Should You Hire an Overqualified Job Applicant?

Should you hire an overqualified job applicant?Even in a booming economy there will be the occasional applicant who is overqualified for your job opening. In today’s economy, it is a very common occurrence. At first glance, hiring an overqualified candidate might seem like a steal (“I can get Ph.D-quality work for the price of an entry-level candidate!”). But there are potential drawbacks that need to be considered.

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For starters, overqualified candidates might become quickly bored in jobs that come very easily to them. This could cause morale issues for that employee and potentially for anyone she works with. Furthermore, some overqualified employees will not be comfortable being supervised by someone who is less experienced. Will there be problems when a less experienced manager gives this person constructive criticism or uninteresting projects? And how will this person react if the new position pays half of what he’s used to?

These and other considerations are important — you don’t want to drag down the morale of the office, nor do you want to constantly wonder if your new employee is a flight risk. To determine whether or not you should hire an overqualified applicant, think about the following.

Is the applicant actually interested in the job?

Yes, the person took the time to apply to the job. But how can you tell if he is doing so for the right reasons? Is this a job that fits into his career path or is he just looking for a steady paycheck? It could be that years of stressful work brought the candidate to reconsider the best direction to take in life. Or perhaps he realized after years in one industry that his passions lie in another. Or maybe, just maybe, he has always wanted to work for your company and is now trying to make it happen.

So ask the candidate why he’s interested. If you’re satisfied with his answer, great. If he can’t articulate valid reasons for his interest, then move on.

Is the candidate truly overqualified for your opening?

Sometimes job seekers seem highly overqualified when they’re not. How does this happen? Take a job seeker with an advanced degree in education and 5 years of experience teaching. Now, say he applies to an entry- or low-level recruiting job. While he has a graduate degree and 5 years of work experience, it’s mostly unrelated. He is completely new to recruiting. So is he overqualified for an entry-level position on your talent acquisition team? Or does his proven track-record in another industry make him an attractive candidate who has transferable skills?

How does she feel about starting at the bottom?

Some people are fine starting at the bottom, even when they’ve done so before. Others will not be okay going from a management background to being back at the bottom of the totem pole. If you’re considering an overqualified job seeker, then you need to figure this out before extending a job offer. Ask questions about times when she had to work her way up, and have her tell you about her work style. You might ask questions similar to these:

  • “How do you respond to constructive criticism?”
  • “How do you deal with tasks that you find dull?
  • “How would you describe your relationships with past supervisors?

What do his references say?

Speaking of past supervisors, this is a situation where you should consult references. Talk to old bosses and former colleagues to make sure that the questions above are answered accordingly. Does the applicant have a positive outlook and a willingness to do any task, however small? Is he self-motivated? Does he follow instructions respond to constructive criticism well? What’s his response when something doesn’t go his way or he has to get his hands dirty?

Do you see eye-to-eye on room for growth?

If the candidate hopes to be in a more senior position in a year or two, then you need to consider whether or not this is possible. If you have a tiny firm with zero room for advancement in the near-future, then your overqualified candidate is probably not a good fit. Be honest with yourself and be honest with the job seeker. If he wants advancement opportunities and you have them, perfect. If he doesn’t want to climb any higher in the corporate ladder and you don’t want or need him to, that’s also great. If you don’t see eye-to-eye, however, it’s time for both of you to move to the next interview.

Did she take the time to be a great applicant?

The best job applicants are those who take the time to tailor their resume and cover letters and to learn about the hiring company. Did your overqualified applicant do this? Or is she hoping to just coast along on her excellent education and experience? As with any applicant, you want to make sure this person is putting in the effort and energy to meet your high standards.

How does the potential upside compare to the potential downside?

An important thing to recognize about overqualified candidates is that they can be hired into an entry level position and have the motivation to show that they are worth so much more. They can be very interested in solving problems that may have been overlooked in the past, or even in trying to market your product or service in a new way. Take a young employee with an MBA who wants to use digital media or social networking to reach out to customers at nearly no cost. This person might end up leaving in six months, but not without having left a lasting positive impression on your bottom line, and for fairly cheap. But that’s the other side of it. The person, overqualified and building his relevant experience and connections why working for you, could very well be plotting his next career move. This leaves you to weigh the potential upside verses the potential downside.

What is your perspective on overqualified applicants? Have you been turned down for a position because you were overqualified? Please share your thoughts with us below!

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At ZipRecruiter, our mission is to connect employers and job seekers with their next great opportunity. On the ZipRecruiter blog, we use insider experience and data derived from our AI-driven jobs marketplace to provide advice and insights on topics such as the job search process, interviewing, and labor market trends. Start your job search or post a job today and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

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