This is What Happens When You Hire an Overqualified Candidate

professional skills

There are two sides to a story and two sides to a coin. The same is true when hiring an overqualified candidate. You can end up with a long-term happy employee or you can end up with a short-term disgruntled employee. HR can help determine which type is hired.

To Hire or Not to Hire an Overqualified Candidate

Hiring an overqualified candidate can have a positive long-term or short-term effect on a company. The decision to hire overqualified applicants can also have a negative impact on a company. It can go either way. Here's a look at what actually happens both negatively and positively when companies hire overqualified job candidates.

What Makes a Candidate Overqualified?

Job applicants considered to be overqualified for a position are typically individuals who have a higher educational background than what is required for the open position. Applicants may also have too many years of experience in the industry, making the job they are applying for a step down the corporate career ladder instead of a step up.

In 2013, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity reported that ''around 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education.'' This means that roughly 48 percent of employed college graduates at the time were overqualified for their jobs. In February 2017, Stephen Rose of the Urban Institute released a study indicating that one in four U.S. employees with a bachelor's degree are overqualified for their current position.


Cons of Hiring an Overqualified Candidate

For the employer, an overqualified applicant can spell trouble for the company by demanding more money to meet the employee's experience, wasting the company's time by going through interviews, hiring processes, and training only to leave as soon as a better position becomes available, and so on. ''Many employers avoid hiring overqualified candidates because they fear these individuals will become bored in their positions or leave as soon as they find a better opportunity,'' writes Heather R. Huhman, president of Come Recommended (content-marketing and digital-PR consultancy) and contributing writer for Other cons include the following:

Boredom and Dissatisfaction

In 2008, Saul Fine and Baruch Nevo released a report in The International Journal of Human Resource Management in which they examined the ''concept of cognitive overqualification'' of 156 U.S.-based customer service representatives. The report revealed a direct correlation between overqualification and job dissatisfaction as well as the development of ''negative job attitudes.'' ''The results of this study,'' writes Fine and Nevo, ''provide support for the common practice among personnel managers to reject overqualified job applicants.''

Boring Job

Poor Job Performance

Boredom can also lead to poor job performance. In a Forbes Coaches Council article, council member Dave Fechtman of Velocity Advisory Group shared with Forbes, ''When an employee feels or is actually overqualified for a position, they tend to be complacent, bored and approach the job on auto-pilot.'' According to a report by Berrin Erdogan, Professor of Management at Portland State University, boredom and poor job performance can lead to feelings of deprivation in which the employee feels the job is beneath them and simply refuses to do the work or tries to pass it off to another employee. In worst case scenarios, this feeling of deprivation can lead to negative consequences for the well-being and health of the employee. Overqualified employees who do not feel their job expectations are met ''experience cognitive dissonance, and they perceive the job as 'beneath them,' mentally rejecting the position and experiencing dissatisfaction.''

Disrupts Employee Morale

When a new employee comes on board, other employees tend to gather around to form first impressions of the new hire and how they will affect the current workplace atmosphere. When an overqualified applicant comes in, some employees may see it as a threat to their future of advancement. The company hired someone who can do it all - why would they promote someone with less experience? This thinking could go as far as driving out current employees. ''Others may perceive this hire as diminishing their opportunities for advancement and leave for greener pastures, '' writes Forbes Coaches Council member Tegan Trovato of Workplace Forward.

Unfair to Employees

Pros of Hiring an Overqualified Candidate

Although there can be a lot of negative results in hiring an overqualified job candidate, there is also an upside to hiring the overqualified. Many companies are actually ''benefiting from an influx of talent it probably would never have been able to attract in a better economic climate,'' writes Michael Luo in an article for the New York Times. In her article, Huhman shares a variety of positive reasons to hire overqualified candidates, including the idea that overqualified candidates are easier to train, they already have leadership qualities, they offer top-notch qualifications at a lower price, and more. Here are three specific ways that hiring overqualified employees can have positive results:

Brings Expertise to the Role

Overqualified candidates can bring a lot of expertise and new ideas to the position. ''If a candidate displays experience in a new area, give him or her the opportunity to grow within the position,'' says Huhman. ''Provide projects that will allow the new hire to put extra expertise to work.''

For instance, in the New York Times article, Luo highlights the job plight of Don Carroll, a former financial analyst with a master's degree in business management. Carroll was laid off from his job and in need of employment. Although overqualified, he applied for a position in the claims department of a moving company in his hometown. The company hired Carroll and Luo describes it as a ''perfect match'' for Carroll and the moving company. In fact, with Carroll's expertise, he was able to ''revamp'' the claims department, develop new and improved tracking tools for the company and help them better understand overall spending.


Out Performs Co-Workers

Huhman notes that overqualified candidates are often easier to manage because of their experience in the workforce, which means they are more self-sufficient and can hold themselves accountable for their work and time management. In addition, says Huhman, ''managers won't have to worry about holding their hand through every project, which means more will get accomplished.''

In a study entitled A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis of the Cognitive Ability-Voluntary Turnover Relationship, Greg Reilly (University of Connecticut), Anthony Nyberg (University of South Carolina) and Mark Maltarich (St. Ambrose University) collected data from 5,310 employed individuals, including those were overqualified (or high cognitive-ability workers) working in low cognitive-demand jobs (or jobs that required little-to-no educational experience). They discovered that overqualified employees were more likely to stay longer at their lower-scale job and work harder than other employees. They also noted that many of the individuals studied chose a job with lower cognitive demand because of flexible hours, location, benefits, etc., proving that not all overqualified candidates will take a job just to fill the paycheck gap until a better position comes along.

Willingness to Step Up

With overqualified candidates, you not only get more educational experience, but you are also more likely to get more workforce experience too. This creates an employee that has already seen the frontlines and is more than ready to step up to the most challenging roles. In fact, Huhman encourages giving overqualified employees more difficult projects and tasks to keep them from becoming bored with the simpler tasks.

In an open forum question-and-answer session for The New Reddit Journal of Science, Berrin Erdogan, professor of management at Portland State University shares, ''My own research as well as that of others also has shown that there are conditions under which feelings of overqualification do not translate into higher turnover.'' Professor Erdogan refers to her retail study with Tayla N. Bauer in which they took a look at 244 sales associates working in a Turkish retail chain. They discovered that when overqualified employees ''feel that they have the ability to influence their work environment (rather than being expected to take a passive, cog-in-a-machine approach to work), their turnover rate is no different than others.'' They work just as hard, if not harder, and take more ownership and pride in their job.


Should You Hire Overqualified Candidates?

The main thing to remember when interviewing overqualified candidates is that they have a reason for applying to a lower paying, lower level job. Don't make preconceived judgments as to what those reasons are. Instead, ask them. Settle it in the interview and not in the office after hiring. Find out if the candidate is applying to fill the pay gap between jobs or if there's another reason such as benefits, location, or schedule flexibility. Get to know the candidate first and then make your decision.

By Amanda Johnson
January 2018

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