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How to evaluate “overqualified” candidates

A number of people in our network recently forwarded us an article on CNN.com about jobseekers being labeled as “overqualified.” It got us thinking about how nonprofits can best consider these candidates who bring more seniority than required to an open position.

As many hiring organizations are in the unique position these days of having too many resumes for their open positions, it’s tempting to instantly disqualify candidates who, at a glance, do not appear to be a match the expected profile for an open position.

So when a resume reads “20 years of experience in…” for a position that only requires 5 years of experience, you may be tempted to slide that resume to the bottom of the pile.

However, before discounting candidates based on their years of work experience or seeming “over-qualification,” there are a few things you may want to consider:

1. Establish the core criteria of a position – for example the required skills and type of previous experience – and stick with it when screening applicants. If an “overexperienced” candidate clearly demonstrates success against your criteria, then he’s probably a good fit after all. (Note: this is a best practice for evaluating all of your candidates.)

2. Avoid making assumptions, such as “this person will be unhappy in this position,” “we’ll never be able to afford this person’s salary,” or “someone at this level isn’t a good fit for this role.”

3. Just because someone has held senior management or other leadership roles, don’t penalize her in advance for applying to a front line or mid-management role. (Remember, leaders are team players too.) Again, look for evidence of fit in the applicant’s experience and skills, not simply in their former job titles.

4. When considering candidates who have more years of work experience than required for a job, one question that often comes up for hiring managers is “why would this person want to do this job?” Look for answers in the applicant’s cover letter, or probe on this during a phone interview. There are most likely valid reasons why he’s drawn to your open position or organization.

5. At the end of a good conversation, delve into what it’s really like working at your organization. Paint an honest picture of the role. For example, if you’re concerned that an experienced candidate won’t “roll up his sleeves and jump in,” make it clear that this is an essential part of the role, as well as your organization’s culture.

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