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My company is interviewing several people for an entry-level programming position later this week. We have a couple of applicants that appear to be overqualified (they both could apply to senior level positions) -- one noted in their résumé that they currently make much more money at their current job, at a company they founded, than the job they are applying for.

Based on my research, being overqualified usually makes you a less desirable candidate, but I would assume that a company would want the biggest bang for its buck. Should the other candidates get a better chance for the job, or should the best applicant get the position?

On a related note, should the interviewees get the same questions or questions based on their purported experience?

All candidates were invited and accepted interviews by HR, so I will be talking with all of them.

Money is tight and better jobs aren't available at the moment. My main concern is getting someone who immediately flips because of money or tasks and losing the ability to fill this position at all. I ultimately would like someone who will stick around and that I can depend on.

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    Is your company currently offering any senior level positions? If not, that could be why. – Harrison Paine Jul 24 '17 at 20:14
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    Do they know that they are applying for a job that pays less than their previous job? (I.e. did you mention the salary range to them or is it clear from the job posting or something?) – AllTheKingsHorses Jul 24 '17 at 20:50
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    Where in the world are you? In the UK, my understanding is that, as long as they meet all the requirements of the job, you're not allowed to treat them any differently to any other applicant. – David Richerby Jul 24 '17 at 22:30
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    @DavidRicherby What makes you think that? There's no protected class of "over qualified" people, just like there isn't for under-qualified. Any candidate can be removed from the process for ANY reason, except for reasons covered under the Equality Act act such as race, relgion, gender or age. – Dan Jul 25 '17 at 14:01
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    Just a quick comment: please be nice to desperate overqualified people, even if it's not your job and you won't hire them. If I were you and I knew where their qualification would fit better, I'd try to suggest it to them. You wouldn't believe how many PhDs have no clue how to do a proper job search. – user27051 Jul 26 '17 at 20:04

12 Answers 12

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Should the other candidates get a better chance for the job, or should the best applicant get the position?

The best candidate should always get the position. But remember what the term "best" does and doesn't mean.

For your particular opening, the best candidate might be one who will accept the low salary, can quickly learn the position, and can grow in the company for a long time. (For example, noting in your resume that you currently make much more money at your current job is a red flag to me that you won't be happy for long with a much lower salaried entry-level job.)

Someone with a lot of experience may fill all of those needs. But often someone experienced will eventually chafe at the salary and growth aspects of the role.

If you choose to interview experienced candidates for an entry-level position, you must dig in with questions designed to determine:

  • why they are applying for a position for which they are overqualified. (They might want to take it easy until retirement. They might be unable to get a job equal to their experience level for some reason. Or there might be other reasons. You want to find out.)
  • if they are in this for the long run, or just until something else happens. (Perhaps they just moved to the area and will settle for this job only until something better comes along. Perhaps they are waiting for the economy to change. Perhaps they are planning and studying for a new career. Or something else might be brewing.)
  • if they are truly willing to fill an entry-level role. (They might be okay for a short while, but will they be expecting you to pay them more than an entry-level role would require.)
  • If they are truly willing to work for an entry-level salary. (Again, this might be okay for a short while, but they might expect to return to their higher salary soon.)

Once you understand more about the experienced candidate, you can still decide to hire them or not.

Remember, there is a reason you are seeking an entry-level candidate and not someone more seasoned. Just because an experienced candidate comes along doesn't mean they are the best candidate, and that doesn't mean that your original reasons for wanting entry-level go away.

My personal experience tells me that attempting to fill an entry-level position with an experienced individual seldom works out. So I approach such interviews very skeptically. But your mileage may vary.

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    +1 for pointing out BEST candidate. I worked at a place where a few of us were first hired as contract with right to hire. The most skilled fellow didn't get an offer because his code was too advanced for the rest of us to keep up with. He skillset was senior to all of the rest of us, which made him a bad fit. – Retired Codger Jul 24 '17 at 17:56
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    @RichardU - Writing complex unreadable/unfollowable code is not a sign of the most skilled or senior developer. It just seems like it when you look at the code and do not understand what it is doing especially when it uses built in functions. Bitshifting is a perfect example. I can do some really interesting stuff with bitshifting, that doesnt mean I am senior i just know how to do some things with a process that isnt much use in the standard business world of today. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 24 '17 at 19:34
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    Don't assume that everyone is after the money. If I'm getting my living expenses and a sense of accomplishment, I have no reason to leave. – WGroleau Jul 25 '17 at 5:04
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    @Nielsvh Sometimes there are things more important than money, I know about developers who took a lower-salary position just to be closer to their home and be able to shorten the commute time to daycare for the kids then the office. – yms Jul 25 '17 at 18:31
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    @Nielsvh There are people who worked at google for high six digit salaries (plus the options and bonuses which are worth much more) who quit and are now teaching high school (they probably won't earn as much the rest of their life as they did in their last year at google if you include stock options and bonuses). Not having to deal with all those responsibilities and stress that come with senior positions can be worth a great deal more than a bit of money. – Voo Jul 25 '17 at 19:36
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A really important interview question you should ask is something like this:

You are a lot more qualified than is required. Why did you apply to this job? What about this job interests you?

Sometimes, people are looking for less responsibility, for a job where they can work and then go home. In that case, someone who is overqualified might be a good choice. Sometimes they are just looking for a foot in the door at your company, and you won't keep them in that position very long. Sometimes, they are simply desperate, and any job will do for now, and those people probably won't stay long either.

If you find someone who is overqualified but is looking for the type of job you have, they could be a good choice. But you want to know why they applied, because often they are not a good choice.

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    This is a really solid answer. Some people are looking to reduce the amount of stress in their lives. – Mister Positive Jul 24 '17 at 18:03
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    One of the worst possible answers to a question like this is a deer in the headlights blank look. If they haven't even considered why they might want to work at a lower level than their skills indicate, either their skills aren't as good as the resume indicates or they are not really serious about getting and keeping a lower level job. – HLGEM Jul 24 '17 at 18:38
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    This is a very good answer. I once had this case where an overqualified candidate told me that he realizes that the job he is applying to is below what he was doing so far (both in responsibilities and pay) but he wanted to get back to his roots (his words) and do plain development again - for a few years at least. He got the job and was telling the truth. he then moved to mid-level technical jobs, never wanting to go back to the hierarchy ladder race. – WoJ Jul 24 '17 at 19:41
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    In my case, I normally apply to jobs I'm overqualified for to learn new things. When you work at your qualification level, you usually have to constantly deliver new things and never have time to experiment with new tech. – Muz Jul 25 '17 at 3:53
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    "they are simply desperate, and any job will do for now, and those people probably won't stay long either." That's not always true. I know several people with good academic degrees who are desperate to get a job. The job market in there profession is very bad, one of them has a doctor, but would take any job. And they would stay there, to get some stability into their live. – Chris Jul 25 '17 at 6:30
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I wouldn't dismiss anyone as overqualified by the resume, but it would be worth having them in for an interview and ask them why they are interested in your company.

There are a number of reasons that someone might seek a step down in their position.

  • Starting over: In my case, I had a stroke and was wanted to ease my way back into the job market in a position that I knew wouldn't stress me.
  • Loves the company. You can get a candidate who has wanted to work for you for some time and is willing to start out at a lower position to get a foot in the door. Discern their intent with "Where do you see yourself in a few years?" question.
  • Shorter commute: In my case, I now have a 10 minute commute, and could even ride a bike in if I wanted. I'm saving more than two hours a day and about 2,500 a year in expenses. Definitely a win-win
  • Needs more personal time: If the person is trying for a better work-life balance, this may be a cause.
  • Avoiding burnout. Sometimes you get into a job that is too stressful and need to take a step back. In this case, the person isn't overqualified for the position they're seeking, but was under qualified/not suited for their current/past position.

Before dismissing them out of hand, plumb into the reasons they are wanting to take a step down and determine where they would fit into your company. Don't waste the opportunity for getting, as you said, the "biggest bang for the buck" just because the person seems "over qualified".

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    Why should I bring in someone overqualified for an interview if I already have a really good candidate that I want to hire? It seems like I am wasting time and money on the interview when I could be spending it getting my new hire going. I think you have a solid answer if you remove that first paragraph. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 24 '17 at 19:28
  • If the search for candidates has been coming up empty, I could see broadening things by looking for candidates outside your normal parameters. But I'd think dismissing over or under qualified candidates based on their resume as the norm, the candidate themselves should add an intro that provided a convincing rationale to otherwise give them an opportunity. In other words, the onus is on the over (or under) qualified candidate to sell themselves and to assume otherwise, they won't be in consideration unless the employer has some constraint that requires a warm body now. – iheanyi Jul 24 '17 at 22:19
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    @IDrinkandIKnowThings if you already have someone to hire, you wouldn't be bringing anyone in better, worse, or equal. – Retired Codger Jul 25 '17 at 12:48
  • @RichardU - As written your answer seems to be advocating just that. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 25 '17 at 15:04
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    Thank You for mentioning commute, less stress, cost savings, etc. I have agreed to work lessor contracts (as a consultant) for just these reasons. The reasons you mention are important! Worth more than money or ego. Cheers!! – closetnoc Jul 26 '17 at 3:16
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Selecting people out based on their being overqualified is risky. If you get sued over your choice of employee(s), it'd be awfully hard to defend your selection practices if you're declining people who might be 'too good at their job.'

For example: Let's say all of your 'overqualified' applicants are over 40, and you ultimately hire a twenty-something. If the overqualified applicants decide to file an age-related discrimination complaint with the EEOC, you're going to have to explain why you didn't choose the most (over)qualified applicant.

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    +1 I work in a place where getting sued is a thing. Though I'd most likely have enough evidence to back my decision, I don't want to get into a legal battle. – Nielsvh Jul 25 '17 at 18:36
  • Pretty sure that in order to have a valid suit, they would have to demonstrate a pattern. A one off of hiring a 20something over a 40something if the 40something is truly overqualified will not win them a case. Of course if you are just SAYING the 40something is overqualified, when in fact the 20something is MORE qualified, you may have issues. "The younger guy came in first, I had no particular reason to choose one over the other" is a perfectly fine defense. – Drunken Code Monkey Jul 26 '17 at 19:49
  • Did you say over 40? Amusing coincidence, or knowing comment? :) fortune.com/2016/10/06/google-age-discrimination – David Ljung Madison Jul 26 '17 at 22:49
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    @DavidLjungMadison I'm sure he chose 40 because that's the threshold set by the US Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. – shoover Jul 29 '17 at 15:13
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Note that someone can have a "junior" position in one company, and "senior" in another. Requirements and expectations differ per company, and especially per country. As such, while you would consider them senior, they might consider themselves junior.

I would advise to just be open about this. Tell them that they certainly qualify for the job, but that you think they would be more suited to a senior position, instead of the junior position they're being interviewed for. Also state that you're currently not looking for a new senior.

Maybe they'll e-mail (or whatever your preferred way of communication is) back saying it's perfectly fine and they still want the job (even at less pay) or they'll e-mail thanking you for your time and move on.

  • There is a big difference between "My last position was senior X but I really think I'm a junior X" and "entry level X". The latter suggests someone brand new to the field. Also, if the resume has one listed as "senior X" at several companies, and the work implies senior X responsibilities, then the onus is on the applicant to explain why their title and work is misleading and they should be considered as an entry level X. – iheanyi Jul 24 '17 at 22:25
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I think the conventional wisdom discourages bringing in senior-level candidates to interview for an entry-level position because of the very real possibility they won't last - they'll be too bored with entry-level tasks and start looking elsewhere for an actual challenge.

If your company wants the "biggest bang for their buck" - i.e. a senior-level willing to perform entry-level tasks for entry-level pay - here's the worst case on how it could play out:

  • "Overqualified Candidate" (OC) is hired
  • OC gets to know the code base, makes senior-level refactoring and enhancements, and over time develops domain knowledge about it that may not be held by anyone else
  • OC then demands a raise commensurate with their actual level of ability
  • Company is now in the position of either giving them what they're really worth or cutting them loose and dealing with an expensive, painful interval of rehiring/retraining

If you choose to interview the person, you'll need to explore in-depth with them why exactly they're applying to the position. Are they desperate? Are they in over their heads with a senior position and want to take a step back? Are they simply looking for a foot in the door? Do they understand how much of a pay cut a change of this nature means?

These actually might work well as prescreening questions instead - don't waste everyone's time with a face-to-face interview if the answers to the above aren't to your liking.

If the goal here is simply to get a reasonably intelligent warm body in the door to hammer out code and raising their pay eventually isn't an issue, then by all means, go for it.

  • From the tone of the question the OP gets the downside. So this doesnt seem very useful. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 24 '17 at 19:31
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    OP stated an upside as well as a downside, and asked for answers to address these, as well as input on questions to ask. I addressed both the downside as well as the questions. Are you suggesting I should edit to address the pros of hiring this person also? – Scraping Infinity Jul 24 '17 at 19:37
  • How this is different from the junior candidate doing the carrier? Being young does not mean no ambitions. I would say, the opposite. – eee Jul 28 '17 at 6:54
  • @eee You appear to be conflating ambition with experience.. – Scraping Infinity Jul 28 '17 at 12:57
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Should the other candidates get a better chance for the job, or should the best applicant get the position?

A position should always go to the best applicant, but there are many different factors (as you've probably found in your research) that affect evaluation. There's always the risk that an overqualified worker will not stay with a company very long, but sometimes the quality of work makes up for the turnover cost -- only you can determine that.

On a related note, should the interviewees get the same questions or questions based off their purported experience?

Interviewees should always receive questions that pertain to their experience -- that's one way of confirming they have done what they claim on their resume. Of course you are free to ask other questions, which may be the same for all.

  • One hard part I've come across is how to describe a language that I did use for one year professionally, but the language was only occasionally used (say, once or twice a week steadily through the year). Nothing near one level of fulltime experience, but still long enough to know it. – Juha Untinen Jul 25 '17 at 6:32
  • @JuhaUntinen From the perspective of a US based developer of 18 years, generally involved in the screening and interview process: If I didn't use it regularly on the job, I don't list it in my skills. I'm quite familiar with Ruby, but it is only listed in my Interests section, which itself is generally cut to keep my resume to a reasonable length. You may consider putting language X there, or simply adding something like "Familiarity with X" if you want to leave it in your skills section. Similar logic may apply to languages you would prefer not to work with. – Joshua Drake Jul 25 '17 at 17:12
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I am actually doing this: I am senior java dev with few commercial experience years and still apply for junior java positions.

Answer is simple: because junior (title) of one company does not equal junior (title) from other company.

Average junior from "good" company may be better than senior from "bad" company.

Therefore, I simply do not care about title in job offer at all - I apply for everything that contains "java" in title.

I even sometimes apply for both junior and senior position in single company at same time.

As candidate, I would expect company to have a look at my CV and after technical interview to continue recruitment process on one of those positions.

  • Average junior from "good" company may be better than senior from "bad" company that's a good point, you never know what they will expect from you even if the requirements and tasks of the job are deeply detailed beforehand. – Petaflop Jul 28 '17 at 8:52
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One reason someone might apply to a position for which they are overqualified is for purposes of skill development. Is there a language or technology you advertised as part of the position that is missing from their résumé?

A lot of higher-level jobs (especially in programming) require specialized skills. A developer with 5 years of Java development experience is certainly above entry-level, but might have a hard time finding a junior-level job in iOS programming, and if that's the direction they want to move their career in, they could certainly start looking for entry-level positions for that.

If this is the case for one of your candidates, it would probably be a good idea to give them a chance at an interview, at the very least. Their experience is enough to demonstrate they are capable of performing well in the job. Just keep in mind that like some of the other answers have mentioned, someone in this situation might want or expect to progress through your company at a faster rate. For someone looking to develop skills, this is probably less of an issue, because they'll probably take a little bit to get up to a junior-level programmer at a language or technology that they are new to, but it is still an important thing to keep in mind.

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When the developer is already hired, he is mostly estimated by his capabilities. If the developer works really well, he may deserve a promotion. This is especially possible in a startup where there are many possibilities to show better than expected performance.

However during the hiring process, the "right CV", "right university", "right job history" may matter more than even good recommendation from the previous job.

Life is complex. For instance, in Europe majority of scientists are expected to leave science and eventually join the industry. The former programming researcher who worked maybe on physics may re-learn as a software engineer. Regardless of the capabilities this still may not look like a "right CV" for higher positions with many competitors applying.

This means that once the higher position is lost (and may be reasons like the company moving into other country, or the startup failing), it may not be possible to get another at the same level. This does not prove there is something evil with the applicant.

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The new wave is to change jobs every 2-3 years anyway - Any fear of someone moving on too quickly (due to experience or anything else), should be negated by the fact that an entry-level new-hire will do the same thing anyway. Irrational fears rule us all. As far as pay, it's the market value of the position, so those fears don't hold true either. I can't go to my employer and say "I rock, so give me a raise!".. Their answer would be that the position has a certain pay range.. and I would be good with that.

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It is a good thing to get someone who is overqualified hired into a position, but you must be careful. Its not like every time that the most "qualified" one is really qualified in your company, because different companies have different working environments.

So for a better solution, I think you should ask them first. This applicant may be overqualified for your position, but are your requirements appropriate? And why do they want to fill this position since they are overqualified? Also if you think their answer is reasonable. offer them a better position. If they accept, just reject it. Because that means he/she's may be too desperate for a job in their field. But if they reject it then give them a higher position that suits them instead.

protected by Jane S Jul 28 '17 at 6:11

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