According to most conventional recruitment wisdom, overqualified job candidates are best avoided because they quickly become bored and will head to the exit at the first sign of a better opportunity elsewhere.
But as is often the case, conventional wisdom is wrong. Because according to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the idea that overqualified workers are easily bored and prone to quit is a myth.
"A manager trying to fill a job that demands less-than-top-level smarts should never reject a candidate out of hand just because the applicant's score on the company's intelligence tests labels him or her as smarter than the job requires," said Dr Anthony Nyberg from the University of South Carolina, who led the research.
"If anything, our research suggests that such a candidate could be expected to stay longer and perform better than an applicant whose scores make him supposedly a better fit."
Nyberg's findings are based on the analysis of more than 5,000 adults' labor-force behavior over a 25-year period in a nationwide U.S. sample. The data were taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
He found that in positions with low cognitive demands - jobs which would include rubbish collectors or car washers - employees with higher cognitive ability were less likely than others to voluntarily leave. Moreover, Nyberg said, in predicting job departure, the most mentally demanding jobs produced job dissatisfaction at three times the rate of the simplest jobs.
Nyberg suggests that high-intelligence job candidates have many reasons for seeking a simple job. It could be for a lifestyle or health choice, an affinity for a company's values or the simple need of earning a paycheck. He said rather than automatically rejecting an applicant who is overqualified, a hiring manager should probe to understand the applicant's rationale.