The Story of Dr. G. (Never Hire a Qualified Employee When an Over-Qualified One Will Do)

I’ve hired a lot of people in the last ten years, but none as valuable as Dr. G  – a terrifyingly smart, over-qualified guy who was grateful for the low-paying job I gave him.

How I found Dr. G and why he was such a great employee illustrates the single largest opportunity for business owners today — to hire overqualified people at a fraction of their true value.

Over Qualified, Under Valued

I was not in the habit of hiring PhDs… never thought I could afford one.  My team was “young and green” because I wanted to keep wages down and energy up.  I typically hired people without much industry experience because I thought that anyone who had 10 years in my industry would be bored in my small business.

So imagine my surprise when a 55-year old PhD from San Diego called about my Craigslist ad for a low-paying sales job in North Carolina.   When I first spoke to Dr. G, I told him that he was terribly over-qualified and that I was sure the position was not a good fit.  After all, why would a PhD in the country’s most expensive city want to work for entry-level wages?

His answer was as enlightening as it was simple.  The good doctor knew he was going to outlive his savings if he stayed in San Diego, and was tired of the West Coast rat race.   He didn’t want to work 60-hour weeks, but he did want to work.  He was coming to the Carolinas to re-build his retirement savings after the 2002 market crash.

I took a deep breath and told him to pack his bags.  It was the best decision I made that year — Dr. G stuck with me for more than 5 years and was our lead sales person every year.  His PhD helped him talk confidently with our customers and his years in the industry opened doors and relationships that we could only dream of.

That was 2004 or so.  By the time the recession hit in 2009, I saw this same pattern play out time and time again. Here’s 3 “Overqualified” people I know today:

  • Joe is another “older” sales guy.  Smooth as silk on the phone and willing to make 100 calls a day. Nobody could beat his knack for setting appointments.  I paid him minimum wage until his commissions kicked in.
  • Bill is a software engineer that knows the history of IBM architecture back to 1975.  Forced to retire in 2010 at age 60, he does not need a large income, but wants to keep working for 5 more years.
  • Susan is a masters-degreed educational specialist in who wants to keep teaching and testing children with learning disabilities. She doesn’t need benefits and loves start-ups — she might even work for stock options.

The Face of Opportunity

Not all Overqualified Employees are 60+, but I’m suggesting that the “Overqualified Employee” is going to be older and more educated. Seniors and retirees in particular are vastly underutilized in the small business world.

The crazy thing is that these people are the most seasoned, smartest, and most productive workers you will every find.  They will accomplish more in a 40-hour work week than a young green-horn will do in a month.  And to top it off, they will work for less pay.25% plan to work to age 70 or longer

In case you think that I just hang out with too many blue-hairs, think again.  The reason for this vast Overqualified Economy is four-fold:

  1. 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 each day (Pew Research)
  2. Americans are living and working longer (National Geographic)
  3. Americans are saving less (Federal Reserve)
  4. The economy continues to struggle to create new jobs (Bureau of Labor Stats)

These trends feed on each other and have created an economy where education and talent are no longer a ticket to high-paying work.  Visit any Starbucks, and you’ll find highly educated people pouring coffee.

This is the single most important opportunity an entrepreneur has today: Watch your business take off when you hire great talent, pay them less, and learn more from their years of experience.

Get Past Your Objections

So why aren’t you hiring the best, most qualified people you can afford?  I hear a lot of excuses.  Recognize any of these?

  1. “I can’t afford a great employee”... Not true.  Read this article again, then go out and make an offer you can afford to an employee who you think is out of your league. Practice being shocked when they accept your offer.
  2. “They’ll Leave For a Better Opportunity (or Retire)”….   Not true. Like Dr. G, over-educated, under-employed folks tend to be terrifically loyal — and reluctant to leave a sure-thing.  In fact, the older a worker is, the longer they are planning to work (see graphic). Compare those personality traits to job-hopping Gen Y and then consider the savings from lower turn-over.   Even if they do leave, consider the tremendous value they’ve provided in the meantime.
  3. “They’ll Drop Dead”… Nope. We’re all living longer, and baby boomers are no exception. According to the CDC, the average life expectancy for a 65 year old is 84.  But that’s “average”… so half of those 65 today will live much longer than 84…and 1 in 4 will live past 100 years old. In fact, it’s more likely that a Senior employee will outlast your business.
  4. “Healthcare costs will go up”... Only partly true.  Group plans will continue to charge more for an older workforce (even under Obamacare), but costs are going up all over and (in my experience), older workers will opt out when they become eligible for cheaper medicare. If this still worries you, cap the company contribution and pass along the extra costs to the workers.
  5. “I need young people who understand today’s technology”… Um. You don’t get it. Now that you can afford that guy with a PhD, his age becomes irrelevant. You’ll be hiring people who designed the technology you’re using today — people who built the Internet and who have fundamental skills that will blow you away. They may not Tweet about their breakfast, but they might know how to write the kind of code that keeps Twitter running.  Most will have 30 years of experience working with PCs and office software.  Its likely that they had a networked PC on their desk before you bought your first game console.

Rock of Ages

If vast experience, low-cost, loyalty, and deep personal networks are not enough benefit for you, consider one more thing: emotional stability.  Too many offices are disrupted by silly, emotional and ego-driven bullshit.  Younger workers who are overly career minded, money-driven or vain will kill a company culture faster than you can tweet “OMG”.

An older workforce brings less baggage and more focus.  They are there for the work — not the recognition, not the promotion, and certainly not for the office politics.  One “old guy” in the office can stabilize a whole herd of whiny Gen Y’ers.  Its just one more way in which an Overqualified Employee can move your company forward.

So next time you think about hiring a young green-horn, stop and consider the alternatives:  Visit your local SCORE office. Network at the country club.  Ask your parents for referrals. Don’t settle for a qualified employee when an Overqualified Employee sits on the sidelines.  Hire the best and forget the rest. You’ll be old and grey before you regret that decision.

Dedicated to your (Overqualified) profits, David
photo credit: rustman via photopin cc

1 Comment
  1. I found this article to be quite informative. I also qualify for the “overqualified group”, and I agree with your assessment of how misconceptions lead to excuses on not expanding the scope of consideration for potential hires. Age discrimination is real and very painful for those on its receiving end. You are absolutely correct about the influx of experienced employees and their quest for employment in any form. What you are doing and have done places you in a unique category as an employer. I commend you.

    My primary concern with the current economic system in the United States, is its willingness to discard of the valuable segments of the workforce such as those educated, experienced professionals who are nearing retirement age. Capitalism has no safety net for the employer, let alone the employee. Technology has raised the bar of competition to a height that exceeds the rate in which our education system is able to train and produce competent, skilled, technocrats. The end result, where profits and wealth accumulation are the central focus, skilled, less expensive labor from abroad. This hurts small businesses and the young and old, trained American workforce, more than anything.

    In response to this, I believe that there will be more worker owned [cooperative] businesses coming into the economic picture in the next five to ten years. People want to have a voice in the workplace and in the decision-making process, in general. Cooperative businesses focus more on the creation of jobs and the subordination of capital, while affording each worker/owner floor time for equal input and voting on business matters. It is estimated that cooperative businesses have created more than 100,000,000 jobs worldwide, and that number is growing.

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