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Want To Win The Talent War? Hire Overqualified Candidates

The biggest recruiting challenge today is filling the critical open positions that will help your organization continue to grow and allow your teams the ability to seize on marketplace opportunities.

I understand that executive search is all about finding the ideal candidate – skills, years of experience, and culture fit. This search criteria all makes complete sense.

What does not make sense to me is when hiring managers turn down great candidates because they are ”overqualified.”

At CMP, we see the “overqualified candidate” from two perspectives:

  • Candidates in our outplacement/career transition programs that are continually frustrated by being told that they are overqualified. They start asking us if they should “dumb down” their resume or downplay their accomplishments to become a more attractive fit.
  • Our executive search consultants who get the pushback from the hiring managers that have concerns that a great candidate will not be a good fit because – you guessed it – they are overqualified.

There was a great blog last week by Ed Baldwin in Fistful of Talent - HIRE THE OVERQUALIFIED TO MAXIMIZE TALENT ROI – that captured why passing on “overqualified’ does not make sense.

Virtually all companies want to hire the very best talent available.  Most have some version of this statement proudly displayed on their careers page. But we all know that there are constraints in terms of the price you can afford to pay for that talent. That’s the crux of achieving your company’s talent strategy, maximizing the talent you bring into the organization but doing so at a price that doesn’t break the bank.

Given the fact that all companies want the very best talent that is available for the money they are willing to pay, why do companies reject candidates for being OVERQUALIFIED?

Ed lists four reasons why hiring managers pass on qualified candidates. You can read about them by clicking the link to the article shown above.

For me, there are two main reasons why hiring managers use the “overqualified” reason for candidate disqualification.

Reason – Perceived Flight Risk – “They Will Leave When they Find Something Better.”

The reality is that there is no empirical evidence (at least that I can find) that shows that candidates who bring more experience to the table (OK – let’s say it – older professionals) are more likely to leave early versus the ambitious thirty-year-old who is looking for the quickest path to being a Director.

I would counter and say that there will be less turnover with older candidates. They are not, in general, as career ambitious as the “youngsters” and will be much more comfortable in an environment where they are treated respectfully and allowed to do great work.

Reason – Candidate Will Be Bored or Unchallenged – “We Do Not Think He/She Will Be A Good Culture Fit.”

This reason has a lot of built-in problems – bias, age discrimination, insecurity, politics to name just a few. Ed Baldwin does a great job pointing out the contradiction that exists when companies say they want the best talent but then reject candidates for bringing too much expertise and experience to the table. Smart leaders in senior management need to challenge this reasoning.

Putting aside that it potentially is illegal,  overlooking the “overqualified candidate is a major missed opportunity. In addition to having a candidate that meets all of the job specifications, the hiring manager will now have someone on the team that can bring extra insights, skills, and connections to the party.

How can this help?

Here is a Glassdoor.com review of a SaaS company (HubSpot) that I admire. I am also a long-term customer of HubSpot and have evangelized for them for years. This review shows how having an older, “overqualified” person on the team can help.

Much has been said about HubSpot’s lack of diversity.

I do believe there’s a good-faith effort to improve this, and I respect the standards they’re trying to set in the industry in this matter. But what they seem unwilling to address is the lack of age diversity.

Among all the people I collaborated with at HubSpot, I’m struggling to think of even one person who was over the age of 35. There are a lot of problems with this, obviously, but one thing that stuck with me was the “inmates running the asylum” vibe. Over and over again, major problems were left to a bunch of 25 years old employees to solve.

While we (I was one of those 25-year-olds) struggled to find solutions, these “crises” could have been solved easily through the lens of experience. Reflecting back, I often think about how every day felt like a fire drill at HubSpot, and I think much of that is because we all had no frame of reference. It was nearly everyone’s first or second job, and we all could have really benefited from someone working with us that had longevity in the industry, or longevity even in an office setting.

HubSpot is a great organization that is doing great things. The above review shows how their selection criteria are biased against the older worker. Read Dan Lyons great book Disrupted to learn more about this.

I want to close with Ed Baldwin’s final quote from his blog that inspired what I said here. This quote will give every hiring manager more than enough justification for defending their choice to go with the “overqualified” candidate.

If your company has a talent strategy where you are trying to get the best ROI for your talent dollar (quite frankly, why wouldn’t you) then you would hire the OVERQUALIFIED candidate because they are offering more skills and capabilities than the job requires at the same talent cost. That’s a higher ROI.

Thanks to Ed Baldwin inspiring this blog. Ed is currently the Director of People and Culture for Mikron, based on Englewood, CO.

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