Hiring Overqualified Employees Helps Restaurants Prosper

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These are trying times for anyone seeking work as unemployment figures hovered around 9.1 percent for August of 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

To make matters worse for job seekers, managers often have the erroneous belief that overqualified candidates will simply take the job as a placeholder and when something better comes along, they'll up and quit.

But those same managers would be going against a survey completed by Dr. Anthony Nyberg, assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, and published in 2010 in the ‘Journal of Applied Psychology,’ which found that in positions with lower cognitive demands, employees with higher cognitive ability were less likely than others to voluntarily leave. 

In predicting job departure, Nyberg found the most mentally demanding jobs produced job dissatisfaction at three times the rate of the simplest jobs.

"There is a great deal of evidence that says the higher a worker's cognitive abilities the more successful they'll be as a waiter, and will have a better memory, better work ethic, show up on time, be more professional, have more useful ideas, and possess better communication skills,” he says.

Norma's Café, serving Texas home-style comfort food in two locations in Dallas, is a practiced case-in-point. 

Bill Ziegler, director of operations for one location, says, "A month ago we hired Mercedes Garcia, as a cashier and front-of-the-restaurant greeter. She handles cash transactions and to-go orders."

In a former position, Garcia had been a general manager of a quick-service buffet restaurant for five years in the same town.

Ziegler says during the interview he asked why she'd consider a cashier's job. "She told me she'd recently had a child, that she just wanted to easily back into the restaurant environment, and didn't want full-time work yet,” he says.

"Now we have someone who has been counted on in the past to lead the entire staff," Ziegler says. "The biggest benefit is having a successful restaurant general manager at our front door. There is a time to lean and a time to clean, she never leans," he says. For example, during slow periods at the cash register Garcia will walk the restaurant and talk to diners.

As a testament to her knowledge base, management would like to promote her in the future.

In the food business for 14 years in Cape Cod, Robyn Thibodeau, co-owner and manager of The Sailing Cow Café, says she hired a chef two years ago who'd been a lawyer but didn't want to continue in private practice.

"He's great at what he does," she says. "My experience hiring overqualified people is if they come from a corporate environment, they're groomed to that environment, with a strong work ethic,” she says.

"The overqualified people I've hired don't talk back, know right from wrong, don't do drugs or alcohol and don't have excuses for their absences," Thibodeau adds. "You ask them to do something and it's done."

The lawyer-turned-chef has worked out well. "He is very calm and handles problems diplomatically, doesn’t cross the line and he gets along with the entire team."

James Sinclair, principal at OnSite Consulting in Los Angeles says the majority of his restaurant clients have hired someone who is overqualified in some respect.

Sinclair feels experience is the thing and without it a restaurant can go down in flames.

"There are no textbooks for this stuff so experience is important," he says. "The more time spent in a fires, the handier you become with an extinguisher."

You only have one chance to ruin a patron's dinner experience. That's why you bring in someone with experience and skill, an overqualified restaurant worker.

By Judith A. Stock


Photo courtesy of Greene Turtle Sports Bar


News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by FSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.


Fantastic article! A lot of people want to downgrade jobs for any number of reason, but bring skills from more demanding positions. They will make incredibly reliable employees with great leadership qualities, even in positions that aren't usually associated with leadership.

This is really interesting. I wonder though if these overqualified people leave when a job at their level opens up, or when their life changes (kids get older, etc)

Fascinating to read the reasons, from the restaurant owner's point of view. 

There are so many ways good skills can be translated into other types of jobs, regardless of the job being a step "down." AFter all, personality and hard work factor into just about any type of profession.

Love this, because from the perspective of someone who will give a restaurant one shot to get it right, I want that overqualified staff. If I have a bad experience, I won't go back.

Great story. I agree with Skraft, skills from one industry can definitely translate to another. I'm sure it's going to be happening more and more...

Thank you for this - as someone who's moved from corporate PR into food-related retail, it was a challenge finding an employer who saw my skills for the strengths they are, and still a daily challenge to deal with customers who assume those of us who work retail are undereducated and not deserving of the same respect they would afford a lawyer or executive. The person giving you your change could be an MBA or a Ph.D!

This is a great article. So many businesses are finding these days that skills from one industry can carry over to another. 

I came from a TV & advertising  background where I worked for 14 years - after a layoff I took a seasonal warehouse job and my previous experience translated into new success for the company.

Indeed, as Fivecoat says, skills do transfer and interests (and people) evolve. Bringing new energy into a situation is always a good thing.

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