Hiring Overqualified Candidates

overqualified candidate

By hiring overqualified candidates a company can bring innovation, efficiency and maturity to the company, resulting in thousands, if not millions, of dollars in revenue and increased productivity and cost savings, yet very few companies do so.

You’d think the mass of knowledge, skills, and insights you’ve picked up along the way in your many years of working would make you a prime candidate in job openings. Yet somehow with your impressive CV, you get rejected far too often. The reason the companies give you is that you’re ‘overqualified.’It is unfair to both the overqualified candidates and the hiring organizations. The latter loses out on people who can bring extraordinary talent, vision, innovation and intuition into the organization. While the former struggles for the very traits that should guarantee them an appropriate level position.

Why organizations reject overqualified candidates

Businesses turn down overqualified talent for a couple of reasons. Some of the most common excuses are:

  • They won’t work for long and leave the moment they find something better.
  • They will most probably not be satisfied at the compensation level we are willing to pay them, and soon ask for a raise.
  • We have no flexibility that allows us to pay above our tight budget.
  • They will probably make the other employees feel uncomfortable with their superior skills, and not fit well within our corporate culture.
  • They will be hard to manage since they will be working at a level far below their capabilities.
  • They won’t find the job challenging and will be unhappy working for us.

Although some of these reasons are valid, they are not entirely the real reason why companies hesitate in hiring overqualified employees.

Don Strait is a nationwide authority on contemporary job search strategies and technologies. In his 18 years of experience and research on helping senior level executives find positions, he has come to a conclusion on why corporations don’t hire overqualified candidates: “The overwhelming reason is direct supervisors feel intimidated by having staff that may be superior in their talent then that supervisor. The supervisors feel threatened by talented, overqualified, staff persons. They think that the talented persons make the supervisors look bad, or may, in fact, cause supervisors to be fired and take over their jobs. A frightening thought for the supervisors.”

Reasons why overqualified candidates are willing to accept lower level jobs

As intimidating as the thought is for supervisors to hire overqualified people, it is equally daunting for applicants to apply for jobs at a level other than one that matches their qualifications. While some may add some validity to the employer’s concerns, others are looking for a career change.  Particularly at the management and executive level, it becomes increasingly more difficult the higher you are in the company to find a position in an industry or an area other than where you have spent most of your career.  Taking a job you are overqualified for in a new industry is not uncommon.  Regardless of the tenure, the company will gain as much if not more from what the overqualified candidate can accomplish in a short period than an appropriately qualified candidate can in the longer term.

Top level positions are scarce and senior executives often have difficulty finding openings of their level, so they apply for lower management level positions, like that of the regional manager or the department head. These positions also carry a lot of responsibilities but operate on a smaller scale and are more concerned with routine issues compared to the ‘big picture’ work on the executive level.  However, it gives them an entry into the company and the opportunity to make a big impact. When the need for a more qualified individual is available, it is in the company’s best interest to have someone inside the company ready and willing than to start a search from outside the company. Meanwhile, an overqualified candidate will have been mentoring their replacement for a smooth transition.

Some overqualified individuals have reached a point in their career where they’ve had enough of the long hours and/or frequent traveling and wish to slow down the fast pace of their hectic career. They seek lower level jobs for less working hours, less travel and a lower burden of responsibilities.

How to handle overqualified candidates

With the average tenure becoming less and less with the current generation there will be less of a risk.  Rather than having an employee accepting a position to gain enough experience to roll into the next position, over qualified candidates are there to impart experience and knowledge and leave it with the organization and its employees. This will be more and more common with the baby boomer generation

To strengthen their case, overqualified candidates can establish a value proposition which they can bring to the particular position they are applying for, explaining how they can excel in it.

Although overqualified employees can bring innovation, efficiency and maturity to the company, resulting in thousands, if not millions, of dollars in revenue and increased productivity and cost savings, yet they are consistently turned down. It is wise to take that talent before your competitors swoop in and take them. It is a win-win situation for both parties and a big asset to hiring companies.


Kristen McAlister

Kristen McAlister joined Pamela Wasley to purchase Cerius. She has spent most of her career helping companies establish and improve their infrastructure for high growth. She has grown companies and created optimal infrastructure from both an operational and client management perspective. Kristen has spent the last ten years teaching companies how to leverage executives for transitional situations such as high growth and turnarounds. She is a national speaker and is published on topics ranging from operations and productivity to talent management and the contingent workforce. Kristen is a mother, Ironman, and Marine wife. Click here to learn about Kristen McAlister and send her a question.

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