Making the Case for–and Against–Hiring Overqualified Workers

by Evil HR Lady on November 28, 2018

We’ve all seen it before—you get an application from a candidate that is simply overqualified for the position that she’s seeking. After all, why would an applicant with over twenty years of experience be vying for a mid-level role? But here’s the problem with calling someone “overqualified.” At some companies, the term has become an easy way to reject someone without saying “you’re too old.”

Not only is that potentially discriminatory against applicants that are being overlooked simply for their age, but you’re also likely missing out on employees with unique professional backgrounds and life experiences that have a lot to offer your company, regardless of their position.

It turns out, there are actually plenty of reasons why people may want to step down—and it’s up to you to determine whether or not they’re valid. Here are three occasions when you should give overqualified applicants a chance, and three situations in which to avoid them.

To keep reading, click here: Making the Case for–and Against–Hiring Overqualified Workers

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

grannybunny November 28, 2018 at 1:22 pm

I’m an old lady and have been working — on and off, mostly on — for 57 years. There have been several times over those decades when I took positions for which the employer may have viewed me as “overqualified.” There has never been a time when the employer was later sorry for having done so. It’s totally appropriate for the hiring official to ask why a candidate is interested in a job for which they are “overqualified.” The applicant should be prepared to adequately respond to such a question. However, I don’t believe there is any greater risk in hiring an “overqualified” person than in hiring a — hopefully — “qualified” one. Hiring is a crap shoot, and — unless there is solid evidence that “overqualified” hires turn out worse than other ones — employers should continue to hire the most qualified candidates available.

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JMcC November 30, 2018 at 5:51 pm

“Overqualified” of itself has never made much sense. What company doesn’t need more knowledge and ability. At best, when candidates are plentiful, “overqualified” is just another way to reduce the pile of resumes and candidates. At it’s worst, it’s eliminates the older candidate and the potential of being accused of discrimination if you bring that person in for an interview and they are indeed “older” than the interviewer or company’s preference – Institutionalized age discrimination.

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MariaRose November 28, 2018 at 3:05 pm

Well spoken response by granny bunny. This article speaks to the hidden bias of the interviewer. The hiring should be based on best fit qualifications skills for the specific job, regardless of anything else. To ignore a potential employee because of this inane bias is foolish. It would help to have that conversation about company goals and the potential employee impact.

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Jenny Boxer November 28, 2018 at 4:04 pm

I took my current HR position 20 years ago to take a step back from a stressful career. So I get that. What I come across as a recruiter is that while people with five years of experience meet the basic degree requirement for entry level, they have veered off into a career that is not relevant. They won’t recall what they learned in specific eng’g courses and the direction they took shows they either didn’t have the opportunity or the passion for our focus. That’s why we hire most of our engineers right out of college. It isn’t an age thing. It’s a no longer possessing the skills they learned in college thing.

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GreenDoor November 28, 2018 at 4:32 pm

In my line of work I have found that you really do need to ask good questions and flush out the “why” someone who appears to be overqualified has applied. I found that about half of overqualfied candidates either need less stress or have had a life change and about half just want their foot in the door. Even then, you might find that the hires that needed less stress/steadier hours have a hard time going from being a manager/administrator to being in a supportive/just do-what-you’re-told type of role. So coaching & feedback are still important, even with a very seasoned employee.

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BostonHR November 28, 2018 at 4:54 pm

There is a new challenge though with all of the pay equity laws. If we are looking for someone with less experience for budgetary reasons (even if the more experienced person could provide more value) and so the team wasn’t top heavy and we hire someone with 20+ years of experience (who is willing to take a lesser role), we are still obligated to pay them the same as others with 20+ years of experience and similar credentials. For us, sometimes the job is similar, but the amount experience you bring is the differentiator in salary. We ran into this recently, where we did hire someone with significant experience, but who applied for a more junior role (and ultimately lower paying) and took it. We now find ourselves working salary up to a place where we weren’t looking to be, but feel based on experience compared to others of similar experience and different gender, we need to pay.

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Elizabeth West November 28, 2018 at 6:36 pm

BostonHR–I presume you’re in Massachusetts? Is that a state law, or is it something that applies to your industry? I’m just curious. I could be in this situation if I moved there, since I’m looking to change career focus.

It’s not the case where I live now. The job pays what it pays. So you could hire a 20-year veteran office manager and still pay her $9 an hour. Which is not a livable wage, even here.

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BethRA November 28, 2018 at 8:01 pm

Maybe it’s a union/CBA issue? Massachusetts does have an equal pay law, but it only requires equal pay for comparable work/jobs, and even then it does allow for differentiation in some cases (for example, if the difference is based on longevity with the company, or performance).

If someone applies for a junior role, and the work they is appropriate for that salary level (and you can fix salary ranges for roles/types of roles), you don’t have to pay them more money just because they did higher level work somewhere else for 20 years.

You can do a search for “massachusetts AGO equal pay act guidance” to get the AG’s run-down on the law an it’s requirements.

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old_engineer November 28, 2018 at 5:07 pm

After 25 years in software (and 38 bosses) I stepped away from engineering and was working as a teller at a bank. The boss, pregnant and looking for help NOW, took one look at my resume’ and utter those deadly words, “You’re overqualified, this is a small manufacturing firm.” I replied, “I’m not overqualified, I’m a bank teller.” I got the job on the spot. Since then I have been the #2 with increasing responsibilities outside of engineering and CAD jockey. All problems are mine to solve. The boss and I get along great. As an “older” employee, I can cope with (solve) a wide range issues from customer support to custom CAD Models and compliance issues. We trust each other.

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Elizabeth West November 28, 2018 at 6:30 pm

Yeah, well I AM overqualified and unemployed, and I DO need a job, and yes, I probably will eventually leave (or move up, if that’s an option). That shouldn’t disqualify me–if I didn’t want to do the work, trust me; I wouldn’t be applying.

The problem where I live is thus: the majority of jobs here are entry-level, low-paid positions. I was looking in 2012 after a layoff too, and I kept records, and I’m seeing the same jobs at the same companies from back then reposted over and over and over.

In the last two years, I’ve seen jobs reposted again that I applied for and INTERVIEWED for and didn’t get. If they’d hired me, I might not stay forever, but I would definitely stay for a while and do a good job while I was there. It’s their loss, really.

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