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Should you hire overqualified engineers?

Should You Hire Overqualified Engineers?

A major plastics conglomerate headquartered in southern California desperately needed the expertise of a qualified plastics engineer with manufacturing management experience in plastic profile extrusion. The position had been vacant for some time, and the department was rife with problems ranging from low employee morale and high rates of absentecism to poor housekeeping, unsafe conditions, and lagging production flow.

We sent several equally qualified candidates to the company, including a senior level executive who had been laid off by one of the company's competitors after twenty years on the job. Company officials hired the more experienced manager, even though the position was a step down from what he'd previously done.

"It's the best hiring decision we ever made," the owner of the company later told me. "In less than 18 months, this fellow completely turned that department around because he knew exactly what to do to solve the problems. Production is on schedule, morale has skyrocketed, and attendance has improved dramatically. This has taught me that nothing takes the place of experience."

Ironically, the corporation owner had been hesitant to hire this manager because he was overqualified for the job. "I figured he'd leave when he got a higher paying offer, or he'd chafe at taking orders from people younger than he, or he'd get bored," said the conglomerate head. "But he's loyal, cooperative, and a real team player."

The company owner's experience is not all that unusual. Employers are often wary of hiring engineers who appear to be overqualified because they assume the new engineers will quickly become disenchanted with lower pay and less responsibility. But the fact is that many plastics manufacturers in the U.S. have been trimming their work forces because of the economic downturn.

Sometimes, competent engineers who in a healthy economy would never have been laid off suddenly find themselves unemployed in a depressed job market. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that since 1979, 1.3 million managerial workers have lost jobs they had held for a least three years.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the most common reason why these managers were dismissed had little to do with their abilities. Indeed, surveys show that the group hardest hit by these cutbacks are senior level staffers. That is usually because the easiest way for companies to trim overhead is by replacing high-priced managers with younger people who cost less.

Consequently, savvy employers have an unparalled opportunity to acquire talented, seasoned professionals - many of whom have extensive experience in all phases of production, ranging from design engineering to manufacturing. When such an experienced individual becomes available and is willing to consider a position that utilizes only one area of his or her background, employers should be on the alert. These people possess a wealth of information and can be a priceless asset to a company.

Yet employers overlook a vast pool of often exceptional candidates because they assume they're overqualified. And all too often, employers cling to outdated attitudes about senior level engineers. They believe that they haven't kept abreast of the new technology, that they're complacent, and no longer motivated, that they're set in their ways, or that their peak productive years are over.

Interestingly, many of the companies that have snapped up experienced engineers find that the opposite is nearly always the case. These employers cite a number of compelling reasons why they prefer seasoned job candidates. They point out that many of these engineers came of age when job hopping wasn't acceptable. Being unemployed is a real blow to these professionals' self-esteem, and they feel uncomfortable hustling for another job.

Consequently, when they do land another position, they tend to be quite loyal. They are also less likely to look elsewhere if they disagree with a corporate decision. Plus, people in the latter portion of their careers usually don't have young children, and their mortgages are low or nearing pay-off, so compensation is not their primary consideration.

Thus, more than money, the chance to do interesting and meaningful work may be a strong inducement for experienced professionals to join your staff. They usually have a strong desire to use the skills and expertise that they have developed throughout their careers and to pass them on to the next generation of engineers.

Numerous studies have shown that senior executives retain their zeal for business, and this satisfaction translates into a lower rate of absentecism. The challenge of a new situation can make even the same responsibilities more exciting.

The fact that a candidate is nearing retirement age doesn't deter shrewd employers. The chief drawing card for senior level engineers is their experience. Recently, for example, a chemical company needed a plastics engineer with managerial experience to supervise one of its production departments. The employer spent more than three months searching for the right person to fill the position, and interviewed about a dozen candidates, most of whom were in their late twenties and early thirties. Yet the employer hired a 57-year-old engineer who had been forced into early retirement during a slump in aerospace.

Indeed, the overall message here is that there really is no such thing as an overqualified candidate - the applicant either can or cannot do the job. So if you run a plastics business, don't overlook a valuable resource and make the mistake of judging a job prospect because he or she appears to have too much experience for the position.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Society of Plastics Engineers, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:plastics industry
Author:Cowan, Robert A.
Publication:Plastics Engineering
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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