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Should You Hire Overqualified Candidates?

Two of your candidates have made it into the final round of the selection process. And since you have only one available position, you’ll have to make a commitment to one candidate and say goodbye to the other. In almost all ways, the two are equal contenders; they’re both pleasant, they’re both hard-working, and either one will fit right in with the culture of this company and get along well with your clients. But there’s one essential difference: Candidate X holds exactly the requirements and credentials listed in the job post, and Candidate Y offers quite a bit more.

You asked for a bachelor’s degree, which X earned just two years ago. Y holds a Masters and several certifications. You asked for at least two years of experience; X can offer exactly that. Y has been actively engaged in this field for eight years, and two of those years have been spent at the management level. X is interested in working directly with clients, which the job will entail. X has already worked with a wide range of clients across several market sectors. X can do the job. Y can do it better.

This may seem like an easy decision, but before you let X go and hand the job to Y, think twice. Consider these additional possibilities.


Overqualified candidates can be more expensive. If you intend to offer annual cost-of-living and performance-based raises, you may be offering these on a percentage basis, so taking on a candidate at a discount will keep paying off over the years. Overpaying at the start may lead to budget problems a few years down the road. Before you hire Candidate Y, get a sense of the salary range she expects.

Personal Conflict

Overqualified candidates often struggle to accept the authority of those who are younger, less experienced, and less knowledgeable (and rightly so). Before you make your decision, ask Candidate Y about her willingness to accept the status quo instead of pushing for change. Be direct and honest as you do so.


Overqualified candidates often set low sights during the job search so they can land a position—any position—and maintain an income while they continue searching for something better. Is Candidate Y prepared to stay with you for at least one year? Again, just ask her. Be direct. If she hesitates to commit, strike a deal and find out what you can offer that might help maintain her interest. If you aren’t in a position to negotiate, Candidate X may be a wiser bet.

For more on how to navigate the details of your staffing and selection process, reach out to the management experts at PSU.