When you should and shouldn’t hire overqualified candidates


Overqualified candidates are equal parts tantalising and terrifying. Sure, they’ll fill the role beautifully but what if they become upset with its limitations, or leave within months of being hired? Here is how to approach the geese that lay the golden eggs, without scaring them off.

There’s an anxiety many HR professionals are familiar with that you only experience when reading a resume. You’re nodding your head thinking “this person ticks all the boxes” but as you keep reading it occurs to you “oh no, they’re ticking boxes I haven’t even drawn.”

But new research shows that anxiety should perhaps be replaced with joy. Published by the Academy of Management Journal, it reveals why overqualified candidates are of benefit to organisations, and that far from becoming unhappy they can in fact thrive. Across the two studies conducted, overqualified employees were found to “job craft”, organically expanding and experimenting with their role.

Jing Zhou, co-author of the research and a professor of management and psychology at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, spoke to Fast Company about the findings. “Overqualified workers tend to try different things, and through the process they bring creative insights and find better ways of doing their work,” she says.

Zhou goes on to explain, “they can complete their assigned tasks more quickly” and that “when a situation requires it, or an opportunity appears, they step outside of their job description for the organisation, generating new and useful ideas and doing more than they’re required.”

Keeping the goose satisfied

Nevertheless, there are important techniques to onboarding and managing the overqualified that can’t be ignored. First of all, their manager should not arbitrarily limit the golden goose as they try to shape the job to their superior skills. Secondly, the research showed positive effects the more the employee identified with the company.

In a separate study from 2011, discussed in the Harvard Business Review, the research author Berrin Erdogan, says, “People don’t stay or leave a company because of their skills. They stay or leave because of working conditions… Effective onboarding is essential, especially for the overqualified. Unmet expectations are one of the more common reasons for turnover.”

Don’t hire an AI programmer to a data entry position

There is a tipping point however. Even though overqualified candidates are desirable, there is still such a thing as too qualified. Zhou describes it as “an inverted U, with the benefit to the employer increasing to a certain point, then falling”. The researchers can’t describe when that tipping point happens but it’s something to keep in mind.

Here is a list of other advice, taken from the researchers, of what you should be aware of when considering the overqualified, or how to handle them once they’ve been hired:

  • Do hire the overqualified when it’s an employer’s market. There’s a reason why articles about such candidates tend to appear during an economic downturn or an industry shakeup – top notch recruits will come your way when the number of jobs available shrink.
  • Don’t lie to yourself about the limitations of the position. If there is little room for advancement, or no organisational willingness to expand the role’s capabilities then someone overqualified is unsuited. If you only need a worker bee, hire a worker bee.
  • Overqualified candidates are aware of their skills and will expect that to be at least somewhat reflected in their pay.
  • Just as you should let them job craft you also shouldn’t push them into it. Zhou notes in the Fast Company article that it’s the employee’s choice and implies that compulsion won’t work.
  • As the HBR article helpfully articulates, even if someone’s resume blows you away with their experience, be sure that they actually have the skills required for the role. Someone can be impressively capable without being able to accomplish what your organisation needs.
  • Finally, traditional interviews aren’t the best predictors of how successful someone will be in a role, but they might be a good way to measure and manage the expectations of candidates.

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Colin Dorber
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Colin Dorber

There is no such thing as over quailified. People acquire skills and or qualifications throughout thier lives- these attributes can be moulded whatever the task, from Cleaner to CEO – I know that’s me!! The best job qualifications are experience and passion…then work out how to best use them to benefit your Business.

Reg O'Connell
Guest
Reg O'Connell

This is a very interesting article and it is a great overview of the issue. Again, there is no ‘magic bean’ where one piece of advice or research covers all things. First make sure that within the experience/qualifications of any applicant that the critical aspects of the position are properly met by all applicants to even be considered, let alone someone with extensive capability. Then if they do, look at taking the over qualifications as a bonus and a challenge to be managed. The outcome can be a great opportunity and benefit to the business and the manager. Often the… Read more »

Jennifer Howe
Guest
Jennifer Howe

Hiring managers are doing a disservice to candidates when we make assumptions about their motivations. So often I hear “they would be bored”, or “they will leave as soon as a better job comes up”. This may be true, but we should at least raise these concerns with the candidate and allow them to give their reasons – they might make a lot of sense. I once hired an “overqualified” IT support person who wanted to take a break from a high level job. He said he’d give it 18 months and he did. The manager said he got more… Read more »

Linda Norman
Guest
Linda Norman

Great article. Balanced the pros and cons and put qualifiers on whether an overqualified worker might not work. Jennifer summed it up with a very good example. Thx.

Peter Wilson
Guest
Peter Wilson

Great article indeed, Girard. There are more cases of firms employing overqualified candidates to day than twenty years ago. The national employment rate for graduates is now 65%, so that’s a lot of degree holders unoccupied. Smarter employers know they can bring in someone bright who is keen to get a start or restart in a career, and then move them up and across into other jobs, when they establish themselves as a known quantity. At AHRI many of our receptionists have had broader skills and potential and then been promoted into other roles at AHRI. But then on one… Read more »

More on HRM

When you should and shouldn’t hire overqualified candidates


Overqualified candidates are equal parts tantalising and terrifying. Sure, they’ll fill the role beautifully but what if they become upset with its limitations, or leave within months of being hired? Here is how to approach the geese that lay the golden eggs, without scaring them off.

There’s an anxiety many HR professionals are familiar with that you only experience when reading a resume. You’re nodding your head thinking “this person ticks all the boxes” but as you keep reading it occurs to you “oh no, they’re ticking boxes I haven’t even drawn.”

But new research shows that anxiety should perhaps be replaced with joy. Published by the Academy of Management Journal, it reveals why overqualified candidates are of benefit to organisations, and that far from becoming unhappy they can in fact thrive. Across the two studies conducted, overqualified employees were found to “job craft”, organically expanding and experimenting with their role.

Jing Zhou, co-author of the research and a professor of management and psychology at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, spoke to Fast Company about the findings. “Overqualified workers tend to try different things, and through the process they bring creative insights and find better ways of doing their work,” she says.

Zhou goes on to explain, “they can complete their assigned tasks more quickly” and that “when a situation requires it, or an opportunity appears, they step outside of their job description for the organisation, generating new and useful ideas and doing more than they’re required.”

Keeping the goose satisfied

Nevertheless, there are important techniques to onboarding and managing the overqualified that can’t be ignored. First of all, their manager should not arbitrarily limit the golden goose as they try to shape the job to their superior skills. Secondly, the research showed positive effects the more the employee identified with the company.

In a separate study from 2011, discussed in the Harvard Business Review, the research author Berrin Erdogan, says, “People don’t stay or leave a company because of their skills. They stay or leave because of working conditions… Effective onboarding is essential, especially for the overqualified. Unmet expectations are one of the more common reasons for turnover.”

Don’t hire an AI programmer to a data entry position

There is a tipping point however. Even though overqualified candidates are desirable, there is still such a thing as too qualified. Zhou describes it as “an inverted U, with the benefit to the employer increasing to a certain point, then falling”. The researchers can’t describe when that tipping point happens but it’s something to keep in mind.

Here is a list of other advice, taken from the researchers, of what you should be aware of when considering the overqualified, or how to handle them once they’ve been hired:

  • Do hire the overqualified when it’s an employer’s market. There’s a reason why articles about such candidates tend to appear during an economic downturn or an industry shakeup – top notch recruits will come your way when the number of jobs available shrink.
  • Don’t lie to yourself about the limitations of the position. If there is little room for advancement, or no organisational willingness to expand the role’s capabilities then someone overqualified is unsuited. If you only need a worker bee, hire a worker bee.
  • Overqualified candidates are aware of their skills and will expect that to be at least somewhat reflected in their pay.
  • Just as you should let them job craft you also shouldn’t push them into it. Zhou notes in the Fast Company article that it’s the employee’s choice and implies that compulsion won’t work.
  • As the HBR article helpfully articulates, even if someone’s resume blows you away with their experience, be sure that they actually have the skills required for the role. Someone can be impressively capable without being able to accomplish what your organisation needs.
  • Finally, traditional interviews aren’t the best predictors of how successful someone will be in a role, but they might be a good way to measure and manage the expectations of candidates.

8
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Colin Dorber
Guest
Colin Dorber

There is no such thing as over quailified. People acquire skills and or qualifications throughout thier lives- these attributes can be moulded whatever the task, from Cleaner to CEO – I know that’s me!! The best job qualifications are experience and passion…then work out how to best use them to benefit your Business.

Reg O'Connell
Guest
Reg O'Connell

This is a very interesting article and it is a great overview of the issue. Again, there is no ‘magic bean’ where one piece of advice or research covers all things. First make sure that within the experience/qualifications of any applicant that the critical aspects of the position are properly met by all applicants to even be considered, let alone someone with extensive capability. Then if they do, look at taking the over qualifications as a bonus and a challenge to be managed. The outcome can be a great opportunity and benefit to the business and the manager. Often the… Read more »

Jennifer Howe
Guest
Jennifer Howe

Hiring managers are doing a disservice to candidates when we make assumptions about their motivations. So often I hear “they would be bored”, or “they will leave as soon as a better job comes up”. This may be true, but we should at least raise these concerns with the candidate and allow them to give their reasons – they might make a lot of sense. I once hired an “overqualified” IT support person who wanted to take a break from a high level job. He said he’d give it 18 months and he did. The manager said he got more… Read more »

Linda Norman
Guest
Linda Norman

Great article. Balanced the pros and cons and put qualifiers on whether an overqualified worker might not work. Jennifer summed it up with a very good example. Thx.

Peter Wilson
Guest
Peter Wilson

Great article indeed, Girard. There are more cases of firms employing overqualified candidates to day than twenty years ago. The national employment rate for graduates is now 65%, so that’s a lot of degree holders unoccupied. Smarter employers know they can bring in someone bright who is keen to get a start or restart in a career, and then move them up and across into other jobs, when they establish themselves as a known quantity. At AHRI many of our receptionists have had broader skills and potential and then been promoted into other roles at AHRI. But then on one… Read more »

More on HRM