Ever pass over a résumé because the candidate just seemed too qualified for the position?
You probably thought that they’d get too bored or unleash their inner diva if asked to take on tasks they might’ve been doing five years ago. But a study recently published in the Academy of Management Journal makes a case for hiring people who seem overqualified for the work at hand.
The research was conducted in two parts: one involving a group of teachers, and one among factory workers.
The teachers were asked to rate how overqualified they felt they were for their jobs on a scale of one to seven, as well as how often they exercised “job crafting” activities like trying out new approaches in the classroom or organizing special events. (Job crafting is corporate-speak for the things employees do to shape and re-define their jobs.)
Then their managers rated them on their creativity and organizational citizenship — i.e., their willingness to go above and beyond basic job expectations for the good of the employer. Turns out the teachers who scored about a five on the over-qualification scale were also the ones who employed the most job crafting and received the highest ratings from managers.
The second study gave toy factory technicians a half-hour to create a new toy boat using at least 30 different pieces, although the workers could use more if needed. Those who were deemed overqualified for their jobs, as determined by a prior assessment test, ended up using more parts and showed greater “task crafting” (more corporate-speak describing how an employee changes up their job responsibilities by altering the tasks they perform).
The takeaway? Overqualified workers appeared to show more willingness and motivation to push boundaries in their jobs, which ultimately produced better results for their employers.
The catch? When candidates were measured as too overqualified, then performance and job crafting tendencies actually dropped — which means that the ideal employees are the ones who are only moderately overqualified for their positions. Any more than that, and workers seem to lose motivation for their jobs because they feel they are too underemployed.
So where’s the sweet spot? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, according to the researchers. What is clear, however, is that the motivation should come from within.
“First and foremost employees need to perform their jobs well, but once that is made clear, they should have discretion to engage in job-crafting, which, our paper shows, spurs creativity,” said Jing Zhou, a Rice University professor and one of the study’s co-authors, in a statement. “A manager should not try to push someone into job crafting — it’s the employee’s choice to do it or not – but if they want to do it, they should have that freedom, with supervisors monitoring, coaching, and advising as needed.”
The study’s findings bring to mind some other past interesting research that shows women tend to apply for jobs if they meet 100% of the job’s qualifications, while men will apply even if they meet only 60% of what’s required. The stat is often quoted in the context of pushing women to be more aggressive about the types of jobs they apply for.
But based on this study, should the advice skew toward going after jobs that you’re 110% qualified for? Perhaps that’s what’ll really make you shine with a future hiring manager.