Why You Should Hire Overqualified Job Candidates

A common assumption when it comes to hiring is to avoid job candidates who appear to be overqualified. But is this justified?Overqualified

First, a definition: overqualification occurs when individuals have qualifications such as education and skills that exceed the requirements of the job.

A recent article listed the common beliefs employers have about overqualified job candidates.

Let’s assess whether the data reveal them to be true or not.

Excuse #1: “We can’t pay you enough.”

What the data reveals

LinkedIn’s survey of 7,530 members who recently changed jobs found that “better compensation/benefits” was the third most cited reason, after “greater opportunities for advancement” and “better leadership from senior management“. Note the interesting discrepancies between what people claimed would make them leave their job vs. why they really did!

The takeaway

Salary is an important consideration for anyone accepting a job offer, regardless of the job candidate’s level of qualifications.

And of course we know that’s not the only thing people care about when it comes to their job. LinkedIn’s survey of 7,155 salespeople found they also value “good work/life balance” and “a culture that fits my personality.”

The best way to figure out whether your salary expectations are aligned? Just ask.

Excuse #2: “If you take this job, you’ll be bored.”

What the data reveals

A 2009 study of 244 salespeople found that salespeople who perceived themselves to be overqualified (e.g., by education level) performed the best in terms of sales commissions earned. These overqualified sales reps were less satisfied and more likely to quit, but only if they felt they were not respected and valued at work.

The takeaway

Again, any employee who doesn’t feel respected nor valued at work is going to be more likely to quit. So make sure your company culture is meeting your employees’ needs and values to keep them happy and performing well.

Excuse #3: “You’ll leave as soon as something better comes around.”

What the data reveals

An intriguing 2010 study examining more than 5,000 employees – ranging from McDonald’s worker to aerospace engineer – found a counterintuitive relationship between employees’ level of overqualification (measured as intelligence) and their likelihood of quitting: the more overqualified they were, the less likely they were going to quit.

But there was one exception – the “superstar effect”: the smartest employees in the most demanding jobs showed a higher willingness to quit, possibly because they have the most alternative job opportunities.

So what’s going on? The researchers theorize that high ability people accept jobs they may be overqualified for “with their eyes wide open.”

These employees know exactly what they’re getting into and choose a job that’s an intentional mismatch: despite their overqualification, they are still are able to be happy with their job because it provides a good fit with their priorities, values, and interests outside of work (e.g., better location, more time with family, etc.).

The takeaway

Different factors motivate different people at work. Automatically assuming that someone who you think is overqualified will be unhappy and want to jump ship without verifying what they really want is shortsighted.

Be transparent about what the job entails and what it’s really like to work at your company. The smart job candidates will be able to assess whether it’s a good fit for them.

The bottom line

For years, researchers have known about the “overqualification paradox”: employees who outperform their peers but are also more likely to quit due to feeling dissatisfied at work.

By ensuring you’re keeping these employees happy by fulfilling their needs otherwise, you’ll reap the rewards of superior performance by hiring “overqualified” job candidates.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments or tweet @ideal.

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Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices and data-based recruitment. She writes about trends and research in talent acquisition, HR tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min

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