By Kelly Kendall, Managing Director of Cordant People, part of recruitment company, Cordant Recruitment

Since the government scrapped the default retirement age in October 2011, over a million people have opted to stay in work beyond the age of 65 (October 2014). Keeping this experienced workforce engaged is one of the key ways for companies to tackle skills shortages, particularly in industries like engineering and manufacturing.

It’s somewhat ironic, therefore, that when it comes to recruitment, there’s a rising trend for employers to discount people they see as “over-qualified” before they’ve really had the chance to assess their potential. This is not good business sense and particularly not for SMEs who are competing for the best talent with larger organisations.

A recent MetLife survey of 2,531 adults showed that people over the age of 50 are looking for ways to prolong their working lives, with 68 per cent considering re-training so that they can either stay in their current job or seek a new career. Economic necessity is one of the big drivers. With pension funds not performing well during the recession and the rise in inflation and the cost of living, many people are unable to retire as they don’t have enough money to live on.

But this is only part of the story. The same survey showed that 23 per cent said they enjoy working and 30 per cent said they would miss the social interaction of work if they gave it up.

In theory no-one should be discounted for being “over-qualified” for a role. But let’s be honest – we all make unconscious judgements about people. The cynical employer might start to question their real motivation for applying, how long they could expect to keep them or whether they lack some other quality such as confidence or motivation.

In today’s fast-moving marketplace a more open-minded approach is required, particularly among smaller companies. Many skilled and talented people have lost jobs in recent years leading them to re-consider their options. They might, for instance, see the challenge of “returning to the shop floor” as a way to re-invigorate their career or move in a different direction.

And with the “job for life” culture slowly diminishing, many smart graduates want to progress and develop quickly. If you are unable to offer that progression, you could find yourself re-recruiting every few years. Hiring a more experienced candidate will perhaps mean greater stability for your company in the longer-term and generate greater value for your business. In some cases you might decide that they are not suitable for the role advertised, but that you might benefit from their skills and experience in another area.

The key is to spend a decent amount of time with a candidate at interview to get to the bottom of their real motivations for applying for the role. Here are a few pointers:

• Conduct an honest interview. Acknowledge that they are over-qualified for the role and use this to encourage them to convince you that they are the right person for the job. Find out what it is about the company that interests them and what would make them stay in the long term.

• Discuss where they would fit within the structure of the organisation. If they have been in a management role before, ask them how they will adapt to being managed by other people, sometimes with less experience.

• Discuss the skills needed for the specific job, but be honest about the challenges of working for your company. How would they deal with them and do they have examples from their previous working life of solving similar problems?

• Do a personality check – as with all candidates you still need to ask yourself – could I see myself working alongside this person? Do they fit with our culture and what we want to achieve? This is particularly important in a smaller organisation where you could be working with just one or two other people

• Be open-minded. Many over-qualified candidates bring a wide breadth of skills. It could be that their additional experience over and above the current role could benefit your company in other ways.

In summary, view every candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and you could find that perfect candidate.