When the economic recession wreaked havoc on the employment prospects of our nation, an interesting paradox was created where even the most qualified and diligent employees were left jobless, despite their qualifications and experience. As the economy began to rebound and positions began to open up, employers were faced with the unique challenge of deciding amongst a wide array of employee-hopefuls, ranging from recent college grads to those with decades of experience and a masters degree. Many candidates, despite their qualifications, simply wanted to get their foot back in the employment door, even if the position level was below their skill set.
However, filling a vacant position with an overqualified employee can sometimes create new obstacles for employers to overcome. So how can employers decide when they should hire an overqualified candidate? Read below for Amy Gallo’s Harvard Business Review blog on how employers can assess this sometimes difficult predicament.
Recruiters have traditionally hesitated to place overqualified candidates because of several presumed risks, says Berrin Erdogan, a professor of management at Portland State University and the lead author of a recent study on the subject. “The assumption is that the person will be bored and not motivated, so they will underperform or leave.” However, her research shows that these risks may be more perceived than real. In fact, sales associates in her study who were thought to be overqualified actually performed better. And rarely do people move on simply because they feel they’re too talented for the job. “People don’t stay or leave a company because of their skills. They stay or leave because of working conditions” she says.
Here are several things to consider next time you are looking at a stack of overly impressive resumes.
Don’t assume someone is overqualified based on a quick screen of their credentials. “There is a lot of misunderstanding over what overqualified is,” says Ergodan. “We define it as meeting and exceeding the skill requirements of the job. So having a lot of education doesn’t over-qualify you.” Nor does experience, if the person’s prior positions are not directly related to the job in question. Get to know the candidate before you decide to pass. There may be reasons why he is interested in this specific position. He may want to shift industries, move to a new location, or achieve greater work/life balance. And there may be ways that you can make use of his “extra” experience.
When considering a candidate who is, in fact, overqualified for the job opening, ask yourself if there is room to expand the role and make use of the skills he brings. “While the old paradigm for hiring was to determine that a job was vacant and look for the right candidate, in today’s world one should also consider the talent opportunities at hand, and try to find the jobs that may be created or open in the near future for them, in the larger organization,” says Fernández-Aráoz.
“Effective onboarding is essential, especially for the overqualified,” says Erdogan. “Unmet expectations are one of the more common reasons for turnover,” so you should be clear with yourself, the new hire, and the rest of the organization about what the job entails, as well as what it could become. Adds Fernández-Aráoz: “You need a clear and explicit plan for the future, whether you are thinking of a promotion, a lateral move, or a new project altogether. You need to think and discuss beyond the initial stage where he or she may be temporarily underutilized.”
Although it’s tempting in a bad job market to buy top talent on the cheap, Fernández-Aráoz disapproves of the strategy. “While my experience shows that you can get candidates for up to 25% less in the middle of a big recession, I would not recommend underpaying an overqualified candidate,” he says. “We all have the expectation to be rewarded in a way which is reasonably proportional to our effort and contribution, and fair.” And if the candidate is as strong as you think, you are likely competing with other employers for her. If you can’t afford her, Fernández-Aráoz says it’s better to pass than to underpay. If she wants the job anyway, simply have a frank conversation about her future prospects in terms of promotion and compensation so that she fully understands what she’s getting into.