Doing well at a job I'm overqualified for
July 22, 2009 1:29 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to thrive and forward my career in a job I am overqualified for?

I'm about to start a job that I am overqualified for. Mind you, this isn't just my opinion - between the time I applied and when I was offered the position, the position was actually re-listed at a lower level. I have a decade of experience and an advanced degree in my field, while the position requires a bachelor's degree and 2-3 years of experience.

I took the job for a few reasons:

- The firm is well-respected, progressive and offers good opportunities for advancement.
- I would be getting in on the ground floor of a new project, so there should be lots of opportunities to prove myself and take on higher level responsibilities.
- I've been unemployed for the better part of a year: a bird in the hand, etc.
- I'm personally excited about working on this project for this firm - I think it has the potential to be very personally rewarding.

Despite all these great reasons to take the job, I am a bit concerned about the realities of working in a job I'm overqualified for. For instance, I'm worried that I'll get bored with my assignments, especially at the beginning, and that this will negatively affect my work. I'm worried that if I spend too much time on tasks that are fairly easy for me, I'll become stagnant in my career. At the same time, I don't want to be that annoying new person who thinks they're too good for the grunt work. How do I balance all this?

And then there's the ego issue. I wish this weren't a factor, but I'm only human, and there's a small part of me that feels like a bit of a failure for taking a job that I probably could have gotten five years ago. But I know this isn't my boss's fault, and I want to do everything I can to keep this from becoming a bad work attitude.

Granted, this is a better problem to have then "crap, my unemployment benefits are about to run out." I'm really grateful to finally have a job after months of unemployment, in this crappy economy, and I want to do the best job I can. So hive mind, do any of you have experience with this, either from my position, or from the POV of being a boss to someone in my position? Please share your wisdom.

Email for follow-up questions, or if you want to share advice privately:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Grin and bear it, ask for more responsibility at every chance you get, and always have an eye open for better job openings. The combination of the last two things will most likely help you move on to something better.
posted by piratebowling at 1:55 PM on July 22, 2009

Shine in this project. You said the firm offers good prospects for advancement and is well-regarded. Chances are that if you exceed the expectations for the position you're in now that will be noticed and that you'll be well-placed to apply for higher level positions as they become vacant.

If the company is offering any kind of training/seminars/other professional development for people in jobs a step or two up from yours, see if you'd be able to attend.

Some companies have a policy that you must stay in the position for which you were originally hired for a minimum period. Even if your company has such a policy, take every opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities for more senior positions.

Be open to the possibility that you don't know everything there is to know about the lower level position, and that you may learn things you didn't even realise you didn't know. My current field is workplace training and assessment, and I quite regularly encounter people in senior positions who could not perform a lower level position to the required standard of competency if required, despite their experience and formal qualifications - and sometimes I have to certify them as "not yet competent" in their current positions because they can't perform lower level tasks adequately (that does not go over well).

Really, how bored you are in this position and how quickly you advance beyond it is largely within your own control. If you can look at it as an opportunity to develop a depth of experience in your field rather than as some kind of "demotion" or "failure", you may benefit from this more than you can imagine right now.

Be open to possibilities, and grasp them as they arise.

Good luck!
posted by Lolie at 1:56 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't sweat it.
Don't forget that if you know you're over qualified, they know it to. I'm guessing they didn't question you about it at the interview given that you've felt the need to post about it - they should have done. pointing out something that is obvious to everyone is not arrogance. If I was you I wouldn't let this be the elephant in the room, you should be open an honest about your concerns. Whilst reassuring them of your commitment to the role and the team etc.

If they aren't stupid - having a frustrated overqualified employee is not good for the office IMOP - they will have hired you in part because they think you'll be able to advance, if so they should be able to discuss this with you (without committing to anything) so that you can make sure your gaining the experience &training that will help you do so.

I know a few company's who have made these kind of hires - that is hiring slightly overqualified people - because a) the current market makes these people avail to them; but also b) they know they can train them to get the manger they need in say 1-2 years.
posted by munchbunch at 2:02 PM on July 22, 2009

Deliver above and beyond all the time on the job they're paying you for. If you can do that and still have spare cycles go looking for extra things to do, either by approaching colleagues who are pressed or approaching your boss and letting him know you have time to knock something else of his to do list. Do these things without taking credit from your colleagues or showing them up.
posted by IanMorr at 2:11 PM on July 22, 2009

Do a great job and get promoted. If they don't promote you, look for a new job from the comfort of your current job.

An easy victory is kind of a guilty pleasure, isn't it? But, every success is legitimate. It may be beneath you now, but you've paid the dues that make this work easy. I look at it this way: I can do a four-wheel break pad and rotor replacement in about 20 minutes. It's grunt work and does nothing to showcase my (awesome and glorious) diagnostic skillz, but the speed and ease of accomplishment makes it gravy work. I make probably 2.5 hours for about 20 minutes of work. Just take the gravy and shed the guilt. Every time I breaze through something, I think of a time when I was just starting in this field and basic stuff would take forever. Now, you've got the opportunity to do the work you used to do from a wiser and more skilled perspective.

Think of it as money for nothing and look for something better once you get too bored to stand it.
posted by Jon-o at 2:51 PM on July 22, 2009

Like IanMorr mentioned, for advancement, deliver the tasks you're given above and beyond what they expect from the job level.

When you do get bored, work on pet projects, do some research into topics you're interested in, walk around the building to get some exercise, grab a coffee and 'you're taking a break', go chat with co-workers so that it interrupts what they're doing and makes your contribution look even better, book meetings, look for something that needs doing like making more coffee, ... yes, I've been there. Bored for 36.5 / 37.5 hours.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 3:17 PM on July 22, 2009

Make sure you're vocal about your desire to move beyond the position and take on more responsibilities. You do not want to be in a situation where you are good at your job, reliable and management would rather hire from the outside than move you up. Yes, there is not always a rational for firms to do this other than they are human. Definitely have an exist strategy and stick to it. I've definitely seen people get screwed before, the ones who accept that they've hit a wall and might have to take a lateral move at a different company are always the ones who deal with it the best.
posted by geoff. at 3:49 PM on July 22, 2009

There was a fantastic blog I stumbled across some time ago, called Confessions of a Porn Store Clerk. It's written by someone who worked at a video rental store for porn movies, and had lots of interesting anecdotes. Anyway, at one point, a customer comes up to her asking for help finding a movie, but without offering much description, and so the searching was not easy. She said something in the post that has stuck with me ever since:

"But I keep looking. The Zen lesson of my job is this: just because I do not want to be a video clerk doesn't mean I shouldn't be the best possible video clerk I can be. There's no way to just pop up a partial alphabetical list of titles, so you have to pick a likely starting point and then flip through entry after entry."

It's good to remember. No matter what you're doing, you should always plug along and give it your very best.
posted by losvedir at 4:19 PM on July 22, 2009

How about getting involved at the meta level in your profession? By that I mean (among other options) volunteering on a committee with your national professional association(s), writing articles for their journals, attending conferences, etc? You will have excess mental energy, and could use it to make your firm look good by representing them more widely in the field as a thought leader, and at the same time, develop valuable contacts and breadth of knowledge about what you do.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

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