The economy has presented hiring managers with an interesting challenge – namely, how to properly handle all the overqualified candidates coming through their doors.

On the surface, this may seem like a great problem to have.  Who wouldn’t want to hire a candidate with more talent and experience than the position requires?  But when you consider the long-term implications of hiring an overqualified candidate, you have to wonder whether the individual will really be content in a “lesser” job and stay working for you.

Whether real or perceived, recruiters traditionally hesitate to bring on overqualified individuals because of the “risks” involved.  Here are some of the more common ones:

He will be bored and leave. Many recruiters share the fear that an overqualified new hire will be unchallenged in his new role.  He may quickly become apathetic toward his work, and then under-perform or leave the job altogether.  In reality, however, an employee will rarely leave his job just because he feels he’s too talented for it – especially in this economy.

He will be too expensive. Obviously, an overqualified candidate will max out your budget.  But if your company posts the salary range for an available position, it’s reasonable to expect that anyone who applies for the job is willing to do it for that pay.

He will be hard to train and/or manage. A manager may fear that an experienced employee will want to do things his own way, as opposed to the way the manager wants it done.  Likewise, a direct supervisor may worry that the new hire has set his sights on the supervisor’s job, threatening the working relationship.  Rather than screening out overqualified candidates for these reasons alone, it’s smarter to find out whether these concerns are legitimate during the interview process.  If the overqualified candidate shows a resistance to change or to being managed, move on to the next candidate.

Considering Hiring an Overqualified Candidate?  Keep These Points in Mind

Are you concerned the new hire will leave? If you’re concerned about hiring the candidate, say so.  Be honest and ask how he feels about working in a position for which he’s potentially overqualified.  Simply talking about your concerns will give you a better sense of how serious he is about the job.  You may also uncover legitimate reasons the individual wants (and would stay in) the job.  For example, he may want a better work/life balance, or he may be trying to shift industries.

Is the candidate really overqualified or just over-experienced? Don’t assume that, just because an individual has extensive education and/or a long track record of success in a field, he is overqualified for your position.  To be truly overqualified, the candidate must exceed the skill requirements of the job.

If a candidate’s prior positions are not directly related to your available job, his experience may not translate as well.  So to avoid passing over a potentially great new hire, take the time for a quick phone interview to determine whether his education and work experience make him truly overqualified or not.

Could you eventually expand the job role to use more of the individual’s skills? Visionary hiring managers think broadly about overall talent needs – both now and in the future.  So before extending an offer to an overqualified candidate, think of your company’s bigger picture.  If you see the potential for expanding the candidate’s role or promoting him quickly, it may be in your best interest to offer him the job.  If he takes the job, create a clear and explicit plan for the future.  Discuss what will happen beyond the initial stage, during which his skills will be underutilized.

How will department managers and/or direct supervisors react? Occasionally a manager will feel threatened by an overqualified subordinate.  He may wonder: if he can manage the new hire effectively; if the new hire is a threat to his job security; if the new hire will make him look bad on the job.  In and of themselves, these are not reasons to pass on an overqualified candidate.  If you do make the hire, however, you should design and communicate a clear plan for promoting that individual in the near future, so that both employee and manager understand the clear career path.

What’s more important to your company’s success – performance or longevity? Research suggests that overqualified workers do tend to perform better.  Historically, however, they tend to turn over faster and are less satisfied in their jobs if they are not promoted to a level suiting their abilities.  If the position for which you’re hiring is not an upwardly mobile one, decide whether performance or longevity is more essential to success.  For example, if you’re already struggling with turnover in an hourly position, hiring more experienced workers for those positions may benefit you.

So should you hire an overqualified candidate?  Use the points above to determine if there’s a good fit between the individual (his skills, aspirations, willingness to do the work required and willingness to be managed) and your company’s talent needs (considering both the immediate position available as well as room for growth/promotion).  Be optimistic.  Who knows, an overqualified candidate could easily turn out to be your company’s next great leader!

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