Overqualified shouldn't mean disqualified

IT managers email me that they cannot find skilled people, and skilled people email me that they cannot find work. This almost humorous contradiction is worthy of some examination.

IT managers email me that they cannot find skilled people, and skilled people email me that they cannot find work. This almost humorous contradiction is worthy of some examination.

When I ask people why they can't find a position, they often respond that companies won't hire them because they're overqualified. I cannot think of a more frustrating reason for not landing a good job.

When I speak to managers about this, they're quick to offer several reasons for their decision not to hire the overqualified. While these reasons have some validity, I question if they are really sufficient reason not to hire capable people. Especially when one of our complaints is that skilled people are scarce.

The most commonly mentioned rationale for not hiring the overqualified candidate is the fear they will stumble across something more suited to their abilities and leave. This would force the manager to restart the painful, time-consuming and expensive hiring process.

Fair enough, it sounds like a valid concern, but is it? It takes a long, frustrating, fruitless job search for the perfect job, before someone finally admits to themselves they have to lower their sights. There is a chance they'll stumble across the perfect job soon after we hire them, but it's a small one.

There a simple strategy which alleviates this risk significantly. Be honest with them; tell them you have this concern. "Jim, you're well suited to the position. My concern is you'll find a job more suitable to your talents and leave. If I were to offer you the position I'd need some assurance you'd give me at least two years before you left for greener pastures. Would you be able to give me that assurance?"

To some, that approach is naïve. A verbal assurance isn't going to help you if the person decides to leave. I agree it seems naïve, but I've hired about a half dozen people over 25 years in these circumstances and I've yet to have someone betray the trust I placed in their verbal assurance. Don't forget, the person needs the job and the sense of gratitude for the opportunity places an obligation on an honest person, and most of us are basically honest.

"They'll quit because the work won't challenge them!" is another common reason given for not hiring the overly capable. This makes less sense to me. Adding extra responsibilities to any position isn't that difficult; special projects; training responsibilities; mentoring; assistant manager; fast tracking for other positions; all come to mind as ways to keep the exceptionally qualified individual intellectually challenged.

Of course, this requires some extra effort on the part of manager ... extra effort which is compensated somewhat by the lack of attention this person needs when performing their regular tasks. From my perspective this reason boils down to an excuse, "I won't hire you, because you'll need some of my time to continually challenge you", that doesn't seem like a good enough reason not to hire someone capable of filling the open position. Especially if we're claiming that skilled people are difficult to find.

There is another reason why managers are reluctant to hire overqualified individuals, although we're all reluctant to admit to this concern -- the overqualified individual is seen as a threat to our position. They might even be better qualified than we are. Hiring them would place our job at risk.

This fear isn't that uncommon. It's based on the mistaken notion that a manager's performance is measured by their personal accomplishments, and not on the combined accomplishments of their team. Hiring a potential replacement for our position is called "succession planning" and is usually seen as a good thing. How many managers have been passed over for promotion because there wasn't anyone qualified for their position? Having a replacement in your team, increases your mobility within the company.

The irony in not hiring the overqualified is made even more obvious when we note that we all believe we're capable of more than what is asked of us. We're all overqualified. Which makes it a just a teeny bit weird not to hire a candidate proven to be more capable than the current needs of the available position.

De Jager is a speaker on management and change issues. Visit him at his website.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags management

Show Comments