Phd: What Do These Three Letters Mean to You?
Here are few common remarks made by hiring managers as they sort through applications:
“This candidate has a PhD in ecosystems management. Why on earth does she want to work for our tiny local parks department?”
“She has a PhD in applied physics. I think she’s way overqualified to teach remedial math to third graders.”
“I just assume he won’t be happy here.”
“I don’t trust him. I think he’s just looking for work, any work, and he’ll leave the minute he finds something better.”
“I want this guy to mold to us, but I’m afraid he’ll try to mold us to him.”
“We can’t afford someone with a PhD.”
Obviously, some jobs require PhDs. But a very large number of mid-level, mid-career positions do not. Education inflation certainly presents societal problems of all kinds, and the bachelor’s degrees that used to set candidates apart are now very common. That bubble of inflation is beginning to work its way to the master’s level, but it hasn’t yet reached the PhD, and chances are it never will. Most jobs simply don’t require 22 years of formal education, and until that changes, the PhD degree will remain relatively rare in those applicant pools. But it won’t always improve an applicant’s candidacy. So why not?
A PhD is difficult to attain and requires years of focus and application. But for some reason, PhDs also inspire a rigid and widely held set of expectations about the applicants who hold them. The same qualities that make educated applicants attractive to employers can also suggest high salary expectations and high expectations of respect. Every year of education increases a candidate’s appeal, but only to a certain level. The PhD appears to be the tipping point at which the one side of the coin sometimes outweighs the other.
Candidates can manage this by choosing when and if to mention their qualifications. But what about hiring managers and HR pros? Have you ever rejected an overeducated candidate? Does rejecting a PhD run counter to your values and beliefs about the importance of education? As a hiring manager, what advice would you give to an applicant with a PhD?