Article main image
Dec 31, 2014
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Editor’s Note: It’s a TLNT holiday tradition to count down the most popular posts of the year. This is No. 19. Our regular content will return next Monday. Happy New Year!

First of two parts

Imagine being assigned a physician and then purposely rejecting them solely because they were “overqualified” for your medical situation. Well that’s exactly what happens when hiring managers reject candidates who have “too many” qualifications.

There is simply no excuse in this new era of data-based recruiting to adhere to this old wives’ tales” in hiring. I have written in the past about the cost of rejecting “job jumpers” and in this article, I will focus on the false assumption that hiring candidates who are “overqualified” will result in frustrated employees who will quickly quit.

There is simply no data to prove any of the negative assumptions that are often made about overqualified prospects or candidates.

No proven performance issues in being overqualified

It may initially seem difficult for most firms to prove or disprove the value of rejecting overqualified candidates simply because they were never hired and therefore the firm has no performance or turnover data on them. However, firms can calculate the average performance and retention of the few new hires who slipped through with excess qualifications and compare it to the performance level of your average hires.

Another alternative is to rely on academic studies, including a significant one from Erdogan & Bauer at Portland State University that concluded that the overqualified, if hired, get higher performance appraisal ratings and perform better than average hires. And if these new hires are empowered as employees, they do not have lower job satisfaction, lower intentions to remain, or higher voluntary turnover.

There is also no credible public or corporate evidence that overqualified candidates get bored, are less motivated, are absent more, or have any unique team or performance problems. There are, however, many positive reasons why recruiters and hiring managers should hire those who are perceived to be overqualified.

The Top 10 of these positive reasons are listed below. I’ll list 10 more top reasons tomorrow.

Top 10 reasons you should hire overqualified candidates

The 20 different reasons or benefits associated with hiring overqualified candidates are separated into three categories: 1) recruiting/ business impacts; 2) reasons to be suspicious of qualifications; and 3) actions to mitigate potential problems.

Recruiting and business impacts

  1. You will simply lose out on a large volume of qualified candidates – The high unemployment rates that the country has faced over several years have dramatically increased the number of overqualified individuals applying for positions. As a result, simply rejecting them outright will dramatically reduce your qualified applicant pool.
  2. Their desire to work may be stronger – Because so many highly qualified individuals have been let go from organizations in recent years, their desire to work will likely overpower any feeling of entitlement or resistance to taking a lower-level job. A combination of a candidate’s inability to move and limited local job opportunities may make them more than willing to happily work below their experience level. Many people (and especially those attempting to change industries) are willing to start at a lower level in order to prove themselves and work their way up. Overqualified candidates may even go out of their way to prove to all involved that hiring them (despite their over-qualifications) was a wise decision.
  3. On the surface, it seems silly to reject “more for the same price” – Obviously, when you purchase equipment or a car, it is a plus if the equipment has “excess features” for the same price. Using the same logic, why would you reject Tiger Woods if he applied for a job at your average golf team position even if he was obviously overqualified?
  4. Even if they leave early, they add tremendous value – You might believe the premise that overqualified new hires will get bored and leave early. However, having a star for a short period of time may provide a high ROI. Even if they stay for a shorter time, they still give the organization an opportunity to take advantage of their skills and experience during that time. Your organization can learn from them, drain their ideas, and adapt their best practices throughout the organization. Ask yourself: would you rather have an overqualified person for six months or a mediocre hire for five years?
  5. Hire them “for this” and “the next job” – Smart firms like Google hire individuals for “this and the next job” based on the premise that most employees will eventually move internally or get promoted. And by hiring the overqualified, you make sure that  some new hires will already have most of the qualifications and skills that they will need for their next job. And if you have rapid promotion and internal movement rates, these new hires won’t likely be overqualified for long.
  6. They may have a faster time to productivity – Their over-qualifications will likely mean that they will reach their expected productivity level much faster than the average hire.
  7. Less training will be required – Because of their added qualifications and skills, they will likely require less costly training and time off the job to be trained.
  8. The overqualified can mentor others — New hires with excessive experience generally find a way to share that knowledge and experience with other employees. Their mere presence may even inspire or challenge current employees to improve.
  9. They may be easier to manage – The extra experience and confidence that they bring to the job means that they will likely be easier to manage. If their over-qualifications includes leadership experience and skills, they may be able to help the manager.
  10. Hire them for expected growth – Growing firms assume that the organization will continue to grow and expand. And that means that you will eventually find a need for the new hires’ expanded qualifications and expertise that are not currently represented at the company. You may end up being able to act on new opportunities that you aren’t even thinking about right now.

Tomorrow: 10 More Reasons You Should Hire Overqualified Candidates.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.