Overqualified Employees

  • If your recruiting efforts attract job applicants with too much experience—a near certainty in this weak labor market—you should consider a response that runs counter to most hiring managers’ MO: Don’t reject those applicants out of hand. Instead, take a closer look. New research shows that overqualified workers tend to perform better than other employees, and they don’t quit any sooner. Furthermore, a simple managerial tactic—empowerment—can mitigate any dissatisfaction they may feel.

    The prejudice against too-good employees is pervasive. Companies tend to prefer an applicant who is a “perfect fit” over someone who brings more intelligence, education, or experience than needed. On the surface, this bias makes sense: Studies have consistently shown that employees who consider themselves overqualified exhibit higher levels of discontent. For example, over-qualification correlated well with job dissatisfaction in a 2008 study of 156 call-center reps by Israeli researchers Saul Fine and Baruch Nevo. And unlike discrimination based on age or gender, declining to hire overqualified workers is perfectly legal.

    But even before the economic downturn, a surplus of overqualified candidates was a global problem, particularly in developing economies, where rising education levels are giving workers more skills than are needed to supply the growing service sectors. If managers can get beyond the conventional wisdom, the growing pool of too-good applicants is a great opportunity. Berrin Erdogan and Talya N. Bauer of Portland State University in Oregon found that overqualified workers’ feelings of dissatisfaction can be dissipated by giving them autonomy in decision making. At stores where employees didn’t feel empowered, “overeducated” workers expressed greater dissatisfaction than their colleagues did and were more likely to state an intention to quit. But that difference vanished where self-reported autonomy was high.

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