Here’s Why it’s Worth Taking Another Look at “Overqualified” Candidates

July 5, 2016




Part of our mission on the Argentus blog is to look closely at the process of hiring and see how companies can make it more efficient and effective – how companies can overcome some of the underlying conventional wisdom that might be holding them back from attracting the top 21st-century talent. This has involved looking at things from the “Canadian experience” requirement, to the emerging practice of “blind recruiting,” to why employers should look closely at transferable skills especially in fields like Supply Chain, where talent is in high demand. Our arguments in these pieces tend to come from our decades of recruitment experience, as well as conversations with leaders and hiring managers in the field – and we hope these pieces help change the mindset of companies looking to hire just a bit.

Today we want to look at another hiring assumption, and it has to do with something that comes up often in our recruitment practice: the issue of candidates being “overqualified” or “too senior” for a position. Hiring is (of course) a practice of targeting and attracting individuals with the right level of experience for a position. Any hiring manager or recruiter will tell you that this is trickier than it sounds, and the process of deciding who has too little or too much experience – in edge cases – is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. But are our assumptions about the behaviours and motivations of “overqualified” candidates in particular preventing us from getting the most value out of our hires?

To start with the conventional wisdom: if you’ve been in the job hunt as a candidate with at least 8-10 years of experience in your chosen field, you’ve probably encountered the “overqualified” response from a recruiter or hiring manager at some point. You might think, “What gives?” If you have the experience and skills, (say you’ve been a Demand Planning Manager and you’re applying for a Demand Planner position), you should be more likely to get the job than those who meet the job criteria, not less, right?

The assumption that hiring managers (and, occasionally, recruiters) make is that “overqualified” candidates represent a flight risk. In other words, they’re more likely to look for more senior jobs once they land in a role. They’re more likely to leave if something comes along with a higher salary. They’re more difficult to manage because they might end up telling their supervisor how to do their job. 

But we’re here to challenge those assumptions and offer the perspective that, in the right scenarios, candidates who might seem to be “overqualified” actually have tremendous added value for companies.

The basic takeaway here is that you should take a candidate at their word, and at least have a discussion to understand their rationale for applying to a job that’s a bit underneath their existing or previous salary. You of course don’t want to hire someone because they’re “desperate” for any work, but there are lots of reasons why a candidate might be willing to take a drop in salary, and lots of reasons why you should hire those candidates.

  • Candidates are looking for a good organization, a good culture, and a solid working experience. This is related to our recent post about how people consider jobs based on more than salary alone. Maybe the location is better for them than a previous role. Maybe your culture emphasizes work/life balance and they’re willing to take a slight hit on salary to improve these lifestyle factors.
  • Maybe a candidate wants to switch industries. Maybe your company’s reputation means that they think they’ll be able to grow even further than in previous roles that might look more senior on paper, but actually aren’t. By not considering these reasons why a candidate might be willing to take a slight drop in salary, aren’t you underestimating your own company’s culture and competitiveness more than anything?
  • Maybe, if an “overqualified” candidate walks through the door (or across your email inbox), it’s worth thinking about how you can expand the job responsibilities along with salary slightly to take advantage of their extra expertise.
  • “Overqualified” candidates can help mentor less qualified candidates, improving the skills of your entire team.

Obviously not every “overqualified” candidate is worth hiring, and you should evaluate every candidate on a case-by-case basis. But the fact is, if someone is willing to take a slight drop in salary, you should still consider them, because people are interested in jobs for lots of factors other than base salary. Because skilled candidates don’t apply for jobs that they don’t actually want to do. And because you might be getting a bargain.

A caveat: this applies to candidates for permanent jobs. It’s more likely that a candidate will take a short or medium-term contract below their actual level as a “stopgap” on the way to something else.

In any case, we hope to start a discussion with this post: what are your thoughts on candidates being “overqualified,” either from a hiring angle or as a candidate yourself? Let us know in the comments! logo_icon

A big thank you to Argentus recruiter Rosanna Palermo for her insight on this topic!

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  1. Kevin Gardiner

    Great article. I have applied to countless positions and have been told that I am “over qualified” If I were in a position I really enjoy mentoring younger co workers
    and passing along my experiences and tips to help them in their jobs. I just want to work at this point and would be happy tor be in a position where I could do this and still contribute to a company.

  2. Mike Fartais

    I have lived this experience and I must say it is both understandable and frustrating for me at the same time. As a former Purchasing Manager, I too, would put aside ”overqualified” CVs for fear of having to train someone on company policies, systems, etc only to possibly lose them to a better offer 6 months down the road and having to start all over again. Trust me, I get it!

    However, if someone, like I did, decides to reduce their level of professional responsabilities and take a significant pay cut in order to spend more time with the family and enjoy a more balanced lifestyle or any other number of reasons, who are we to say “nope, this person is overqualified” without even calling them to ask the simple question as to why they have applied for the position in the first place?

    By passing up on an “overqualified” applicant you may be passing on a tremendous addition to your team and spending way too much time looking for that “right” candidate when the “best” candidate was staring you in the face the whole time.

    My two cents? Never assume anything because we all know what A.S.S.U.M.E. stands for!

    • Bob Toszegi

      completely agree with you

  3. Kushal Mehta

    Yes, I absolutely agree. I have not faced “overqualified” situation directly ., but yes indirectly I sense it when receiving response from employers. There can be number of reasons to opt for lesser salary job and one of it can be that candidate wants to gain all important Canadian experience.

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