnson & Johnson, 1996; W. R. Johnson et al., 2002; Maynard et al., 2006). Perceived overqualification refers to the degree to which individuals perceive themselves (or others) as possessing more than the required job qualifications. It has been argued that this perceived construct is more appropriate for studying the relationship between overqualification and job-related attitudes and performance than objectively defined overqualification (Maynard et al., 2006). However, perceived overqualification is limited in the sense that although it may be a viable measure of overqualification among job incumbents, it cannot, by definition, assess overqualification among new job applicants. Therefore, in terms of personnel selection, a predictive model of overqualification is still very much in need.

Another challenge for studying overqualification in terms of personnel selection is related to its incompatibility with classical selection methods. Classical selection methods involve the administration of valid assessment tools for predicting future training or job performance in terms of the degree to which competency requirements are fulfilled, whereby more is always better (Ghiselli, 1973; Hunter, 1986). However, this traditional approach does not consider maximal competency levels at which individuals possessing too much of a given competency, such as in the case of overqualification, are perhaps unsuitable for their jobs. As a result, job requirements and assessment methods are very seldom set to deselect overqualified individuals (O'Brien, 1986). On the other hand, in practice, studies have found personnel managers to view overqualified job candidates less favorably than adequately qualified candidates, and often do not hire them as a result (Bills, 1992; Maynard & Hakel, 1999). Therefore, there is a need to resolve this discrepancy and to develop reliable selection methods for situations of overqualification.

Overqualifieation and Leadership

This study set out to examine overqualification and selection in a leadership-training scenario. One of the first questions raised was how to measure perceived overqualification in this context. It may be argued that, among the various dimensions of overqualification (i.e., overeducation, overexperience, skill underutilization, and cognitive overqualification), cognitive-based overqualification is a more appropriate construct for studying leadership performance because it is more directly related to general mental ability (GMA), which is considered to be one of the single most effective predictors of successful military and civil training and job performance across occupational categories (Gottfredson, 1997; Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). So too, in both qualitative reviews and meta-analyses of leadership performance, intelligence has been found to be an important and predictive attribute of successful leadership (Bass, 1990; House & Aditya, 1997; Judge, Colbert, & Ilies, 2004; Lord, de Vader, & Alliger, 1986). That intelligence is important for good leadership is also theoretically based on the many leadership performance domains that require high intellectual capacities such as problem solving, planning, communicating, decision making, and creative thinking (Tett, Guterman, Bleier, & Murphy, 2000; Yukl & Van Fleet, 1992).

Once defined in terms of mental ability, a question of interest is whether overqualification in a leadership setting is related to negative attitudes (e.g., dissatisfaction). In other contexts, overqualified individuals are considered to be unchallenged at work and become bored, dissatisfied, and likely to turn over as a result (Bills, 1992; Maynard & Hakel, 1999; Maynard et al., 2006). In general support of this, a lack of challenge or complexity on the job has been associated with boredom and job dissatisfaction (Burke, 1998; Caplan, 1987). Furthermore, studies examining the relationship between cognitive ability and job dissatisfaction (Ganzach, 1998) and intention to quit (Dembowski & Morris, 2002) have found positive correlations, especially when job complexities are low and incommensurate with individual abilities. Because leadership training programs include individuals with high intellectual abilities and high overall potential for successful leadership (Hollenbeck & McCall, 1999; Leonard, 2003), training course curricula that are not intellectually challenging and stimulating may cause some individuals to feel overqualified for their courses and, as a result, to have similar negative effects to those found in other occupational contexts. Moreover, even in challenging training scenarios, individuals with relatively higher GMAs may be less intellectually challenged than their peers are and thus feel more overqualified as a result. Accordingly, it is suggested that perceived overqualification will be related to negative course-related attitudes such as dissatisfaction, boredom, and intention to quit. It is further hypothesized that this cognitive-based overqualification will be more strongly related to negative attitudes than psychometrically measured GMA will be with these attitudes, based on the rationale that it would not be the cognitive ability per se responsible for the negative attitudes but rather the perceived overqualification that is derived from it. Therefore,

Hypothesis 1: Perceived...

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