Is Hiring Overqualified Workers a Good Idea?

by Vault Careers | April 01, 2010

With the unemployment rate at 9.7 percent (at least until Friday), and 12 million or so Americans out of work, there are still a lot of things related to the economy worth fretting about. Hiring, however, is not one of them; as this New York Times article makes clear, there's never been a better time to get talented, experienced workers through the door—with many businesses reaping the benefits of hiring people who are plainly overqualified for the positions they're applying for. The question, however, is whether that's something you'd want to do.

On the face of it, there are plenty of very good reasons why you'd want to hire someone who was taking a step down in terms of their career: they're much more likely to be able to do the job you're hiring them for well, while in many cases also contributing extra just to stay interested. And, overqualified or not, they're just as likely to be grateful to land whatever they can as anyone else.

As the Times piece makes abundantly clear, there are also plenty of reasons why you wouldn't want to hire from the "overqualified" pool—the number one reason being that you're much more likely to experience turnover as soon as that person finds something that's more in line with their experience levels and salary expectations.

Indeed, the final sentence of the Times article sums up the greatest problem employers will have with hiring overqualified workers: the employee they profiled "wonder how long simply having a job will be enough."

If you take all that into account and decide that you're going to take your chances on someone who's overqualified, here are a couple of ideas to bear in mind.

Hire with an eye on the future


Sure, unemployment might be high right now, and not projected to dip significantly for several years, but that alone isn't going to keep top talent in positions that just aren't enough for them. If you’re going to take the risk of giving a job to someone who's overqualified for it, try to identify areas where their skills might be of use in months and years to come, even if they're not crucial to the role you're currently hiring for. That's especially true if you're thinking of expanding, or if you know you'll have other employees leaving in the short to medium term.

Find ways to keep them engaged


If "simply having a job" isn't likely to be enough for a candidate, find out what would be closer to "enough" for them: maybe they'd be interested in leading professional development initiatives based on their past experience. Or maybe they're more the mentoring types, and would be willing to take on a younger or less experienced colleague. Additionally, highly accomplished careerists have usually mastered the ability of multi-tasking, and may be able to pitch in in entirely unrelated areas of the business, and develop new skills and experiences of their own into the bargain.

Accept that they're going to leave


Some things in life aren't meant to last. If you can bring in someone with an abundance of talent and experience to give your company a temporary lift—and possibly raise the game of everyone around them into the bargain—then it may well be worth doing even though you know it'll only be until something better comes along. While hiring can be a drawn-out, expensive affair, companies in this environment won't struggle to find people either at or seeking to step up to the level of hire you're looking for. So why not take a chance on hiring someone above that level and find out what someone in the position could be capable of. There'll still be plenty of "good enough" candidates to fall back on when it's absolutely necessary.

--Posted by Phil Stott, Vault.com

Filed Under: Workplace Issues


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