Overqualified candidates: Why they could be great for your business

Industries are becoming more connected – and therefore increasingly competitive – thanks to digitisation and a more globalised workforce. Here, Pavi Iyer, Talent Acquisition Lead at Mazda Australia, explains why dismissing ‘overqualified’ candidates could mean you’re missing out on top talent.

Historically, there have been countless reasons why employers have avoided hiring overqualified candidates.

“There’s a perceived risk that the individual will use the lower position as a stepping stone into the company, and they will leave the role as soon as a better opportunity arises,” Pavi says, adding that the risk of complacency is a big worry for hiring managers. “They may also assume the candidate will be unhappy and unproductive in the role if they aren’t challenged enough.”

These entrenched views can lead to unconscious bias and even discrimination such as ageism. “If the company is bringing in someone with seniority, current staff may worry that their own ideas won’t hold the same weight, because now there’s someone more experienced than them. It’s perceived as ‘the older you are, the wiser you are’, which can be viewed as a threat if the other people in the team don’t have similar years of work experience,” explains Pavi.

These perceived risks, however, are often baseless. So rather than viewing them as a threat to upper management, or assuming they will demand higher wages and responsibilities, Pavi says there are huge advantages to welcoming an overqualified candidate into your team.

1. They can jump in straight away

An overqualified candidate may have already worked in a similar role they are applying for. This means the employer can enjoy less onboarding, and the new team member won’t need their hand held while learning the basics.

“They will be ready to start the job as soon as they step into it,” Pavi says. “With so much experience behind them, they will also have the experience to jump into the role feet-first. They will be more likely to bring their experience relating to issues they faced in other companies meaning they can provide solutions they’ve seen that have worked, or not worked, in those companies over the years. In comparison, there may be a slower learning curve for a less-qualified candidate and they may not bring the ability to problem solve as creatively, due to their lack of experience.”

2. Their experience feeds into autonomy

Every sector is becoming more fast-paced, with margins tighter and the battle to retain top talent an endless struggle. So being able to let an overqualified candidate manage themselves from day one is a huge boost for time-strapped employers. It can also feed directly into better morale and greater retention for co-workers.

“Positivity wise, established staff can see that this new person is more experienced and more qualified than them, so they can use it as an opportunity to learn. They can be mentored by this person and then use this knowledge to perform better in their own roles.”

3. They want to simply focus on their preferred strength

Sometimes the reason why an overqualified candidate applies for a role is because they’ve been in top roles before and didn’t enjoy the scope of the work.

“I’ve seen many cases where candidates want to work in a less-stressful role. One CFO wanted to step down to a lower role and focus on the numbers because that’s what he loved and that’s what he felt comfortable with. He enjoyed the numbers and practical aspect of the role, and wanted to step away from managing people after so many years in management positions,” adds Pavi.

What to consider before hiring an overqualified candidate

  • Additional screening: Rather than dismissing someone as overqualified, Pavi says employers can ask them to do additional screening to get an understanding of what their expectations are, rather than solely relying on a CV. “Remember, the candidate has applied for a reason,” she advises. “Dig deeper to uncover what those reasons may be.”
  • Limited resources: Pavi says hiring managers need to weigh up how much of their resources in time and money is required to train a new, less experienced staff member when an overqualified candidate could adapt to the role immediately. “What valuable resources are you losing at the cost of training up a new person, waiting for them to get up to speed and be able to perform at the same level as their co-workers?”
  • Recognising unconscious biases: Even the most experienced HR staff have unconscious biases, but Pavi says being able to look to the future and recognise what value the overqualified candidate can bring to the table is critical.

A real-life example of taking a ‘step down’ successfully

Pavi cites a recent case where she worked with an overqualified candidate seeking greater work-life balance, which is a major stress factor in workplaces according to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The candidate was returning to Melbourne after several years running a mining operation in the US.

“He was returning home for a lifestyle change and greater work-life balance. Owning and managing the large mining company was taking up a lot of his time, working 16 to 18 hours a day, and he was happy to take a step down for a less-stressful lifestyle,” she explains.

Now in a customer support role – a dramatic change from running a major mining operation – Pavi says the candidate is thriving. “He’s now able to travel on the weekends, he’s enjoying life and that’s actually made him a more productive employee because he’s happier with the work-life balance. He’s happier at home, he’s happier at work, he’s happier with the working hours, and best of all he’s passionate about the products he works with.”

About Pavi Iyer

Pavi has a passion for recruiting that pre-dates her professional years. Whether it was recruiting kids to be part of her book club throughout primary school or part of university clubs throughout her later years, she’s been on a recruiting path almost her entire life. The reason? She loves getting people excited about the things she’s excited about and forming connections that will set them on the path towards their passion.

As a Talent Acquisition leader, this passion drives her commitment to ensuring the candidate experience is at the heart of every recruitment function. Throughout her career, Pavi has been pivotal in transforming talent functions in startups and more established companies such as Goodyear, L’Oréal and the University of Melbourne. She has managed to create EVPs, better candidate experience, and refocus the attraction and retention of talent to be a critical focus within an organisation. Most recently, she has been leading the Talent function at Mazda to implement their ATS/HCM systems, develop EVP and revamp their recruitment processes.


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