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Posted by CareerBuilder UK on 8 March 2016 in Recruiter Advice, Communication, Interviews | No Comment

overqualified_march2016_843x474_221213140.jpgCandidates repeatedly apply for vacancies for which they are overqualified. We explain why employers should not reject them prematurely and why it is better to take a second look.

"Why should we hire an overqualified applicant? Surely the risk that he or she will very quickly become frustrated and leave the company is too high?" These thoughts and the following ones go through the minds of HR decision makers when they are looking at an application from someone who is overqualified:

  • The applicant is so desperate that he or she is prepared to do any job.
  • The applicant will leave as soon as he or she finds a job appropriate to their abilities.
  • The applicant has not really thought about the job properly.
  • The applicant will be bored and dissatisfied with the job.
  • The applicant will not fit into the team due to his or her experience and skills.
  • The applicant will directly undermine the boss or team leader.

At first glance, these fears are justified. Particularly if the applicant's motives and goals are not clear from the application. Making a new appointment costs the company a lot of time and money; and, whilst the position is vacant, either the tasks associated with the job are not done, or they have to be performed by other members of staff. The aim is therefore to retain an applicant and future employee beyond the initial learning period; and, in the medium term, to offer opportunities for advancement within the company.

Why do overqualified people apply?

To understand an overqualified applicant's motives, employers should take a closer look and, most importantly, use the interview to find out more about what is behind the application and what the applicant's goals are.

It's possible to differentiate between three basic types of applicants:

  • "Over-modest": the applicant is not aware of being overqualified for the position in question. He underestimates his experience and skills.
  • "Downshifter": the applicant is aware of his skills and has made a conscious decision to apply for this position.
  • "Uninformed": the applicant has misinterpreted the job advert. He considers the requirements and responsibilities to be greater than they actually are.


Often, and particularly after a long period of job hunting, the applicant loses sight of his or her real value, as well as the skills acquired and personal resources available. Rejections literally chisel away at one's self confidence. The result: one's own expectations are lowered and the applicant focuses on jobs lower down the organisation, or that are less demanding. In the long run, this unwittingly overqualified applicant will most probably become bored with the vacant position.

But these applicants are still of interest to the company because they often possess a lot of know-how and offer great development potential. The advertised vacancy can serve as an entry point and springboard to a subsequent position in the company.


This type of applicant knows what he or she wants. They are aware of being overqualified. They have acquired a lot of experience during their career and have gone through a period of self-reflection. They know their personal and professional values and goals, and have consciously decided to cut down on work: perhaps because they wish to spend more time with the family, forgoing the next step on the career ladder and more money. Perhaps also because they have more important values in life than power, status and money at work.

It is highly likely that a “downshifter” will master the requirements of the vacancy with flying colours, and can be profitably deployed within a very short time. But integration into an existing team can be problematic because colleagues will quickly realise that he or she thinks and acts differently, as a result of previous experience. Here it is important to communicate clearly the reason for the appointment, as well as deliberately demonstrating a continued high regard for the performance of the entire team. That way, no one in the old team will feel neglected.

People downshifting bring a high level of inherent motivation to their new job. In addition to the line manager, they can serve as a role model to colleagues within an existing team.


The situation surrounding the "uninformed" applicant is more difficult. If the person is aware of their own high level of skills, the job will probably be of little interest once the exact responsibilities and requirements become apparent. The candidate will recognise he or she is too good for it and that it could be a retrograde career move. There is a very high probability that the candidate will withdraw from the application process following the interview.

If applicants are not aware of their own skills or the actual job contents at the time of the application, there is a very high risk that they will quickly realise they are not sufficiently challenged and will become bored with the position. But these "uninformed” overqualified applicants still offer great potential - but not for the advertised vacancy.

As an employer, you might like to consider whether the applicant is suitable for another position in the organisation. Explain the requirements and contents of the job for which the applicant has applied, and your assessment of the situation. Discuss alternative employment opportunities within your organisation if applicable.

Understanding motives and sounding out opportunities

Every applicant that you, as an employer, judge to be overqualified for a position, by definition, brings with them more professional know-how and/or experience than the vacancy requires. Often hidden behind these applications are either unpolished diamonds or people who are consciously looking for this specific move.

So don't just put these applications to one side as being "unsuitable", but take a different view and check what the motivation is behind the application from the applicant's perspective.

Image: © Prasit Rodphan - Shutterstock.com