Why to Hire the Overqualified

For the first time in years, small business owners are thinking about hiring again.  And with large numbers of highly-qualified job candidates hungry for work, it’s definitely a “buyer’s market” in the labor pool. Nearly any available position these days generates a deluge of resumes.

But many businesses – especially small ones – routinely reject candidates they consider “overqualified.”  It’s always been a quick and easy way to narrow the field. But hold on. Is that wise?  Times have changed. It’s time to rethink your hiring strategy.

“Common wisdom” holds that overqualified job candidates will want too much money and will jump ship the minute something better comes along.  But that’s not necessarily so, according to the latest research findings. A recent Harvard Business Review article, for example, says businesses that reject the seemingly overqualified candidates miss out of the opportunity to add valuable talent to their organizations.

“Saying someone is overqualified is like saying they are too skilled or too experienced,” says Maribeth Kuzmeski, a consultant who helps companies with relationship-building skills. “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.”

Take time to connect with these candidates. Invite them in and learn what motivates them. Here are some tips on how to approach and land the highly-qualified candidate in a small business:

Be open about your concerns. If you have questions about the candidate’s experience, ask. 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’re intimidated by their achievements,” says Kuzmeski.

Ask about the candidate’s current motivations and the goals. This is the “Why us?” question. Most candidates are not applying for jobs they seem more than qualified for because they are simply desperate for work—but many business owners or hiring managers never find this out because they never invite them in for an interview.  Explore why the candidate wants the position. Some may be looking for something different – more enjoyable, perhaps – or to jumpstart a new career.

Recognize that highly qualified people require less training. Highly experienced candidates are more adaptable to new situations and responsibilities. That’s good news, because you and others in your business will spend less of your own valuable time on managing and training. Highly qualified candidates bring with them more life experience to pull from when challenging situations arise with clients or other co-workers. Plus you gain peace of mind knowing that someone experienced is hard at work for you.

Hire for attitude. As long as a candidate has the skills and knowledge required to get the job done, don’t waste time wringing your hands over whether she’s too qualified. If the person has a great attitude and is highly motivated and a good fit, what’s the problem?  “Sometimes it’s okay to go with the person you like the most,” says Kuzmeski. “If that person also happens to be highly qualified, then it will only benefit you and your company in the long run.”

Once you have them, use them. Overqualified employees who are given decision-making power tend to be more satisfied. 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 business longer and often outperform their fellow employees.

The best hiring move you can make in 2011 is to scrap old ways of thinking about “overqualified” job seekers, says Kuzmeski. They became highly qualified for a reason and can make great employees. After all, you want to hire the right person for the job, not just someone you assume is less likely to leave.

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About the Author:

Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.

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