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Should You Hire An Overqualified Candidate?

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(Source :  A blog at Harvard Business Review by Amy Gallo)

As politicians and economists puzzle over jobless recovery after recession, managers who have started to hire again face another problem:  how to handle all the overqualified candidates coming through their doors.  The prevailing wisdom is to avoid such applicants. But the unprecedented availability of top talent created by this recession and new research on the success of these candidates may be changing that.

What the Experts Say?

Recruiters have traditionally hesitated to place overqualified candidates because of several presumed risks.  The assumption is that the person will be bored and not motivated, so they will underperform or leave.  However, research shows that these risks may be more perceived than real.  In fact, sales associates in the research who were thought to be overqualified actually performed better.  And rarely do people move on simply because they feel they're too talented for the job.  In fact, people don't stay or leave a company because of their skills.  They stay or leave because of working conditions.

There are more benefits to hiring an overqualified employee than there are risks.  Remember--when making hiring decisions, visionary leaders don't just focus on the current needs, but on the future.

Here are several things to consider next time you are looking at a stack of overly impressive resumes:

Overqualified or over-experienced?

Don't assume someone is overqualified based on a quick screen of their credentials.  There is a lot of misunderstanding over what overqualified is. We define it as meeting and exceeding the skill requirements of the job.  So having a lot of education doesn't over-qualify you.  Nor does experience, if the person's prior positions are not directly related to the job in question.  Get to know the candidate before you decide to pass.  There may be reasons why he is interested in this specific position.  He may want to shift industries, move to a new location, or achieve greater work/life balance.  And there may be ways that you can make use of his "extra" experience.

Think bigger than the job in question

When considering a candidate who is, in fact, overqualified for the job opening, ask yourself if there is room to expand the role and make use of the skills he brings.  While the old paradigm for hiring was to determine that a job was vacant and look for the right candidate, in today's world one should also consider the talent opportunities at hand, and try to find the jobs that may be created or open in the near future for them, in the larger organization.

Overqualified candidates 2

Hiring overqualified candidates can help you achieve much higher productivity, grow, and achieve opportunities that you may not even be thinking about pursuing right now.  There are other less obvious benefits too: these employees can mentor others, challenge peers to exceed current expectations, and bring in areas of expertise that are not represented at the company.

Bring them on carefully

Effective on-boarding is essential, especially for the overqualified. Unmet expectations are one of the more common reasons for turnover, so you should be clear with yourself, the new hire, and the rest of the organization about what the job entails, as well as what it could become.  You need a clear and explicit plan for the future, whether you are thinking of a promotion, a lateral move, or a new project altogether.  You need to think and discuss beyond the initial stage where he or she may be temporarily underutilized.

Both recruiters need to manage an additional risk: a boss who feels threatened.  Managers often worry, “Can I supervise the person effectively?”  A superior with less experience than the new hire might be concerned that the person will take his job, make his look bad, or be too challenging to manage.  This is not reason enough to say no. Instead, focus on the future for that candidate.  In cases where the boss is insecure, you should not bring that new hire in without a plan to promote him in the near term.

Pay what they are worth

Although it's tempting in a bad job market to buy top talent on the cheap, Experts disapprove of the strategy.   While their experience showed that you can get candidates for up to 25% less in the middle of a big recession, they would not recommend underpaying an overqualified candidate.  We all have the expectation to be rewarded in a way which is reasonably proportional to our effort and contribution, and fair.  And if the candidate is as strong as you think, you are likely competing with other employers for him.  If you can't afford him, it's better to pass than to underpay. If he wants the job anyway, simply have a frank conversation about his future prospects in terms of promotion and compensation so that he fully understands what he's getting into.


Principles to Remember


  • 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



This article is written & published by Rajneesh Kumar, General Manager at Luminis Consulting Services Pvt Ltd, India. He can be reached at Email:  and/or Linkedin: https://in.linkedin.com/in/rajneeshkumar1 

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