Hiring & Recruiting

Why You Should Avoid Overstating Applicant Qualifications

When hiring new employees, you want to hire the best, right? It seems like it would be a good thing for new hires to be extremely well qualified. After all, isn’t it good for the organization if the new hires have skill sets that go beyond what they need for their current role?

Maybe . . . But maybe not. The problem is that you can easily end up hiring people who are actually overqualified for their jobs. That in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem, but it can cause problems over time.

Here are some of the possible problems the employer may face when there are overqualified employees:

  • Someone who is overqualified is more likely to be bored in the role and start job hunting sooner rather than later, looking for something more challenging or with greater career opportunities.
  • You may not get full productivity from a person who does not feel the job is a good match for their skills. Instead of performing better than expected, that person may instead be frustrated and end up only meeting minimum standards.
  • You may miss out on perfectly qualified individuals who are actually better suited for the role, but are missing the experience that was erroneously deemed “required” (such as a degree). This could mean your hiring process takes longer than it needs to, or that your pay levels must be higher than they would be otherwise.
  • Having frustrated employees around can negatively impact employee morale, which impacts everyone and can dampen productivity.
  • The person might require higher raises, and may expect these sooner. It could be costly to keep him or her in a role he or she is not a good fit for.
  • You could face a claim of discrimination if the inflated applicant requirements end up primarily excluding a protected class from being considered, even if this is not the intent.

This can happen easily. It’s especially prevalent in jobs where a specific degree is thought to be required, but may not actually be necessary to do the work. The employer ends up hiring only individuals with that degree, who could be overqualified in the end.

Of course, not every overqualified employee will become frustrated and cause problems or start job hunting. But it often takes more work on the part of the employer to keep someone on board who is in this position. Managers can be key here; they can identify and help these employees before they start to have a negative impact. There are many possible ways to proceed; here are some examples:

  • Create a program to recognize and fast-track high-performing employees. This can help keep those who are overqualified from being in the wrong role for too long. It can also give an incentive to do work that is above and beyond.
  • Ensure you talk with employees and understand their long-term goals and are honest about whether the organization can help them achieve those goals. For example, if the individual would like a promotion within a year, and there are not likely to be any such opportunities, there may not be easy ways to reach a compromise. Give realistic timelines for next moves.
  • Consider providing development programs so that these individuals can be groomed for other roles.
  • Allow the individual to suggest additional responsibilities for his or her role, which gives the employee some freedom to mold the job to one that is better suited for his or her skills and career interests.
  • Consider reassessing the job requirements to ensure that they’re not overinflated to begin with to reduce this problem in the future. Train those involved with the hiring process to watch out for this.

If you do single out individuals for development, promotions, or key assignments, be sure it is done in a way that is fair and is not prone to favoritism. Going about it the wrong way could cause more problems than it solves.

Having someone overqualified on the team can be a problem—or a benefit, if it’s handled well. The key is to ensure that expectations are aligned and there’s a path forward.