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October 29, 2014 / Molly Moseley

Hiring overqualified candidates: Big win or big risk?

A Ph.D. vying for a job that only requires a B.A. A candidate with more than three times the years of working experience recommended in the job listing. An experienced executive applying for a middle-management position. Despite a recovering economy, recruiters and hiring managers still see many overqualified candidates applying for lower-level jobs, particularly in competitive markets where unemployment is higher and quality jobs are rarer.

The big question is: Should you consider hiring overqualified candidates?

A lot of hiring managers avoid overqualified candidates for numerous reasons. They fear the candidates are settling and will ultimately be unhappy or leave at their first opportunity. Some people feel threatened by the thought of working with someone who has extensive experience. Others worry about how established teams will get along with new, highly experienced coworkers, and – furthermore – whether the overqualified person will challenge authority.

These worries are all speculation and many issues can be managed by taking the correct approach during the hiring process to vet out a candidate’s true motives and ensure a successful partnership. Here are five important questions to consider when interviewing overqualified applicants:

1. How does the candidate address being overqualified?
Always conduct an honest interview. There’s no need to ignore the fact that the candidate is overqualified, and it’s best to address this matter head-on. Ask her why she wants the job considering her qualifications and gauge her interest based on the response. You want to learn if the person wants the position for the right reasons.

2. Without extra experience, is this person still a good hire?
Hiring someone just because he has an incredible amount of experience is a mistake if you overlook some of the most basic elements you seek in all employees. Ask yourself: Even without the qualifications, is this person still a smart hire? Does he have a personality and work ethic that aligns with the team and the company culture? If the answers are no, then the extra experience really has no value.

3. What are the candidate’s short and long-term goals?
Ask what the candidate’s goals are for today and the future. Do the answers match the company’s needs? In addition, it’s important to discuss what opportunities are available for this person down the road. Hiring for the position with a clear plan for future progress can ensure you use the employee’s skills to the fullest and keep them engaged. Provide realistic expectations so the employee knows what to expect.

4. How much salary can be offered?
With more experience often comes a higher salary. If a candidate held positions in the past that paid more than what you can offer, mention the pay scale in the interview to ensure it’s not an issue. When it comes time to negotiate, stick to the scale, but don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. A 10-percent wage increase might make a highly qualified candidate happier and more likely to stay long term; be wary if they want significantly more than what you can offer.

5. Would she be better as a temp employee or a consultant?
If someone is overqualified for a position, there’s a good chance she is unemployed. Bottom line: she wants to work. If you are leery of hiring a person full-time for fear she’ll leave or be a poor fit, consider alternatives like a temp-to-hire position. High-level candidates might also be open to being a consultant who gets paid hourly with a monthly contract. These can be good ways to try a candidate out to ensure a mutually beneficial partnership.