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Job Search Secrets
This Manager’s Post About Overqualified Candidates is a Must-Read for Anyone on the Job Search
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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
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If you’re in the position to hire for an entry-level job, you may well encounter people with amazing qualifications — so amazing that you wonder if they’re really a good fit for the job.

That’s the situation Anonymous found themselves in recently. So, they went looking for some advice in the Fairygodboss Community forums, asking:

“We are hiring a Marketing Assistant and have invited a few of the candidates in for a interview-questions">second interview….We have someone who is seemingly overqualified for the position. Super sharp guy applying for an entry-level position. What are some good questions to ask him? I am concerned that he is going to be bored in this position so I really want to explore that area without overtly saying, ‘YOU WILL BE BORED.’”

The question sparked a lively discussion. Many urged hiring managers to consider the reasons why someone with experience might be applying for an entry-level job.

“It could be that he desperately needs a job due to COVID, OR it could be that he's burnt out,” Tara C. wrote. “I am seeing a TON of this right now with people; there are a lot of life changes happening because people are reorganizing their priorities. Ask him; you may be pleasantly surprised that he's looking for exactly what you're offering, and you end up with someone who is a better fit than you expected.”

Most FGBers agreed that candidates should be prepared to answer questions about why they want an entry-level job at this point in their career. This is critical advice for anyone on the job search right now who has expertise and is looking for a role that fits their experience — or is a comfortable lateral move. 

“I would simply caution...that sometimes hiring an overqualified candidate can lead to the individual creating complexity in the organization….A second-round interview question could be ‘Tell me about a time where you saw the need for improvements in your organization; how did you determine the best course of action to drive the improvement forward?’" suggested Krista Skalde.

“Ask your overqualified applicant what has drawn him to the job, how it relates to his prior work and how he would deal with the limited scope/decision-making authority,” said Anonymous. “And don’t assume he’ll be bored. If he’s not working in a secure job or wants a change for another reason, he’ll probably be excited to be hired by your company.”

“I am really glad that you are considering what questions to ask to better understand this individual instead of deciding for him that he's overqualified,” Krista Haugner Sieg agreed. Some I like:

  • What excites (or draws) you about this role?

  • What (assuming the person is from an outside company) interests you about the company?

  • It looks like you've had a depth of experience doing X; what have you learned that you could apply to this role/teach your peers/help us improve?”

Many of those who chimed in urged both hiring managers and candidates to be upfront about expectations for the job.

“I stepped back from a senior role 18 months ago because I was caring for two infirm 90-year olds who lived, and still live, in separate dwellings,” wrote BetterEveryDay. “I'm so grateful that my new boss saw past me being too qualified and asked me for my story.”

“I'd be fairly direct about what the role actually is—make sure he understands the day-to-day requirements and what he'd be doing,” Krystin said. “If he still wants to continue after that, great! If not, he can pull out of the process.”

“The best thing you can do is be transparent with him,” Liz Terry agreed. “Does your company often move people up or have lots of openings annually? Are you hoping he will stay for a certain amount of time before moving to something else? I would even say, ‘This position is entry level and you clearly have lots of experience. Is there a reason you want this particular job?’"

Some cautioned others to avoid being demeaning or overlooking highly qualified candidates.

“He or she may be a great addition to your company to help evolve the position and department. They may also serve as a great mentor to his colleagues,” Karleen Leveille wrote.

Amy Pasquale agreed, “I would say keep an open mind here—you might be on the verge of a huge gift.”

“To me this term equates with ageism and is used too often to maintain an air of equality in the interview process,” opined Alison Swerdloff. “It feels to me that companies want to hire younger employees instead of seasoned professionals.”

“Here's the basic truth: if you dismiss someone because they're ‘overqualified,’ you're probably losing out on a treasure,” Wendy Dackson said. 

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