Should You Hire An Overqualified Candidate?

My spouse texted me just before I left a client meeting: “Could you stop by the grocery store and pick something up for dinner?”  There is only one thing I hate more than food shopping and that’s buying clothes.  Her text didn’t tell me what to buy and so I found myself walking around the store trying to get inspired.

In the fruit and vegetable isle my eyes picked up on the 2 for 1 special. I would be stupid to pass this bargain up so I put two bags of potatoes and two plastic containers of blue berries in my cart. What a deal, I thought!

So what do you do if a candidate answers your job posting and it is clear that this person is overqualified for the job, basically a 2 for 1 special? Well, if you are a member of the HR department, you throw their resume into the garbage can.  You can do that with overqualified employees and not get in trouble. But I think companies are really shooting themselves in the foot if they don’t consider hiring an overqualified employee.

The U.S. labor market is in a kind of funk: on the one hand you have over 5 million positions that can’t be filled due to a lack of skilled workers, on the other hand you have overqualified 50 and 60 year olds that being turned down by employers who think about the negative consequences of hiring someone who brings more skills to the table than are required.  Add to that, the dissatisfaction that we find with those that are currently employed: Gallup’s just published report on the State of the American Workplace 2017 finds that 68% of employees believe they are overqualified for their current job.

So back to my earlier question: What do you do if an overqualified candidate sends you his/her resume for a job you are trying to fill?  I would argue that you might consider this a blessing in disguise.  Let’s take a look at the negative thoughts that might be going through our mind right now:

  • This person is much too expensive and not in my budget
  • Because he is overqualified, he’ll get bored in the job
  • He’s up there in years so his skills are probably outdated
  • Because his skills are outdated, I’ll have to spend a lot of time training him
  • He’s going to be hard to manage and will not be flexible
  • He’ll see my job as a parking position and be gone when something better comes along

Why would I ever want to bring this guy into my company?

Let me share with you my personal story of taking a job that I was overqualified for and why I’m thankful that the organization decided to give me a try.

I left corporate America ten years ago and joined a Christian non-profit organization.  I was burned out from 20 years of international travel and guilty for spending so much time away from my family. I was looking for a life-style change. I was already engaged with this non-profit on a voluntary basis and was passionate about the work they were doing. I gave up 60% of my compensation when I joined them full-time. I enjoyed the work, my colleagues, and our mission. I worked there for three years and was blessed to have been given the opportunity to do so.

Let’s now take a look at why you might want to consider hiring an overqualified employee:

  • He will bring energy to the workplace, especially if he connects to your firm’s mission and vision
  • He will bring new insights to the job
  • He probably has skills that you can use in other parts of your organization
  • He most likely has acquired some good leadership skills over the years
  • You probably won’t need to spend a lot of time training him
  • Due to his experience, he will probably solve the problem or do the work quicker than other less-experienced employees
  • Those who are looking for a life-style change will probably stay with your company for a longer period of time
  • He costs less!

In her article, Should Employers Hire Overqualified Employees? Suzanne Lucas writes about a recent study that shows how overqualified employees engage in a practice she calls “Task Crafting”. She explains that Task Crafting occurs when you take a process or program and alter it to increase its effectiveness. Overqualified employees are always looking for ways to improve on the status quo. Task Crafting could prove to be a huge benefit for companies who are courageous enough to allow this type of “tinkering”.

I don’t know if I have convinced you that you should consider hiring an overqualified candidate, but here are a few things to think about if you plan to move in that direction:

  • Manage your HR department: Have a conversation about the potential positives of finding and hiring overqualified candidates. Respect their concerns but let them know that you are now expanding your hiring program.
  • Interview well: You’ll need to find out why the overqualified employee wants to join your firm and take on a job that is below their pay-grade. Do they really understand that you can’t pay more just because they have a high set of skills?  Are they passionate about your company, your product or service? Do they buy in to your values, mission and vision? Are they excited about the challenges your position has to offer them? What are their career goals? Maybe they are just looking for a life-style change, which your firm could offer them. Lastly, do they understand that you would be their boss and that you make the final decision?
  • Manage well: If you feel intimidated about hiring someone that might come with new ideas or try to improve on the status quo, then you should probably not hire an overqualified candidate. On the other hand, if you see this as an opportunity to tap into some creative juices that might improve or advance a key process, product or service, then go for it.  Overqualified employees will need some breathing space. They do best when they are empowered and have some autonomy.

Smart managers will hire the best employees they can afford.  They invest in them and promote them. They aren’t intimated by clever or more experienced employees. They’ll promote them when they can and when it is deserved. And a smart manager is always on the lookout for a good replacement for himself. It will make his own promotion that much easier to execute.


Andrew O’Connell : “The Myth of the Overqualified Worker

John Reh: Should You Hire Overqualified Workers?

Suzanne Lucas: Should Employers Hire Overqualified Employees?

Patrick Gillespie: America’s persistent problem: Unskilled workers

Gallup:  State of the American Workplace 2017