Should you hire someone who is overqualified for a job?

By Robert Half on 13 February 2018

Are you getting more quality for less, or potentially more problems than the candidate is worth?

Managers may be missing out on the ideal hire by eliminating ‘overqualified’ candidates from consideration. Certainly there are risks to consider when reviewing someone who appears to be overqualified for a job, but there are also advantages if you can make it work.

Typically, you look for the candidate who is the ideal fit. They’ll have the necessary skills and experience, but will still be challenged and engaged by the role. They’ll be confident and hit the ground running, but they’ll fit into the team and not ruffle too many feathers. They’ll be able to work independently and take initiative, but they’ll also take direction.

The risks

Will they be dissatisfied with the job? Will they create problems within the team? Will they resent the loss of status, or dislike having a boss who is younger or less experienced than they are? Will they leave when something better comes along? Will they demand more money down the track? These are all strong possibilities to consider before you make the offer.

The rewards

Overqualified candidates can bring a lot of value to your company. Typically they require less training and supervision and generate a higher return on investment, as well as bringing new ideas and proven experience to the team. People with lots of experience can also become mentors and teachers for the next generation. They can be real assets in boosting team morale and development.

But how do you know?

Getting it wrong is expensive and it is a brave manager who takes the path of greatest risk, even for the promise of great rewards. These concerns are supported by significant amounts of research that show overqualified candidates have lower levels of job satisfaction and psychological wellbeing.

However, there is also evidence that suggests it may be down to the way an overqualified staff member is managed. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that overqualified employees receive higher job performance ratings and that their job satisfaction can be increased by being given autonomy and challenges that match their ability.

Points to consider before you hire:

1. Why is the candidate applying for a job that is below their qualifications?
Hard economic times tend to flood the market with overqualified people, and this job may be something they need rather than what they want. On the other hand, some may have been pushed from the employment market by children, illness or retirement and may be looking for a way back in, or a less demanding role that gives better work-life balance – for which they can be very grateful.

2. What do they expect and want from the job?
Are they happy to take a step down, or are they hoping it will lead to something better? Extra experience coupled with the right attitude can bring big rewards.

3. Do you have a use for their extra skills?
Even if this is not a long-term arrangement, is there a way you can use their skills and experience to advance your business? Is there some troubleshooting you need done, or some mentoring your team could utilise?

4. Is there an opportunity for advancement and growth that may actually meet their needs in the future, and give you some under-priced value in the meantime?
High performers have a way of creating the sort of growth that requires the skills they bring. They also bring connections, so hiring an overqualified candidate may open the door to new levels of business growth and opportunities.

It’s not an easy choice to make, but asking the right questions and having an honest conversation about the problem can reveal the sort of information that makes it easier.

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