The Good and the Bad About Hiring an Overqualified Candidate

Over the years of reading countless LinkedIn posts, which normally make no sense, there are always a few that group together and stand out.

The group usually starts with a recruiter complaining that they gave a Hiring Manager the resume of someone that was “fully” but really an overqualified candidate for the job, and they can’t even begin to comprehend why the Hiring Manger said “NO!”

A common sense approach may tell you that someone having MORE experience than what was even needed would be a good thing, right?

Does having more experience than needed really matter?

In a perfect world and under certain circumstances, this may be true. For example, if I was looking for someone to cut my hair (and not me specifically, because I am bald, but this seems like a good example), my criteria is that someone who had been cutting hair professionally for two years (an overqualified candidate) would do this job for $20.

But, what if I found someone that had been cutting hair professionally for 15 years and would still do it for $20? Sounds perfect, right? I get more bang for my buck and a more experienced person for the same price!

A few questions still remain in this scenario, however.

  • This over-qualified person could probably charge $25 based on experience. Are they only doing it this one time for $20 because they happen to have availability at the moment?
  • Is this a sustainable price for this service down the road?,
  • Or, will they want more money because they can get a higher price elsewhere based on experience?

Here’s where the real problem sets in: This scenario could very well be a great “band-aid” for your temporary problem, but maybe not the best long term choice. I’m not saying these reasons will not also be applicable to a haircut, but I am thinking of this more in a corporate setting.

Here are a few reasons why an overqualified candidate may not always be the best option:

1 – Level of job ownership

Generally, as you gain experience and move up the corporate ladder, you are also required to take more ownership over responsibilities.

If the role you need filled requires a “mid-level” project manager, it could be because this person will not have full ownership over that particular project which would be suitable for a person with only “mid-level” experience.

Within any project, there are multiple verticals that require someone to oversee. A very senior Project Manager is probably used to have full ownership over the entire scope of the project, including project assessment, estimations, solution planning, and execution. But if this role is only responsible for the estimation portion of the project, that senior candidate will quickly feel underutilized and not challenged in the role.

Sure, you may be able to make the compensation work for the moment, but what is the long term effect? After the honeymoon phase of a new role wears off, not having a challenging project or the level of difficulty the managet expects, only headaches can develop.

2 — Moving up the Ladder

Everyone loves a promotion and the benefits that come from a promotion ($$), and I’ve heard on numerous occasions people say, “I am willing to take a small step back to get my foot in the door.” It is the cliché of cliché’s.

Are you aware of the promotion cycle at a particular company, or the criteria to get to that next job level? In many flat organizations with few levels, a promotion can be a big obstacle to overcome.

A big drawback to this scenario, during the first 6-12 months of employment, is that the overqualified candidate who was hired is more focused on getting a raise/promotion that they believe they deserved in the first place when they took the job than actually focusing on the work at hand.

This causes a problematic scenario for everyone involved.

It brings stress to the employee themselves but also creates unnecessary distraction on the part of the hiring manager and team too. On top of everything, the last thing a manager needs is someone feeling they are in need of a promotion before they figure out where the bathroom is.

3 — Compensation

This may be the elephant in the room. Please note: I am in total belief that compensation is not the driving factor of employee happiness, not even in the top 3, or the reason someone will take/switch jobs. There are other factors that will typically be the make/break point.

BUT don’t get me wrong — compensation does play a large role.

Remember, taking a role that you are an overqualified candidate for means also taking a step back in responsibility, which also generally equates to deducting a few numbers from your direct deposit which no one will be excited about. A person’s lifestyle usually morphs as their compensation goes up, and cutting back a bit feels like one is heading in the wrong direction.

Think of accepting a counter-offer which, ironically, is compensation based. It may fix a particular situation for the time being, but it is not a long term solution. That candidate may take a lesser role with lesser money, but the first recruiter that comes knocking with a better title and better pay grade and peace out!

4 — Manager relationship 

Management books tell us that a good manager will hire people smarter than they are in order to make the team stronger.

But let’s be honest — it doesn’t always happen that way.

In human behavior, the thought of “will this person take my job?” potentially starts to creep in at some point. It’s also a two way street with the candidate themselves. You don’t want someone thinking they should be in charge instead of their manager because it creates an uneasy working environment.

Be honest about when an overqualified candidate might work

At the end of the day, there are numerous scenarios where hiring an over-qualified person could work out just great, but just be aware of the consequences of your decision.

If you are looking for a short term fix or short contract role, this can certainly be an entertaining option. But, if you are team planning for a long term strategic road map, these points need to be thought through.

As a Hiring Manager, if overqualified candidates are all you’re getting from your recruiter, a whole other conversation needs to take place so you can synchronize with them and figure out if what you are looking for is available.

That, however, makes for an entirely different article.

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Alan Henshaw is a Talent Acquisition Leader and wanna be nerd. He’s curious about Talent Acquisition/Operations by nature, and that drives him to think deeper around how we can all improve. Alan is also intrigued by how technology plays such a large role in our everyday lives and he loves learning how we can incorporate tech into recruiting seamlessly. Most importantly, he’s a Starbucks Gold Member and firm believer that iced coffee is the real key to success. You can follow Alan on Twitter @henshawsburgh or  connect with him on LinkedIn.




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Alan Henshaw is a Talent Acquisition Leader and wanna be nerd. He’s curious about Talent Acquisition/Operations by nature, and that drives him to think deeper around how we can all improve. Alan is also intrigued by how technology plays such a large role in our everyday lives and he loves learning how we can incorporate tech into recruiting seamlessly. Most importantly, he’s a Starbucks Gold Member and firm believer that iced coffee is the real key to success. You can follow Alan on Twitter @henshawsburgh or  connect with him on LinkedIn.

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