Five reasons why you shouldn’t employ the best qualified people - OPINION

Five reasons why you shouldn’t employ the best qualified people - OPINION article image

Many businesses say the main criteria they consider when hiring staff has nothing to do with skills.

They are more concerned about defensive motivations and considerations in maintaining internal social and power political harmony.

As one executive put it: “Well qualified over achievers want to do things – make decisions, do too much straight talking. They make other people look bad ...  it just creates problems”.

Businesses can hardly place adverts stating only unqualified or mediocre and below par executive candidates will be hired. But some job adverts specify, for example, that a senior general manager’s role – paying three times the average wage – requires only 2-3 years’ work experience.

We polled a number of employers and most agreed they tended to hire from the mid zone of 4-6 out of ten range and for “safety” first even if this meant passing over better qualified and skilled candidates.

The top five reasons for not hiring from amongst the most qualified executive applicants were:

  • The internal power political situation is of such extreme delicacy and so finely balanced on a knife edge that omnipresent power/status anxiety is a permanent fixture of minute by minute executive existence.

Any well qualified, experienced or self-assured executive hire capable of any sort of intellectual independence might potentially upset this excruciatingly fragile balancing act. It’s safer to hire for safety.

  • People who cannot easily find another job or who may even be close to unemployable in any merit context are often highly prized.

As one executive put it: “They can’t leave because they have nowhere to go.  They leave when we say they go”.

The reasoning goes that well-qualified and credentialed over achievers can ostensibly leave whenever they want such as they can easily find alternative employment given their impressive credentials. An unemployable person must put up with any situation no matter how unpleasant as they have nowhere else to go.   Continuity was also rated as an issue the lesser qualified the hire the more likely they will stay until dismissed.  “If things go crazy and they do all the time around here we can be sure the least employable people will still hang around”.

  • A credentialed over achiever doesn’t owe anything to the hirer. The debt they owe is to their own achievements, expertise and capacity for hard work. As one hirer put it, “I’m not comfortable hiring anyone who doesn’t owe me and who doesn’t owe their loyalty to me”. By definition this means over-promoting or overpaying new hires or buying loyalty or appreciation without supporting skills to match the salary or position.
  • Fear of embarrassment or being somehow made to look stupid, sub conscious or not, was a surprise entry. Many believed that their minimal or modest qualifications and experience for the executive role they held could be indirectly highlighted if a well-qualified over achiever was hired. Whereas hiring other minimally qualified executives would act to indirectly conceal such shortcomings be they real or imagined.
  • Moral authority or moral control or even contrived moral power over a new hire received a significant mention. For most work environments threatening people with the sack at the slightest displeasure and having the capacity to dismiss on the spot is deemed as bullying. Thus coercing people by unique interpretation of an act or event or interaction with a colleague and assigning moral responsibility or culpability with subliminal or implied threat of a lengthy HR debriefing (“are you happy here”) is much more in vogue.  

Such creative coercions are significantly easier when dealing with younger or less qualified executives.

Yet hiring well qualified candidates is not easy as many were to point out.

One divisional director said that when he wanted to hire significantly underqualified people none of his colleagues cared and were happy to leave the decision to him.

Attempting to hire well credentialed candidates was an entirely different matter as everybody wants to deal themselves into the game … all wanting to interview the applicant.

Heavy hitters

Everybody has an opinion they push at you … “trying to hire heavy hitters has everyone looking over my shoulder takes forever and just isn’t worth the hassle,” we were told.

Similarly, hiring underqualified people who just aren’t up to the job doesn’t particularly cause any negative sentiment to be directed at the hirer as it has the indirect effect of making those who have to fix the problem as being more self-important than they otherwise might be.

Alternatively hiring people who may show up colleagues or managers as being potentially inadequate will incur deadly wrath towards the hirer.

On the subject of authority in terms of leadership and giving directions we asked if an executive with relevant achievements and experience to their credit would have a natural authority that someone with little if any relevant qualifications and no achievements would not.

Most grudgingly accepted this paradigm but insisted it does not apply in their workplace.

Cultural fit

Authority was based on the constantly shifting power politics of who was in favour and who was not at any given time.

Cultural fit was frequently mentioned as a reason why unqualified people were preferred over all alternatives but as no-one could define what cultural fit was or what it meant it was therefore impossible to quantify its effects.

Hiring for safety first might offer an immediate warm feeling in the gut but has its cumulative and accruing costs, albeit insidious in nature.

Over achievers should not be feared but rather embraced.

What will be the future of the Australian economy if every business hangs a sign on their front door “Over achievers not wanted”? 

David Gray is lead consultant at BizTechWrite providers of HR policy, procedure and learning documentation.  David can be contracted at 0458 701 990 or


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