HR · 24 January 2019

Should you hire an overqualified employee?

It’s crucial to understand an individual’s motivations for applying

Is it a risk to employ somebody who is clearly overqualified for the role? Kate Palmer considers why the answer isn’t always that simple.

Most employers will be in agreement that when it comes to hiring new staff, they want someone who best meets the desired levels of skills and experience, however, there can often be debate over whether to select an individual who appears to be overqualified for the role.

The “stop-gap”

Perhaps the most common concern around hiring an overqualified applicant is that they may not be prepared to remain in the role for a long period of time and will be looking to leave for a more suitable position at the first opportunity.

Having overqualified individuals treat certain roles as a stop gap can be very costly for employers as it would mean extra time and money would need to be spent finding an adequate replacement. 

There is also the potential that overqualified employees could have a disruptive influence on the wider workforce, especially if they are unable to adapt to a role that involves taking orders from individuals with less experience than themselves. This could present a major problem for line managers who may have certain decisions questioned by overqualified staff, resulting in a breakdown in the chain of command and a drop in productivity.

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Stepping down

Having said this, it should be noted that there are benefits to hiring an overqualified employee especially if they are voluntarily looking to step down into a more relaxed role with less responsibility and pressure. In these cases, overqualified employers may be able to play a vital role in passing on their wisdom and experience to more junior colleagues reducing the responsibility on senior managers and increasing the knowledge base of your workforce.

It is also worth considering that previous qualifications, however impressive, may not always relate to the role in question. For example, an individual with an advanced degree in chemistry may genuinely be looking to change career and choose to apply for a graduate scheme in marketing.

In this aspect, being overqualified is less of an issue and instead reaffirms that the applicant is at the very least an intelligent individual who would be beneficial to your organisation.

Deciding what’s right for your business

Ultimately, the question of whether you should hire an overqualified employee should be determined on a case by case basis.

Rather than make assumptions about why an overqualified individual has chosen to apply for a role you should look to discuss this with them in person. This will allow you the chance to understand their motivations for applying, as well as offering you the opportunity to express any concerns that you may have, before making a final decision.

Kate Palmer is associate director of advice at Peninsula

Revealed: HMRC collected over £800m from payroll investigations last year

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Kate Palmer CIPD is the head of advisory at law firm Peninsula and is a member of its senior leadership team. She joined in 2009 having held a senior HR manager's role in another large company. With a specialist background in facilities management in the NHS, Kate offers a wealth of employment law experience. She's an expert negotiator - one notable case was with the NHS's trade unions over terms and conditions in the Agenda for Change pay system.