Wanted: Overqualified Workers

Nov 15, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Books-A-Million Inc. credits its rise to become the nation’s third largest bookseller to its workforce of overqualified employees.

While many retailers are hiring so-called unskilled labor to fill job openings, Books-A-Million attracts and hires workers with degrees and business experience often held by
executives at other concerns.

Tom Sherk, director of personnel for Books-A-Million Inc., said the company is able to attract applicants with better skill sets because of their love for books. While many come
thinking of the job as temporary, many stay when they discover they love the work and that the company’s rapid growth offers opportunities to move up.

“We hear consistently from our employees that they enjoy working with the excellent product, they love giving great customer service, but it’s the atmosphere – the ability to
spend every minute of every working day surrounded by books – that brought them in the door,” he told the Birmingham Business Journal.

According to Mr. Sherk, Books-A-Million routinely hires people others pass up for being overqualified.

Moderator’s Comment: Is Books-A-Million unique in retail for its ability to attract “overqualified” job applicants?
Are there lessons for other retailers from Books-A-Million’s experience?

When I researched Trader Joe’s from the inside a couple of years ago as a part-time crew member, the store’s manager and assistant manager (captain and
first mate in Trader Joe’s jargon) knew my professional experience and immediately began giving me in-store assignments to take advantage of my strengths. They also, almost immediately,
began talking to me about a full-time career with the retailer and a career plan to get to a store manager or a corporate position in as short a time as possible.

When they hired me, they knew what I really did for a living but took the chance that I would love it enough to stay. They weren’t far from being right.

George Anderson – Moderator

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1 Comment on "Wanted: Overqualified Workers"

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Kelly Davis
Kelly Davis
14 years 6 months ago
It’s been my experience that many (most?) people consider store level retail jobs to be mindless, so it’s no wonder that words like “overqualified” are tossed around in reference to well-trained and -versed employees. No, my job is not rocket science, but I did have to learn how to do it well, and I’m still learning. I didn’t wake up one day, decide to enter retail and instantly become successful because I happened to have a college degree. More than that, I think most people are used to receiving low levels of service and encountering associates who have little product knowledge. If that’s all you expect, of course you’re going to think that people who give you more than that must be overqualified. And as has been said, understanding just what the qualifications are goes a long way – it’s too simple to say that anyone who provides good service or has a high level of education is overqualified. Shouldn’t we have high standards for the people who represent our companies?