Connecting with the “Overqualified” Job Candidate

Why the highly skilled candidate might be the best one for the job (and five ways to connect with him or her).

These days, any position that becomes available generates a deluge of résumés. If your policy is to automatically discard those belonging to candidates you deem as “overqualified,” it’s time to rethink your strategy, says Maribeth Kuzmeski.

In fact, Kuzmeski adds, a recent Harvard Business Review article suggests that when you ignore these candidates you’re missing out on the opportunity to add highly qualified talent to your organization.

“The article points out that ‘overqualified’ candidates tend to show a better work ethic, stay, on average, longer than less qualified candidates, and as long as they are empowered are actually happy workers,” says Kuzmeski, author of The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life and a new book, …And the Clients Went Wild! How Savvy Professionals Win All the Business They Want.

To back up these assertions, the HBR article cites studies from researchers at the University of Connecticut, the University of South Carolina, St. Ambrose University and Portland State University that show that overqualified workers are high performers, less likely to quit and value autonomy.

“Saying someone is ‘overqualified’ is basically saying he or she is too skilled or too experienced,” says Kuzmeski. “The truth is, candidates with well-developed skills, a lot of working world experience and the right attitude are exactly what you should want. When you ignore candidates based on your own assumptions or perceptions about what you see on their résumés, you run the risk of missing out on great employees.

“Instead, take the time to connect with these candidates,” she suggests. “Invite them in and learn what motivates them.”

Kuzmeski is an expert at helping companies and individuals create strong business relationships that will help them get ahead regardless of their professions. She teaches her clients how to connect with their customers in order to win business and build loyalty. These same relationship-building skills can help hiring managers connect with the candidates who are the right fit for their companies.

Kuzmeski offers this advice on how best to approach the highly qualified hire:

Be open and honest about your concerns. If you have concerns about certain elements of the candidate’s experience, ask about them. If you see that a candidate has an impressive list of achievements, acknowledge them.

“Don’t chuck someone in your ‘no’ pile simply because you might be a little intimidated by his achievements,” stresses Kuzmeski. “Ask the candidate how he plans to use the skills that led him to his past achievements in the position you’re offering, but don’t focus too much on the past. Instead, find out about his current motivations and the goals he has for the position.”

Connect with the candidate’s why. Your worries about a highly qualified candidate can be decreased when you connect with her why. Most candidates are not applying for jobs they seem more than qualified for because they are simply desperate for work—but many hiring managers never find this out because they discard these candidates’ résumés rather than invite them to come for an interview.

“By connecting with the candidate’s why, you can learn her motivations for wanting a position,” notes Kuzmeski. “Even if a person was downsized, maybe she was burned out on what she was doing and wants to jump-start a new career. Or she may want to give up a higher-level position in order to get back to something she enjoyed doing earlier in her career. You’ll be able to tell when she is explaining her reasoning and her motivations whether or not she truly has a passion for the job in question or whether she is simply willing to take the first job that is offered to her.”

Recognize that highly qualified people require less training. If a job candidate has been around the block a few times, his adaptability to new situations and responsibilities will be better. That’s good news, because you and your managers will spend less of your own valuable time training him.

“Plus, once you have him on board, it’s likely that you’ll find he is a great help to your other employees,” says Kuzmeski. “Highly qualified candidates bring with them more life experience to pull from when challenging situations arise with clients or other coworkers. You will probably also find that you have added peace of mind knowing that someone who is highly skilled and experienced is hard at work for you.”

Hire based on attitude. This might be the best piece of advice to heed with any hiring decision. As long as a candidate has the basic skills and knowledge required to get the job done, don’t spend time wringing your hands over whether or not she might be too qualified. If the person has a great attitude and is highly motivated, then you might want to give her a chance, especially if the other candidates are less qualified and don’t seem like they will fit in with the company culture.

“Hiring is a tricky business,” notes Kuzmeski. “Sometimes it’s okay to go with the person you like the most. If that person also happens to be highly qualified, then it will only benefit you and your company in the long run.”

Once you have them, empower them. As touched on above, the study from Portland State University found that overqualified employees who are given decision making power tend to be more satisfied with their jobs. The study performed by assistant professors from the University of Connecticut, the University of South Carolina and St. Ambrose University examined data on more than 5,000 Americans. Those examined, according to the Harvard Business Review article, were high-intelligence workers in jobs such as washing cars and collecting garbage. With those studied, high performance was the norm.

“By giving these employees autonomy, you show them that you have confidence in their abilities and respect the skills and qualifications they bring to the table,” says Kuzmeski. “As a result, they stay with the company and often outperform their fellow employees.”

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