Don’t overlook ‘overqualified’ applicants

Standard practice is to toss an applicant’s résumé into the “no” pile if they are too qualified for the position. Why waste your time on someone who is going to want too much money or will leave as soon as something better comes along? There are plenty of reasons why—and why your assumptions about them may be wrong.

“Saying someone is ‘overqualified’ is basically saying he or she is too skilled or too experienced,” said Maribeth Kuzmeski, author and founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, a strategic marketing and business growth consultancy. “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.”

Highly qualified job candidates typically require less training, are better adaptable to new and/or challenging situations, and can even be a good influence on current employees.

You must also beware of creating the perception of age discrimination. Many applicants dubbed overqualified are 40-plus, so calling someone “overqualified” could be seen as a code for “too old.” The city of Greensboro, N.C., recently paid $91,000 to a 58-year-old applicant who was passed over for a position in favor of three under-40, less qualified candidates. The hiring manager was allegedly concerned that the older applicant would retire soon after being hired. (EEOC v. City of Greensboro)

Final note: Refusing to hire older applicants because they are overqualified isn’t illegal, as long as you can articulate a legitimate business reason, e.g., the applicant demanded a $50,000 salary for a $25,000 position.

Hiring for Attitude D