5 Tips to Get the Most from Overqualified Staff

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CarrotMany employers hesitate to hire overqualified candidates. They flinch at the sight of overqualified applicants, and their instincts tell them that these overly gifted new hires may become dissatisfied with their roles quickly and leave prematurely or become disengaged.

There is some truth to this fear, as shown by this study from Luksyte, but we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: studies show that overqualified staff perform better and stay longer than qualified staff in general. They bring a greater return to the business than qualified staff and are usually value for money. It makes sound business sense to take them on and make it work.

Of course, you will need to iron out the creases and deploy some tailored management tactics to get the best out of overqualified candidates, but that’s true for all employees. Below, I offer five tips on how to get the most from your overqualified employees.

1. Deploy Them as Trainers and Mentors

You can increase the intrinsic motivation level of the job by allowing the overqualified staff member to share their knowledge by training and mentoring staff. This will give them a sense of meaningfulness, a sense of competence, and a sense of progress, which are three of the four most powerful non-financial employee motivators. This will will act as a counter agent to the cynicism they may feel while working in a job for which they are overqualified.

2. Give Them Greater Responsibility

This doesn’t mean you have to give them an outright promotion. Maybe there are some administrative, organizational, leadership, or project management tasks that you could assign to overqualified staff members, encouraging them to use the extra knowledge and skills they have.

3. Provide Them with Stretch Assignments

Some overqualified candidates may be looking to dial down their careers and may be happy to operate at lower levels, giving them space to focus on things outside of work. However, others will become frustrated if they have to operate below their ability level for too long. You need to identify these types quickly and address this under-fulfillment. One way to do this can be to assign them stretch assignments or other such challenging projects which push them out of their comfort zones and enable them to demonstrate their superior abilities, giving them a sense of achievement which will help to counteract cynicism.

4. Empower Them

An overqualified person may not need as much close supervision as other employees, and they could feel stifled if they are too closely managed. Allow them more autonomy and freedom than you might normally allow other employees, and they will feel empowered and highly motivated. They may require much less support from you, meaning you can provide more support to those in need, or you can focus more on management activities. A self-managing overqualified team member can be a time management gift.

5. Channel Their Frustration into Innovation

Overqualified people may have lots of ideas as to how things can be done better, and they can feel frustrated if they are not listened to. Encourage all staff to come forward with ideas to improve efficiency – it’s likely many of these ideas will come from overqualified staff. Give staff — especially the overqualified members — the opportunity to put these new ideas into effect. Creative and entrepreneurial work is a great way to turn frustration and cynicism into something positive .

I’d love to know what other ideas you have to manage overqualified, but highly valuable, staff.

Read more in Performance Management

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.