should I hire an overqualified candidate?

A reader writes:

I will be interviewing people for an entry-level position in an engineering company, but the job is an analyst position, not an engineering position. As such, it will pay significantly less than an engineering position. One candidate is an engineer with over 20 years of experience, only a little of which is on point for the position we are offering.

Other than asking straight out: “Why are you interested in this job?”, how I can get to what would prompt a candidate to apply for a job that will pay so much less than I am sure he could get in other places? I can’t help but feel that he sees this job as a stepping stone to get into the company, then will start looking for a job that is a better fit. How can I find out if that is the case?

Also, my boss appears to want to hire this person, even though we haven’t spoken with him yet. If he doesn’t appear to be a good fit for the job, what is the best way for me to persuade my boss of that?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Can an employer prohibit you from dating a client?
  • Inviting former coworkers to coffee after a lay-off
  • Do companies understand the ramifications of slow hiring processes?
  • How can I stay in touch with my boss after leaving my job?

{ 116 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. College Career Counselor

    Arguably, if I read that correctly, the candidate is not OVER-qualified, he’s differently qualified (engineer vs. analyst role). If the engineering aspect has little to nothing to do with the role in question, that might be your answer about whether to proceed. If you decide to go forward, Alison’s script for finding out the candidate’s reasons/motivation is a good one.

    Reply
    1. Scarlott

      Engineering covers a broad range of potential positions. Rarely do we get an engineering job called simply: “Engineer”. My current role is Estimations administrator, but involves many engineering functions. So it sounds like he got laid off from a “Senior” analyst, and now he’s looking for any analyst positions, potentially within a different industry.

      Reply
    2. Uncivil Engineer

      If the candidate is truly differently qualified instead of over qualified, please don’t do it. I inherited an employee like this and it has not gone well. My staff is a bunch of engineers and a couple support staff. Someone before me hired a guy in to a support position because he had an engineering degree even though he had almost none of the skills needed for the support position. It’s been nearly a year and he is merely okay at his job. The worst part is that I can’t hire someone better until he vacates the position. He’s applying for engineering positions and I wish him well in that endeavor. He’ll probably be a very good engineer. But, he is not good at engineering support.

      Reply
  2. Elizabeth

    I work in a field where a lot of people apply to the admin jobs as a stepping stone to (artistic) programming job. I’ve done similar things to what Alison suggests when interviewing these folks, but presuming you’re the applicant and you *are* fine with the step down / less pay / less responsibility / less skilled work / whatever, is that something worth mentioning in your cover letter so that your resume doesn’t get skipped over during the weeding out process?

    I always appreciated people explaining that they were changing fields when their experience in no way related to what we were looking for, and am wondering if something similar would benefit people here as well.

    Reply
  3. Emi.

    Oh my gosh, the stock photo on this one! It’s awesome, although I spent quite a bit of time thinking it was a college graduate who was overqualified compared to his colleague, the giant chicken.

    Reply
    1. LawCat

      Reminds me of Chicken Boo from Anamaniacs :-D

      “Chicken Boo, what’s the matter with you?
      You don’t act like the other chickens do.
      You wear a disguise to look like human guys,
      But you’re not a man, you’re a Chicken Boo.”

      The gag was that Chicken Boo was very clearly a giant chicken, but people mistook him for whatever he was very thinly disguised as. Like, if he had on glasses, a tie, and had a calculator and applied to work as an accountant, everyone would be totally fooled into thinking he was qualified as an accountant, people would go to bat for him on this, and then there would be chaos when his glasses fell off and people would notice he was, in fact, a chicken rather than an accountant.

      Reply
      1. CaptainCrayCray

        Wasn’t there always one guy in the cartoon who could tell he was a chicken? I seem to remember that the other half of the joke was the one guy always insisting, “He’s a big chicken!”, and everyone else interpreted him figuratively.

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      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        OMG, Chicken Boo! I cannot tell you how often my siblings and I would sing this song to each other. Wow.

        Reply
  4. Anonymous Educator

    As someone who once vied for and got a position I was overqualified for, I’ve got to say Alison’s line about making a convincing case for why you want the job is important. “I want a job, any job” or “I think this will be a stepping stone to [more prestigious position]” is absolutely not convincing. In my case, I took a receptionist job (which was absolutely not related at all to the degrees I had) because I really believed in the organization’s mission, and I was at a point where I cared more about where I was working than the actual work I was doing. My future boss was convinced, and we ended up having a situation that was mutually beneficial. I didn’t stay at that receptionist position forever, but I was there for a long while and did well in it.

    Reply
    1. NYC Weez

      Last year our director hired a senior manager from another team into our team as a manager. The director thought we were getting more bang for our buck. In reality, the candidate was looking to escape before he got called to the carpet for disastrous management, and had zero clue what our team did or how it would benefit his career. He spent a year hiding out doing as little work as possible until he could find another senior management position to run off to. If the Director had probed a little bit to understand why he wanted to move, he would have quickly figured out that the candidate had zero interest in our department beyond an escape pod.

      Reply
  5. AthenaC

    #2 – Everyone in my company, for every client we work on, has to confirm that we are not dating anyone at the client, and even that we’re not too friendly with anyone at the client. My company is probably more detailed in the documentation than others outside our industry due to our independence requirements, but the idea itself that one shouldn’t date clients is not outside the norm.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Absolutely agreed that this is a normal (and in my mind, reasonable) requirement for many employers. And in some professions, you could have your license revoked for dating clients. I’m always puzzled by folks who think this isn’t a reasonable restriction (caveat: there are some circumstances in which a romantic relationship predates the problematic business relationship, which doesn’t necessarily change things, but it introduces a different context for evaluation).

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      1. NW Mossy

        It’s pretty common for any environment where conflicts of interest are a thing, and that encompasses a lot of professional/credentialed roles. Dating a client may be less problematic in a situation where impartiality is less of an issue and/or if it’s easy for a client to disentangle themselves from a relationship with their bae’s employer, like a patron of a retail/hospitality establishment who can easily stop patronizing that particular establishment/location.

        Reply
  6. Jen RO

    Speaking of differently-qualified candidates… the guy we hired 3 weeks ago just asked me what the company thinks about internal transfers, because he just saw an interesting job that would be a better fit for his technical skills. This is not starting out well…

    Reply
    1. Jen RO

      And on-topic: we ask candidates point-blank if they are OK with taking a job with limited responsibility/not managing anyone/being managed by someone younger or less-experienced. The guy above seemed to be honest when he said it wouldn’t be an issue… others made it clear that they are looking for something else or they withdrew from the recruitment process.

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        1. Mabel

          When I was interviewing for a new trainer, I had an applicant who was a freelance, Jack-of-all-trades, technical support person who had zero formal training experience. So I asked him why he wanted the job. He gave me a good answer (something along the lines of wanting to work with a team and have a steady income), and he ended up being one of our best trainers: eager to learn, great with the clients. (We also have everyone do a “test teach” for their 2nd interview, so I knew he could stand up in front of a group and teach.)

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      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Would it help to tell him whatever the policy is on internal transfers (I assume they’re ok or encouraged, depending on the job), but that there’s a minimum amount of time before it’s ok to transfer? For example, maybe internal transferring is ok, but not until at least 1 year or 1.5 years in your current position?

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          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Very much agreed! You don’t even have to say it’s policy; you can just say it would look strange to transfer before “X amount of time” because professionalism.

            Reply
        1. NW Mossy

          One of the brilliant things about working for a big company is that there usually is a policy! Ours is that you have to be in role for a minimum of 6 months for a non-exempt position and 12 months for an exempt position before you’re eligible to apply for other roles within the company.

          Reply
    2. Jerry Vandesic

      If he’s someone you manage, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say “I’m happy to recommend someone who works for me for an internal transfer, but only after they have been in a role for 18 months.”

      Reply
    3. Workaholic

      My employer has a time limit. You cannot apply for a new position in the company until you’ve done x months in your current position.

      Reply
  7. Mike C.

    So the answer about dating makes sense, but how does it play out with larger companies or companies with complex subsidiary arrangements? Do they tend to restrict such rules to people directly dealing with contracts or something else? What happens when there are mergers and acquisitions? Or lets really go nuts, Keiretsu type arrangements?

    And how picky are these sorts of rules? For instance, if you have a bunch of vending machines on site, does anyone working for the soda company count as off limits for dating? Does getting regular shipments of office supplies from the local big box supplier mean you can’t date someone who works at the retail store part time?

    I’m just really curious and it’s Friday and I’ve never had to deal with this personally, so does anyone have any good answers to this?

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      In my experience, the relationship is usually between direct recipients of specific services and the service-provider—i.e., not amorphous vendors like the vending machine, supplies, or UPS/FedEx folks (although I suspect that you can’t date your specific “supplies guy” at Staples Corporate). I can’t comment on the large companies piece, though.

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      1. Lily Rowan

        I know someone who married the UPS rep (not the delivery man, but the corporate sales rep), but her job had nothing to do with that business relationship.

        Reply
    2. love on the job

      Seems like it totally depends on the company – my huge company has TONS of dating/married couples, it’s actually the ongoing joke.

      Reply
    3. Judy

      Not specifically dating, but at the F50 companies I’ve worked for, the employees had to declare conflicts of interest annually.

      Anyone in your household or any spouse/child/sibling/parent, step or inlaw who:
      – owned more than .5% of the stock in a competitor/supplier/vendor
      – worked for a company that did at least .5% of their revenue supplying the company
      – worked for a company that sold at least .5% of our product
      -worked for a competitor

      I understand the purchasing departments had more elaborate conflict of interest forms.

      Reply
      1. Mike C.

        Do you get lists of competitors/suppliers/vendors? Because for a large company, I’d have no idea who those were, or what counted. Like my example earlier about the folks who supply the vending machines or office supplies vs. those who supply teapot handles and spouts.

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        1. Judy

          As far as competitors, I’ve always worked at places with generally narrow focus, so competitors were easy.
          (Check the EPA website that shows the energy star ratings of all of the teapots that are sold in the US.)

          As far as who sold our items, well, that was pretty obvious. Our major suppliers have been fairly obvious, also.

          For me, personally, my parents, inlaws and sister in law are teachers, my sister and her husband are physicians, so it wasn’t an issue. I’d assume people in families with other engineers would just ask. If a business is small enough to have one customer be 1/20 by cost of their customers, it’s pretty well known internally.

          Reply
          1. Judy

            To clarify, I worked at one time for a automotive manufacturer.
            Competitors – totally obvious.
            Who sold our items – totally obvious.
            Suppliers – fairly obvious, a quick question to the family would answer that.

            Another company I worked for was an appliance manufacturer.
            Competitors – totally obvious.
            Who sold our items – totally obvious
            Suppliers – fairly obvious, at least to those who work for a company that does 1/20 of their business with us.

            This was less about office supplies and cafeteria vendors, and more about the supplies used to build the product.

            Reply
        2. BananaPants

          We do not get a list. When Mr. BP worked for one of our national suppliers for wireless service, I made the connection that all of the managers with company phones had service through my husband’s then-employer. I asked him and he found out that they were our primary vendor for wireless.

          Because I’m not anywhere near a role where I’d be choosing a national wireless carrier for our F50 corporation, and he was a lowly customer service rep who randomly helped whatever customer was next in the queue, it wasn’t a concern to anyone in our compliance office. I just had to declare the conflict every year on my conflict of interest certification form.

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    4. nunqzk

      In my experience, this varies wildly by industry and company. I worked one job in a regulated industry, and there were precisely defined categories of conflict of interest that were absolutely forbidden, but no reporting requirements at all.
      Another job was in an unregulated but PR-sensitive industry, and nothing was forbidden but my boss wanted a heads-up about even tenuous connections as they arose. I gave a lot of reports like, “My brother was dating a woman who worked for Company X last summer; I think they broke up, but I’m not sure” or “My aunt is a teapot engineer, and Company Y makes 90% of the teapot spouts on the market, so she’s almost certainly bought from them at some point.”
      My current job is in academia, and there are very specific rules for which conflicts must be reported. Generally, it’s if a family member works for a vendor that does more than a certain dollar amount of business with the university, or if a family member owns more than a certain stake in any vendor. The guy that stocks the vending machine would qualify, if that contract is worth more than the threshold, which I think is something like $10,000. Once a conflict is reported, it’s handled completely case-by-case. Some are approved, some are forbidden, and sometimes it’s approved but an extra oversight procedure is put in place.

      Reply
  8. Sarah

    For Q1: I think it would also be helpful in your own mind to think about how long you want this person to stay in this position. Supposing you hired one of the other “normally qualified” candidates who’ve applied — how long would you expect them to stay in the entry level position before seeking an internal promotion or looking outside the organization to move up? For some positions it’s reasonable to hire people and expect they will stay for a long time, but that’s not really typical for most things described as “entry level,” so I think it’s appropriate to think about what normal tenure would be for a typical employee and communicate that in the interview. For example: “Typically we would want someone to stay in this position for about 3 years before actively seeking a promotion, although sometimes talented employees have been promoted after 2 years. Does that sort of time frame in the position work for you?”

    Reply
    1. Anxa

      I think this is such an incredibly important distinction.

      Right now I’m stuck in a cycle of not having the right experience for what I thought I wanted to do, still wanting to do something with that, and also forming new interests in some of the stopgap jobs I have.

      Even though I really, really need to get a career started, I know how that’s not an employer’s problem. So I don’t mind if you’re looking to hire someone in a position that I really don’t want to be in long-term.

      What killed me was applying for jobs with high turnover, and being unemployed where I’d volunteer and frequent and in most cases understanding I’d be considered “overqualified” and watching these people cycle through.

      Reply
  9. arundel

    The issue of applying to jobs for which you are “over-qualified” resonates with me. I am senior program manager with a Fortune 500 software company. Some days the stress, politics, and my crazy boss are enough to put me over the edge! But here’s the thing… I am at a point in my career where I am financially stable and starting to think about retirement in 5-10 years. I don’t need the salary or the stress that comes with my job and I am seriously looking at moving into a “lesser” position in the same field, which I otherwise enjoy. So I know I will run into this if I apply for much more junior positions. My thinking is I will just be very honest about making a career jump like this precisely to reduce my responsibilities, and not as a stepping stone to something bigger and better. If anything it will be a stepping stone to retirement! I’ll be very interested to read responses from hiring managers or applicants who have been in this situation, and hear how it turned out.

    Reply
    1. mamabear

      I don’t have any experience with this, but your explanation makes perfect sense. Could frame it as you’re seeking less responsibility, but you still have a lot to offer in terms of expertise and that you’re very interested in staying in the field?

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    2. Julie B.

      This. +1. This is me exactly.

      OP: Be up front with your candidate. He may be like arundel and me and switching careers or looking for a “partial retirement” post.

      To arundel, my approach in 5-10 years when I step down will be similar to yours. I plan to be very honest about it. I think I would also be including an explanation of that sort in my cover letters, so as to side step the confusion LW is dealing with.

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      1. Nonprofit Nancy

        We also had an applicant who basically said this – for a job that was going to be extremely demanding! He was retiring from government and basically wanted an easy post-retirement cool-down job. Uh, this is a nights and weekends all-hands-on-deck type organization. Thank God we got that straight, or we would have both been very unhappy and I’m sure he would have left quickly!

        Reply
        1. De Minimis

          I’m in my first non-profit job, and I don’t know where people get the perception that non-profit jobs are slower paced and suitable for people wanting to wind down their careers!

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    3. Colorado

      This is me, sort of. I’m an engineer and worked my way up to a manager then a director position through my thirties. After dealing with some personal issues over a span of 4-6 years (infertility then loss of a child), I said no more! I was able to have another child and stepped down from the management position to “just be an engineer again”. Best thing I ever did. I took a small pay cut but I have no reports, work autonomously, am treated as a technical guru in my field, and have a great work/life balance to raise my long sought kiddo. When I was interviewing for “independent contributor” roles, I was honest. I said I’m not interested in managing people, I value being an IC, and I’ve had personal circumstances where work/life balance is very important to me.
      Maybe when kiddo is older I’ll think about climbing that ladder again, or maybe not ;-)

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    4. Squeeble

      My aunt did something like this. She retired from a high-profile career in banking where she was working 60, 70 hours a week regularly, but after retirement she started getting a little bored. So she took an accounting role at a small CPA firm. I think if you’re honest about that kind of situation, a hiring manager will understand and probably appreciate having someone with a wealth of experience, regardless of the role level.

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    5. NJ Anon

      Ditto-But I am concerned about the age factor. Will someone want to hire you (general you) knowing you are going to retire in the near future? I just hired a retiree for a part-time booking job but not everyone is me.

      Reply
      1. zora

        I think it depends on your timeline. If you are in the position to be totally honest, and you say “I’m looking to retire in 5 years, and want a less demanding job until then.” That’s a perfectly great amount of time for most positions, for the manager to know they will have a reliable staff person for 5 years? That is a pretty good position for the employer, and 5 years is a pretty standard amount of time to have a lower-level staff person anyway.

        If you were planning in retiring in 1 year, that would be a little more difficult, and you probably wouldn’t want to be honest about that timeline.

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    6. DQ

      I had someone like this on my team and he was absolutely incredible. He had been in a much senior role and after some health issues decided it wasn’t all “worth it” and came to work for our organization in a much junior but directly related capacity (he was “Senior Director of Teapot Operations” before and on our team he was a “Teapot Quality Analyst”). I often sought his advice on things and he was happy to give it while thrilled he could “clock out” at the end of the day. Others on the team saw him in a “wise Uncle” kind of role and he was a great stabilizing force on the team because he had perspective.

      He just retired last week and I already miss him!

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    7. Bethlam

      This was me. I wanted out of management, high level responsibility, etc. and applied where I currently work. The position I applied for went away for budgetary reasons but the plant manager said he had another position for which I was way overqualified. I had to do some serious convincing, but I got the job. Over the years I ended up getting more responsibility, but it’s still not the rat race I was in before, and have loved every minute of it.

      Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned on other threads, my company is consolidating and closing this facility and I’m going to be in the same position in a few months. I’m 60, and I’ll be looking for a low-key, punch out at the end of the day, “stepping into retirement” job, and am hoping I can find something I can enjoy for a few years.

      Reply
      1. Professional Merchandiser

        I used to be a merchandiser for Procter & Gamble. A lot of the people I worked with were former management people (either P&G or other companies.) They retired or were laid off from their management positions but were not ready to call it quits yet. I loved working with them. They had a wealth of knowledge and lots of advice on how to do things more efficiently. Now I’m at the age to make this decision. I’m not a manager, but I mean stepping away from full-time to part-time/contract work.

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    8. sometimeswhy

      I’ll add my voice to this chorus.

      As an applicant: Early in my career, I left a management position that I was not right for, not ready for, and shoved into against my better judgement to return to the more hands-on work in my field. I had to explain to every hiring manager I encountered why I was essentially chasing a demotion. I told them that I’d had a really great opportunity and had learned a lot about that facet and thought it would give me an understanding of the broader picture as I kept working but discovered that I really missed the technical aspect and wanted to return to it. Eventually I found a good fit (and someone who didn’t think I wasn’t after their job). I did that for fifteen years before returning to a management role.

      As a someone doing hiring: A lot of the people with transferable skills for the jobs I hire for come from industries where BUSY AND STRESSED is the norm and VERY BUSY AND STRESSED TO THE POINT OF ILLNESS is just another name for Tuesday but we’re not really a place where you hustle. There’s always something to do but the crunch times are few, far between, and usually predictable so there’s always concern about, frankly, boredom from people who are used to running full speed all the time.

      I’ve responded positively to things like you mention, framed just that way including someone whose career was in a place where they were looking at improving work/life balance for undisclosed personal reasons. If I had someone coming in with a wealth of experience (direct or transferable) and the necessary core skills who was committed to 5-10 years and was the best fit for the position, I would (and have) JUMP(ed) on the chance to bring them on.

      Reply
  10. Murphy

    With LW1: Definitely give the candidate a chance to explain themselves and don’t make the decision for them that they’re overqualified.

    Years ago, I ended up quitting graduate school post-masters pre-PhD and didn’t have a lot of non educational work experience (and did not want to do anything related to teaching). I put grad school/teaching assistantship on my resume because otherwise it looked like it hadn’t been working at all. A friend recommended me for an Office Manager/admin (I don’t remember the exact title) job at his company. Within 30 minutes of sending my resume, I got an email stating that “while your skills are certainly impressive, we’ve decided to pursue other candidates at this time.” I don’t mind that I didn’t get it, but they decided for me that I was overqualified (and also didn’t even talk to the friend who had referred me). I could have and would have HAPPILY done that job instead of what I ended up doing for the next several years after that.

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    1. Jana

      This is a great point. I’ve definitely had hiring managers decide for me that I didn’t want the job I’d applied for even though I definitely did want the job. It’s frustrating and if a candidate is strong enough to be interviewed, that candidate should be interviewed seriously, not shut out ahead of time based on assumptions.

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    2. writelhd

      This is where a cover letter is supposed to offer an opportunity, (as I understand it?) if you’re obviously differently-qualified or over-qualified, to demonstrate why you’re applying for this job, yes, intentionally this one! and at least take that one swipe at disarming the initial assumption that might otherwise get made about you. Although I imagine the success of that that depends on the skill of the person to say that in a cover letter without sounding merely defensive, the hiring manager actually reading it and believing it, and what the rest of the candidate pool is like.

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    3. Artemesia

      Many hiring managers have been around this block though and been burned by one or more people who claimed that the job was just what they were looking for and then became bored and looking to be promoted or ended up moving on. It is not irrational on their part to avoid having the same experience again.

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  11. BPT

    I don’t think a long hiring process necessarily means a great loss for a company, as long as 1) applications are being collected on a rolling basis, and 2) there isn’t a specific season for hiring.

    So yes, if a company says, “we’re taking in applications through October 1st” and keeps that cutoff but then pushes back decision-making to January, then they’re likely to lose several of those candidates in those few months. Or if you’re hiring for entry-level lawyers, I’m assuming there’s a big hiring push around the summer because of graduation, so if you put off hiring until October, you’re likely to be left with fewer candidates.

    But just because a hiring process takes a long time doesn’t mean they’re handicapping themselves. People tend to forget that there usually isn’t a “perfect candidate” for the job that they’ll lose. A lot of times, there are many people who could do well in a job, and I’m pretty sure no candidate is absolutely perfect. So I know applicants go through and think, “I’m so perfect for this job, but if they don’t move fast they’re going to lose me!” And yes, they might lose you, but you’re not “perfect” for the job, and as long as there are rolling applications, if they lose one great candidate, another is likely to come along. That may sound callous, but it’s very unlikely that if they lose one good candidate, no other great one will ever come along.

    Of course there are exceptions to this, but I think people tend to take a company’s hiring process personally, and frames it as “they just don’t care about losing good candidates.” The hiring process is more like an exploratory conversation – people talking back and forth to see if each of their needs mesh well. Sometimes needs change mid-conversation. That might eliminate some people from the conversation, but the pushed timeline might actually open it up to others who just started looking.

    Reply
    1. Czhorat

      The candidates you lose with a drawn-out process are the ones who don’t currently have a job or are, for some reason, desperate to escape from their current situation. An employer might also be a best-fit for someone but lose out to a second-best fit who gives an offer faster.

      That said, it took several months between initial contact to offer for my current job. and I couldn’t be happier. That they took their time and did their homework is, in the long-term, probably best for everyone involved.

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      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day

        You could also lose out on a highly desireable candidate – if they’re getting multiple offers elsewhere why would they wait around?

        I was interviewing recently (after stumbling into a very desireable skillset/experience within my role at the time). Interviewed with company A multiple times. I thought they were great, but they kept adding additional steps and were dragging their feet. I was out interviewing at multiple other places as well. Received two offers that I turned down. Interviewed at Company B it was on par with Company A – slight differences, but equal in terms of overall ranking. Company B made me an offer (for more than Company A’s range) and I accepted immediately. If Company A had made me an offer a week – even a day earlier (anywhere in the range advertised) I would have accepted in heartbeat and feel confident that I would have been happy/successful there, but they drug their feet and lost out on me.

        Apparently I was their top candidate b/c after they were informed I had accepted another offer they made me an offer. I declined, then they offered more money, but it was still less than Company B.

        The process shouldn’t be rushed, but losing a desireable candidate is at least a minor risk (one that probably grows proportionally with the longer the process is drawn out).

        Reply
        1. Sunshine on a cloudy day

          That all said, I’m sure Company A found a perfectly fine candidate eventually (maybe better than me – I genuinely hope so!). I guess the risk is probably greater in more niche fields (when you want experience) and less so in more generic positions.

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        2. BPT

          But the point is that it’s a guessing game – sure, a long drawn out process may make you lose a desirable candidate. But extending the process by 3 months may make an even more desirable candidate apply who wasn’t looking three months ago that you wouldn’t have missed if you had hired quickly. So there’s no rule about it – sometimes you may lose good candidates, sometimes you might find better candidates, but it probably evens out.

          Reply
          1. Sunshine on a cloudy day

            That’s totally fair – I definitely wasn’t trying to imply that if a company takes time they will lose out on only desireable candidate. It IS some sort of a risk (however large or small, and very possibly offset by the chance that a better candidate will come up down the line).

            I think I was also more responding to Czhort’s comment that the candidate’s you lose are either currently not working or desperate to leave. I was trying to point out that you might also lose a highly desireable candidate.

            Reply
            1. BPT

              Oh right, exactly, the people you lose are definitely not just the ones not working or desperate. Just like there isn’t one perfect candidate, there’s also not one perfect company, so very desirable candidates could definitely choose a company that made a faster decision instead of holding out for one company.

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    2. PollyQ

      as long as 1) applications are being collected on a rolling basis, and 2) there isn’t a specific season for hiring.

      How common is this, though? It’s my impression that in the majority of cases, especially for non-entry-level/non-retail jobs, most companies have a specific position to fill, and then go through a hiring process targeted to fill that one spot.

      And I agree with Sunshine that a strong candidate is more likely to get a good offer from a more quickly moving company, while the slower one is taking its time.

      Also worth thinking about the overall economic environment. When the economy is slow, employers have more power to take their time, but at least in the US, the unemployment rate is near its lowest point of the last 8 years, so more employers may find themselves in a “you snooze, you lose” situation.

      Reply
      1. BPT

        As far as rolling basis – I meant that there isn’t a specific cutoff for job applications. So they keep considering applications as they come in. I mean sure, at some point you have to make a decision, but if their process is being drawn out anyway, there’s no harm in collecting applications all along the way. I think that’s very common. Or jobs being reposted if they don’t get enough good applications. Most of the time a cutoff date is not set in stone (unless maybe for the government or something).

        Reply
      2. SusanIvanova

        I worked at a place that didn’t have seasons, but it did reset budgets at the end of the fiscal year, so if you hadn’t filled the slot by then you were likely to lose it. Didn’t help that we could go through 10 people without finding someone suitable.

        Reply
      3. Buu

        Sometimes companies do this when they are expanding, one place I worked was very fussy about hires but also had high turn over so applications never closed as they could only hire about as fast as people left, so the department never grew!

        Reply
    3. Mike C.

      I think at some point the issue of opportunity cost has to come into play. If you’re hiring, it means you have work for new employees to perform. This is work that will in some way allow the company to either continue making money or allow the company to make more money. The longer you hold those positions open, the longer you wait to take that opportunity and the greater risk you face from a competitor

      Not to mention the fact that we’re not just talking about private businesses here – one major reason why our technical infrastructure (think computer security here) at the federal level is so bad is that the federal hiring process takes so long. When those sorts of applicants can get scooped up by a high paying private firm in a matter of days or weeks, they aren’t going to wait months for an offer from the feds. Further more, not having this sort of talent as other implications as time goes on.

      Reply
      1. MegaMoose, Esq

        Side note: a few years ago James Comey (no one then thought he’d be a household name on day, did we!) gave a press conference where he said the FBI was having a hard time hiring IT security employees because of federal drug use policies.

        Reply
      2. Milton Waddams

        This is part of a larger principal-agent problem. The government especially won’t collapse just because it lacks qualified staff, so there is a strong push for HR staff to hire (or not hire) for their own personal benefit, and on their own schedule.

        Not to single out government, of course — this problem is endemic at larger organizations of all sorts; whenever an organization becomes so large that there is no longer a direct connection between the prospects of the company and the prospects of its individual employees, the space opens up for this problem to develop.

        Reply
    4. lala

      There are also places, like academia, where it’s pretty much expected that it will take a while. I’m a librarian at a university, and from the time of application to the time of hire/reject the average time is something like 3-6 months, on the longer end for public institutions who have to deal with state government red tape. For staff positions (as in non-librarian), a month is a really quick turn around. Like, the place is desperate to fill the position.

      Reply
  12. Kristine

    I am overqualified for my current job, which I started 6 months ago. They wanted someone with 1-2 years experience in this line of work and I have 5. In the interview I was honest and told them the stress of my then-current position was getting to be too much for me, so I wanted to take some time to re-calibrate in a less demanding role. They were happy with that answer and also happy to get a candidate who was above what they were looking for. And so far all is well here. There have been some moments of boredom but most days I am kept busy, and I’ve gotten favorable feedback from everyone here.

    Reply
  13. Stellaaaaa

    For #1, I think that’s something you need to suss out during the interview. I can speak from personal experience: I apply for jobs that I’m overqualified for. I do this because the jobs that I actually qualify for are few and far between and also because I honestly have no problem doing “lower level” work. I function best when I’m not stressed out, even if it means I’m taking home a smaller paycheck.

    I’d operate under the assumption that people are applying for jobs they genuinely want. Someone with 20 years on the job may very well have valid reasons for wanting to step back and take on a less demanding role.

    Reply
  14. Calallily

    #1: My mom got caught in the same trap. She retired after 20 years in a stressful field but became bored, she wanted something professional yet with significantly less stress/responsibility than her higher up positions.

    No one would even interview her even though she was 100% satisfied staying for years in an entry level job where no training would be required.

    Even if you hire people who fit the ‘entry-level’ mold, you’ll probably end up with more people gaining experience and springboarding into bigger/better things.

    Reply
    1. Uzumaki Naruto

      That’s a good point: entry-level doesn’t mean “stay here forever,” even for people coming in with little experience.

      Reply
      1. Milton Waddams

        You know that, and I know that, but that’s not the way it is framed in modern HR parlance for some reason, even though the HR department of three generations back would have also know that. It is a very common trend to see most people as incapable of growth, and to see internal promotions as a source of conflict within the staff that isn’t worth the resentment.

        Reply
    2. MillersSpring

      Agreed. It seems like the LW was making a huge assumption about the experienced applicant. Maybe they want less responsibility or a shorter commute or reduced stress. Or maybe they’re relocating or desperately needing any job (and will be grateful and dedicated in the role where they land). Or desperately needing to leave a current soul-sucking job. Could be any number of reasons, and the applicant could still be a great contributor.

      Reply
  15. nuhuh

    LW2 – she said no, for whatever reason, just accept that. Whether the policy is real or not, common or not, she used it as her justification

    Reply
  16. Partly Cloudy

    I’ve asked the question directly, when interviewing people coming from management roles have applied for non-management positions. People have generally answered that they prefer the more hands-on work vs. management or that they don’t enjoy the stress of management, depending on what the position is.

    Almost a year ago, we hired someone who on paper was extremely overqualified for the position but she wanted a change of pace and a new industry and was willing to wait for opportunities down the road. She was patient and now has begun to take on additional responsibilities in a different department.

    There *are* people out there who just want a job, any job, and will leave in a few months when something at their prior skill level comes up. But I feel that having a direct conversation about it allows for the opportunity to flesh out into which category a specific candidate falls.

    Reply
  17. TheLazyB

    Opposite to 5: my line manager recently left, and although we’re connected on linked in, I don’t have any details for her. I gave her a note with my email but she doesn’t seem to want to make contact. So that’s sad…. especially as I think she would have been an amazing reference for me. Oh well.

    Reply
  18. Mabel

    I guess I could understand why a company might lay off people without notice (although I think it sucks), but I don’t see what they get out of rushing someone out the door without letting them say goodbye to their colleagues. Anyone know the reasoning for this?

    Reply
  19. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    When I applied for my current position, it looked on paper like I was overqualified and taking a step down from director of teapot design to a senior teapot designer; but in reality my former employer was so tiny and job titles were meaningless. I was a “director” of me, myself and I — as in, I was the ONLY designer. They could have called me the Empress of Design but my job function was still very much just teapot designer. My current boss asked me about that and I was honest with him. I viewed this as a lateral move to a larger business with more long-term potential and better work environment.

    Reply
    1. NJ Anon

      I have this issue as well. I have a director title that would easily translate to an accounting manager title elsewhere. Sometimes I change my title on my resume to Accounting Manager because I am concerned my real title will scare people away.

      Reply
      1. Another CPA

        I had to do this once when I’d worked in an accounting dept with only two full time employees. I listed it on my resume as Assistant Controller (Cost Accountant).

        Reply
    2. MissDisplaced

      This is especially true in creative fields. There are many days I miss being just the “designer” and not having to deal with management issues. But I’ve seen so many hiring managers automatically discard applications from those deemed over-qualified.

      Reply
      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

        Sometimes it can professional insecurity. For a while, I think my boss thought I would be gunning for his director job or difficult to manage.

        Reply
      2. Lablizard

        Scientific fields too. I am probably going to “downgrade” back to being a real scientist rather than a scientist-manager hybrid

        Reply
  20. Greg M.

    please for the love of god give “overqualified” people a shot, the economy sucks and sometimes we just need a freaking job.

    Reply
      1. writelhd

        I would agree that being in the situation of needing ” a job, any job” does NOT automatically equate to “so will leave this one as soon as a better one comes along.” Maybe your job is the better one! Not everybody wants to job hop all the time! It is pretty unfair to assume that of someone.

        Reply
    1. krysb

      Just to use your thought as a jumping-off point, a lot of businesses did add extreme qualifications for entry-level roles because they could get more qualified people at a cheaper rate. Why hire Suzie straight out of school with no experience for $12 an hour when you can get Sally with five years of experience for the same cost?

      Reply
  21. NJ Anon

    I have to admit, in the past, I have not had good luck hiring people who are over-qualified. They either were just trying to get their foot in the door or a paycheck. They either didn’t work out or left for a better opportunity when it came along.

    Reply
  22. Jana

    I think that letter writer #1 should really go into interviewing this candidate with an open mind and give him a chance. I’ve been told I didn’t want jobs before because I was “overqualified” and it’s frustrating to not be given the opportunity to explain your interest. I can understand that employers might be concerned that an overqualified candidate will end up wanting to move on quickly, but that’s not always the case and under- or exactly qualified candidates can expect to move up quickly, too.

    Reply
  23. Allison

    I understand this issue from both sides.

    On the one hand, no one wants to hire someone who’s likely to jump ship for a job more suited to their experience/skill level within the first year, or immediately expect a promotion, raise, more responsibilities, bristle at being managed by someone younger, or boss around a colleague who’s younger than them because they feel they “should” be calling the shots. Filling a role, and then having to backfill it 6 months later, is a pain, as is trying to manage someone who feels they’re too big for their role. Even if none of that happens, overqulified people are likely to become disengaged and bored over time, and then their performance suffers and so does their output; they can drag the whole team down. You want someone who’s excited about the job you’re offering, not just the position they could attain later on.

    That said, I’ve been the candidate who’s been willing to take a lower level job than what I’m used to, with less pay, if I’m very passionate about the organization. I’ll admit, I do usually apply hoping I can work my way up (at an appropriate pace, of course), and it’s tough to articulate in a cover letter than I see an admin job as a step down from what I’ve been doing, but I do try to acknowledge that I know the position is different from my old one, and explain why I’m A-OK with that as long as I can contribute to the work the organization is doing!

    It’s definitely the applicants’ job to explain, proactively, why they want the role they’re applying for when it looks like a step down from what they had before.

    Reply
  24. MegaMoose, Esq

    I think sometimes people get hung up on the “is it legal for my boss to tell me who I can date” question because of thinking about it as a personal liberty thing. The truth is, no, your boss can’t tell you who you can date. Your boss also can’t literally make you show up to work on time. However, they (usually) can fire you for it.

    Reply
    1. Milton Waddams

      I think this is a common problem that people frequently try to side-step, the difference between declared and de facto power. In many cases it is true that in a declarative sense an employer has no right to do this or that, but in a de facto sense they obviously do, since the consequences to the employee for refusing are dire enough that it might as well not be a choice at all.

      Reply
  25. Cathie from Canada

    Very disappointing and MOST ANNOYING!
    The link says I can “read it here” but actually I can’t — when I tried to read this column on the Inc site, it demanded for the first time that I “create an account” before I can read this column.
    Nope.
    I have enough “accounts” here, there and everywhere as it is, and I get irrelevant emails from many of them already. No more.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      They ask that if you’re using an ad blocker or outside the U.S. because they can’t offer any content if they don’t have a way to pay for it. (Nor can I, for that matter.)

      Reply
  26. Legal Secretary

    Allison I’m not sure if you’re aware but in order to read where the link takes you, you have to create an account and log in.

    Reply
    1. Peter

      I’m in the UK and without an account, and can read it fine. Are you a valuable customer of their content?

      Reply
  27. BritCred

    I quit a job that was causing me issues and was applying to a lesser more admin less client contact role not long after.

    I loved ain’t work back then and even expressed that in the interview. Still got the feedback that I’d done higher level jobs in the past and therefore they couldn’t possibly believe I’d do this one for long without getting bored.

    This was at the same time I was hearing fully qualified, long career accountants were taking entry level jobs due to the economy crash so I was pretty annoyed they decided I was either trying to inch my way up or was unable to make my own mind up about the complexity level of the job I was happy to do!

    Reply
  28. Milton Waddams

    #1: Hiring overqualified candidates is a flight risk. Doing it for positions where there will never be advancement opportunities is a Bad Idea.

    However, a good hiring manager is able to look beyond the not-my-jobitis of particular position hiring and at the larger demands of the company. Would a person with those skillsets be useful? Can you guarantee a path upwards to a position that is balanced to their skills, if they come up-to-speed with your company’s internals while at the lower position? If so, this can be a good opportunity to build goodwill. While some employees have no long-term memory, my experience has been that if you are willing to help them out of a bind (like avoiding eviction, a common reason for an overqualified employee to come hat-in-hand to your company) rather than exploiting it, they won’t forget it. They are more likely to become invested in your company in particular; they’ll come to the bargaining table for future promotions in the spirit of goodwill, rather than in hard-bargaining adversary mode, and if they happen to jump ship to another company (which will also become less likely once they are in a position where they aren’t underemployed), they will be more than happy to pass along candidates, recommendations, and any help really where your company and their new company aren’t in direct competition.

    Reply
  29. OlderThanDirt

    The problem with someone overqualified is not only the flight risk. In my library we’ve had two people with their MLIS degrees fill a staff IT position and resent the difference between their work conditions and the librarians so much it was an ongoing problem. The position originally required the degree because we thought it was needed to help with our particular IT requirements, but since we dropped it and hired someone with only IT experience, it’s been much better.

    We’ve also hired two people with MLIS degrees for staff manager positions, not because it’s required at all, but because the market for librarians is so difficult, many librarians are searching for any job in a library. Both managers have also been attitude problems. If they took the job hoping there would be an opening soon for a librarian and that they’d be a shoo-in, I honestly have no idea why they’d think such a thing since the aforementioned market means that we get many applications for people with years of direct experience for any post and those openings are years apart.

    I completely sympathize with people wanting any kind of work, but when you accept the job you have to work it without resentment that others have the job you’d really like to have!

    Reply
    1. Natasha

      I wonder what makes so many people want to be librarians, despite such a competitive job outlook. I say this as someone who knows nothing about the field, but I had a stray thought that information science might have overlaps with data science, which currently has more open jobs. Do you know what attributes make information science appealing?

      Reply
      1. OlderThanDirt

        Of course, I’m prejudiced, but I think it’s because libraries are appealing! Many, many people associate the library with some of their happiest times. I think if you love reading and love to talk about books and you’ve always loved coming to the library (and the feeling of going home with a stack of books!!) you naturally look around and say, “I want to work here the rest of my life!” I wanted to do it for a very long time before I was able to join the profession.

        The great shame of it all is that the libraries need more librarians, but we’re facing funding cuts everywhere. The public loves libraries, but the politicians don’t! For many years now when librarians retire, the position is retired too and replaced with part-timers and general staff. In academic libraries, we’re a cost that always needs to be monitored if not cut.

        This is probably more info that you wanted, but that’s a librarian’s besetting sin! I believe a lot of librarians read this site, so I’ll be interested in whether or not anyone else chimes in.

        Reply
  30. (Mr.) Cajun2core

    OP#1: Concerning hiring an overqualified person.

    On paper I am very overqualified for most of the jobs I apply for. However, with me there are two things to keep in mind. Right now, I am not in my preferred field. I would love to get back into it. Secondly, I am in a small university city. There are not many jobs for me with my skillset. However, my wife is a tenured professor who loves her job and does not want to move. I generally try and mention that when interviewing but sometimes I forget.

    I would love to get back into the tech field, regardless of the pay (as long as it is making what I make now, which trust me, isn’t much).

    However, I will admit as others have previously pointed out in other posts, sometimes not having the input and the authority one is used to in previous jobs can be difficult. I know it was for me when I went from a high-paying tech job (which I got laid off from) to being an office administrative support person.

    Anyway, my point being, don’t discount the over-qualified person. As others have said, there may be reasons why that person isn’t looking for a higher paying job (there may be none in that geographic area that fits there very particular skillset) and there may be a reason why they can’t move to a larger city. This is *exactly* my case.

    Also, in hiring an over-qualified person, you may get someone with a strong work-ethic (they probably wouldn’t have gotten to a high level position if they didn’t have one), someone who has made mistakes and learned from them (the importance of backups), and someone who has experience, ideas, and knowledge that a younger person may not.

    Speaking completely from frist hand experience here!

    Reply
  31. JanMA

    Arundel and Julie – One would think hiring managers would “give the candidate a chance to explain themselves” but I’ve found it virtually impossible to even get interviews, never mind the chance to explain why I’m looking for a lesser position. When they see the number of years of experience (even if your resume only goes back 15 years) they can figure out that I’m not a 30 y/o. The only explanation I can come up with that that companies 1) think they’re going to have pay a lot more $$ for someone with 20-30 years experience, or 2) the (mis?)conception that I’m only willing to take the job until something better comes along. Maddening!

    Reply
    1. Chris

      That’s exactly right… the interview is fine, it’s getting the interview in the FIRST place that’s the problem.

      Reply
  32. Chris

    I’m a librarian, and I’ve been unemployed in my field for over a year and a half. This is to a large extent because of the nature of the industry. FT library jobs are few and far between, and mostly managerial. I have years of experience, as well as a Library Science Master’s and a Master’s in History. But my experience is mostly technical and customer service, not supervisory. So the only way to get the foot in the door is through PT CS jobs. But I’ve been told point blank that “oh, you’ll just leave, you’re too qualified.” Which shows a remarkable lack of understanding of the state of the field, and I kind of want to point to my completely empty bank account and rising debt and ask them why I’m applying here if it’s so easy for me to get something better…

    Reply

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