How Do You Deal With Overqualified Candidates?

As a recruiter, it may be difficult to convince anyone that the reason you did not hire an overqualified candidate is not age related, if older candidates are the ones that are overqualified. The same stands true if all the overly qualified candidates are immigrants. Do you see why overqualified candidates can be tricky to deal with? In this article, we define the criteria used to define an overqualified candidate, why they are likely to be the least desired candidates by recruiters, and how to handle such a candidate should you come across them.

Agnes Nduta

Oct 5, 2021 · 9 min read

How Do You Deal With Overqualified Candidates?

Self-declared Over-qualified Employees Image Source

According to a Eurostat, in 2014, German employees in the older age category (55 to 64 years old) saw themselves as overqualified. Fast forward, and 5 years later, overqualification seems to be a problem that is more prevalent among immigrants (according to the Annual Report on Intra-EU Labour Mobility 2020). 34% of highly skilled immigrants viewed themselves as overqualified for their current occupations.

Do you see why overqualified candidates can be tricky to deal with? In this article, we define the criteria used to define an overqualified candidate, why they are likely to be the least desired candidates by recruiters, and how to handle such a candidate should you come across them.

Defining the Overqualified Candidate

Overqualified Image Source

What makes a candidate overqualified? We could list several factors:

  • educational qualifications,
  • work experience,
  • and previous roles.

An overqualified candidate is more educated than the role requires. They might also have more years of experience or have served at more senior roles than the role they are currently applying for.

Is this all there is to a candidate being overqualified? How about a COBOL engineer who has not worked for a while but had to go back to work when the New Jersey state in the US needed COBOL engineers? For such a rare role, there were probably only overqualified people who were in the workforce before the language fell out of favor.

In the above instance, is it possible to cite ‘overqualification’ as a reason not to hire someone?

Why Companies Prefer Not to Hire Overqualified Candidates

Overqualified for the Job Image Source

A lot goes into recruiting. Depending on the role, the interview process could even take days. At this point we have not even considered the period before the interview, where the job description had to be defined, the job advertised, and candidates selected for interviewing. Hiring an overqualified candidate is therefore an extremely risky venture, from the recruiter’s perspective.

Let’s look at some reasons companies are less likely to hire candidates they consider overqualified

They May Use the Role as a Stepping Stone

One reason an overqualified candidate may apply for a position that they are way too qualified for is because they might be looking for better opportunities, or are eyeing another position elsewhere (even if it is within the same company). Why is this a problem? It means that you will have to go back to the drawing table and hire another candidate in a few months. It means going through the recruitment process again. Even if the company may have the resources, it may not be the best way to use them.

There May Be a Lack of Team Synergy

It might be difficult for a highly proficient employee to work in a team, especially when they are not the ones leading it. Borrowing from their vast experience, they might want things done in a particular way, which can get extremely frustrating for them. On the other hand, the rest of the team may find it difficult to work with the overqualified member, as they feel they make light of the tasks. For example, saying that a task is ‘easy’ and should only take a short amount of time, while the rest of the team finds it difficult.

Salary Expectations Mismatch

There is a high likelihood that the overqualified candidate will request for and expect more compensation than the company can afford or is willing to offer. If both parties cannot find middle ground, and the company goes ahead to hire the candidate, then you will have an unhappy employee. You want to work with happy employees as they are 12% more productive

The Overqualified Candidate May Find the Work Unchallenging

Challenging work is captivating. If the overqualified candidate finds their work extremely easy, they will begin to get bored. They will therefore be disengaged, inattentive, and are more likely to make mistakes. They might spend a significant amount of time on social media during working hours, or looking for more exciting opportunities.

The Problem with Overqualification


Image by Daniel Robertsfrom Pixabay

Overqualification is a tricky situation to deal with as a recruiter. Let’s explore its other facets:

Overqualification and Personal Bias

Like we said, the line between overqualification and personal bias is quite blurry. How can you prove that the reason you have refused to hire an overqualified candidate is not because you are scared that they are better than you? That they might even take your job? How about when an overqualified candidate is significantly older or is an immigrant? How do you prove that these are not the factors that you have used to classify them as ‘’overqualified’?

You Have No Proof That an Overqualified Candidate Will Be Problematic

So far we have looked at the risks associated with hiring an overqualified candidate - high turnover probability, lack of team synergy, demotivation, and compensation problems. The truth is that you as a recruiter have no way of telling whether a particular candidate will have the aforementioned problems. Even candidates with the ideal level of experience and education could exhibit the same problems.

Overqualification and ‘Fit’

Is an overqualified candidate an automatic ‘fit’ for the company? True, they have the education or experience required, according to your job description. But what does ‘fit’ even mean? Is it factual or subjective? Is it based on personality? For example, someone with a more extroverted personality might not enjoy work with minimal human interaction. If a company’s team members are mostly “white males under the age of 40", does it mean that anyone who does not ‘fit’ this description is a bad ‘fit’?

A more wholesome look at ‘fit would be:

  • Can the person do the job?
  • How will the person do the job?
  • Can they fit into your company culture?
  • Can they work with your clients?
  • What are the person’s occupational interests?

If someone fits the above criteria, then overqualified or not, they should be hired.

How Do You Handle Overqualified Candidates?


Image by Alex Green from Pexels

As a recruiter, it is not a matter of ‘if’ you might come across overqualified candidates. It is a matter of ‘when’. The best approach is not to dismiss them. Do not make assumptions. The fact that someone has applied for a position, though they can see that they are overqualified, means that they are interested.

Here are some things that you can do as a recruiter:

  • Reach out. You might choose to email first before making a phone call, so that you filter out the candidates that may not be interested.
  • In your email, make your requirements and compensation clear from the get go.
  • For interested candidates, schedule an initial interview to determine why they have applied, even though they are well aware that they have more to offer than might be needed. You might find that some have legit reasons, like work-life balance, they might be looking to start a career in a new field, or want less managerial responsibility. They are therefore willing to work with your company at a role they are way more qualified for.
  • If you find their reasons legit, then explain your recruiting process to them, and that they are required to go through every step (unless you deem it unnecessary for them with their experience). The last thing that you need to do is hire a candidate who thinks some of the steps in the recruiting process are a waste of time, like a coding interview, since they have been coding for over 2 decades.
  • If for some reason you prefer to go with another candidate (overqualified or not), then communicate with the overqualified candidate ‘normally’. Do not cite their ‘overqualification’ as the reason you did not select them.
  • Consider your company goals. You might want to hire someone to help you achieve a particular thing in your company within a specified period. In this case, then an overqualified person might be a great move since they require little training and handholding, if any.
  • Try to drive the conversation towards value. What value do they see themselves bringing to the company? What value can they gain from working in that particular role?
  • Look for growth opportunities. Depending on the reason the person gives for applying for the job, send more challenging opportunities their way. They may get to lead and mentor others. Who knows, you might have gotten your next manager. They might grow to like the role, and the future it could bring.

In Conclusion

Dealing with overqualified candidates might feel like the bane of your recruiting career. However, if you strive to be really curious about the candidate, you might discover some hidden gems. Ensure that you hear them out before you dismiss them. See whether they are in line with what you are looking for. If they are okay with taking the pay cut, then by all means hire them.


Agnes Nduta is a content creator who creates worlds in words, empathy and code.

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