Hiring overqualified candidates: How to evaluate the selection process

January 8, 2018 Franco Gementi


Hiring overqualified candidates to fill vacant positions in your company is not always the best solution when recruiting. In fact, companies that decide to opt for this solution may at some point find that their choice was made too quickly, causing them to eventually lose the very employees they hire.  


Whilst experience and knowledge are important traits to look for when recruiting new employees, there are possible risks that are generally overlooked when hiring someone overqualified. For example, new employees can become bored or discover that the role does not align with their skill set, resulting in them looking elsewhere for employment and fulfilment.  


According to a recent OECD study, 40% of workers are over-skilled for their current job. With the stakes so high in the UK, it is likely that HR managers will experience this kind of situation at least once in their career. Although there is temptation to continue to hire over-qualified candidates for certain roles, it is important to strike the right balance between getting the most out of your new employees and ensuring they are satisfied during their employment.


A highly qualified candidate can bring a lot of benefits to an organisation including experience, expertise, leadership potential and the ability to take charge of challenging projects or activities. However, sometimes, after looking at their CV, these candidates will not be considered as employers fear the risk of them losing motivation, getting bored and abandoning the company altogether.  Often, the candidates that we define as "too qualified" are characterised by a proven track record of high talent and a degree of maturity difficult to find in younger workers. They also have the potential to bring new ideas, a fresher perspective and a way to doing things that works. They will probably start with great enthusiasm and, as they already have the basic skills, they will not require any special training or supervision – this means considerable time and resource saving, especially in the onboarding phase.


However, it may not always be that simple. A highly qualified candidate may be less flexible and not want access to new training because they are already anchored to their own way of organising and carrying out their work. It is important that the new employee knows the culture of the organisation thoroughly and avoids being too patronising.


Taking on an overqualified person can also cause stress for existing managers and colleagues who may feel threatened by a new person trying to take control. Existing employees may also feel that the new person has been put there to distract them. Hiring people with similar personalities and working habits could be a recipe for conflict – so make sure you evaluate their personalities carefully in the interview.


Another problem is that over-skilled workers may feel that there is a lack of growth opportunities available to them or that they are unable to make their own contribution to the business. In these cases, candidates should be reminded that their skills are appreciated and that growth opportunities will become available once a more suitable position in the company is available.


Despite the pros and cons of hiring an overqualified worker, there are also many ways to avoid the pitfalls of a skills mismatch altogether. The most important aspect is to be honest with all of your candidates. Explain the ins and out of the role in relation to your experience and be clear about your expectations. For the candidates, it’s important for them to be honest about what drove them to apply for the role and how their skills and qualifications will contribute to the success of their role in the company.


So, what do you do when faced with candidates who are over qualified for a role? Be careful not to fall into traps. During the interview process, ask the candidates what their long-term career goals are, what motivated them to apply and how they think they can contribute to the success of your business. Listen carefully to their story, make sure they are being honest and take care to ensure they fully understand the specifications of the role you are offering.


And finally, have an open mind. If the candidate appears too qualified, they may have a personal motivation to apply for the job: they might want to change sector, find a better work life balance or simply work for their dream company!


About the Author

Franco Gementi

Franco has deep experience in the Human Resources field, in particular on administrative management processes (in-sourcing and outsourcing) and human resources development, with particular attention to the evaluation of the employee's potential and career development and various aspects related to rewarding policies and training and development. Along the entire evolutionary path, from home made solutions to the current cloud in Human Resources.

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