Should You Hire An Overqualified Candidate?

by | Aug 14, 2011

Why would any company turn down a candidate with an amazing resume and the ability to go above and beyond the job description? It happens all the time.

Many of my brightest and most talented career coaching clients have heard the dreaded, “Sorry, you’re overqualified.” Have you passed over a potential star employee due to fear that she was too experienced for the role?


Why Say No to an Experienced Candidate?


Hiring managers are right to hesitate before hiring “overqualified” candidates. The risks of hiring someone who is “too good” for the job include:

Wasting time (and money) on a job hopper: If a candidate is pursuing the position simply because they need a job right now, there’s a risk he will abandon you as soon as a better opportunity comes along. You don’t want to spend time and money recruiting and training someone — only to have him ditch you after a few weeks or months for a more challenging (and/or better paying) gig.

Dealing with attitude problems: Some overqualified candidates will turn their noses up at duties they consider “beneath” them. Others may feel bored or disengaged if they’re not challenged by the work — this can lead to all kinds of performance and attitude issues.

Protecting your own job: Many managers won’t admit this, but there is a real danger that an overqualified candidate is on a mission to take over and run the show. This can be a concern for more than your own selfish reasons (and honestly, who wants to re-enact All About Eve at the office). Productivity suffers when team members are more focused on politics than the work at hand. It’s also impossible to collaborate effectively with someone you don’t trust or who has an ulterior motive to make you look bad.


How to Interview “Overqualified” Candidates


On the other hand, many seemingly overqualified candidates have the potential to be star employees. The trick is to identify their motivations and goals through the interview process.

The following questions will help you determine if an overqualified candidate represents a risky proposition or a business opportunity:

1) Do you think you’re overqualified for this position? Why not?

Just put it out there if it’s a concern and listen carefully to the response. Does the candidate sound truly enthusiastic about how she can contribute? Does she see ways that the position will engage and challenge her? Can you detect hints of distaste for the more mundane aspects of the role?

2) What are your long-term career goals?

Does this position fit into the candidate’s career plans? Will it help him learn and grow? Does he seem to view this position as a real opportunity or a short-term stepping stone? Does he seem overly concerned about being promoted quickly?

3) What specifically interests you about this company and position?

Listen carefully and probe if the candidate responds with a generic interview patter. You want to hear that she would be able to do the work — and would actually enjoy it. You’re looking for convincing, specific reasons. You don’t want someone who’s desperate for any job, but someone who would be thrilled to be offered THIS job.

4) How do you feel about working late, making copies, sitting in a cubicle, reporting to someone with less experience than you have?

Ask about the potentially unattractive aspects of the position to see if you’re dealing with a prima donna or someone eager to roll up their sleeves and contribute.

5) Where else are you interviewing? What types of positions?

See what you can learn about the candidate’s job search. Is this position his #1 choice or one of many options? Does he seem more excited about other, more senior jobs or jobs in other areas/industries? You’re not likely to get a completely candid answer to this question, but you should be able to elicit some useful information about the candidate’s goals.


How to Engage “Overqualified” Employees


If you decide to hire that overqualified candidate, you may find yourself the happy manager of a star employee.

To effectively manage star employees, it’s important to understand what drives them and provide recognition and lopment opportunities accordingly.

Offer your “overqualified” employees openings to take on new responsibilities and stretch themselves. Yes, you should also provide raises and bonuses when they are earned, but often other job perks (autonomy, flexibility, meaningful work) are even more important to your most valuable team members.