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Are You Underestimating Overqualified Workers?

Rejecting a candidate because they have too many credentials? On the surface, it seems absurd: Here, it seems you’ve been handed the opportunity to snag executive-level talent at an entry level price…and yet you know that doing so means you could soon be dealing with a very bitter employee who resents taking a job that is below them, or perhaps you fear they’ll leave the minute a better opportunity comes along…

That’s the dilemma employers face when it comes to hiring overqualified workers – and why so many just say no; however, while you certainly want to be wary of someone who “will just take anything” to make ends meet (not that you don’t sympathize), you could also be doing yourself a disservice by dismissing an overqualified worker outright – and miss the opportunity to score major talent for your organization.

So before you immediately dismiss an overqualified worker, just consider the following questions to help you assess why you’re really discounting them – and if you should reconsider…

How do I define “overqualified”?
Dismissing someone based only on a resume that is more extensive than what the hiring manager expected might be jumping the gun.  For one thing, having “too much” experience is relative.  Check with the hiring manager to see how much additional qualification is acceptable before ruling someone out entirely.  Not to mention that more experience and qualifications means less time spent training and developing the individual. And finally, just because the person may have more experience doesn’t mean he or she isn’t the best person for the job – it might be worth your time to let the candidate prove it to you.

Are my biases getting in the way?
“Every organization has its own internal biases…Hiring managers and recruiters need to acknowledge these biases and realize that great candidates may not fit the typical mold,” one commenter reasoned in response to an earlier post I’d written about not writing off candidates too soon.

Echoing this sentiment, management expert F. John Reh writes that the biggest obstacle to hiring overqualified workers is dealing with underqualified managers who feel threatened by the idea of having someone on their team who is competing for their position or will do anything that might highlight their own shortcomings. What these managers fail to realize, however, is that something done well by their team will actually reflect well on them.

Also, judging from the comments generated by a recent TheWorkBuzz post asking workers to discuss how they felt about being overqualified for their jobs, it’s apparent that many job seekers are frustrated by the “overqualified” label – and many suspect that employers just use this term as an excuse for not hiring older workers. (If that’s true, it’s important to realize that mature workers “offer a wealth of knowledge and experience that has translated into a significant competitive advantage for employers,” according to Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.)

Am I assuming too much?
It’s understandable that you might suspect that a worker with more experience than the minimum qualifications will ask for too much pay; however, posting the salary or salary range for the position in the job ad will help to screen out these applicants.  While there’s still the risk that a more experienced worker may still push for a higher salary, that doesn’t mean they won’t ultimately – and happily – accept the salary you offer.

Perhaps you’re worried that a more experienced individual will be more difficult to manage than someone “greener,” but you shouldn’t screen based on this assumption: wait until the interview process, where you can find out about the person’s personality, work ethic and cultural fit within the organization.

It’s also common to assume that an overqualified worker will be bored in his or her “lesser” role, and is simply waiting for the job market to open up to pursue better opportunities, which is, of course, a valid concern – but it’s a concern that should apply to all of your employees.  A recent New York Times article addressed this topic, saying that while studies indicate that workers who perceive themselves as overqualified do tend to report lower job satisfaction and higher rates of turnover, various research shows that these workers tend to perform better – and that managers can mitigate many of the negatives that come with overqualified hires by giving their worker autonomy, treating them with respect, and making them feel valued.

Thoughts? Have you had experience hiring or managing what you’d consider overqualified workers?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
12 comments
Overqualified or too old?
Overqualified or too old?

I was recently told I was over qualified for a job, the first thing I thought was - "I didn't know it was a junior Position?" then I thought - "Maybe my salary requirements were to high?" but to be too old? ouch! that hurt! Maybe I'll start trimming down my resume...

Overqualified or too old?
Overqualified or too old?

I was recently told I was over qualified for a job, the first thing I thought was - "I didn't know it was a junior Position?" then I thought - "Maybe my salary requirements were to high?" but to be too old? ouch! that hurt! Maybe I'll start trimming down my resume...

Overqualified or too old?
Overqualified or too old?

I was recently told I was over qualified for a job, the first thing I thought was - "I didn't know it was a junior Position?" then I thought - "Maybe my salary requirements were to high?" but to be too old? ouch! that hurt! Maybe I'll start trimming down my resume...

Pigbitin Mad
Pigbitin Mad

PS, I have hired overqualified workers back in the 80's. The job was for a part time shipping clerk and this woman was a video editor. It turned out great because she needed the money and I liked having someone smart around. If you don't nitpick and deliberately give people a hard time, it will work out just fine. And even if that person left, do you think the kid you hire is going to stay forever? That's why I truly believe this overqualified nonsense IS code for "too old." No employer really wants an employee to stay forever. If you stay too long they will be itching to get rid of you cause you make to much and you just don't look right doing a low level job if you are over 35.

Pigbitin Mad
Pigbitin Mad

PS, I have hired overqualified workers back in the 80's. The job was for a part time shipping clerk and this woman was a video editor. It turned out great because she needed the money and I liked having someone smart around. If you don't nitpick and deliberately give people a hard time, it will work out just fine. And even if that person left, do you think the kid you hire is going to stay forever? That's why I truly believe this overqualified nonsense IS code for "too old." No employer really wants an employee to stay forever. If you stay too long they will be itching to get rid of you cause you make to much and you just don't look right doing a low level job if you are over 35.

Pigbitin Mad
Pigbitin Mad

PS, I have hired overqualified workers back in the 80's. The job was for a part time shipping clerk and this woman was a video editor. It turned out great because she needed the money and I liked having someone smart around. If you don't nitpick and deliberately give people a hard time, it will work out just fine. And even if that person left, do you think the kid you hire is going to stay forever? That's why I truly believe this overqualified nonsense IS code for "too old." No employer really wants an employee to stay forever. If you stay too long they will be itching to get rid of you cause you make to much and you just don't look right doing a low level job if you are over 35.

Pigbitin Mad
Pigbitin Mad

Expecting people to leave when the economy gets better is an outdated notion. The economy will never improve. We are finished as a nation. These days, overqualified means you are A) TOO OLD B) NOT A COMPLETE AND TOTAL MORON. I have never felt overqualified. That is a label that I am sure is applied to me without my knowledge....since I never get one damn response to my resume anyway. I may as well throw a bottle with my resume from a plane into middle of the pacific ocean. When it makes landfall, it is more likely to be seen and at least read.

Pigbitin Mad
Pigbitin Mad

Expecting people to leave when the economy gets better is an outdated notion. The economy will never improve. We are finished as a nation. These days, overqualified means you are A) TOO OLD B) NOT A COMPLETE AND TOTAL MORON. I have never felt overqualified. That is a label that I am sure is applied to me without my knowledge....since I never get one damn response to my resume anyway. I may as well throw a bottle with my resume from a plane into middle of the pacific ocean. When it makes landfall, it is more likely to be seen and at least read.

Pigbitin Mad
Pigbitin Mad

Expecting people to leave when the economy gets better is an outdated notion. The economy will never improve. We are finished as a nation. These days, overqualified means you are A) TOO OLD B) NOT A COMPLETE AND TOTAL MORON. I have never felt overqualified. That is a label that I am sure is applied to me without my knowledge....since I never get one damn response to my resume anyway. I may as well throw a bottle with my resume from a plane into middle of the pacific ocean. When it makes landfall, it is more likely to be seen and at least read.

Phil L
Phil L

I am in my current position due to the company hiring me to do work that was well below my "qualifications." The person training me for the lower job was surprised when I returned after the first day's lunch break.
I was able to move up fairly quickly and have made a contribution to the company. I am not one who cares about my qualifications, only working hard and having an opportunity to move up when possible. One can starve to death waiting on the job one is qualified for. I prefer to eat!

Phil L
Phil L

I am in my current position due to the company hiring me to do work that was well below my "qualifications." The person training me for the lower job was surprised when I returned after the first day's lunch break.
I was able to move up fairly quickly and have made a contribution to the company. I am not one who cares about my qualifications, only working hard and having an opportunity to move up when possible. One can starve to death waiting on the job one is qualified for. I prefer to eat!

Phil L
Phil L

I am in my current position due to the company hiring me to do work that was well below my "qualifications." The person training me for the lower job was surprised when I returned after the first day's lunch break. I was able to move up fairly quickly and have made a contribution to the company. I am not one who cares about my qualifications, only working hard and having an opportunity to move up when possible. One can starve to death waiting on the job one is qualified for. I prefer to eat!

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