Although flattering on the surface, the words: You’re overqualified, can be frustrating when you are looking for a job. But there’s a reason why employers avoid hiring people who are over qualified—they tend to get bored, underperform, and have little loyalty to the company. That’s why, if you want to grow in your career, one of the smartest strategies you can use is to take on a stretch assignment that really test your capabilities. In other words, under qualified.
I’m not implying that you should seek jobs for which you are obviously not qualified. What I’m saying is that the best way to expand your skills is to take on a challenge. That may involve working in a different department, function, or industry, or supervising a larger number of people.
For many women (and in my experience, Latinas in particular), it’s extremely hard to do something for which they don’t feel 100% ready. Some call this lack of confidence. I prefer to say that we suffer from a generalized “perfect little girl” complex, which was probably instilled in us very early on in life. This tendency is partly responsible for us passing up opportunities for which we feel we don’t qualify. We fail to realize that, given a similar skill-set, most men would take that job and learn what they don’t know as part of the new position. That’s exactly the attitude you should adopt.
According to a recent report by McKinsey & Company, one of the barriers for women getting to the top is their individual mindset. The report points out that too often women don’t raise their hands or even consider stretch roles. Another barrier is the institutions’ mind-set, as in making decisions for women without consulting them. For example, your boss doesn’t offer you a certain position that involves extensive travel because he knows you have young children.
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THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF “UNDER QUALIFIED”
Whether you’re currently working and seeking a promotion, or you are unemployed, the key is to look for positions where you can leverage the expertise you bring to the table, while developing a variety of new skills, from technical to financial to leadership.
Virginia, for example, has been an executive recruiter for most of her career. She has always worked for executive search firms (the type of entity that big corporations retain to find their top talent) and is now looking for a position as a talent acquisition executive at a company. Moving to the client side will allow her to learn a host of new skills that would build on her past experience. It’s a stretch assignment she’s ready for.
Janet, on the other hand, is a talented photographer who’s had a successful career in print media. She’d like to work at a Public Relations company promoting artists and celebrities. But the truth is, it will be very hard for her to make that jump without first taking some courses or going through some kind of training program. The leap, at least for right now, is too much of a stretch for Janet.
Seeking a stretch assignment means being ready to take some risks, a behavior embraced by most successful men and women. I admit it can be scary, but it also has a large payoff if you do it consistently. Every time I’m asked to do something new (the first time I did a live TV segment, the first time I emceed at a large conference, or presented to an audience of CEOs), I was nervous. I always wonder if I can pull it off. Those nerves always keep me focused, help me prepare, and ask questions of experts whom I trust. And then, I take the leap and give it my best.
It eventually becomes second nature to look for and accept those challenges for which you’re not 100 % ready. These stretch assignments are the projects that will push you, that will take you down a new path, and that will teach you things about yourself that you weren’t aware of.