Why “Overqualified” Candidates Make the Best Hires

posted on October 30th 2017 in Employment & From the CEO & Hiring


Recently I’ve heard from several colleagues that they’re being turned down for jobs because they are just too qualified. Qualifications mean experience, so what’s wrong with having a lot of experience? I worry that the term “overqualified” frequently prevents companies from looking at talented candidates because they don’t fit the mold of previous hires, or their skills don’t exactly mirror the job description. It may even be a conscious or unconscious bias against older workers.

Many people today are starting second and third careers. With longer life expectancy, instead of retiring people are working well into their seventies. There are highly skilled workers available who may not want to work full time, or who want jobs that will leave them with time and energy to pursue interests outside of work – hobbies, caring for kids and aging parents, etc. Others love what they do and 20+ years into their careers they are still eager to keep working, learning and making a difference.

Often the people we label as overqualified are experienced, talented, and bring a level of maturity that you won’t find in less experienced workers. A mix of tenured veterans and curious rookies is just the kind of diversity that makes teams more successful. Before labeling a resume (person) as overqualified, challenge yourself to see if the candidate has the skills you’re looking for. A quick phone screen is all you need to find out if it’s worth continuing the conversation.

  • Can s/he perform the job?
  • Are they enthusiastic about the role as well as your company’s mission and vision?
  • Are they humble enough to work with or for people who are less experienced?
  • Does your salary meet their needs and expectations?

When you talk to the candidate, be direct. Share your observation that s/he has more years of experience and has held more senior positions than the one you are looking to fill. Focus on experience, not age! Give the candidate a chance to tell his or her story, describe why this is the ideal job for them, and what they can contribute.

Ask about the person’s long term interests and career goals. While avoiding personal questions, remain open and curious to what is motivating them to apply for your open job. Listen closely to the candidate’s story and see if 1) it sounds genuine and 2) they really understand the details of the job they’re applying for. Once you’ve heard from them, it’s up to you to decide whether they’ll be a good addition to your team.

Red flags include the candidate presenting himself as overqualified, seeming desperate, or viewing your open job as just a stepping stone to something bigger and better. If the candidate is hoping for a more senior role, they’re likely to become dissatisfied quickly, and may have unrealistic expectations about how long it will take to get a transfer or promotion. Like with any candidate, you want to avoid hiring someone who seems arrogant or entitled and isn’t invested in the job you have open today.

But if you see the right mix of excitement, interest and curiosity, think twice before turning someone down just because they have more experience than you’re looking for. The candidates you’re most likely to label as overqualified may be some of the most talented, wise and motivated people you’ll meet.

Mikaela Kiner

Mikaela is a native Seattleite who’s spent the last fifteen years in HR leadership roles at iconic Northwest companies including Microsoft, Amazon, PopCap Games and Redfin. She has an MS in HR Management with a certificate in Organizational Development and is an ICF credentialed coach. Mikaela delivers results by building trust and engaging her clients in creative problem solving. Clients appreciate her strategic thinking and hands on execution.