The advantages and hazards of an overqualified candidate

Author: Milena Pervanje
May 2018

A company is looking for a new employee and an excellent candidate, who is really standing out and is far exceeding the position's criterion, also applies. Who wouldn't hire them, especially if they accept the pay offered for the position? But beware, an overqualified candidate can be a big risk! In this article you will find out how to come to the right decision. 

When human resources departments and managers who are looking for a new member of their team come across an excellent candidate who is standing out due to their competences and who is more than qualified for the position, they should ask themselves: Is choosing this candidate the right decision for us? Of course such a candidate brings a number of advantages to the table:

  • as a highly skilled candidate they can start working immediately,
  • they don't need any training, 
  • they start producing results quickly,  
  • they pass on their broad knowledge to their co-workers and
  • they can later on fill a higher, more demanding position should one become available. 
  • Employing such a candidate is very tempting and it seems like a no-brainer decision to make. 

But you must consider the risks an overqualified candidate poses as well. A wrong decision like that can have a negative effect on the entire company. 

You need to work with overqualified candidates as much as you need to work with under-qualified candidates.

Are we just a rebound?

If a candidate accepts your job offer solely because they need a job then they are very likely to leave as soon as a better opportunity comes their way. You can minimise that risk if you can present a career development plan to the new employee, point out possibilities for professional and personal challenges to them and talking to them about their career priorities. 

Will they be bored?

Making sure that an overqualified candidate stays motivated must be in the thoughts of their immediate supervisors and the company's management from the moment such a candidate starts working at the company. Should such an expert feel unchallenged their zeal will soon diminish, they will grow discontent and will soon start looking for a next career step and a new employer. 

Will others feel threatened?

Let me point out another potential problem when employing a stand-out candidate. A highly competent and skilled co-worker working somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy might be perceived as a threat to employees at the same level who are less qualified and also for his or hers immediate and higher-up supervisors. 

How to decide?

When deciding for or against employing an overqualified candidate you need to answer these questions:

  • Is your company able to come up with a challenging career plan for such an employee?
  • Will the supervisor be able to handle such a candidate professionally?
  • How evolved is the company's organizational culture? Will the employees accept a stand-out expert without trying to hinder him or her?
  • Is the candidate sincerely motivated for a long-term career in your company?
  • Is the candidate, despite high qualifications, modest and patient enough contribute to company's development without arrogance or conceitedness?

Be honest in asking yourself if you are willing to work with an overqualified candidate in a way that is beneficial for both sides. 

If you can say yes to all these questions then hire the candidate despite them being overqualified. If your affirmative answers are sincere, your decision for such a candidate will more than pay off. If you say no to these questions then the overqualified candidate's feet are probably too big for your company's shoes and the co-operation will not benefit either one. Go with someone else instead. 

Deciding on an overqualified candidate




Plug&play – an overqualified candidate can start working immediately

Needs more challenges than the position can provide

Additional tasks and challenges, keeping the company open to new ideas

Does not need any training

Co-workers and superiors might feel threatened, work process suffers

Open communication and good organizational climate

Quick positive results

Potentially condescending

Open communication and good organizational climate

Transfer of knowledge to the co-workers  

 Looking for a better opportunity

The company provides a career development plan 

Potential for an internal promotion later on