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Hiring "Over-Qualified" Candidates Is Smart Talent Acquisition

Stressed businesswoman sitting at her desk in the office.jpegFinding great people is always essential. As we enter into our new period of full employment the war for talent is going to heat up even more.

This is going to lead talent acquisition professionals in a position to have to be creative in finding the right person for the right job. In light of this, I was drawn to a Fistful of Talent blog where they tackle the highly debated topic of over-qualified candidates. 

Is it time to rethink our talent  acquisition criteria to open the doors to rethink why "over-qualified" candidates are not a good fit?

Everyone enjoys a good rant every now and then.

I really enjoyed a recent post THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “OVERQUALIFIED from Mark Fogel in the Fistful of Talent blog. He wanted to vent his frustration on a topic that has also frustrated me for a long time – being “over-qualified”.

As the leader of an outplacement firm, I routinely listen to the frustrations of great candidates who get passed over for positions because they are – you guessed it – “overqualified”.

Here is what Mark Fogel has to say about this:

I’m jaded and don’t subscribe to the overqualified candidate debate. To me, it is binary—you’re qualified or you are not.

I am not sure when the term overqualified entered the Talent parlance. It may, by all accounts, be the most overused term in HR. More than “Engagement” or “Rigor” or “Agility”, and certainly near the historic “Seat at the Table” or half a dozen other terms and buzzwords bantered about by recruiters near and far.

When folks shop for clothes or appliances they look for value at a discount. Who wouldn’t want a Samsung big screen for 40% off or a great designer handbag for even more money off?

Would an NBA pro basketball coach turn down a player who could hit 50% of their 3-point shots consistently, giving them 15-20 quality minutes a night, for a minimum dollar value contract?

If you run a medical practice, would you pass on a doctor who went to Harvard because their degree was too good of a school?

But we regularly pass on individuals as they seem to have too much experience, or, as the saying goes, they are “Overqualified”.

So, I won’t bore you with the reasons folks use to defend their position. Or discuss ageism as part of this debate. I will just give you a couple of food for thought notions on hiring qualified folks who happen to have a lot of skills or experience, maybe more than the job spec.

First, they may excel at the job with minimal to no ramp-up time.

Second, they may bring better ways of doing tasks or the work itself.

Third, they may be able to do more than expected.

I know I am keeping it simple, but you all can take it to another level by noting they can mentor less experienced (dare I say “under qualified”) folks and act on a slew of high-value actions daily. Maybe productivity and capabilities of experienced workers are intimidating to some bosses?

And, of course, they can leave for more money or a bigger position down the road. So can your Elk that is less productive and not that valuable.

I would like the term removed from the daily parlance of recruitment. That is a bold and unrealistic request. However, I challenge all of you to at least think about it and maybe, just maybe, hire a “better qualified” candidate in the future. Now maybe that should be the new term of the week, “better qualified”.

Stranger things have happened!

Thanks, Mark Fogel. I have only one word to say - Amen.

Is it really the binary choice like Mark Fogel states between “being qualified” and “not being qualified”. I wish it was that simple.

hy is it then that "over-qualified" candidates are turned away? Despite saying it should not exist we all know that it does. In fact, I had this happen a couple of times this week where there where a couple of strong candidates that I forwarded in a search were rejected for this very reason.

I hope that attitudes are changing on this issue.

  • We are entering a full employment economy that is going to make finding top talent harder and harder
  • We have a very experienced Boomer workforce that will be looking for portfolio career opportunities.
  • Jobs need to be more flexible and agile in today’s knowledge-based economy. Someone with supplemental skills can help reframe and enhance the value created by the role.

Also, what are the reasons that we consider someone “over-qualified”? They mainly break down to either age, money, or perceived organizational fit.

Age – I have written several articles on age discrimination and they all point to the same message – it is a bad talent acquisition and retention strategy because older workers do not equal lower productivity.

Money – When someone says that they will work for less money, why do we always doubt their sincerity and motivation? The prevailing wisdom is that this candidate will jump ship once a “better paying job” comes along. The facts do not support that. It should also be noted that hiring the younger “more qualified” worker does not guarantee a longer job tenure. In fact, they may jump sooner.

Perceived Fit – While everyone wants to promote a diverse workplace, why do we need to have everyone cluster around an average age of 40? I can understand why you may need to recruit younger people for emerging software coding roles but do you need to go young for support roles in Finance and Human Resources?

I hope that there will be more challenges to the question of why should a candidate be passed over because of “over-qualification”. I strongly believe that smart talent acquisition leaders are going to take advantage of this while their competitors hang on to the unproductive conventional wisdom.

About the contributor to this article:

Mark Fogel.jpg

Mark Fogel is the Managing Director - HR Practice Lead with Signium USA. He also does organizational development and team building consulting, with a specialization in Gallup Strength's team building programs.