Hiring for Diversity, Pt4: “Overqualified People”

So I've spoken about women and other kinds of traditional diversity, personality and experience, new grads, and now it's time to discuss a difficult topic. What about “overqualified” people?

People who have tons of experience are looking for jobs. Too often, hiring managers don't want to hire them because the manager thinks the candidate will leave as soon as the economy improves.

I have a question for you hiring managers: Can you read minds? If you do, I want to know your trick, because it's not working for me.

I know of a very talented mid-level manager who decided she wanted to be a technical writer again, and get out of management. She did. She loves the writing.

A talented program manager decided he wanted to write code again, not manage projects. He does.

Hiring managers, think about what qualities, preferences, and skills you need. Consider the value that a candidate brings. If you can't pay a candidate what you think the candidate wants, ask what the candidate will take. (I advocate having the salary discussion in the phone screen anyway, to make sure everyone is on the same page.)

Look to your job analysis, not mind reading to see if you are hiring under- or over-qualified people. Don't practice age discrimination because you think a candidate needs a certain salary.

Remember that careers are non-linear. People want to achieve different things at different points in their careers. You may get more than you have to pay for.

This is the last of a four part series. The other posts are:

Hiring for Diversity, Pt 3: New College Grads

Hiring for Diversity, Pt 2: Personality and Experience Diversity

Hiring for Diversity, #1: Women and Other Traditional Diversity issues

7 thoughts on “Hiring for Diversity, Pt4: “Overqualified People””

  1. I appreciate the attempt to advocate for the “overqualified” job candidates, but I don’t think that is going to convince a manager with personal or anecdotal experience that an overqualified candidate leaves. The example illustrates a person who was looking for a change in their career direction, something that would reasonably necessitate a drop in salary or status. In a lot of these cases, you have people who are in the same field but simply would be paid less and do more grunt work. If I were them, I would leave as soon as I could – so why wouldn’t they?

    I think that the better, more self-serving, argument for these hiring managers is that turnover is inevitable, but you’re getting more value and more productivity from these people for less money. The economy isn’t going to bounce back to full throttle in the next 2 months or even 2 years. And if it did, your barely-qualified hire might also jump ship with a new shiny offer. My advice to hiring managers: hire the over-qualified person and happily accept the additional value you’ll get from them, and grow them into a more senior position in the company as the economy improves.

  2. “I know of a very talented mid-level manager who decided she wanted to be a technical writer again, and get out of management. She did. She loves the writing.”

    I don’t get it. Are you saying the writer would be over-qualified because she had done management?

    I think what you are really paying is that writer’s don’t get paid enough, which I can agree with, and HR tends to not understand why someone would write for less pay when they could do (culturally-more-highly-respected) work for more pay.

    So my lesson from this is that writer’s should be paid more.

    But maybe that’s me. 🙂

    Seriously, good points. A few years back, my wife was working on a 2nd degree in english to qualify her to earn a graduate certificate in education, to become a teacher. The whole process would take ~5 years at night. Several potential employers said that they were reluctant to hire her because they /knew/ she would not “stick around.” Yet these were companies with annual turnover in the 25% range anyway. Hey, waitaminute …

  3. It’s a good article but thin. The topic deserves more comprehensive review.

    My experience as a manager, team member, individual contributor, and contractor includes these challenges, either for people on my teams or for me personally:
    * Company will not allow an employee to have a reduced job-level or rank. In the most interesting case, an employee arranged to resign for a certain, agreed on amount of time (6 months, I think), with the full understanding that s/he would then be re-hired into the lower-level position, all with a sort of wink-wink understanding.
    * Company encourages added training for certificate or degree and even offers the
    courses required for it “in-house” but requires the employee to do all of the work on her/his own time (in other words, fully outside of full-time, assigned responsibilities).
    * Managers younger *and* with less experience in pertinent aspects of a position’s responsibilities are nervous about / reluctant about hiring someone with more experience. In my limited sample, managers who are not younger but do have less experience are less likely to be bothered. Just a personal anecdote, and it may be atypical.
    * Employees with advanced training and/or experience in a ‘old fashioned’ topic are discouraged from or limited from taking low-level courses in a new professional topic/program that is pertinent to their work, while employees with less advanced
    training are allowed and even encouraged to do so. IOW, this is a case in which Covey’s ‘sharpen the saw’ step is inhibited by HR or managment policies to the disavantage of people tagged as ‘over-qualified.’

    From experience limited to only 3 companies, I think that companies who actually train their managers to be managers do a better job with ‘overqualified’ candidates and transfers. Lots of companies do not explicitly train their managers, however.

  4. Well said Johanna. Also consider the value the overqualified candidate brings. And whether you actually mind if they move on later. Think of it as just another kind of employment contract. In this time of employee as commodity why not get the best value you can while labor is relatively inexpensive. And the advantage of all that experience to transfer to your organization.


  5. I hired on as an over-qualified employee and inadvertently caused problems. I was too aggressive and really rubbed the less experienced incumbents the wrong way. I have since seen other over-qualified new hires do the same thing. Is there something a manager can do to eliminate the negative energy expended by all sides. One side might feel threatened, the other stifled and the both might feel disrespected. Mostly, we all just want to do a good job.

  6. Natalie Loopbaanadvies

    Great post. This is a very interesting topic, since this happens to a lot of people. Especially now that some managers from big companies got laid off during the recession. Yes, some hiring managers would think that the candidate would leave the job when the economy improves. While other hiring managers think that they might be replaced by overqualified people. Applicants should be treated fairly. If they have good skills or experience, you should give them a chance to prove themselves.

  7. Interesting post. Some companies tell job seekers that they are overqualified, either because they think that they’d be replaced by them or that these job seekers would ask for a higher salary. I think it’s better to go on with the interview first in order to get to know the applicant.

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