The Myth of the Perfectly Qualified Candidate

There are 3 kinds of candidates for any IT job:

  • The Junior Candidate – someone who’s not quite qualified yet because they haven’t actually done the work you want yet.
  • The Perfectly Qualified Candidate – the person who’s done the tasks you’re hiring them for.
  • The Senior Candidate – someone who’s done everything in this job position, plus the next level up.

Managers discard The Junior Candidate because they don’t want to take a gamble that whoever they’re about to hire might not be able to cut it.  They want an employee who’s going to take care of business, period.  They don’t want to walk in behind the employee and find ’em surfing Books Online or posting a message on a help forum.  (I’m not saying it’s right – I’m just giving you a tour of a manager’s head.)

Managers discard The Senior Candidate because they’re worried that the Senior Candidate is only taking the job temporarily.  The Senior Candidate’s employer might be in bad financial shape, and the Senior Candidate will keep looking for a better-paying job to bail out.

Managers want The Perfectly Qualified Candidate: someone who’s making a lateral move between companies.

But why would someone do that?  Why would someone change companies and keep doing exactly the same work for the same range of pay, or for within 5-10% of their same pay?

But He Interviewed So Well
But He Interviewed So Well
  • Because the company’s in bad shape – maybe they’re working for a time bomb of a company that’s about to explode (or implode).  They know they’re living on borrowed time, and they’re desperate to get out before they get laid off.  Ironically, candidates are trained not to say anything negative about their company, so if this is the case, the manager might not know it.
  • Because the team’s in bad shape – they’re working for a jerk, or they’re working inside a group of jerks, and they’ve had about enough.  Again, candidates are told by well-meaning interview books to give non-negative answers about their current team, so this reason won’t show up in the interview.
  • Because they’re personally in bad shape – they think they’re about to get fired for their own behavior, or perhaps they think the rest of the team is in bad shape but the problem’s in the mirror.  Extremely sharp interviewers might be able to find the bad apples.

I’ve seen so many cases over and over when companies have hired The Perfectly Qualified Candidate only to be shocked that they don’t work out so well.  Stop and think about it: people don’t make lateral moves unless something’s in bad shape.  Before you hire them, you’d better make sure it’s not the candidate themselves.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Agreed to that. One of the major reasons of one wanting to move to another company is “career advancement”. If I were the hiring manager, my best bet would be to hire someone who looks forward to advance beyond the current open position. Human tendency is to progress!

    “Someone who’s not quite qualified yet” does not necessarily mean “unqualified”. If the candidate has PROVEN in the past that he can take up new challenges, and that he has PROVEN that he can rise up above the competition, that’s your candidate!

    When I was interviewed for my current job, I was “someone who was not yet qualified” (I did not meet the primary qualification) but I was able to convince the hiring manager that my insatiable willingness and ability to learn will compensate for whatever I am lacking at that point. Now, I am handling one of the critical jobs.

    Brent, you’re right. The motivation of “The Perfectly Qualified Candidate” is, more often than not, suspicious. I’d be curious why that “qualified candidate” is taking the “same job” with a different company? He might say he’s looking for higher pay, but if he’s doing a great job he can justify that with the current company.


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