I still have vivid memories of reviewing resumes from overqualified candidates. “This person looks great, but this job might bore them after a few months,” I’d think to myself. And in many cases, I’d simply take a pass out of an irrational fear that either the candidate would find the job boring or that we would ultimately find out that their salary requirements were too high. However, when it comes to developers that look overqualified for a job, it’s important to take a deep breath and think more critically about their candidacy. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t rule out a developer just because they appear overqualified on paper.
Andrew O’Connell at the Harvard Business Review found that while many employers are hesitant to hire candidates who look too good to be true, research shows that candidates who are overqualified for a job actually tend to perform at a higher level. He adds, “In addition to achieving higher performance, these cognitively overqualified employees were less likely than others to quit.” Think about it this way: if your job listing is explicit about what candidates should expect and a developer takes the time to submit a resume and cover letter, it’s fair to assume that person understands that the role might be more junior—but was still excited enough to throw their hat in the ring.
If you were to look at the Stack Overflow team page, you’d find that most of our developers have one of the following three titles: Developer, Team Lead, or Engineering Manager. Like most companies, they all have managers that give them feedback and offer support when necessary. But the reality is that in most cases, their job titles alone don’t tell you everything about their day-to-day work. Let’s say you’re looking to hire a developer with anywhere from 5-7 years of experience. You’ll likely end up receiving applications from “overqualified” candidates with terms like “senior” and “team lead” in their most recent job titles. If you rule out those developers based on their job titles alone, you’ll ultimately end up taking a pass on candidates who are perfectly qualified for the position.
Our CEO Joel Spolsky once wrote that his developer hiring philosophy is to hire for the long term, rather than getting too hung up on a list of “requirements.” He adds, “Any technology you happen to know right now may well be obsolete next year. Furthermore, some of these technologies are very easy to learn.” When it comes to overqualified candidates, Dr. John Sullivan says that the smartest organizations hire people for the current role and the next one, with the expectation that they’ll eventually move into a more senior position. Sullivan continues by saying, “If you have rapid promotion and internal movement rates, these new hires won’t likely be overqualified for long.”