Hiring Managers have a tough job, especially during a down economy when there’s an overflow of applicants.  A good friend and also a core employee at a major San Francisco  foundation told me, of all the cover letters and resumes that she received for one job opening, she could only interview less than 3% of the prospects, with a mere 1% advancing to the second round.  That math is staggering.  A bulk of those hopefuls were of course switching careers, or otherwise simply reaching.  Not a match at all, however giving it a “shot” anyway – utilizing the shotgun method of job seeking that is.  With hundreds to thousands vying for the same position, you deserve to throw yourself a party if you get a phone call at all.  And when you do, let’s say everything goes right.  You successfully convey that you are personable, industrious, resourceful, and a team player.  Then, there’s the “but”.  The one big but even Sir Mix-A-Lot wouldn’t like – But you’re overqualified.

Oh no.  Big mistake, Hiring Managers…  Big mistake.  You’re passing up a gold mine – the rare instance when top talent is seeking YOU out instead of the other way around.  Maybe if it’s opposite day at the office (or if you’re highly interested in mediocrity), but when else is overqualification good cause for disqualification?  Not so when you’re hiring a babysitter, a doctor, or an electrician.  Imagine sending away an overqualified spouse, an adviser, or confidant.  How about telling an accountant, “No, thanks.  We’d prefer someone a little bit less competent in record keeping and current tax laws.”?   The usual – and bogus – logic is:  They’ll require too much salary, or they’ll get bored, or they’ll know more than me, or they’ll leave when they have a chance.  OK… Ahem, lacking positive self-image are we?  These excuses are easy to dismantle so here we go.

  1. Salary:  The candidate applying for the position already knows you can’t pay top dollar.  And that’s fine because right now they’re not making any dollars at all.  Still, you should discuss salary expectations early on (possibly as early as the job announcement), let your interviewee know she won’t be expected to work overtime for free (which would be her real concern), and also quell any reservations by adding value to the position.  Discuss other benefits that you might offer:  Health benefits, retirement account, pension plan, personal time-off, bonuses, fun perks, and shares, if applicable.  Other non-monetary exchanges we will discuss next, when we junk the following rationalization.
  2. Boredom:  Top candidates are top candidates because they love to learn, to improve, and to demonstrate their best.  So make the most of it.  Additionally, you should also grant interesting assignments, project leadership or other legitimate skill-building opportunities, and definitely professional development training.  Not just “busy” work.  Which will be a pay-off for the both of you.
  3. Superiority Complex:  That would be in reference to yours as the Hirer, not the candidate’s.  An easy means to populating your workspace with egos is to dismiss the wealth of knowledge of your employees, making them feel undervalued and frustrated, which then leads to disagreements, and finally – “be afraid” – politics and lobbying.  The best way to deflect this disaster is for your organization to practice proper communication and appraisal systems.  Create an environment that encourages team ingenuity and suggestions, specifically to satisfy the company’s goals (and not any single person’s ambitions).  As I mentioned in a previous post, one ought to keep good company – Like  Jim Collins says, “A” players hire A+ players.  Now, imagine how much your game will improve, what you can learn, the edge you’ll have, and the shared improvement of the workplace when there’s a fit dialogue between highly skilled and motivated staff members.
  4. Employee Retention:  Among the reasons, this is probably the most valid.  I understand – you don’t want someone that will leave in six months.  But you can safely bet that accomplished individuals have excellent work ethic and therefore, are unlikely to quit prematurely.  So, let’s say they hang in there for two or three years, and then leave.  Well, that is a possibility – and a completely acceptable one.  Here’s why.  We don’t live in the 1950s.  It’s rare for anyone to grow old with a company anymore.  The upside to this new millennium methodology is the fresh stream of talent that will bring stimulating energy and ideas to your establishment.  If your institution’s culture is a healthy one – i.e. one of amicable farewells rather than scorned walkouts – then you needn’t worry about the attrition of expertise.  The exiting employee will gratefully train and, realistically, may even locate your next dynamite hire for you.  Plus this!  Workers who are cared for and who part on good terms become ambassadors in new territories and may even become valuable partners down the road as they excel into positions of influence.

What stories are there of hiring overqualified persons resulting in triumph?  Plenty.  But right now, I’ll offer one that may boggle your mind.  According to Malcolm Gladwell, one of the most intellectually engaging writers of our time, and his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, the best year to be born in the 20th century is 1935.  Particularly in New York City.  Among the factors, people sharing this birth year had the blessing of – wait for it – the Great Depression!  Highly educated people couldn’t find work in the private sector.  We’re talking PhDs in Mathematics, people who may have otherwise worked in big business, science, or engineering.  So, instead, these first-rate scholars found gainful employment as – get this – teachers at public schools.  Consider the result.  For once, everyday youngsters regardless of affluence were able to access the top-notch education they each deserved.  These teachers worked for lean pay and, contrary to the fictitious worst-case scenarios, still delivered on excellence, consequently producing what was arguably the most successful generation of the century.

Rather than conjuring the potential problems, try asking yourself, “What’s the best that can happen?”  Exceptional thinking yields exceptional results.  When you venture beyond the wee and petty details, a picture of extraordinary greatness is allowed to come into focus.  Take a moment right now to look at the people and at the field that your organization has declared to serve, and imagine how your recruiting choices could make a profound impact on that landscape – maybe even on the 21st century!  Go on, dream big.