Hiring Tip: Don't Discredit Overqualified Candidates

Written by: Tanya Wigmore

Published: 23 September, 2020

As a hiring manager I've seen loads of resumes come across my desk. one of the biggest mistakes that I've made early in my hiring days was to immediately discredit overqualified candidates. Here's why I did it and why I was wrong.

Overqualified candidates are going to expect more than I am willing (or can afford) to pay them. 

Generally speaking, those with more credentials and experience in a role should be compensated more than someone who is just entering the workforce. But, you should not make assumptions about how much someone is expecting for a role before you talk to them about it. Ask anyone who has done a fair amount of hiring (and firing) and they will tell you that one experienced employee's salary goes a LOT further than the savings you may find by hiring those with less experience. The time that you will need to invest to train, mentor and oversee a junior employee needs to be factored into your costs. 

When an overqualified candidate applies for a position:

  1. Interview them and see why they are applying for this position. They may be looking to get a foot in the door at your company. They might be looking for a lifestyle change or slower pace. They might be desperate to leave where they are now. Or they might just be looking to find employment and don't particularly care what job they have, as long as they have one.  
  2. Ask them what they expect to receive for compensation in this roleThey likely realize that this role that's a step or two down from where they were will pay a step or two down as well. Ask what they'd expect and see if it's in your range. You may be surprised. 

Overqualified candidates aren't going to be happy at the bottom.  

Not everyone is cut out to be a manager and not everyone wants to be one. Your overqualified candidate may love what they do and want to stay in their craft without the burden of managing people. If they're coming from an organization where progression is only possible if you lead a team and do less of your craft, they may be looking for a shift for that reason. 

You will want to ask them about their career objectives – if they're used to managing a team and want to continue doing so, does that person really fit in the org chart that you have today and that you expect to have in the next 3--5 years?

This job is going to be way too boring for someone with experience like that. 

Portland State University did a study on this assumption that people who are thought to be overqualified for a role will easily get bored, be lazy or leave the company as soon as another position comes around. Their study findings did not support that assumption, and instead found that people who were thought to be overqualified actually performed better which really shouldn't be a surprise given that they have more experience in the role. 

It's also been found that those who are overqualified for a role are more willing to step up to new challenges and become the leaders in your organization that tackle the projects that others might not want to touch. 

What they did find is that people don't generally leave jobs because of their skills or experience level. They stay or leave because of the working conditions. 

This candidate could find somewhere better to work / why would this person want to work with us?

It is SO easy to discredit your organization as being 'the little guy' that doesn't offer the brand recognition and esteem of other places that this candidate could choose to work. Maybe your benefits aren't great or it's been a tough year and you know that there will be few growth opportunities on the horizon. Don't feel like you're 'less than' when a candidate has 'bigger and better' companies on their CV. Take it as it is -- this person applied to work with you and that's pretty awesome given the fact that they've experienced other corporate cultures.

This candidate might have more experience than me and might want to change the way we do things. 

This one is a bit of a can of worms and when I hear this from business owners I always want to challenge it directly for a few reasons:

  • The way you do things may not be the best way to do things and having a new perspective could bring about positive change. 
  • You may have a deeper control issue that's rooted in fear – fear of change, of failure, of losing your company, of losing your position of authority in the organization, of 'getting it wrong', etc.
  • You may not have clear business objectives and KPIs to track progress. If you have solid scorecards throughout the organization, recommendations for improvement can be tested and measured objectively. This can remove a lot of the emotion out of the change and keeps your team aligned on the real objectives of your business. 

If you make a good hire and that person brings experience and insight to help you improve your organization, you've made a great hire.

If you choose to hire an over qualified candidate...

Adding a new team member to the mix is always exciting and a bit daunting. Will they fit in? Are they going to be a good hire? How will the rest of the team respond? And always, how does this impact budget?

Here are some ways to help ensure your new hire will fit into your team and find success in their role: 

  • Pay them what they're worth. 
  • Be clear in what their role is and what's expected of them.
  • Identify and articulate how they fit into the organization and communicate that to the entire team, especially those who may feel threatened by the new hire.
  • Be open to their ideas and input. 

Right Person, Wrong Time

If you are in the midst of recruitment and come across an amazing, highly qualified candidate who fits in well with your long-term company growth model but doesn't quite have a spot right now, what should you do? It can be really hard to let that opportunity pass as you never know if they'll be available when you do need them. 

Wait until the time is right to hire that person.

Hiring someone who doesn't have a role that needs to be filled now can leave them bored and tuned out and there is a good chance that they will leave before the seat that you had envisioned for them is ready. If you're pre-emptively hiring when you don't really need to, or can afford to, you might upset your current team who may be forgoing their own raises and bonuses to make room for 'dead weight' on the team. 


Finding the right people to join your team and having them shine in their roles is the best feeling for any business owner and operator. Hiring the right people at the right time will do just that. 

Growing an Agency

Written by: Tanya Wigmore

Tanya Wigmore is the founder of CRO:NYX Digital and is passionate about growing healthy teams and businesses. With an extensive background in inbound marketing, search marketing, web analytics, CRO & UX, she's always finding new ways to apply optimize and improve.

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