There is No Such Thing as an Overqualified Candidate


“Sorry you are overqualified for this role, but thank you for the interest.”

Have you or any of your peers heard this before? Well recently the concept of ‘overqualified’ came under debate in the AESC / BlueSteps group on Linkedin, discussing, should you hire an ‘overqualified’ candidate?

While there are many reasons an executive may search for a role that appears beneath their experience level, such as transitioning into a new industry or lack of availability of higher level positions, the answer to the ‘overqualified’ dilemma generally lies in the attitude of both the executive and employer. In every case, real passion must exist for the role on the candidate side and employers must avoid dismissing these candidates as simply ‘risk hires’. Instead, organizations should benefit from these highly experienced executives by nurturing growth and laying foundations for role expansion.

Done correctly and the benefits to the hiring organization can be huge. See below for how the organization is likely to benefit, and why the term overqualified is overused.

  • ‘Overqualified’ as a hiring risk should be viewed as the exception, not the rule. Overqualified simply means more experience, better qualifications and a broader vision.
  • Highly qualified candidates drive change and improvement – if you are not looking for this and do not allow ‘overqualified’ executives to reach their full potential, expect them to seek new opportunities as the market returns to normal.
  • ‘Overqualified' executives have already completed similar tasks, saving the organization a lot of time and avoiding mistakes. To put it simply, overqualified = less training costs.
  • A specific role in each organization should not be seen as a static list of duties when success is the ability to manage change and discover new opportunities.  Positions always change and expand, and experienced professionals are the most apt to develop these opportunities.
  • Highly qualified executives provide mentorship to other employees, drive innovation and offer informal on-the-job training.

Despite these positives, fears of hiring executives who are qualified beyond the job spec sheet are still strong in the job market. Some believe overqualified executives will leave when a better offer is made, and the ability to retain these talented individuals will only be decided if the organization can compensate sufficiently.

Overqualified also becomes a mask for other fears. Executives in the discussion highlighted that ‘Overqualified’ is often a mask for age discrimination and that too many executives are intimidated by a higher qualified hire.

With more positives outweighing the negatives driven by fear, the consensus of the discussion was that there is no such thing as an overqualified candidate, experience or qualifications on paper do not translate into excellence and using the vague label is misleading. Instead, organizations must be flexible with positions in order to attract and retain the very best, and candidates must be prepared to develop horizontally as well as vertically.

Finally, hiring managers should treat all candidates who have completed the application process equally, assuming that they are serious about the role and have considered the level of the position. Follow this attitude with an honest discussion with the candidate about any concerns. Any other approach will lead to dismissing candidates with the most experience and highest qualifications - how does that make sense?

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About BlueSteps

BlueSteps empowers executives to reach their career goals with strategic career planning.


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