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.”