The Overqualified Candidate

Two different conversations have collided for me in recent weeks. One with a recruiter, frustrated that their client didn’t hire the best candidate that they could. The other, with a discouraged job seeker who was experiencing rejection for having too much experience. Two sides of the same coin: the overqualified candidate.

The recruiter told a tale that a little sad. Of putting forward a top notch candidate. Bang on the brief. Who ticked all the boxes. A certainty, surely. But after the interview, the client said no. Because the candidate probably wouldn’t stay. Would get frustrated. They probably couldn’t meet their high expectations. This candidate represented risk. And they would have to do this recruitment stuff, all over again. So instead, they went with the safer, not quite so experienced and qualified candidate, not bringing quite so much to the table.

The job seeker I talked too was despondent. He had worked so hard, over the years, to gain his experience, enhance his skills. The networking events, the evening school study, the conferences and seminars. And of course reading all of those management books. He’d done everything he could to be the best candidate that he could be, only to find himself rejected for the same.

Overqualified is the bitterest pill to swallow. Tell a candidate he is missing a qualification, he can study for it. Tell a candidate that he is missing some experience, he can try his hardest to fill the gap. If you are under qualified, under experienced, there is a positive action you can take. If you are overqualified, you have fewer options other than to hide your light.

But here’s the thing. When it comes to hiring an overqualified candidate, then maybe those fearful hiring managers are right; maybe they won’t stay. And just maybe, that is okay. Because in the meantime, they might do awesome stuff. Challenge the business, challenge the status quo, challenge you.

Recruitment is always a leap of faith, for both parties. That you have made the right call, that there is going to be that elusive fit, that it will work out for the best. Recruitment always involves risk. After all, however good the process, the tests, the presentations, the company information, we only see just a little bit of each other, behaving at our best. The one thing that, more than anything else, reduces the risk of the wrong recruitment decision for both parties, is honesty. Not fancy psychometrics, not lengthy processes where the candidate meets every man and his canine. Not dinner with the team.
Just telling the truth about what it is like at your place, what the opportunity really is all about. The brutal truth, not the shiny advertising version. Truth from the candidate too, about what they will bring and why they want it.

So for the overqualified candidate, there are some thoughts on my career blog about practically dealing with the issue.

And to the hiring manager or the recruitment manager, I say only this. Be brave. Take a risk. Do the difficult thing. The worst thing that can happen is you have to do a little more recruitment stuff in the future. If you are not sure of their motivations then just ask them.

Or ask yourself, what are you really afraid of?

5 thoughts on “The Overqualified Candidate

  1. If we take the premise that managers don’t like hiring, and managers don’t like the embarrassment that failure might bring to them, the outcome is mightily predictable. Safe will win, it’s human nature. Telling people to be brave won’t work either. It’s like telling an addict to pull himself together. We need to show a more scientific approach to hiring as a mainstream activity and we need to individualise the proposition to give all of us a bit of get out – “you’re bloody good, we probably will get bored but I’ll have you for the next 12 months to accelerate the business and we’ll chat then like adults”. I’ve done it but everything is loaded around contractual necessities (i.e this is a full time post and you are hiring an interim, etc). We need to reframe the intervention and give people some ‘face’ to deliver success.

  2. In my corporate life I’d always maintained and insisted (persuaded managers) not to compromise on the best candidate, even if the best candidate was overqualified because they achieved a hell of a lot in the time they were with the company.

    Going for a safe bet option is a compromise and for me that has never worked. In any relationship, start with a compromise and for evermore, you’re living with a compromise.

  3. Pingback: Feedback Failures | HRHQ

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