The Single Biggest Lie That HR Tells Candidates

No one ever wants to admit this but it can be really intimidating working with someone who is way smarter and more talented than you.

This is the basis for the biggest lie HR tells candidates.

You are overqualified!

We’ve told this lie for decades

Truth be told, no one is ever “overqualified” for a position. You might have more qualifications than the organization needs for the position you are interviewing for, but that really isn’t the issue. The issue is the person doing the interviewing is scared that you are better than they are.

Back in the day, HR pros and hiring managers were trained to give the excuse to overqualified people that we won’t hire you because you’re overqualified and we are scared that you won’t stay in this position and that you won’t be satisfied.

Yeah, right! It’s not that we don’t want you! It’s that you won’t want us because you’re so talented that you’ll get bored with this position and leave.

It’s such a lie, and yet, for decades we just accepted it as truth.

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Being overqualified isn’t a negative, it’s a blessing! Companies should be bending over backwards to get overqualified hires. We no longer live in a culture where people are going to stay in the job for 40 years. If you can get a good 3 to 4 years out of hires, you’re doing great.

You simply need to take the best and most qualified person you can get for every position you have in your organization and let them do great things. Being worried the person will won’t be “engaged” long-term is silly. That’s not for you to worry about. Just hire great talent and get out of their way.

Hire better and you’ll get better

The bigger reality we face in most organizations is we aren’t hiring “overqualified” people because hiring managers are intimidated to hire someone who is better, or who could become better than they are. This is the mentality we must change in our organizations.

You can’t get better if you don’t hire better. Hiring under the level of talent you have now is a slow slide to becoming an organization no one wants to work for.Overqualified

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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12 Comments on “The Single Biggest Lie That HR Tells Candidates

  1. I agree with the sentiment that hiring “overqualifieds” is usually a good thing, but holy cow what an incredibly cynical bunch of nonsense — the “biggest lie”?? EVERY single case of not hiring someone whose experience are far beyond what’s needed is because EVERY hiring manager/HR person is “afraid to work with” people smarter than they are? That’s a sad world you’re living in.

  2. I usually agree with most things you say, Tim, but this time? Not so much. The two major factors in not hiring someone “overqualified” are 1: they demand far more compensation than someone with less qualifications and 2: they will be gone the second they have the opportunity. I have people with master’s degrees applying for entry level admin positions. First, they aren’t going to be satisfied with entry level pay. Second, I want them to stay 3-5 years, but I’d be lucky if they stay 3-5 weeks. Unless they are just desperate to change career paths (and I’m good with that), you know they won’t be with you long enough for the ink to dry on their employment contract.

  3. Don’t hire “overqualified” people and you can’t promote from within. (No one wants folk who can move up and do bigger/better things for their company?)

  4. I disagree. Overqualified hires puts employee and employer in a frustrating spot right out of the gate. Ask LeBron James to play on a middle school basketball team and it’s not fun for anyone.

  5. I hate articles that generalize people in a certain profession. Not “all” of us say that to candidates. I have never used that word, I think it’s offensive. My job as recruiter is to get to know my applicants and why they want that particular role, and if it looks like a step down from what they were doing, dig a little deeper into their motivation, what they want to do next in their jobs, and also understand their salary requirements (the latter is what often get “overqualified” candidates in trouble because some think they shouldn’t have to take a pay cut even though the work is at a lower level). A good recruiter knows people and can figure out if the person is genuinely committed to that level of work/role versus using it as a stepping stone or placeholder til they find something at their level. I’ve seen both happen, and both recruiters and candidates have to get real about what’s needed to do the job, what the pay should look like, and being forthright about their concerns. Candidates who have been in high level job looking for a lower level position need to be transparent about why they don’t want to be at that level. It’s perfectly OK to say “I want to get back to hands-on work” or “I’ve done X for 10 years, and now I really want to do something different in the industry” or whatever that reason is – as long as it’s honest. And it’s also important for hiring managers to be clued in – recruiters and HR often get the full blame for hiring decisions when much of the time they are simply echoing what the hiring manager told them as why they’re a no. That partnership internally has got to be rock solid so that candidates get the real deal.

    1. There are big differences between what people “should” do and what they actually do. Recruiters don’t normally report to the candidates they screen, nor are they expected to be technically superior to experienced HR job-seekers or wiser than experts in arcane areas. Top talent tends to be most engaged and quickest to move as well, because they have higher career ambitions that frequently exceed their employer of the moment. If hiring managers consistently under-hired due to fear of being surpassed, no organization would survive long enough to become mature.

  6. I hate articles that generalize people in a certain profession. Not “all” of us say that to candidates. I have never used that word, I think it’s offensive. My job as recruiter is to get to know my applicants and why they want that particular role, and if it looks like a step down from what they were doing, dig a little deeper into their motivation, what they want to do next in their jobs, and also understand their salary requirements (the latter is what often get “overqualified” candidates in trouble because some think they shouldn’t have to take a pay cut even though the work is at a lower level). A good recruiter knows people and can figure out if the person is genuinely committed to that level of work/role versus using it as a stepping stone or placeholder til they find something at their level. I’ve seen both happen, and both recruiters and candidates have to get real about what’s needed to do the job, what the pay should look like, and being forthright about their concerns. Candidates who have been in high level job looking for a lower level position need to be transparent about why they don’t want to be at that level. It’s perfectly OK to say “I want to get back to hands-on work” or “I’ve done X for 10 years, and now I really want to do something different in the industry” or whatever that reason is – as long as it’s honest. And it’s also important for hiring managers to be clued in – recruiters and HR often get the full blame for hiring decisions when much of the time they are simply echoing what the hiring manager told them as why they’re a no. That partnership internally has got to be rock solid so that candidates get the real deal.

    1. There are big differences between what people “should” do and what they actually do. Recruiters don’t normally report to the candidates they screen, nor are they expected to be technically superior to experienced HR job-seekers or wiser than experts in arcane areas. Top talent tends to be most engaged and quickest to move as well, because they have higher career ambitions that frequently exceed their employer of the moment. If hiring managers consistently under-hired due to fear of being surpassed, no organization would survive long enough to become mature.

  7. The reader below has hands down just qualified what the author is saying. Generalised assumptions for peoples motivations. “A good recruiter ‘knows’ people….’ bollocks! Also isn’t every ambitious person using their current roles as a stepping stone to the next step in their career? If you applied that logic to every candidate you wouldn’t have any candidates. Just because some one has a wealth of experience and qualification doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to move on any faster than a lesser ‘qualified’ candidate who wants to pay off their mortgage faster or any other plethora of reasons people move on from their roles. I agree with Tim the “over qualified” is a big lie.

  8. The reader below has hands down just qualified what the author is saying. Generalised assumptions for peoples motivations. “A good recruiter ‘knows’ people….’ bollocks! Also isn’t every ambitious person using their current roles as a stepping stone to the next step in their career? If you applied that logic to every candidate you wouldn’t have any candidates. Just because some one has a wealth of experience and qualification doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to move on any faster than a lesser ‘qualified’ candidate who wants to pay off their mortgage faster or any other plethora of reasons people move on from their roles. I agree with Tim the “over qualified” is a big lie.

  9. Wish I could believe you, Tim, but my experience both as a young recruiter and now an acknowledged (but unemployed) guru is otherwise. As one currently living that nightmare that I predicted long ago http://www.compensationcafe.com/2010/09/passing-over-overqualified-candidates.html, I had forgotten how much discussion this topic generates. Your recommendations are good for temp agencies and contract assignments but won’t adequately address other employers. Yes, inferiority complexes can be one reason for rejection, but fear of quick quits, concern re stubbornness and anxiety about arrogance are more likely. PLEASE prove me wrong, because I’ve been looking long and hard without any luck, myself.

  10. Wish I could believe you, Tim, but my experience both as a young recruiter and now an acknowledged (but unemployed) guru is otherwise. As one currently living that nightmare that I predicted long ago http://www.compensationcafe.com/2010/09/passing-over-overqualified-candidates.html, I had forgotten how much discussion this topic generates. Your recommendations are good for temp agencies and contract assignments but won’t adequately address other employers. Yes, inferiority complexes can be one reason for rejection, but fear of quick quits, concern re stubbornness and anxiety about arrogance are more likely. PLEASE prove me wrong, because I’ve been looking long and hard without any luck, myself.

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