Blog: 'To Hire' or 'Not to Hire' an overqualified candidate

Talent Acquisition

'To Hire' or 'Not to Hire' an overqualified candidate

In light of this situation when over-qualified candidates apply for a position, recruiters demonstrate apprehension in inviting them for an interview leave aside hiring them.
'To Hire' or 'Not to Hire' an overqualified candidate

She turned towards me and she seemed, a trifle exasperated. “Look at this!  Don’t these people read the requirement before applying? We are looking for a Creative Supervisor in his 20s. This candidate is in his 40s!”

“So, what’s wrong? Why not meet him?” I asked.  “He’s way more experienced and we won’t be able to afford him!” I prodded, “What are the brands he has worked on? Is his work, impressive?” 

“Yes, it is but…he’s…he’s overqualified!” she spluttered.

“Then why rule him out without a meeting if he’s good?” I suggested.

Ask any HR executive or an employer and the response to an over-qualified candidate, will inspire a similar response. But the risk of hiring any candidate to fill a role can be far more debilitating.

Recruiters in organizations are given a specific mandate to hire for a position or role. The prospect itself may seem challenging and tiresome what with firstly, the supply being overwhelmingly higher than the demand, given the current economic and job situation in the country. Secondly, the high expectations of the recruiters for the position. Ask recruiters about talent and most will respond that ‘good talent is scarce’.

In light of this situation when over-qualified candidates apply for a position, recruiters demonstrate apprehension in inviting them for an interview leave aside hiring them. 

Here are a few reasons employers disqualify ‘over-qualified’ candidates:

The inability to pay fair. 

Recruiters have a budget in mind apart from the job and role description. When they encounter a resume of a candidate with more experience, more accolades, it is deemed unaffordable. 

The inability to do jobs below pay grade.

This may come, perhaps from a recruiter’s own personal experience or perspective may have preconceived judgements about the candidate’s unwillingness to take on jobs that could be ‘beneath their position’. This may affect the morale and impact the productivity of the team.

The inability to take direction.

Due to the vast experience, over-qualified candidates bring with them, employers believe that they may not be comfortable or struggle to receive instructions from those younger or with lesser experience. This may cause unnecessary friction within the team.

Use the opportunity to parlay or be simply, bored.

Many a times, employers fear that over-qualified candidates use jobs with lesser roles as a stop-gap arrangement. The candidates, are likely to move on as soon as a more fitting opportunity comes their way. The same reason why few employers also feel that candidates will move on when they get bored working on in a less meaty position.

Skills are backdated.

This is one area of concern for most recruiters especially in the area of tech-savviness and relating to the millennials. 

Interestingly, I do come across far many recruiters as well, who look upon overqualified candidates as an asset. In fact, one of them was quite eloquent and shared that ‘overqualified’ candidates are not limited to the lens of age, number of years or higher pay, alone. A candidate with in-depth domain experience and knowledge or one who has travelled, excessively or someone with an expansive social reach may be considered as overqualified. 

From this perspective, an over-qualified candidate can be an asset to an organization.

No training required.

One of the biggest upsides to hiring an overqualified candidate is that they don’t need any hand-holding. They are self-sufficient and the hours and costs spent on training and upskilling, can be saved. 

Better contributors.

Overqualified candidates, come with a wealth of wisdom and rich experience. They are more effective and hands on, have the ability to foresee and manage challenges well in time, therefore more productive. 

Elevate the team.

Overqualified candidates come with a legacy of achievements that can be inspirational to the team. Their knowledge and ability to handle situations, smartly can make them good mentors. They can elevate the skillset of the team.

Willingness to step up.

These candidates work hard if not harder and can evolve into leadership roles, faster. They take on responsibilities that one maybe apprehensive to dole out to an existing employee.

One of the key points to note while interviewing overqualified candidates is that they do have a reason for applying to a lower paying or lower level job. 

From a candidate’s point of view, the most demotivating reason for rejection is being overqualified. There are many reasons for a candidate with weighty qualifications choosing to respond to a lesser role. It could be a toxic work environment, a personal loss, a gap in work experience, switching industries, moving cities or the plain old need to have a job.

It would help over-qualified candidates if recruiters:

  • Avoid judging and then, rejecting them. Instead, how about taking the time to simply, ask them what made them apply?
  • Focus on the hiring needs from the present and future perspective.
  • Avoid judging candidates purely on years of experience and education. 
  • Hire for attitude. Assess whether or not they blend into the culture.

To the candidates who seem to be disqualified due to ‘over-qualification, here are a few tips:

  • Best to bring up the question of over-qualification at the start.
  • Share the reason why despite being over-qualified you are seeking the particular role. One of my clients, pointedly asked the recruiter, “Overqualified? How? I’d like to state that I'm not overqualified but fully qualified. Is there a problem with someone doing the job better than expected?” Suffice to say, she landed the job!
  • Be prepared to counter any pre-conceived notions the recruiter may have.
  • Demonstrate your commitment and reliability to the job. 
  • Be genuine and check your attitude. Saying “I need this job to pay the EMIs.” May not be a good response. Think from the recruiter’s point of view.
  • Emphasize your capabilities. Focus on your accomplishments to sell yourself, well. 
  • Tweak your resume to tailor it for the job you are applying for. Go easy on pompous titles and hifalutin language.
  • Be open to re-evaluate your compensation.
  • Do not under estimate yourself.  

On the flip side, it is the managers who are under-qualified that tend to hesitate in hiring over-qualified candidates for fear of being exposed. Give the over-qualified a chance, they might turn out to be the best hiring decision you may make. Sometimes, looking beyond the star can get you a superstar!


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Topics: Talent Acquisition, #GuestArticle, #Hiring

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