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Interviewing Overqualified Applicants

By Nick Roy, MBA, MAHRM
Owner and Editor, HR Horizons

A manager of a small business recently posted a job opening for a mostly clerical type job. A degree is not required and generally neither is judgment. She also put the level of compensation clearly on the job posting and worked very hard to not over exaggerate the importance of the position.

The problem is that nearly every applicant so far has been what I would consider overqualified. Most have a degree of some sort and have extensive work experience. She says that she not necessarily opposed to hiring someone overqualified people but she fears that once they get hired that they will be either unhappy or they will leave as soon as something better comes along.

She started thinking about how to word interview questions so that she can weed out those who will jump ship as soon as something better comes along and who will stick around. She doesn't think flat out asking will get an honest answer (as I have interviewed for jobs myself and can't imagine telling an interviewer something like that.)

This is a very common situation in a very competitive labor market. There are a number of factors are at play here. Who's to say what's overqualified? Is this a code word for ageism -- you're too old? If you're afraid someone is going to use your company as a resume builder and then move on, maybe it's time to do a market survey of salaries and get competitive. There are people that may see your company as attractive and would sweep floors just to get in the door. Not everyone's career is a smooth elevator ride to the top. Sometimes it's more like the kid's game "Chutes and Ladders" -- you move two spaces forward, land at the wrong place, and you're "downsized/rightsized" back three steps. So now you're "overqualified" but willing to do a great job for a company that will give you a chance. One of the reaons people hate HR and why HR professionals can't get a "seat at the table," is that HR people act like fortune tellers who can predict who'll be with the company 10 years from now (assuming HR hasn't downsized, rightsized, or resized them).

First, if your company is seen as an employer of choice, then people will see the position as a foot in the door. They will want to work for your organization in any capacity.

Secondly, many communities in the U.S. have a very low crime rate, universities, and several smaller colleges, arts, and sports teams which are criteria for most people who want to raise a family. Example of such communities exist in the state of Hawaii, which currently has unemployment rate of only 3.2 percent. People want to raise families in these types of communities are willing to accept positions below their qualifications in order to do so. These are the types of people that don't care how much they are paid as long as they are happy. A happy employee is a productive employee.

Most importantly, you should still make sure that the candidate agrees with the company's mission, philosophy and goals as that is where retention lives. At the same time be honest with the applicant; if there is very little opportunity for advancement, tell them. If they seek challenge, outline the kinds of challenges they are likely to face.

You also may find that people are looking for work that doesn't demand 60-80 hours per week of their time. I know several people who have left management for administrative positions so they could spend more time with their family.

I have left the corporate environment where I was an Assistant Grocery Manager. Since then I have operated all my companies from my home. I first was starting with a web design company with up to 15 employees at any given time, to my current HR consulting business with 3 employees. I have following in the footsteps of one of my friends in Hawaii who operates a successful mortgage broker business from his home Hawaii Kai. This is one of the most serene places to live and work in Hawaii away from the stress filled city limits.

There are many reasons why highly qualified people apply for more entry level jobs, including changes in their family life that might be requiring more time and energy than they have to give to a higher-level position. Or, they may be looking at making a career change, and are aware that some of their skills are transferable but are not sure about others.

Verify that the individual has read the job description (and be sure to provide one at the interview). You can also ask what it is about the position that has attracted them. You can also ask about what other types of positions they are applying for, including other companies, to get a better idea of whether they are just fishing for anything in a tight labor market, or are targeting a specific position or business type.

Keep in mind that as the baby boomer generation begins to retire, we are going to be faced with filling more and more positions with people who may have work experience and education that exceeds the job requirements. However, this also provides opportunities for organizations to re-evaluate positions to provide more growth and development opportunities for the incumbent to improve productivity levels without having to increase staffing levels.

With that in mind, there is yet another option here, and that is to create casual (on-call) positions for the baby boomers who are about to retire, and offer them these positions to keep them on board on a limited bases. Casual (on-call) positions are mostly found in the hospitality and retail industries. Examples of such companies that use casual positions include: Hilton Hawaiian Village, Sheraton Waikiki, Foodland, and Safeway. Baby boomers who are offered these types of positions can still enjoy semi-retirement, keep their skills fresh in case they want to come out of retirement, as well as keeping key skills with the organization.

About the Author:
Nick Roy is an HR Researcher, Consultant, and freelance business writer. He currently holds a Master of Business Administration and Master of Arts in Human Resources Management from Hawaii Pacific University, and a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management from Florida Metropolitan University, Fort Lauderdale. He is also currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Organizational Change from Hawaii Pacific University, with theses research on “The Impact of Technology on Human Resources and Organization Effectiveness.”

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