Overqualified Employees Can Raise Your Game

It may happen that job candidates show up with more skills and experience than you expected. They may have attained a higher level of education or been around the block an extra few times in the industry. As a manager, would you be enthusiastic about hiring a new source of talent like that? Or would you be nervous about rocking the boat by introducing new performance criteria or creating resentment from other team members?

Why hire the overqualified?

Here are two important questions. Why should an overly accomplished candidate want to work for you, knowing that the position may represent a step down from their expected level? On the other side of the coin, why stick your neck out to hire them rather than make a more conventional choice?

There are, in fact, a number of valid reasons a job candidate might opt for a less high-powered position. They may be seeking to plug a pay gap or be focused on particular benefits, such as broader health care coverage. A host of personal reasons may be dictating their preference, like a more convenient location or the need for a more flexible schedule. Perhaps their family life has been changing, like a recent marriage, the addition of children or keeping an eye on elderly parents.

Do not discount the curiosity factor and the appeal of new workplace adventure. For example, suppose they have been out of the workplace for a while and are getting bored with retirement. Yet they may be hesitant about reentering a stressful environment by returning to the former treadmill. Some candidates may be in the process of switching careers or moving into a fresh industry and are being realistic; they know they need to build experience from the ground up.

Be diplomatic, but ask about what is motivating them as much as possible during the interview. For instance, clarify why they would be willing to forgo potential prestige and money.

From your side, why are you open to taking this plunge with an overqualified hire? Perhaps your workload has increased. You are in a hurry to find someone who will be able to complete tasks quickly, independently or with minimal supervision. Or you may be looking for someone with a genuine passion for the role, who is sincere about contributing value and not just collecting a paycheck. In the end, if you spot a cultural fit, that may be the key factor.

What could go wrong  or right

You might find yourself pleasantly surprised or sadly disappointed by an overqualified hire.

The upsides include:

  • Improved productivity and performance.
  • Reduced training time and costs.
  • Innovation and knowledge to share with team members.
  • Maturity.
  • Industry experience.
  • Interpersonal skills.
  • Networking connections.
  • Broader talent pool.
  • Fast-tracked responsibility.

However, on the downside, they may:

  • Be more expensive.
  • Be more resistant to training.
  • Have outdated skills.
  • Be less stable — they may quit and may even take others with them.
  • Be complacent and easily bored, leading to working on autopilot.
  • Perceive inequity across the team.

One risk is that talented and overqualified workers show up second-rate managers. Current managers who are preoccupied with protecting their own turf may be wary that a more experienced worker is reflecting badly on them.

Practice give and take

You may need to modify your management style to adapt to more qualified team members. In general, it may make sense to give them some extra room and allow them leeway for developing new processes. While both you and they may realize you are underpaying them, you might be able to make up for salary shortfalls by providing perks such as extra flexibility or opportunities for growth.

Be mindful to show your appreciation. There's no need to play down their experience, especially since you want them to feel valued.

Once you have a better sense of their abilities, you may be able to tweak their role to dovetail with their skills. If you cannot offer a direct promotion, you may at least tailor their responsibilities to maximize their capabilities.

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