Should You Hire Overqualified Employees?

overqualified employees

When hiring, have you ever thrown away a resume from a candidate who sounded far too overqualified? According to some new research, you may have made a big mistake.

A study from the Journal of Applied Psychology followed job candidates who were hired for roles they were overqualified for, either by experience or education. Turns out, the overqualified employees performed better at their jobs than the average employee.

That’s not surprising. After all, they were overqualified.

What is surprising is that they not only did better, but were also more enthusiastic, more loyal and suggested more new ideas. In short, instead of being bitter that they were working below their qualifications, they were energized and excited.

In addition, overqualified employees had an effect on the whole team. Working closely with their overqualified colleagues rubbed off on the rest of the companies’ employees, improving both the overall performance and the attitudes of all the workers. Pretty impressive.

But how can you be sure that overqualified employees aren’t going to leave as soon as a better job comes along? Below are some steps you can take to make hiring overqualified employees work for your business.

When Hiring Overqualified Employees. . .

Find Out Why the Job Candidate Wants the Position

Employees who are desperate for a job — any job — may, in fact, be likely to quit for greener pastures before too long. During the hiring process, take time to find out why an overqualified candidate is interested in the job you’re hiring for. Sometimes employees legitimately want a job below their skill level because:

  • They’ve been out of the workforce for a while and are trying to re-enter it. For example, parents of young children who took time off for several years may look for jobs below their experience level so they can sharpen their skills.
  • They’re retirees who got bored and want the stimulation of a job, but don’t want all the stress of their previous roles.
  • They are switching careers or industries and are willing to take a more entry-level position so they can learn the new job from the ground up.

Don’t try to Hide their Qualifications from Others

If you do hire an overqualified employee, the study suggests, don’t play down their experience. Instead, play it up. This not only makes the new employee feel valued, but also encourages the rest of your team to perform at a higher level.

Encourage Collaboration

The study showed the more collaborative the workplace, the more positive the effect overqualified employees have on their co-workers. By working closely with your other employees, overqualified employees can share their skills and experience in a way that energizes the rest of the group.

Create Opportunities for Advancement

No matter what motivates an overqualified worker to apply for a job with you, at some point he or she will start itching to move on if there aren’t enough opportunities to grow. When considering whether to hire an overqualified employee, think about how you could use his or her skills to help your business grow, both now and in the future.

Have you ever hired overqualified employees?

Hiring Drawing via Shutterstock


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.

2 Reactions
  1. If you hire someone who isn’t qualified and have to train them you’re also taking a risk because after being trained they could leave and take that training with them. Every hire is a potential risk and wise employers evaluate the risk and manage it. I love the ideas here for retaining an overqualified employee and those same ideas could be used for top performers that you want to keep.

    • I agree. I think that every employee is a risk. Hire a person who is not qualified and you have to train him. Hire an overqualified person, and you have the risk of him leaving. The risk will always be there so you might as well take the plunge and just try to see if things will work out.