The nonsense of not hiring the over-qualified

In a recent edition of the Harvard Business Review, there was an article that caught my eye. The age old myth of – Bob would have been great for the role, but he’s just too qualified – was given a good run for its money. They made the case, and presented evidence of companies that do it, that this is a falsehood we shouldn’t be blind-sided by. The case goes something like this. We assume that someone with a high qualification will be get bored or won’t feel utilised because they’re so highly qualified/skilled. They could do well in the post, it’s just more likely that they’ll still be searching for a new job as soon as they’ve started. Accepted wisdom, right?

Here’s what HBR goes on to say. In fact, these overqualified individuals are exactly the kind of person you should be looking to hire, and there are some compelling reasons to do this. Research has found that they won’t be quickly seeking to move on, they’re just keen to get on and do a good job. Importantly though, they have every incentive to do a good job. Why? Because they’re already motivated to do a good job. With their qualifications, their big brains are simply bursting with information they are waiting to use. They’ve sat through all the lectures and high level thinking they need to make you proud. They’re waiting to produce insights and improve working practices, because they’ve been taught how to! And you don’t want to hire them?

Let’s think about the other benefits then. They won’t be leaving to do their further studies, because they’ve already had the motivation to get off their backsides and do it themselves. With their own cash. And most likely when they were working part time. So what do we understand from this? That they are highly motivated individuals who are more than worth their salt. That means you’re likely to get 4-5 years out of them until they start to get itchy feet. Treat them well during this time, and they’ll likely stay longer. Treat them mean, and you’re probably experiencing other problems aren’t you?

The cost saving you will make on hiring someone already qualified is significant. Supporting someone to go through a post grad degree can cost a business anywhere between £4000-£20000. If your incumbent leaves to join Company Y because they’re after career progression, you then have a hiring cost you have to factor in. Anywhere between 12%-20% of the salary? If we assume a salary of £27k that’s somewhere between £3240-£5400. And atop these there will be lost days to studies, exams, and if you’re a kind employer, resources for studying too. Right, so you don’t want to hire someone who is over-qualified because your team members are doing a good job of things, and they won’t leave or ask to study further?

So, if you’re thinking at the end of this ‘Oh, but everyone knows this is true’, then challenge that line of thinking. I dare you. If you don’t want to challenge the way you think about hiring those who are over-qualified, it’s cos you are lazy and you don’t want to consider what rich resources are ready made waiting to help your business succeed.

As an aside, have you heard of Peter Hros? He has a BSc and MSc in Human Resource Management, is an Associate of the CIPD and is working towards a Chartered Masters upgrade. This post is in honour of Peter. Everything I’ve written above captures (I hope) why he should be hired. He’s immensely keen to get into HR, but is constantly faced with the ‘sorry, you’re too qualified’ answer, which is just crap. If you are looking for someone to work in HR, then please give him due consideration.

UPDATE 24/07/14

Peter did get a job a short while after this post, but not because of this post.