Overqualified Candidate
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Should You Hire an Overqualified Candidate?

A changing workforce has left many highly qualified professionals out of the job market. But are these candidates too qualified, or could they be the right people for the job?

Hiring Managers have traditionally hesitated to employ overqualified candidate because of several presumed risks – the assumption is that the person will be bored and not motivated, so they will underperform or leave. However, research by Berrin Erdogan, a professor of management at Portland State University, shows that these risks may be more perceived than real. In fact, sales associates in her study who were thought to be overqualified actually performed better. And rarely do people move on simply because they feel they’re too talented for the job. “People don’t stay or leave a company because of their skills. They stay or leave because of working conditions” she says.

Here are several things to consider next time you are looking at a stack of overly impressive CV’s.


Why are they applying?

Firstly, get to the root of why an applicant is interested in the role and make sure their interests are aligned with the job description, says Richard Dunlop, Managing Director at Spring Professional, part of The Adecco Group.

“This will help you determine whether a candidate is really interested in the role or is seeing it as a foot in the door with a view to being promoted.

“It is very easy to overlook a suitable candidate because you are concerned they will get bored or be looking for an immediate promotion, but this might not be the case.”


Are they looking beyond the traditional career path?

Candidates may be looking for a better work-life balance after starting a family, says Paula Kirwan, General Manager of Davidson Executive and Boards.

Other candidates may look to move to the not-for-profit sector, which often has a family-first ethos and can satisfy a more altruistic approach to the work-life balance option.

“There are candidates in the market who are looking beyond traditional career paths and want to change direction and move into a different sector or industry, and you won’t know until you meet them and know what their motivation is,” Kirwan says.

Dunlop agrees that some candidates might be looking for a step back in their career or more work-life balance, or they may be new to the industry and lack local or industry experience.

“They may also be looking for a career change or be following their passion after working in a different sector.”


What can they bring to the role?

Depth of experience can be extremely beneficial to the organisation when on-boarding a new employee, Dunlop says.

“If they are moving for the right reasons, you could be bringing on-board some much needed skills, and this shouldn’t be overlooked.”

Kirwan says the not-for-profit sector is enjoying the benefits of having highly skilled people available in the market and willing to work in that environment, even though the salaries are less.

“Candidates enjoy it because it is a different pace and it’s not about the profit or shareholders, it’s about giving back.”


Is there room for growth in the role?

Be clear with candidates about what the role is and what the opportunities are, says Dunlop.

“It may be that there is additional scope within the role that you can discuss with them as well as training and development opportunities.”

“If you feel like they would be a good fit, assessing whether there are opportunities to add some additional responsibility, like managing or mentoring someone, might be beneficial.”


What are their future career objectives?

The classic question, “Where do you see yourself in one, five and ten years’ time” can be useful in this situation, says Dunlop.

“This will help determine whether they are looking to make a quick move on from the current role and can help you assess their ambition.

“Asking them what they would like to achieve in their first three, six and 12 months, or what the biggest impact they expect to have, will give you an idea of how committed to the current role they are.”


Has their career simply stagnated?

Candidates are often told they are ‘overqualified’ and feel that they’re not being hired because they’re too old, when in fact it may be that their career has stagnated, says Kirwan.

“Often ‘overqualified’ is an excuse for overpaid, they’ve been with the same company for too long and may not have stayed up to date with technological advances in their industry or upskilled or developed their skill set regularly.

“Prospective employers fear they won’t be adaptable because they’ve been working in the same environment for too long.”


Are they overqualified or overeducated?

Consider whether the candidate is in fact ‘overqualified’ or in fact ‘overeducated’, says Dunlop.

“Many people enjoy studying and upskilling but will lack practical industry experience.

“Most candidates with strong academic backgrounds don’t expect to be able to walk into a senior level role and will be expecting to gain relevant experience.”


What management style do they prefer?

Some managers could be concerned about managing an employee with extensive experience, but this can be addressed during the interview, says Dunlop.

“Ask them how they like to be managed and what their current relationship with their manager is like. This will allow you to identify if it fits with your own style.”


Make the interview positive

And finally, if you discover during an interview that a candidate is definitely overqualified and they are rejected, it can still be a positive experience, says Kirwan.

“It can be quite a positive communication because you’re complimenting the candidate and outlining to them what the restrictions and frustrations might be if you were to offer them a role that they were clearly overqualified for.”


 Source: Seek Insight and Resources, N.D Should you hire an overqualified candidate?  [Blog Post].  Retrieved from: https://insightsresources.seek.co.nz/should-you-hire-an-overqualified-candidated

Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19271809/


About the Authors

Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.  

Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.

Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers. www.accountests.com