Can a Candidate Be Too Qualified? Is Using a Max Score Cutoff Ever a Good Idea?



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Last week we talked about using minimum cutoff scores to improve quality of hire and reduce time spent on hiring by allowing employers to quickly filter out applicants who lack the necessary capabilities for the job. Today we’re going to talk about a much less common and more controversial practice of using maximum score cutoffs. We generally do NOT recommend using maximum cutoff scores. That is, we do NOT recommend excluding someone because she scored too high on an aptitude test for example. The reason we don’t recommend this is that the science is just not clear enough on the benefits.

Why would anyone consider excluding someone for being too smart? The theory goes like this. Some testing companies believe that scoring above the expected range on an aptitude test can be an indicator that a person will be bored by a particular job and want to move on, and that higher aptitude people will also have more opportunities to find other jobs than will lower aptitude employees. Essentially, the idea is that whereas low scores signify that candidates are a risk for involuntary turnover – because they may not be trainable or able to perform well – extremely high scores can be an indicator of risk for voluntary turnover. But the evidence that overqualified employees represent a greater flight risk is not very strong, and in fact one recent study refutes it pretty convincingly. So we don’t generally recommend using max cutoff scores. However, a study we did for one of our larger customers showed that higher scoring candidates were more likely to leave, so if you can find similar trends at your organization, and if voluntary turnover is a big problem for your company or industry, it may be something to consider.