The discovery that you’re overqualified for many advertised jobs often comes as a rude shock. You’ve seen the ads, as Jonathan did, seeking skills in your area of expertise—but the employer hasn’t specified a Ph.D. Instead, the employer is seeking someone with a Bachelor of Science or a Master of Science degree. That’s not ideal, but you have those degrees, too, so why not apply?
“Each of our labs has openings for B.S. or M.S.-level scientists who play a key role in our research effort. But those labs also have positions for Ph.D.s, and the two are completely separate roles,” says a client of mine, a human resources (HR) manager for a multinational R&D institution.
I told the client a story that Jonathan shared with me: Jonathan called a networking contact and found himself speaking to the hiring manager for a position he had applied to previously. He asked why his application hadn’t succeeded, and the hiring manager gave him an answer: He was overqualified for the position.
My client gasped audibly when I relayed that story. This was, apparently, a violation of standard protocol: Managers should “know better than to provide a lot of color,” my client says. Apparently, they’re not supposed to reveal that much about why they didn’t hire you. That’s why you rarely get a direct answer to questions like that. My HR contact, though, shared more information with me about being overqualified, so now I can share it with you.Read the whole thing, if only so you can share in my irritation.
I can't help but agree with Mr. Jensen that applying for and accepting a B.S./M.S.-level position is rather unwise, in that it is a dramatically different role than Ph.D.s. What I am surprised at his choice to not talk about why they might be applying for these roles, i.e. they can't find work as Ph.D.-level research scientists.
Finally, it's sad that, in our lawyer/lawsuit-phobic* culture, we apparently can't tell applicants what we think about them. It's good for companies, sure, but it sure leaves the applicant confused. We need to be giving people feedback, even it's unpleasant. I am not really one to suggest changes to federal law, but it seems to me that passing a law to offer employers limited immunity to lawsuits in exchange for telling applicants (especially on-site interviewees) their weaknesses would be a good idea.
UPDATE: Anon0919140334P rather effectively repudiates Mr. Jensen:
Wow... I'm sure glad I didn't follow this guy's advice 8 years ago when I applied to my current company. I am a PhD chemist, and had been working as a postdoc in a national lab. I applied for a BS/MS posting because it was exactly in line with what I wanted to do and looked like a nearly perfect match for my skill sets. The only drawback was that they were looking for someone at a lower degree level. When I interviewed, I learned that the position was a replacement for a technician who had left the company. The group was looking to increase its skill level, and thought a BS/MS was the right slot for the job.
I convinced them I'd be a better choice, and though there were some growing pains initially (group didn't function properly at first when I changed the role from technician to scientist), I was eventually promoted to lead the group. I've been doing that for the past four years. I also make significantly above the ACS salary median for PhDs, so it's not like I locked myself into a low-paying role by applying for an MS position.
I've been on several recent hiring committees, and in many cases we consider candidates with different degree levels. I actually interviewed someone today. In his company, the only people who advance up the science ladder are PhDs, and he's looking to get out of there specifically because of that culture (has a BS + 15 years of technical & managerial experience). He stated that one of the reasons he applied for this position is because he's heard that it's still possible to advance in our company without a doctorate. This is definitely true, and is supported by the fact that two of our current top scientists have MS degrees.
I therefore take a stance that's opposite from Jensen's: If you have a PhD and there's an MS level position that looks attractive, you should absolutely apply for it. If the company has the right culture, you might just get the job and find yourself in a place you can spend the rest of your career.I think the trick is, most large enough companies have HR/hiring cultures that are more like Jensen's client and less like Anon's. More's the pity.