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Six Considerations: Should you hire the overqualified candidate?

Updated: December 15, 2011 2:04PM



Economists say the economy is picking up, but for many job seekers times are still very tough. As a result, employers are receiving resumes from people who by all measure are over qualified for the positions they offer. We all want to upgrade the level of talent in our businesses, and at least on paper some of the people applying for open roles could make huge contributions to our businesses. But we are leery of hiring people for whom our job looks like a step down. We want people to be motivated employees who work for us, and we certainly don't want to pay someone while they continue their job search.

Given these factors, how can you determine if an overqualified job applicant should be weeded out or given serious consideration? Here are some points to consider:

How long will you need them?

Sometimes hiring a very experienced person is worth it no matter how long you keep them. For example, retailers and other companies with high turnover can get real value from an employee who only stays employed for six months. There are sales organizations that can hire top sales people for the same length of time and still get their money's worth.
In other situations, hiring an individual with very deep industry or technical knowledge is worth it no matter how short their tenure with you. In all these situations, there is limited downside to hiring someone whose experience exceeds the requirements of your position.

Would you hire this person without their experience?

When you conduct an interview with overqualified candidates, ask yourself if you would hire them if they lacked the experience you prize. In other words, are they the kind of people you want on your team? Don't hold your nose and hire people because of their resumes alone. The intangibles of employee motivation, drive, and cultural fit almost always trump experience in the end.

It sounds funny to say, but don't settle for someone just because they have great experience. Make sure they are the kind of person you want in your organization.

Do they have passion for your company?

Candidates with superior qualifications should exhibit more excitement for your role than do other candidates. After all, if they are really good, they should be working for you because they want to, not because they have to. If you don't sense real excitement about the job, don't hire them. Chances are that you will just be a placeholder that provides a salary and benefits until they find the job they really want.
In addition, look for people who are still excited by the challenges your position offers, not employees who do their work on autopilot. If someone demonstrates no passion for a job during the interview, what makes you think they will be excited about actually working for you?

What are their goals?

In every interview we should be exploring candidates' past accomplishments. With overqualified candidates, also make sure to spend time exploring their goals for the future. What does success look like to them for their careers? Based on their answers, do you think your company offers them a good path to achieving their goals? If not, chances are that you will be their stepping stone not their final destination.

Do you offer work/life balance?

When making a job offer, if you offer someone a good compensation package and a superior lifestyle, you can turn an overqualified job candidate into an A-player.

I know attorneys who are vastly "overqualified" for the small law firms for which they work -- and they couldn't be happier. They work reasonable hours, make good money, and have a quality life outside of the office. In similar fashion, a small business client of mine just hired a general manager from a major national corporation. This manager is overqualified for her new role, but she is thrilled about it because it provides her with the quality of life for which she hungers. She has a young daughter and is in a new relationship. Yet her former job required her to work seventy to eighty hours per week. My client, with its more laid-back work environment, offers her a lifestyle that her former employer could never match. As a result, there is a good chance that this overqualified candidate will turn into a valuable, long-term A-player for this business.

If you are offering this kind of package to job seekers, don't just accept applications from overqualified people, actively seek them out. They want you as much as you want them.

Can you "try them before you buy them?"

Any opportunity to hire a job seeker on a temporary basis is worth exploring. Chances are, overqualified candidates are also unemployed. Structure a temporary role for them that allows you to get a feel for one another. It won't take you long to figure out if this person can be a long-term contributor for your team. You may want to define the person's initial role as a consulting engagement that turns into a permanent role if both parties remain interested in making it work. A project-based engagement also helps people to determine if they can be happy in a role that is technically "beneath their pay grade."

Hiring Takeaways

There are a lot of reasons why overqualified candidates don't work out. But the occasional gem that you find makes it worth your time to take these candidates seriously. Look at the opportunity you offer from the candidate's point of view. Does the job you are offering make sense from their point of view? Are they passionate about working for you? Can you offer them a balance of work and life? All of these factors can help you turn an overqualified candidate into an A-player.

Author Bio:
Eric Herrenkohl is the author of the upcoming book How to Hire A-Players (John Wiley & Sons, April 2010) and is President of Herrenkohl Consulting. Herrenkohl Consulting helps executives create the organizations they need to build the businesses they want. To receive Eric's free monthly e-letter Performance Principles, go to www.herrenkohlconsulting.com to subscribe.

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