The U.S. economy was quite strong in 2019. By August, Americans had enjoyed 106 consecutive months of job growth (the longest streak ever), 121 months of bull markets, and 16 months with a 4% (or less) rate of unemployment. 

However, the unemployment rate doesn’t tell the entire story. Americans might be able to find jobs, but they may still be considered underemployed. Defined as having a job that doesn’t utilize your experience, education, or skill sets. While this might be a product of taking a job that doesn’t align with your college study or a position that doesn’t fully match your resume, it also typically involves being underpaid for the work you do. 

For a closer look at why companies hire over- or underqualified candidates, we surveyed 984 hiring managers for their insight and hiring practices. Read on as we examine how often companies consider over- or underqualified applicants, how those candidates are perceived, and the ways in which companies attempt to set up their employees for success. 

Application Expectations 

When you’re in the market for a new career, deciding which jobs to apply for can be difficult. It’s often recommended to think about the characteristics you desire most in a position and to look for a job that aligns with your personality and passions. However, none of this takes into account your qualifications. 

According to hiring managers surveyed, more than 3 in 4 would advise candidates to apply for positions they’re overqualified for, while 66% would recommend candidates apply for jobs they’re underqualified for. And although 64% of hiring managers had a positive perception of overqualified candidates, nearly 32% felt the same about underqualified applicants. Sending out an application won’t hurt, even if you don’t meet all the listed requirements.

So how do you know if you’re qualified? On average, hiring managers said an applicant should have a minimum of 71% of the requirements listed for a job and 66% of recommended skills. 

Hiring Practices 

When asked about their hiring practices, more than half of managers acknowledged hiring both overqualified and underqualified candidates. 

However, 52% of hiring managers did not offer overqualified candidates more money. In contrast, nearly 38% of hiring managers offered underqualified candidates less money when hiring them. 

More often, though, hiring managers were satisfied with hiring overqualified candidates (85%) than underqualified ones (69%). And, in some cases, hiring managers recognized when an applicant was better suited for a different role based on their experience or qualifications. Roughly 1 in 4 managers surveyed either often or always found better-fitting positions for overqualified applicants, compared to less than 14% who did the same for underqualified candidates. 

Onboarding Efforts 

Finding a healthy, high-quality work environment isn’t always as simple as landing a job that pays well. In addition to being well-trained, having job security, and working in good conditions, having a healthy rapport with your boss is another crucial element of professional success. Not only does investing in positive relationships with the leadership team help improve employees’ experiences at work, but also those relationships can help achieve overall company success. 

When hiring managers bring on overqualified employees, they may go the extra mile to set them up for success compared to underqualified employees. Managers surveyed were more likely to clearly outline and communicate the position to overqualified candidates, in addition to offering additional responsibilities, financial rewards, and the possibility of promotion. In contrast, candidates who were seen as underqualified were more likely to be offered training or development opportunities and to have their new hire process clearly outlined and communicated. 

Perceptions of Candidates

Considering hiring managers were more often satisfied with overqualified candidates compared to underqualified employees, we asked about the decisions that go into the hiring process. 

More than anything else, 41% of managers acknowledged the company couldn’t afford to pay overqualified candidates enough, but half of those managers had still hired overqualified candidates in the last year. A high turnover of overqualified candidates (35%) and the company not being able to afford growth opportunities (over 31%) were also common reasons hiring managers veered away from offering positions to people they considered overqualified. 

In contrast, a concern for poor performance (50%) was the most common reason for not hiring underqualified candidates, followed by the high effort needed to train them (37%), the cost of training (26%), and the high turnover rate (25%). 

Finding the Right Fit

Finding the right fit is equally as important for employees as it is for the companies that chose to hire them. The cost of onboarding a new employee can be high, but it’s nothing compared to the cost of turnover if that employee ultimately doesn’t work out. As we found, hiring candidates who are considered either under- or overqualified is a fairly common practice, although their hiring process isn’t always treated the same or met with the same success. 

At SimplyHired, our mission is to help match candidates to the roles they’re suited for. By tailoring the search process to each applicant and equipping them with the tools they need to make the right decision (including our salary estimator), we’ve helped millions of people find opportunities where they can love what they do every day. There are plenty of jobs out there, and you can find them all with one simple search. Visit us at to start your search today. 

Methodology and Limitations

For this project, we surveyed 984 hiring managers who had hired candidates in the past year. 563 had hired overqualified candidates, while 513 had hired underqualified candidates in the past year.

Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 74 with an average age of 37 and a standard deviation of 10.6. 469 respondents identified as women, and 512 identified as men. Three respondents identified as nonbinary. 

These data are survey-based and depend on the self-reported recollections of respondents regarding their everyday life. Limitations with such data include telescoping, selective memory, and exaggeration. We did not statistically test our data, and our campaign is exploratory. The data were not weighted.

Fair Use Statement

Are you a hiring manager or simply want to share these findings on hiring over- and underqualified candidates? The graphics and information found here are available for use in any noncommercial capacity. Feel free to share them as much as you’d like across the web, on social media, and at the office, but please make sure to link back to this page. Thank you!

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