….Hiring the “overqualified candidate”

If I don’t hear this daily, I hear it at least three times a week, “We don’t want to hire anybody overqualified, because they leave us when they first get the chance.” Being overqualified, admittedly, is a relative term. It probably isn’t wise to hire an experienced controller who has been making $150,000 for an entry-level accounting job at $55,000. Nor, is it probably a good idea to hire a sales person in a job where they are capped at earning $100,000 when they have earned $250,000 pretty consistently.

But a very strong case needs to be made for considering candidates who have been one, or maybe even two levels above the position an employer might be searching for. There are a number of good reasons for this.

First of all, the job does not “make” the person. The person actually makes the job. It is amazing what quality people can do to make an average job phenomenally creative and bring more value to the company than anyone might have imagined. Because of just the kind of person they are, they make the job better than it was before. Their value becomes greater because the job could become greater. So, secret here is to look at the possibilities of what the job could be rather than what it always has been. My guess is that at least 60% of the jobs out there could be expanded on and enhanced by hiring a person with the right attitude and ability.

Secondly, and I wrote about this a couple weeks ago, if people are relatively happy with what they’re doing and who they are doing it for and who they are doing it with, they don’t simply look for another job on a whim. If people are 70% pleased with what they’re doing and feel they are fairly compensated for what they do (… I didn’t say “overly” compensated, but “fairly” compensated) they don’t go looking for a job even if a recruiter, like myself, calls them.

This attitude of being “pleased” probably has more to do with the environment, the people they are working with and for and most importantly, the feeling that they are growing as a person. This is a difficult aspect of a job to quantify. But again, if people really like what they are doing they aren’t going to “go look for a job” that easily. How do I know this? It’s like I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m a recruiter. I call people all of the time and my tagline is, “Are you having fun and making money?” Now, they may ask, “What did you have in mind?” But, no matter how phenomenal an opportunity that I am representing is, unless they are pretty displeased with what’s going on with their job, they tell me they’re not interested. Why? Because looking for a job is a pain in the ass. Nobody really likes looking for a job. It is an emotionally stressful, time-consuming, risky endeavor. And unless a person is pretty damn unhappy with what they’re doing they don’t just “go looking for a job.”

Third, we, as hiring managers, have this fear inside of us that our new hire, especially if he or she appears to be “overqualified” is going to come into our office in six or seven weeks and say something like, “I’m resigning because an opportunity came along that is more commensurate with my experience and my ability and I owe it to my family and myself to accept the job.” And you, as a hiring authority, as well as your superiors are going to say something like, “Well, you dumb ass, you knew that he or she was overqualified for the job to begin with and that  they would keep looking and eventually find a better job, commensurate with their previous skills and money.” You then spend the next few days kicking yourself, and you keep telling yourself, “I’ll never over hire again!”

The vast majority of times, however, the candidate isn’t leaving because they really found a job “more commensurate with their skills and ability.” They are leaving because they either don’t like you, don’t like the people they’re working with, don’t like what they are doing, or all of the above. They just don’t want to tell you that. They want to get out of where they are as fast as possible, as well as, as gracefully as possible. So, they tell you how wonderful you are, how wonderful the company is, how much they appreciate the opportunity, etc. but, “Gee whiz, this is such a great opportunity that I’m leaving for, I can’t pass it up.” They don’t have the guts to say, “You suck, the people here suck, this job sucks and his company sucks…so, I’m outta here.” They just want out as fast and as easily as possible.

For most professionals, the intrinsic value of their job overrides most everything else. Provided the compensation is reasonable, people want to feel like they are growing personally in what they do. If they genuinely like what they do and they feel like they are becoming a better person in the process of doing it, i.e. challenged and satisfied with the challenge, as well as liking the people they work with and for, they don’t look for a job just because some recruiter like me calls them.

The bottom line to all of this is that if you have the kind of job where a person can grow, if the working environment is good and if the people are great, hiring a candidate who is “overqualified” may be one of the best things you can do.

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