PSU study finds that proactive personality traits mitigate the negative impact of perceived overqualification for new employees
Author: Crista Tappan, The School of Business
Posted: May 30, 2019
Feeling overqualified in a new job may lead an employee to feel less motivated and committed to their position over time, according to a recent study of new bank employees conducted by faculty from The School of Business at Portland State University and their colleagues.

The study, however, confirms a silver lining—across their first 90 days on the job, the employees demonstrated that proactive personality buffers the negative effects of perceived overqualification.

The study, “Build to last: Interactive effects of perceived overqualification and proactive personality on new employee adjustment,” was published in the highly ranked journal, Personnel Psychology. The researchers and PSU business professors Talya Bauer and Berrin Erdogan found that by identifying factors associated with perceived overqualification, organizations may gain insight into ways of retaining new hires and helping them adjust to their new jobs. Overqualification is the perception that an individual’s skills, education, knowledge and experience significantly exceeds job requirements and are not utilized on the job.

Proactive personality is highly correlated with proactive behaviors.

“New employees can do things like volunteer for challenging assignments, seek information and feedback, and expand or reshape their responsibilities to utilize their skills more fully,” said Erdogan. "Human resource professionals can use this research to identify those with perceived overqualification and without a proactive personality trait and take action to help them learn proactive behaviors.”

This study shows that by deliberately taking action to reshape early experiences, newcomers may positively impact their long-term success within the organization, regardless of how they perceive their qualifications for the job.

New employees sometimes perceive themselves as overqualified for their new role due to several factors, including feeling pressured to take a role when unemployment rates are high and a lack of appropriate communication during the interview process. This research is pioneering as its the first to explore how perceived overqualification affects newcomer adjustment over the first three months of work.

“Selecting individuals on factors related to thriving, such as a proactive personality trait, may be one way to help identify overqualified individuals who intend to remain with the organization,” the study concludes.

The researchers suggest that even though those with proactive personality may cope with overqualification more effectively, management looking to enhance employee job satisfaction and facilitate newcomer adjustment should offer opportunities and encouragement for all employees to utilize their skills more fully and provide support to employees who are interested in expanding or shaping their jobs. This, in turn, will benefit both the employee and the organization.

The study’s co-authors include lead author Lauren Simon from the University of Arkansas and William Shepherd from Ohio State University.