Ask a recruiter: Should you hire overqualified candidates?


In difficult economic times, it’s not uncommon for candidates to apply for roles they’re overqualified for. HRM asks recruiters, how should you approach them?

I once had a colleague tell me a story about the time her husband got a job even after the recruiter had thrown out his resume. 

It was right after the global financial crisis and unemployment was really high. He’d just finished his PHD, but, with few lucrative jobs on offer, he applied for a low-level role in a small manufacturing company. 

The recruiter took one look at his qualifications and immediately tossed him in the rejection pile. Luckily for him he knew someone at the company who pushed for him to get an interview. Things went really well and he actually ended up spending years with the company. 

As a former recruiter, I get where that recruiter was coming from. When an overqualified candidate comes across your desk alarm bells ring. How could they possibly want this job? What aren’t we being told? Are they going to leave as soon as something better comes along? 

In most circumstances overqualified candidates can feel like a risky investment. HRM has written before about the persistent bias against overqualified candidates and how it has ties with ageism. We have also looked at research which shows in most cases you should hire the overqualified – especially if the role has room to grow.

But times change. With our current economic climate and soaring unemployment, there are going to be more overqualified candidates in the market than has been the case for some time. What are recruiters thinking? And what’s their advice?

HRM talked to four specialists to get their thoughts.

1. Why are they applying for this role

“It really comes down to, ‘why did they apply to this job’?” says Michael Berger, director at Talent Blueprint.

“Have they recently lost their job, have they been made redundant due to COVID? Or is a situation or lifestyle change? Often that informs how they’ll approach the role. 

“If they’re taking a role out of need, they might have a bit of a chip on their shoulder if they have dropped down a few rungs on the career ladder. It’s understandable. They probably worked really hard to get to where they were, but recruiters need to stay aware of this fact when assessing if this candidate is the right fit for a role.

“Other times they might be looking for something with less responsibility and those situations can work really well. They know what they’re getting into and they can bring a wealth of knowledge with them.”

2. Asking the right questions

Vanessa Fajnkind, CEO of Brook Recruitment, echoes Berger’s advice. 

“The interview is really important. You need a full understanding of their career journey. Don’t be afraid to delve deep into their background and find out what career decisions they’ve made in the past.

“It’s worth being flat out with them in the interview. Ask them why they’re applying for the role. And make sure they understand what the role is so there is no misunderstanding.” 

“Recruiters will explore all candidates differently but with those who you believe are overqualified I think focusing on their motivations is really important.”

3. Watch your biases

“Sometimes people think a candidate is ‘overqualified’ but what they’re actually thinking is ‘the candidate is too old for the role’,” says Steven Asnicar, CEO of Diversity Australia.

“Too often I see people passed over because they’re 40 or 50 and the recruiter thinks the candidate is close to retirement, when that’s not the case at all. There is a real risk of missing out on excellent, knowledgeable candidates just because they’re more mature. 

“As well as their uni or professional qualifications, these candidates have contacts and networks that could really help your organisation. So it is really worth getting them in for an interview and giving them an opportunity, not just dismissing them based on age.”

4. Communication is key

“If you place an overqualified candidate, it can be really rewarding,” says Imogen Studders, national manager client services at Davidson Technology. “But you should make sure they’re fitting in culturally”.

“We once placed a candidate who came from a highly technical role and was completely overqualified for the position. He bought with him a lot of knowledge and new ways of approaching things which really benefited the team, however he rubbed some of his colleagues the wrong way when he explained things.

“It wasn’t intentional, but we knew it would cause bigger problems if not addressed immediately.

We sat down with him and explained how his communication method was impacting the team. He was really gracious and the client said it was like dealing with a different person the next day.

“All he needed was to understand the situation and it was smooth sailing from there. They were really happy with him.”

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Bradley
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Bradley

Recruiters are quick do discriminate. And in my experience, they are usually the least qualified to make that call. They have no idea the motivations for applying for a job. Not only that, a PhD is not as shines as it once was.

Graham
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Graham

At lot of Recruiters are young and inexperienced and fail to ask relevant questions as mentioned above. I have had experience with a HR Recruiter that has a non-HR background telling me why I’m not suitable for a particular HR role with over 20 years experience under my belt.
Agism is real and present factor. Make no mistake.

CJT
Guest
CJT

To begin with, should HR qualifications be required for those of us employed within the Human Resources profession? Methinks they should be. We may also consider as to why we need to have qualifications to begin with? It is noted that doctors, nurses, engineers, electricians and teachers to name but a few are required to hold the relevant qualifications to enable them to be employed within their identified field/profession. So what is the accepted definition of an over qualified candidate? Could the definition simply be a person who has continually maintained their ‘currency’ and obtained further knowledge to be more… Read more »

Harwinder Singh
Guest
Harwinder Singh

I am a recruiter and completely agree with the article. I think it’s unfair not to consider overqualified candidates. I always get into debates with my hiring managers when they say “too old for the role” or “overqualified” while candidate ticks all the boxes, so I always advise them hiring a right mindset, a person with the right attitude who will do the job and will be a positive addition to the business. No one stays in the same role forever, also a leader will never be happy to see his/her team not growing. On other note sometimes “Recruiters” really… Read more »

Damien
Guest
Damien

Under employment in these age groups is a serious and growing issue, this area needs more research. Recruiters are genuinely concerned that overqualified or experienced candidates will become bored in roles, or are suspicious as to the competence of more mature candidates. Older candidates are not looking to retire until they are 70 and are happy to be busy with a wide range of roles. It appears that it is almost impossible to come down the ‘ladder of opportunity’ to lessor roles. The age discrepancy is creating a real issue for a growing segment who are not able to raise… Read more »

More on HRM

Ask a recruiter: Should you hire overqualified candidates?


In difficult economic times, it’s not uncommon for candidates to apply for roles they’re overqualified for. HRM asks recruiters, how should you approach them?

I once had a colleague tell me a story about the time her husband got a job even after the recruiter had thrown out his resume. 

It was right after the global financial crisis and unemployment was really high. He’d just finished his PHD, but, with few lucrative jobs on offer, he applied for a low-level role in a small manufacturing company. 

The recruiter took one look at his qualifications and immediately tossed him in the rejection pile. Luckily for him he knew someone at the company who pushed for him to get an interview. Things went really well and he actually ended up spending years with the company. 

As a former recruiter, I get where that recruiter was coming from. When an overqualified candidate comes across your desk alarm bells ring. How could they possibly want this job? What aren’t we being told? Are they going to leave as soon as something better comes along? 

In most circumstances overqualified candidates can feel like a risky investment. HRM has written before about the persistent bias against overqualified candidates and how it has ties with ageism. We have also looked at research which shows in most cases you should hire the overqualified – especially if the role has room to grow.

But times change. With our current economic climate and soaring unemployment, there are going to be more overqualified candidates in the market than has been the case for some time. What are recruiters thinking? And what’s their advice?

HRM talked to four specialists to get their thoughts.

1. Why are they applying for this role

“It really comes down to, ‘why did they apply to this job’?” says Michael Berger, director at Talent Blueprint.

“Have they recently lost their job, have they been made redundant due to COVID? Or is a situation or lifestyle change? Often that informs how they’ll approach the role. 

“If they’re taking a role out of need, they might have a bit of a chip on their shoulder if they have dropped down a few rungs on the career ladder. It’s understandable. They probably worked really hard to get to where they were, but recruiters need to stay aware of this fact when assessing if this candidate is the right fit for a role.

“Other times they might be looking for something with less responsibility and those situations can work really well. They know what they’re getting into and they can bring a wealth of knowledge with them.”

2. Asking the right questions

Vanessa Fajnkind, CEO of Brook Recruitment, echoes Berger’s advice. 

“The interview is really important. You need a full understanding of their career journey. Don’t be afraid to delve deep into their background and find out what career decisions they’ve made in the past.

“It’s worth being flat out with them in the interview. Ask them why they’re applying for the role. And make sure they understand what the role is so there is no misunderstanding.” 

“Recruiters will explore all candidates differently but with those who you believe are overqualified I think focusing on their motivations is really important.”

3. Watch your biases

“Sometimes people think a candidate is ‘overqualified’ but what they’re actually thinking is ‘the candidate is too old for the role’,” says Steven Asnicar, CEO of Diversity Australia.

“Too often I see people passed over because they’re 40 or 50 and the recruiter thinks the candidate is close to retirement, when that’s not the case at all. There is a real risk of missing out on excellent, knowledgeable candidates just because they’re more mature. 

“As well as their uni or professional qualifications, these candidates have contacts and networks that could really help your organisation. So it is really worth getting them in for an interview and giving them an opportunity, not just dismissing them based on age.”

4. Communication is key

“If you place an overqualified candidate, it can be really rewarding,” says Imogen Studders, national manager client services at Davidson Technology. “But you should make sure they’re fitting in culturally”.

“We once placed a candidate who came from a highly technical role and was completely overqualified for the position. He bought with him a lot of knowledge and new ways of approaching things which really benefited the team, however he rubbed some of his colleagues the wrong way when he explained things.

“It wasn’t intentional, but we knew it would cause bigger problems if not addressed immediately.

We sat down with him and explained how his communication method was impacting the team. He was really gracious and the client said it was like dealing with a different person the next day.

“All he needed was to understand the situation and it was smooth sailing from there. They were really happy with him.”

7
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Bradley
Guest
Bradley

Recruiters are quick do discriminate. And in my experience, they are usually the least qualified to make that call. They have no idea the motivations for applying for a job. Not only that, a PhD is not as shines as it once was.

Graham
Guest
Graham

At lot of Recruiters are young and inexperienced and fail to ask relevant questions as mentioned above. I have had experience with a HR Recruiter that has a non-HR background telling me why I’m not suitable for a particular HR role with over 20 years experience under my belt.
Agism is real and present factor. Make no mistake.

CJT
Guest
CJT

To begin with, should HR qualifications be required for those of us employed within the Human Resources profession? Methinks they should be. We may also consider as to why we need to have qualifications to begin with? It is noted that doctors, nurses, engineers, electricians and teachers to name but a few are required to hold the relevant qualifications to enable them to be employed within their identified field/profession. So what is the accepted definition of an over qualified candidate? Could the definition simply be a person who has continually maintained their ‘currency’ and obtained further knowledge to be more… Read more »

Harwinder Singh
Guest
Harwinder Singh

I am a recruiter and completely agree with the article. I think it’s unfair not to consider overqualified candidates. I always get into debates with my hiring managers when they say “too old for the role” or “overqualified” while candidate ticks all the boxes, so I always advise them hiring a right mindset, a person with the right attitude who will do the job and will be a positive addition to the business. No one stays in the same role forever, also a leader will never be happy to see his/her team not growing. On other note sometimes “Recruiters” really… Read more »

Damien
Guest
Damien

Under employment in these age groups is a serious and growing issue, this area needs more research. Recruiters are genuinely concerned that overqualified or experienced candidates will become bored in roles, or are suspicious as to the competence of more mature candidates. Older candidates are not looking to retire until they are 70 and are happy to be busy with a wide range of roles. It appears that it is almost impossible to come down the ‘ladder of opportunity’ to lessor roles. The age discrepancy is creating a real issue for a growing segment who are not able to raise… Read more »

More on HRM