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Perceived overqualification and withdrawal behaviours: Examining the roles of job attitudes and work values


Correspondence should be addressed to Douglas C. Maynard, Department of Psychology, State University of New York at New Paltz, 600 Hawk Drive, New Paltz, NY 12561-2440 (e-mail:


The current study examined a moderated mediation model of perceived overqualification and job search, with job attitudes as mediators and the competence and growth work value as a moderator. We also hypothesized a positive relationship between overqualification and actual voluntary turnover behaviour. College graduates from diverse occupations completed two surveys spaced 6 months apart (= 368). Results suggested that perceived overqualification at Time 1 led to active job search behaviour at Time 2, both directly and through job satisfaction. The direct link was moderated by work values, such that the overqualification–job search relationship was stronger for employees who highly valued work which offered skill utilization and growth. Perceived overqualification was also predictive of voluntary turnover behaviour; those at the high end of the overqualification scale were over four times more likely to have left their position than those at the low end of the scale. Finally, those who left their original positions reported less overqualification in their new positions. The current findings extend the limited existing literature by establishing relationships between overqualification and withdrawal behaviours 6 months later, and also providing evidence that individual differences may influence reactions to being overqualified.

Practitioner points

  • The current study found that employees who feel overqualified were more likely to be searching for a new job 6 months later, especially among those who strongly value work that utilizes their skills. Perceived overqualification was also linked to future actual turnover behaviour. Thus, organizations stand to potentially lose talented employees if they feel underutilized and underchallenged in their jobs.
  • These trends are particularly true of employees who strongly desire work that takes advantage of their talents, suggesting that the most ambitious employees are likely to seek alternate employment if they feel underutilized.
  • To retain these employees, supervisors first need to identify employees who might be feeling overqualified and underutilized, as these perceptions may or may not line up with ‘objective’ overqualification. The supervisor can then consider ways to empower the employee through increased involvement in decision-making or offering more advanced job assignments.