Will Overqualified Workers be Hitting the Doors?

Susan Hall
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Six Strategies for Tech Professionals Looking for a New Position

During the economic downturn when thousands of people were laid off, many workers took any job they could get. Now they're looking for something better and companies should be worrying about an exodus of overqualified workers, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.


It quotes Russ Riendeau, senior partner of Barrington, Ill., recruitment agency East Wing Group, who says one in five job candidates these days talks about trying to get back to a previous salary level. That rate a year ago was less than one in 10. The article also says turnover seems especially high among workers in financial services and technology who took lower-level jobs than they'd previously held.


Indeed, according to a Career Builder survey cited in this Hartford Business Journal article, more than 64 percent of workers laid off over the past 12 months had applied for positions below their previous job level.


Meanwhile, new research from the University of Connecticut has concluded that companies should not shy away from hiring overqualified people on the theory that they will get bored and leave. In fact, it found the smartest people were most likely to stay and excel at the work-with one exception. The most intelligent people doing the most demanding work were more likely to leave, but the researchers speculated that that was because they had plenty of other job choices.


One of the researchers, Greg Reilly, an assistant professor of management in the School of Business, says many people take jobs for which they are overqualified for other quality-of-life reasons. He's quoted saying:

We suspect that high-ability people take on low-complexity jobs with their eyes wide open. They're not taking the position because they are particularly interested in job fulfillment or moving up a career ladder. Instead, we think that these individuals have alternative motives, such as family, location, or outside interests, and want a job that will enable them to do the non-work activities they desire.

So it follows that hiring managers should not reject overqualified candidates out of hand, but should delve deeply into their reasons for seeking the position. Those reasons could also play into your strategy to get overqualified workers to stay.


Experienced and more mature workers can take leadership roles and mentor less experienced workers. Helping them to take on that role can be a win-win situation for the employee and the company. And helping those employees to feel more empowered, with more autonomy in decision-making, can help dissipate dissatisfaction from being overqualified, this Harvard Business Review post says.


But clearly, plenty of people want to get back to their previous level of compensation and job responsibility and will be jumping ship, if necessary, to do so. The WSJ article quotes recruiter Nick Corcodilos, who also publishes the jobs advice site AsktheHeadhunter.com, saying:

Employees try first to pitch for higher-level roles within their companies, but if they can't get that, they're looking elsewhere.

The article says that PricewaterhouseCoopers, which hired some people at lower levels in the bad economy, has been revisiting the compensation, positions and development opportunities for those workers as the market improves. That's dandy if your company can do that.


If it can't, my colleague Ann All has blogged about other ways to hang on to key talent.

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