By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
Some organizations are reluctant to hire candidates who are overqualified for a position. Unfortunately, this outdated misperception still lingers as organizations continue to look for the right candidates to fill their crucial positions.
Many recruiters and hiring managers make assumptions based on a candidate’s work history, which no longer applies to today’s workplace. Given the nature of how quickly most organizations change, having an individual with a variety of skills can actually be an asset.
I am of the opinion that hiring overqualified candidates is not a problem. If you have made an individual aware of a job’s duties and he or she still elects to take the position if offered, there should not be a problem. With many organizations having policies such as “at will” employment, companies should not make their hiring decisions based on an expectation of how long an employee will stay in the job.
Instead, the hiring manager and recruiter should focus on three questions:
- Can the candidate perform the job’s tasks?
- Is the individual a good fit for the organization, department and position?
- Are there other opportunities based on the individual’s skill set?
In summary, both the candidate and the employer should have an open and authentic conversation during the interview process regarding expectations, goals and objectives for the job.
Why Should We Consider Overqualified Job Candidates?
When the Forbes Coaches Council discussed the topic of overqualified candidates this year, the prevailing thought was that a person could be considered overqualified but still be hired. However, there are a number of ways that organizations can approach the situation. For example, some comments from the Council included:
- The additional skill sets can work wonders for the organization, especially if the candidate is hungry.
- If you believe in the Peter Principle, everyone has potential to reach a level of incompetence. At some point, these individuals will have an opportunity to grow and be considered for promotion opportunities.
- Hire the individuals, but onboard them carefully in an effort to minimize turnover.
- Take into consideration the candidate’s career cycle and personal motivations before dismissing him or her from consideration.
- If you can ensure the individual can quickly grow and assume more challenging tasks, and align monetary rewards growth accordingly, you can consider hiring an overqualified candidate.
What Do the Management Experts Say about Hiring Overqualified Job Candidates?
Berrin Erdogan, a professor of management at Portland State University, notes that recruiters have been reluctant to pass on overqualified job candidates to hiring managers. They base this misperception on their feelings that an overqualified person would be bored, lack motivation or always be looking for a better job. However, Dr. Erdogan’s research showed that:
- Overqualified candidates can perform better than other incumbents in a position.
- Employees leave a position due to working conditions rather than a misuse of their skills.
Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, the author of “Great People Decisions” and “The Definitive Guide to Recruiting in Good Times and Bad,” says, “When considering whether or not to hire an overqualified individual, the benefits tend to outweigh the risks, especially if you are working for a visionary organization focusing on future needs as well as the present.”
Best Practices for Approaching Overqualified Job Candidates
According to Harvard Business Review’s Amy Gallo, some best practices for recruiters are:
- Think broadly about your organization and its overall talent needs now and in the future.
- Consider how you could accommodate a promising candidate’s skill set by shaping the job.
- Onboard carefully and be clear about your plans for the new employee.
- Narrowly define the hiring process as finding one person for one role.
- Confuse education and experience with skills; a candidate with lots of experience still may not have the capabilities to do the job.
- Try to pay an overqualified candidate less than he’s worth.
Ultimately, your organization should take a stance on this topic and assign some type of “value” to the topic by considering the following questions:
- Should we hire overqualified job candidates?
- If we do, how will they fit in and what is our organization’s responsibility for making the onboarding process work?
- What are the short- and long-term ramifications for hiring such candidates?
In the end, your actions should reflect what is best for the organization’s vision of where it wants to go.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.