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Study: 'Overqualified' Employees Outperform Colleagues

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on January 12, 2016 2:59 PM

Next time you hire for your law firm, you might want to take a second look at the resume of that 'overqualified' applicant. A new study suggests that such overqualified applicants are probably a better fit for the job than you might assume.

The Stereotypes

Everyone knows the stereotypes of the overqualified applicants: they're just applying for the job to make ends meet until they can find something better. If you hire them, they won't produce because they're not committed to the job. Training them is simply just a waste of time because they'll never end up staying long enough for you to get any return on your time and investment.

Now, it looks like that stereotype should be re-examined.

A study that was recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at several dozen overqualified candidates in information and tech companies and consistently found that the so-called OQs not only outperformed their non-overqualified counterparts, but also boosted overall morale with their enthusiasm, loyalty, and willingness to suggest new ideas.

The results were a bit of a surprise to Jasmine Hu, who led the research in the study. She also teaches management at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. Admittedly, she too had assumed that the commonly accepted stereotypes about OQ applicants were "at least partly true." But in fact, the her own study indicated quite the contrary.

Spreading the Goodness

Hu explained that firms that want to maximize the benefits of hiring an OQ employee should encourage them to interact amongst their team members. It is suggested that OQ qualifications are highlighted rather than downplayed -- and this is especially true in a firm culture that is collaborative rather than adversarial -- a tough call for law firms.

Notably, the positive effects of OQ workers were particularly apparent when they were teamed up with other overqualified workers who also brought their own credentials and experience over and beyond what the job had required.

Hu says that manager should at least rethink their own presuppositions about what overqualified candidates bring to the table. In the end, it's all about attitude -- and that will shine through even at the interview. Just make sure you don't screen out all of your overqualified applicants.

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