One of my favorite cartoon characters is The Wizard of Id. A few years ago I read one of the Wizard’s cartoon strips and it made such a profound impression I cut it out and saved it. Darn! I have misplaced it over the years. However, I can remember the script almost word for word verbatim.
After completing an interview for a job, the Wizard is standing in front of the HR manager. The HR manager says: “We can’t hire you. You’re over qualified.” The Wizard, looking very perplexed, responds: “Just give me the job and I promise to act as stupid as all the rest of you.”
WOW. The wisdom from the Wizard is awesome. Let’s dig a little deeper into this issue. Almost everyone can relate to the story. After having an interview, time after time, the candidate is told he/she is overqualified.
When you start to think about this carefully, there is absolutely no intelligence behind the decision to only hire “qualified” people. Why shouldn’t every corporation hire talent that is extraordinarily qualified for a position? And in fact, the candidate may possess qualifications way beyond what are necessary.
The usual boilerplate excuses are:
- “They will only work for us for a short period of time until they find something better.”
- “They will not be satisfied at the compensation level we are willing to pay them.”
- “We cannot pay them more than we have budgeted.”
- “They will not work well within our corporate culture, probably making the other employees feel uncomfortable.”
- “They will be difficult to manage since they will be working at a level far below their capabilities.”
- “They will not be happy in the job since it will not be challenging for them.”
I have done extensive research on this subject, having conducted thousands of salary negotiations on behalf of my clients over the past 18 years. I have also interviewed countless HR managers, department supervisors and senior executives on this subject.
I have come to the conclusion that the overwhelming real reason is direct supervisors feel intimidated by having staff that may be superior in their talent then that supervisor. The supervisors feel threatened by talented, overqualified, staff persons. They think that the talented persons may make the supervisors look bad, or, may, in fact, cause the supervisors to be fired and take over their jobs. A frightening thought for the supervisors.
Therefore, corporations have policies that, perhaps unconsciously, weed out exceptional talent, hiring only the “qualified” person.
Progressive organizations, and I might add, the most successful organizations, hire the best talent possible. They recognize that the “overqualified” person can probably bring motivation, ideas, efficiencies, wisdom, maturity and competence that is priceless. It is a value proposition that an organization should embrace.
Let’s look at some of the “objections” to hiring overqualified people, as shallow as those objections may be.
- If a person is overqualified, perhaps, because of the economy, they are willing to work at a lower compensation or job level then they have been accustomed to. Maybe they will only stay for three to six months. But in that period of time they will probably bring more value to the company than the qualified person would bring in three to six years. I would personally take that overqualified person in a heart beat.
- Or perhaps the overqualified person has had a great career and has reached a decision that they want to “slow down” a little bit. Maybe they don’t want to travel as much and would welcome the opportunity to have regular hours…even spend evenings and weekends with the kids….or grandkids.
- Maybe a young college graduate would be perfect for a bank teller job. In today’s tough economy, they haven’t been able to find another job. Yep, he/she is overqualified for the bank teller position. But that person would probably bring an energy, enthusiasm, and intelligence to the job that would be assets to the bank. And that person could potentially be the future leadership for that bank.
- Another example might be the senior executive who cannot find another high level opportunity because of the lack of top positions. So they apply for a job as a regional manager or department head. Time after time they are turned down because they are overqualified. In my humble opinion, they should be hired immediately. The value proposition they could bring to the company in terms of innovation, efficiencies, expertise and maturity might be worth hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars in new revenue, productivity, or cost savings.
Further, I just read a post on a blog by Steven Burningham, a financial services leader. He presents another outstanding perspective on hiring overqualified people.
So what about that intimidated supervisor?
The answer is simple, but the solution can be somewhat more difficult to achieve. A visionary organization should implement training programs to teach supervisors how to manage talented and overqualified executives. They should focus on how to leverage that talent as best as they possibly can. Even if the talent leaves after several months, the company should do everything possible to benefit from their expertise. Perhaps the talented people can be transferred to other positions at higher levels as opportunities present themselves.
Part of the training should help the supervisor understand that if they hire exceptionally talented people, then they make themselves look good. They will be perceived as outstanding supervisors and leaders which will contribute to their own professional growth. As the old saying goes: “I don’t have to be smart, I just have to hire smart people.”
So I would like to challenge hiring executives to examine their hiring practices. Do you want an organization that is filled with “Dilbert” clones, or are you willing to seek out exceptional talent that is probably overqualified, but that can invigorate an organization and drive accelerated growth? The answer should be simple, but the majority will take the path of least resistance.
Seek out the best and the brightest. Challenge conventional thinking. Today’s tough economy requires that you do so. Don’t let talent end up at the competitor’s doorstep. Forward thinking, progressive organizations will be the winners.
This article was originally posted on Corporate Warriors.
About The Author: Don Straits founded Corporate Warriors more than 18 years ago, and has dedicated his career to helping people develop strategies to support their careers. If you would like to contact Don for coaching or seminar work, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find his website here.