Interviewing Overqualified Applicants
Interviewing Overqualified Applicants
By Nick Roy, MBA, MAHRM
HR Consultant, Researcher, Freelance Business Writer
A manager of a small business recently posted a job opening for a
mostly clerical type job. A degree is not required and generally
neither is judgment. She also put the level of compensation clearly
on the job posting and worked very hard to not over exaggerate the
importance of the position.
The problem is that nearly every applicant so far has been what she
would consider overqualified. Most have a degree of some sort and
have extensive work experience. She says that she not necessarily
opposed to hiring someone overqualified people but she fears that
once they get hired that they will be either unhappy or they will
leave as soon as something better comes along.
She started thinking about how to word interview questions so that
she can weed out those who will jump ship as soon as something
better comes along and who will stick around. She doesn't think flat
out asking will get an honest answer (as I have interviewed for jobs
myself and can't imagine telling an interviewer something like
This is a very common situation in a very competitive labor market.
There are a number of factors are at play here. Who's to say what's
overqualified? Is this a code word for ageism — you're too old? If
you're afraid someone is going to use your company as a resume
builder and then move on, maybe it's time to do a market survey of
salaries and get competitive. There are people that may see your
company as attractive and would sweep floors just to get in the
door. Not everyone's career is a smooth elevator ride to the top.
Sometimes it's more like the kid's game "Chutes and Ladders" — you
move two spaces forward, land at the wrong place, and
you're "downsized/rightsized" back three steps. So now
you're "overqualified" but willing to do a great job for a company
that will give you a chance. One of the reaons people hate HR and
why HR professionals can't get a "seat at the table," is that HR
people act like fortune tellers who can predict who'll be with the
company 10 years from now (assuming HR hasn't downsized, rightsized,
or resized them).
First, if your company is seen as an employer of choice, then people
will see the position as a foot in the door. They will want to work
for your organization in any capacity.
Secondly, many communities in the U.S. have a very low crime rate,
universities, and several smaller colleges, arts, and sports teams
which are criteria for most people who want to raise a family.
Example of such communities exist in the state of Hawaii, which
currently has unemployment rate of only 3.2 percent. People want to
raise families in these types of communities are willing to accept
positions below their qualifications in order to do so. These are
the types of people that don't care how much they are paid as long
as they are happy. A happy employee is a productive employee.
Here is an example of an overqualified employee who is not
interested in moving up in the organization. To protect this
person's identity, this person will be indentified as "prggroup,"
which is this person's email alias.
I am overqualified. But I don't have aspirations to move up in an
organization! I am happiest and most productive (I don't know which
follows which) just recruiting. I've managed others and don't want
to any more. I've earned a high income, but would be content with an
average pay. Would I be a bad hire? I've been there and done that,
as have other overqualified people. There are lots of us in the
workplace who have gotten bloodied climbing the corporate ladder and
who now prefer our feet on the ground. The challenge is figuring out
who will provide long term value to your company.
Most importantly, you should still make sure that the candidate
agrees with the company's mission, philosophy and goals as that is
where retention lives. At the same time be honest with the
applicant; if there is very little opportunity for advancement, tell
them. If they seek challenge, outline the kinds of challenges they
are likely to face. If they like taking initiative, allow them the
opportunity. It is these types of employees that become
that "diamond in the rough."
You also may find that people are looking for work that doesn't
demand 60-80 hours per week of their time. I know several people who
have left management for administrative positions so they could
spend more time with their family.
I have left the corporate environment where I was an Assistant
Grocery Manager. Since then I have operated all my companies from my
home. First, I started with a web design company with up to 15
employees at any given time, to my current HR consulting business
with 3 employees. I have been following in the footsteps of one of
my friends in Hawaii who operates a successful mortgage broker
business from his home Hawaii Kai. This is one of the most serene
places to live and work in Hawaii away from the stress filled city
There are many reasons why highly qualified people apply for more
entry level jobs, including changes in their family life that might
be requiring more time and energy than they have to give to a higher-
level position. Or, they may be looking at making a career change,
and are aware that some of their skills are transferable but are not
sure about others.
Verify that the individual has read the job description (and be sure
to provide one at the interview). You can also ask what it is about
the position that has attracted them. You can also ask about what
other types of positions they are applying for, including other
companies, to get a better idea of whether they are just fishing for
anything in a tight labor market, or are targeting a specific
position or business type.
Keep in mind that as the baby boomer generation begins to retire, we
are going to be faced with filling more and more positions with
people who may have work experience and education that exceeds the
job requirements. However, this also provides opportunities for
organizations to re-evaluate positions to provide more growth and
development opportunities for the incumbent to improve productivity
levels without having to increase staffing levels.
With that in mind, there is yet another option here, and that is to
create casual (on-call) positions for the baby boomers who are about
to retire, and offer them these positions to keep them on board on a
limited bases. Casual (on-call) positions are mostly found in the
hospitality and retail industries. Examples of such companies that
use casual positions include: Hilton Hawaiian Village, Sheraton
Waikiki, Foodland, and Safeway. Flexibility in staffing is one of
the reasons for using casual positions. Baby boomers who are offered
these types of positions can still enjoy semi-retirement, keep their
skills fresh in case they want to come out of retirement, as well as
keeping key skills with the organization.
About The Author
Nick Roy (www.nickroy.com) is an HR Researcher, Consultant,
and freelance business writer.