Over-qualified applicants: Don't judge a book by its cover


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Recruitment company Cordant Group has seen an increase in employers dismissing job applicants early because they are seen to be “over-qualified” for the role. HR director Ken Steers explains why this is a mistake and argues that companies need to be more open-minded to the potential that these candidates offer.

It’s become a common dilemma, particularly since the recession. An employer puts together a compelling job advertisement and the CVs come flying in thick and fast. However, it seems that many applicants have vastly more experience than is required.

So what should an HR professional do?

In theory, no-one should be dismissed for being 'over-qualified' for a role. But in reality, many will be dismissed without consideration because of subjective assumptions about why they are applying or how committed they will be. Typical thoughts might be: will they get bored easily and want to move on? Are they only applying because nothing better is available? Do they lack confidence or motivation or is there something else wrong with them?

In today's competitive marketplace, this is not good business sense. The labour market is full of potential. There is a pool of highly skilled workers available ranging from graduates leaving university to those that may have lost more challenging and higher paid jobs in recent years. All should be considered.

HR directors should speak with applicants to find out their motivations for applying and see the candidate as an opportunity to get a great return on their salary investment.

Think about it. If you filled all your vacancies with people that want to progress and develop quickly, and you are unable to offer that progression as soon as they would like, would the benefits of employing people with enhanced skills outweigh the cost of re-recruitment? With the 'job for life' culture slowly diminishing and the millennial's generation expecting to take on multiple jobs in their lifetimes, talent and recruitment programmes need to be agile. Hiring a more experienced candidate could support your talent programme and generate greater value for your organisation both in the short- and long-term.

Also remember that many people who lost their job in the recession have taken an opportunity to re-evaluate what they want from work and their life. They might see a change of direction or a return to the 'shop floor' as a new challenge. Surely we should embrace this enthusiasm, not approach it with scepticism?

But once they are through the door, how should you approach an interview with an 'overqualified' candidate? Here are a few pointers:

  • Be honest. Acknowledge that they are over-qualified for the role but encourage them to convince you that they are the right person for the job. Find out what has motivated them to apply for the role and what it is about the position and company that interests them.
  • Discuss where they would fit within the structure of the organisation. If they have been in a management role before, ask them how they will adapt to being managed by other people perhaps less experienced than them.
  • Talk about their personal values and assess alignment with your organisational values.
  • If you use psychometric profiling, check carefully whether the results reflect what has been discussed at the interview.
  • Explain the skills needed for the specific job. Ask how the candidate's additional skills and experience could add additional value to the role or organisation.
  • Manage expectations and be honest about opportunities for future progression if this is important for the applicant.

In summary, don't judge a book by its cover and you could find a stellar employee. 

Ken Steers is HR director of Cordant Group

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