Bench building Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

General managers in pro sports often pad their rosters midseason with all-star caliber talent simply because it’s available. They may not work out the details about how well the new players will fit in with the team, but they do make sure that those players don’t end up playing for their division rivals.

Today’s record unemployment levels have swelled the ranks of highly talented job candidates, meaning corporate hiring managers are finding themselves in a situation similar to the sports GMs — either hire and integrate “overqualified” prospects into lower-level positions or pass these blue-chippers on to your competitors.

“Excluding these candidates simply over fear that they won’t stay can mean the difference between acquiring the talent to help you move the organization to the next level or getting left behind by your competition who did choose to capitalize on that talent,” says Anthony Van De Wall, PHR, human resources manager for Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. “You should be thinking in terms of whether or not they possess the competencies and skill sets required to do the job.”

Smart Business spoke with Van De Wall to bust the myths around the term “overqualified” and to learn how companies with an eye on cultural fit are successfully loading their rosters with overqualified candidates.

Are the beliefs people have around hiring candidates with too much experience based on fact or folklore?

Even folklore may have kernels of fact in it. When it comes to hiring seemingly overqualified candidates, companies have had varying degrees of experiences — some of them good, some of them not so good. Managers have loosely used the term ‘overqualified’ to rule out a candidate who, in their opinion, may not be a good fit. Because of the candidate’s level of experience, past title or previous positions they may have held, the manager may believe the candidate will not find the new position to be challenging enough, so they won’t stay.

In some rare cases, a hiring manager may even shy away from this talent because of his or her own insecurity or fear that the new talent may outshine them. But whatever the reason, the pitfall really comes when employers allow those negative conceptions to shape their entire view of this viable segment of job candidates.

How are overqualified candidates different from qualified candidates?

I shy away from using the word ‘overqualified.’ My opinion is that this term is actually a misnomer. When you create a job description, you list the required minimum qualifications and competencies for a job. You never list the maximum qualifications and competencies. So when you think about it, an applicant is either qualified or they’re not. Candidates whose skill sets and experience exceed those required to do the job may have either personal or professional reasons for pursuing a position that others may consider a step down.

In those cases, whether you feel the candidate is qualified or overqualified, the real question moves to whether they can be a good cultural fit for your organization. Behavioral event interviews (BEIs) can be extremely helpful in pulling out that information. Effectively conducted, the BEI can even help you identify the perceived qualified candidate who is not a good cultural fit.

Can hiring an overqualified candidate serve as a low-risk trial run for future promotions?

On-boarding a highly competent candidate can help you identify potential future leaders in your organization. You get a chance to see their leadership skills and innovative thinking in practical application, and it can be an ideal setting for the employer to stretch the new employee, creating an opportunity to observe examples of innovative thinking, and both the technical and the cultural fit for the job.

Even if you later determine that the current position may not be the best technical fit, if there’s a real cultural fit and real competencies and skill sets you can use, you might identify strengths and talents better suited for strategic use in another part of the organization.

With so much top talent available today, shouldn’t companies find ways to leverage this resource?

Yes, without question. Employers who voluntarily choose to exclude this segment of job candidates may be doing themselves a great disservice in the long run. They could be missing out on the great depth and breadth of talent these candidates possess, and, subsequently, the organization misses out on the innovative and creative thinking they possess.

What do corporations gain by hiring grade-A talent?

Companies that focus on attracting and retaining grade-A talent gain the wealth of expertise and bench strength that these individuals bring with them. There is a lot of talk and a lot of concern about bench strength as we consider the baby boomer population exiting the work force and taking a lot of that with them. The company that attracts and retains this kind of talent gains the energy, excitement, ambition and the loyalty of experienced new talent, people who can actually help reinvigorate existing staff and encourage growth and even change in an organization.

The bottom line is that companies who effectively leverage that talent pool gain a competitive edge when it comes to moving from good to great.

Anthony Van De Wall, PHR, is the human resources manager for Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach him at (813) 740-4680 or vandewalla@workforcetampa.com