Why the “Overqualified” Job Candidate is the Best Hire

When a job opens up in today’s economy, it receives a lot of attention. And no wonder: Over 15 million Americans need work. And if you’re a hiring manager, you may have found that the best way to shrink that pile of résumés on your desk is to weed out the seemingly “overqualified” workers first. After all, you reason, those candidates will want too much money and will jump ship the minute they find a better offer. Right?

Not necessarily. When you ignore these candidates you’re missing out on the opportunity to add highly qualified talent to your organization.

“Overqualified” candidates tend to show a better work ethic, stay, on average, longer than less qualified candidates, and as long as they are empowered are actually happy workers.

Saying someone is “overqualified” is basically saying he or she is too skilled or too experienced. The truth is, candidates with well-developed skills, a lot of working world experience, and the right attitude are exactly what you should want. When you ignore candidates based on your own assumptions or perceptions about what you see on their résumés, you run the risk of missing out on great employees.

A few tips on how to best approach the highly qualified hire:

Be open and honest about your concerns. If you see that a candidate has an impressive list of achievements, acknowledge them. Don’t chuck someone in your “no” pile simply because you might be intimidated. Ask the candidate how he plans to use the skills that led him to his past achievements in the position you’re offering. Find out about his current motivations and the goals he has for the position.

Connect with the candidate’s why. Your worries about a highly qualified candidate can be decreased when you connect with her why. In doing so, you can learn her motivations for wanting a position. You’ll be able to tell when she is explaining her reasoning and her motivations whether or not she truly has a passion for the job in question or whether she is simply willing to take the first job that is offered to her.

Recognize that highly qualified people require less training. If a job candidate has been around the block a few times, his adaptability to new situations and responsibilities will be better. That’s good news, because you and your managers will spend less of your own valuable time training him. You will probably also find that you have added peace of mind knowing that someone who is highly skilled and experienced is hard at work for you.

Hire based on attitude. This might be the best piece of advice to heed with any hiring decision. As long as a candidate has the basic skills and knowledge required to get the job done, don’t spend time wringing your hands over whether or not she might be too qualified. If the person has a great attitude and is highly motivated, then you might want to give her a chance, especially if the other candidates are less qualified and don’t seem like they will fit in with the company culture.

Once you have them, empower them. A study from Portland State University found that overqualified employees who are given decision making power tend to be more satisfied with their jobs. By giving these employees autonomy, you show them that you have confidence in their abilities and respect the skills and qualifications they bring to the table. As a result, they stay with the company and often outperform their fellow employees.

The best thing you can do is ignore the myths about “overqualified” job seekers. These people became highly qualified for a reason—for the most part, they make fantastic employees. You want to hire the right person for the job, not the person you assume, sight unseen, is less likely to leave. By taking the time to connect with candidates and discuss their motivations and goals, you’ll be able to make that judgment for yourself.