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Grow Your Business Your Team

Want Creative, Dedicated Employees? Hire Overqualified Candidates

Want Creative, Dedicated Employees? Hire Overqualified Candidates
Credit: RawPixel/Shutterstock

Hiring managers shouldn't be so quick to eliminate overqualified candidates from consideration for new jobs. A new study in the Academy of Management Journal revealed that employees who are considered overqualified for a job can take the position in a new, positive direction.

Employees who are overqualified, up to a certain point, bring an added level of innovation and dedication to their jobs, according to the research.

"A low-to-intermediate degree of perceived underemployment may drive employees to craft their jobs actively in ways that benefit the organization," the study's authors wrote. "Recruitment managers should not turn away job applicants who are overqualified, because such individuals, if managed appropriately, may bring creativity and organizational citizenship behavior to the organization."

The degree to which someone is overqualified plays a critical role in determining whether or not they bring a unique perspective to their job. The study's authors said when underemployment is perceived as too high, employees are often not motivated enough to do their jobs. [See Related Story: Hiring Overqualified Employees Might Be Good for Your Business]

Employees who can bring a fresh perspective to how a job is done are highly valuable in today's workplace.

"Organizations today compete in a dynamic and uncertain environment in which creativity and organizational citizenship behavior are highly valuable," the study's authors wrote.

For the research, the study's authors conducted two studies of two different types of employees: school teachers and factory workers. In the first study, researchers surveyed 327 teachers at six high schools in China.

Initially the teachers were queried on how overqualified, one a scale of one to seven, they felt they were for their jobs. One week later, they were asked to what extent they had engaged in job-crafting, such as introducing new approaches of their own to the classroom, organizing special events or bringing in materials from home.

A final survey, another week later, asked the teachers to rate their creativity and organizational citizenship, which is defined as behavior that goes above and beyond the basic requirements of a job.

The researchers found that job-crafting reached its peak among those who rated themselves a five on how overqualified they felt they were for their position. The study's authors said these teachers tended to do significantly more job-crafting than their peers who saw themselves as either more or less overqualified.

The researchers said that extra job-crafting resulted in high ratings for both creativity and citizenship.

In a second study, the researchers analyzed nearly 300 electronic toy factory workers. To determine how overqualified a worker was, the study's authors had the technicians try to reproduce a model helicopter in less than 10 minutes. The number of pieces that the technicians were able to assemble in the short amount of time provided a reference to assess overqualification for this kind of work.

The technicians were then given a second task. They were asked to design and assemble, in 30 minutes, at least one toy boat patterned after a model projected on a screen. Although a single boat required at least 30 components, the workers were free to use an unlimited number of parts to produce as many boats as they wanted.

"If the workers used more than 30 pieces and assembled boats in different patterns . . . the excess number of the parts reflected the degree of self-driven effort for altering task boundary, i.e. task-crafting," the study's authors wrote.

Overall, the number of components that went into boats ranged from 36 to almost 350. The study's authors found that the technicians scoring lowest on overqualification used the fewest components, and those who were modestly overqualified employed the most, outdoing those who were considered most overqualified.

The key is finding that sweet spot between being barely overqualified and extremely overqualified. Jing Zhou, one of the study's authors and a professor at Rice University, said that, unfortunately, there is no magic point, no one-size-fits-all answer.

"First and foremost, employees need to perform their jobs well, but, once that is made clear, they should have discretion to engage in job-crafting, which, our paper shows, spurs creativity," Zhou said in a statement. "A manager should not try to push someone into job-crafting – it’s the employee’s choice to do it or not – but if they want to do it, they should have that freedom, with supervisors monitoring, coaching, and advising as needed."

The study was co-authored by Bilian Lin and Kenneth S. Law of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.

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