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Grow Your Business Your Team

Think Twice Before Passing On Hiring 'Overqualified' Employees

If your business is thinking of hiring this new year, you may find yourself flooded with candidates who you might normally consider to be overqualified. Before you toss them in the recycling bin, however, you should consider new research that dispels the myth that overqualified job applicants are easily bored or prone to quit. The bottom line is that intelligent workers benefit companies.

“A manager trying to fill a job that demands less-than-top-level smarts should never reject a candidate out of hand just because the applicant’s score on the company’s intelligence tests labels him or her as smarter than the job requires,” said Anthony Nyberg, an assistant professor of management at the University of South Carolina. “If anything, our research suggests that such a candidate could be expected to stay longer and perform better than an applicant whose scores make him supposedly a better fit.”

That may provide hope to millions out of work. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment reached 9.8 percent in November, meaning 15 million Americans are seeking employment.

The faulty and pervasive assumption among made by managers has been reinforced in the courts, Nyberg said.

“To make matters worse, courts have upheld the legality of discriminating against applicants who are ‘too smart,’” he said. “This kind of thinking has no doubt tossed more than a few layoff victims into the ranks of the long-term unemployed, a group that now constitutes nearly half of all U.S. jobless.”

Nyberg’s findings are based on the analysis of more than 5,000 adults’ labor-force behavior over a 25-year period in a nationwide U.S. sample. The data were taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

He found that in positions with low cognitive demands, as defined by the federal government, which would include garbage collectors or car washers, employees with higher cognitive ability were less likely than others to voluntarily leave. Moreover, Nyberg said, in predicting job departure, the most mentally demanding jobs produced job dissatisfaction at three times the rate of the simplest jobs.

Nyberg said high-intelligence job candidates have many reasons for seeking a simple job. It could be for a lifestyle or health choice, an affinity for a company’s values or the simple need of earning a paycheck. He said rather than automatically rejecting an applicant who is overqualified, a hiring manager should probe to understand the applicant’s rationale.

The study was co-authored with Mark Maltarich, St. Ambrose University, and Greg Reilly, University of Connecticut and will be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology this fall.

Jeanette Mulvey
Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.