Overqualified Candidates

via  mycareermapping.com

I’ve been asked multiple times at conferences and by executives a common question, “What are your thoughts on hiring someone who is overqualified?”

I never understand why Managers are very often hesitant to hire a candidate with years of experience or who have worked in a “higher ranked” position than they are applying. To me it’s like finding the diamond in the rough (cue Aladdin music).  “You mean, Tony Hsieh (Zappos) applied and wants to work for us as a CSR for $8/hr?!? Sign him up!”


The general consensus is, if we hire an overqualified candidate, they’ll never stay.  There’s this fear that overqualified candidates will result in high turnover, wanting more money, or just be bored with the work we give them.  While these fears may have some legitimacy, I have to ask why we’re taking this into consideration for the hiring versus not-hiring purposes.

  • Does this person meet the qualifications?
  • Is this person competent, able to learn?
  • Will this person benefit my company in short-term and possibly long-term?

And to go even further – Shouldn’t we worry about these same things for all our applicants? Hm.

Essentially you’re telling this person “You meet all the qualifications of the position, above and beyond, but we’re not hiring you based on that.”  Logically, it doesn’t make sense to me.


Here’s a couple of tips to hiring managers and executives:

  1. No one is overqualified for any job.  Each position is unique, has its own learning experiences and different demands.  There is no “perfect fit” employee.  So quit it.
  2. Studies have shown that overqualified candidates actually perform better than just qualified candidates.
  3. The top reason employees leave your company isn’t due to being overqualified.  People leave environments, managers, and culture (to name a few).  Trust me. If you perceive a lack communication, vision, values, transparency and all of those other “touchy feelys” in your company, you’ve already identified the causes of your turnover.  “Overqualified” employees are the least of your concerns. 
  4. When in doubt, Ask.  “You are probably overqualified for this position. What can you tell me to convince me that you wouldn’t be a flight risk?” I’ve had two types of responses a) honesty – sometimes they will flat out say “Yes, I’m a flight risk.” or b) give good legitimate reasons to wanting the position (career change, out of the rat-race, etc.)
  5.  Economy. Ok, so we all know it’s rough.  But there are honest people out there who were at high level positions who have to restart. Having experience and maturity in a low to mid-level job role should be viewed as a good thing, not a liability.

To you overqualified applicants: 

  1. Yes, it will be questioned, so make sure you’re up front and honest about your expectations.  If this job is just a stepping stone, then you won’t get hired.  They can smell it. Don’t just find any job, find the right job. 
  2. Practice the way you’re going to sell yourself without “over selling” yourself. Essentially, you want to down play.  Example: “While I’ve done accounts receivables for over 120 years, I learn something new all the time and I enjoy a challenge that requires me to think and learn.” It’s about convincing the hiring manager you could still have satisfaction and long-term success doing the same job in the 121st year.
  3. The biggest things they’re going to want to know are: a) Are you a flight risk? b) Are you too expensive? c) Will you be bored? Make sure you try to address those in your interview. 

In all, treat overqualified candidates the same as you would any other candidate.  Assess their skills, knowledge and abilities. Compare that to your business needs and make the best judgment on that criteria.

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