Being told you are overqualified for a job in a rough job market is one of the most disheartening things a job seekers can hear. In 2010 when the job market was at one of the lowest points ever, those graduating college were frustrated and discouraged about the lack of jobs they were qualified for. Those with bachelors degrees were applying for jobs as administrative assistants, restaurant servers, and anything else that would help pay the rent. The only problem with this tactic was that hiring managers were constantly saying, ”We’re sorry, but you’re overqualified for the position.”

These hiring managers were protecting their investment, since they knew that if hired, the job seekers would be there only for as long as it took to find a job in their actual field of study. The turnover rate for these graduates was high, and the cost of finding new employees was destroying their recruitment budgets and taking time away from other, more productive tasks. That’s why hiring managers rarely make the decision to hire someone who is overqualified. So how does one actually determine if a candidate is overqualified or underqualified?

Depending on how technical the job position is, finding someone whose skill set and experience fits the position exactly can be tough. Many jobs clearly require a specific degree or training certification. But others fall into a gray area where experience or a lack thereof can make or break a candidate’s suitability. The more specific a recruiter can be about the tasks and responsibilities of a job, the easier it is to determine the appropriateness of each candidate.

The list of disadvantages of hiring someone who is overqualified is quite long. Major issues include boredom, a lack of motivation, dissatisfaction with compensation, mood issues, high turnover, difficulties with leadership, etc. Hiring managers take overqualified candidates seriously only if they are convinced that the individual is really motivated to work for the company. When an employee is disengaged from their work, it not only creates unnecessary stress in the workplace, but productivity is also hugely affected across the board.

When making an important hiring decision, the question a hiring manager needs to ask is whether it’s better to hire someone who is highly skilled but might be overqualified or to hire someone who might not have the necessary skill level but may be able to get there through training. This question can be looked at in multiple ways.

For the overqualified individual, the worry is that there won’t be enough work to keep them engaged, and in a few weeks you’ll be back to square one, trying to fill the position again. But on the other hand, you know you’ll be able to count on this candidate to perform on day one of the job.

For the underqualified candidate, the concern is that you might not have the time or resources for training. This situation needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis, but if you’re able to train an underqualified candidate, he or she is likely to want to stay with the company longer and could be a lot more dedicated. The major disadvantage in this situation is the learning curve which could cripple your business, depending on how critical the position is within your company.

Overqualified or underqualified candidates both have their pros and cons. In each situation, the hiring manager needs to take a look at the resources available and make a decision based on the risks involved in hiring one or the other. Of course, you can always try to keep looking for that perfectly-qualified candidate, but this can also have repercussions if a position goes unfilled for too long.

Adina Miron

7 Comments

  • Avatar Stacy says:

    Nowadays companies and organizations prefer a candidate who fits perfectly over someone who brings more intelligence and experience than needed. From my point of view this bias makes sense: it seems that employees who consider themselves overqualified show higher levels of discontent

  • Avatar Donna Buchmeister says:

    Some people have to acknowledge that they are overqualified for certain roles, but if they really want the position they apply for, they have to provide a clear set of reasons why they still would really value the job and would stay for the long term. These reasons may contain a wish for less challenge later in their careers, or simply less stress and more time. 

  • Avatar Daria says:

    Overqualified means you’re too expensive and/or too old. It’s hard not to think that the candidate is only here because the economy sucks, and s/he needs a job, and as soon as a job in their field opens, they’ll be out. I have no doubt they could do the job, and do it well. But if I’ll have to interview new people in 6 months time, then I gain nothing by hiring them.  

  • Avatar Max Wilson says:

    It is difficult to turn a blind eye to the idea that these people won’t leave when a better opportunity appears. But I think hiring an overqualified candidate with the thought that higher position may open for this person in the future could be a good alternative if you needed to hire someone immediately.

  • Avatar Martin O'Leary says:

    I have a number of “pet peeves” about the hiring process, as it is currently practiced and I would be interested on other peoples’ views on these. However, for the moment I will limit my comments to just one of these – looking for the “perfect fit”, – time wasting and counter productive.

    I have been out of work for a year. I work in a fairly technical field within the banking sphere. Whilst I have a number of professional accreditations, I sometimes find that the I am not qualified for the job that I have performed for over 20 years – it now requires a PhD, knowledge gained by experience does not seem to carry the same gravitas, or could it be something else (I know my field is only one of many where this has occurred).

    It is my perception that many companies, especially those within the financial industry take the lazy approach to recruitment, to whit a very specific level of academic achievement and highly specific set of experiences.

    Throughout more than 20 years of working in banks I have found that subject matter expertise in closely defined fields can be assimilated in a very short period, often just weeks – in this period the individual will probable be intellectually curious, is more willing to challenge the perceived norms and to consider alternative approaches – this might be called dynamism. The types of expertise to which I elude include system specific familiarity, process organization and small highly defined areas of legal and mathematical knowledge (Basel, applications of calculus etc…).

    I perceive that the very specific definition of the role is designed to make it easier for those involved in the recruiting process to take a decision based on a simple binary test. Recruiters look for a 100% fit, the problem with this approach is that it can take months of searching, whilst the job is not covered and management become entrenched in the hiring process.

    The benefit to this approach is that middle mangers can be absolved of all responsibility for the choice made, they ticked the boxes, if the hire fails it is not their fault.

    But what are the downsides to this approach, the cost can be extortionate – in time spent filtering candidates, and that crucial job remains unfilled. It is also likely, based on the above arguments that the person eventually hired will not be challenged and will move on relatively quickly – so the whole process can start again.

    This philosophy is management by mediocrity – we all know what that will lead to.

    Am I just a cynic, or do others concur?

  • Avatar Susan Renzo says:

    If I were to believe the premise as stated, then the antidote might be to hire highly experienced people in their fifties. The benefits would be as follows:

    1. The higher levels of experience make the applicant immediately productive
    without the downtime of training;

    2. More experienced workers are often aware of alternative means of accomplishing
    goals, invigorating companies with new thinking;

    3. The older worker began their working career at a time when careers meant spending
    your working life with one company. They are less inclined to bounce around and
    try to find another two dollars an hour than a younger worker is.. What they want is stability until they get to their retirement age – which for many of us is well past 65.

    4. There are far fewer jobs available for the older worker, 50 and above. Therefore,
    there are far fewer options for them to change jobs.

    5. As to mood, older workers have a work ethic that they learned a long time ago. For
    most of us we can find plenty to do by pitching in with a “let’s get it done” attitude,
    as opposed to the “it’s not my job” way of thinking. Older workers can also mentor
    younger workers.

    It is just too easy to get into the laziness of thinking inside the box. If HR people would stop going by the rule book and start thinking creatively, jobs could easily and quickly be filled and costs would be kept down.

  • Avatar Jess says:

    Susan, I understand what you’re talking about, as even in tough economic situation of today there’re still millions of positions to be filled. I think every candidate can be looked at both from positive and negative point of view. You’ve outlined a really relevant point how HRs can cut the expenditures and getting lots of other benefits by simply hiring mature workers instead of the youth. If you don’t mind, I have something to add here too. Firstly, mature workers quite often already have established long-term networks of clients and contacts. Secondly, older people have developed communication skills and tact, they aren’t seeing workplace politics for the first time, and they often know exactly how to deal with it. But there’re some cons in hiring older workers which should be considered as well. Among the disadvantages the most vivid are the following: they may lack flexibility; sometimes they have problems with taking orders from younger people; they tend to have unbreakable bad habits; they may be more expensive when it comes to medical care and insurance due to developed chronic diseases.
    Anyway, as I’ve already mentioned there are always pros and cons to hiring any candidate, what we must do is weigh every hiring situation and put enough thinking to all the alternatives we have in order to make the best choice from the point of view of economy and moral.

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