How HR can leverage empathy and an open mind when reviewing ‘overqualified’ job candidates

Some workers are burnt out after years of hustling, and looking for less responsibility at work.
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· 3 min read

Jennifer Lagemann was working as a certified nursing assistant at a nursing facility in Massachusetts when she became exhausted by the unpredictable hours and demands of her role. She decided to make a change, taking on a housekeeping role at the same facility. Though the pay was less, “There was a huge decrease in stress,” she told HR Brew.

Lagemann’s story isn’t unique. The US workforce is burning out more quickly than a Love is Blind marriage. And just like former contestants, some workers may be looking for healthier matches.

In light of this, HR leaders may need to rethink their definition of employee success, Christina Schelling, SVP and chief talent officer at Verizon, said. “Growth and development doesn’t just mean upward mobility in the path that you’re in.”

We spoke to HR leaders who explained how to accommodate talent who are looking for less, not more, responsibility.

Balancing assumptions and empathy. It may be hard for HR professionals and recruiters to know how to respond when they come across the résumé of a candidate looking for less job responsibility. Some may even view it as a potential red flag.

Jamie Kohn, HR research director at Gartner, suggested recruiters might approach the résumés of seemingly overqualified candidates with a modicum of caution.

“The concern with overqualified applicants is that they’re just looking for a short-term role, and then they’ll either get bored or they’ll find a better opportunity somewhere else,” she told HR Brew. “HR leaders have seen a lot of candidates accepting offers and then later declining them before starting the job, so there’s a big concern that they’re opening themselves up to risk by having these overqualified applicants.”

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However, Marcy Klipfel, chief engagement officer at workplace benefits platform Businessolver, said that recruiters shouldn’t be so quick to judge. It’s incumbent on HR professionals to review the candidate with empathy and understanding and not assume what they should want from their career.

“Unless people can bring their whole selves to work, you’re not even close to getting what they are capable of doing,” she said, suggesting that title climbing is not a reliable measure of success.

Kohn suggested that HR ask about a person’s motivation for taking on less. She said that any number of life changes or family obligations can affect someone’s career goals. Whether it’s working extra hours to save for a trip to Barbados or skipping happy hour with colleagues to catch a nephew’s baseball game, everyone has a “why” behind what they’re doing. “Just opening that door can give you a lot more insight into the cabinet,” she said.

Focus on retention, not promotion. Schelling said that HR leaders should also be aware that some current employees may want to pivot to a role with less pressure. Verizon gives every employee access to Talent GPS, a computer software that creates a roadmap for anyone who wants to change their role within the company. Schelling said the software shows employees their skills and qualifications and the potential roles that are adjacent to them.

A culture of flexibility—even when it comes to job functions—is important for talent retention. “We’re a company that really celebrates the ability to have multiple careers within one tenure…And so culturally, mobility is just part of who we are,” said Schelling.—KP

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

News built to help HR pros grow their impact & improve the future of work.