Working in a job you’re overqualified for

Avoiding typecasting while not turning up your nose at honest work

Working in a job you’re overqualified for
Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl


Last week’s post focused on the value of paying one’s dues and learning from simple jobs — particularly for those with postsecondary education which makes them appear overqualified. Employers shouldn’t necessarily reject such candidates, as they can actually bring a lot to the table.


But what if you are ambitious and stuck in a dead-end job you consider below your ambitions and talent level? What can you do to ensure you aren’t perceived as being a more junior-level employee than you really are?


People often are typecast when they stay in a certain type of role for too long. After a few years, it becomes much harder to make a change — particularly to a more senior-level position.


Employers will often forget the experience people brought to the table in the first place and may not see the potential in those folks if they haven’t been using their previous backgrounds.


That also applies with respect to education. I’ve heard some people say a degree has a “shelf life” of several years, meaning if you don’t do something with your degree within that timeframe, your education will largely be wasted.


While I personally think that’s an exaggeration and there are ways around this problem, it can certainly be the case that working in a different field from your major or doing a job that doesn’t require postsecondary education for too long can make it more difficult to be promoted or get a job that aligns with your education, experience or career interests.


Taking a survival job


I previously blogged about whether you should take a “survival job” outside your field or hold out for something that aligns more closely with your career interests. The answer to that question is really “It depends.”


The factors that need to be taken into consideration include personal finances, how long you’ve been out of work, the availability of jobs in your field and your likelihood of actually landing a job in your field. In my experience, staying unemployed and holding out for something that aligns with your career interests often works out better for people in the long run — especially those who come from money and don’t need to worry about how they’re going to feed themselves and their families or put a roof over their heads.


On the other hand, people who aren’t independently wealthy or can’t rely on their parents to support them often need to take a job just to pay the bills, even if it isn’t their so-called dream job. I personally think there’s no shame in honest work, and I tend to think more highly of people who are willing to do whatever it takes to make ends meet.


But do most employers agree with me? While there is a stigma associated with being unemployed long-term, it seems to me that people who are extremely confident and ambitious who hold out for more often end up getting what they want.


Having the audacity to position yourself as a “strategist,” for example, can sometimes allow you to escape absolute entry-level positions even as a relatively inexperienced person. Thinking highly of yourself will often make others do the same.


Not turning your nose up at jobs considered ‘beneath’ you


Another interesting question I’ve explored is when does a job go from something that merely pays the bills to being your actual career? Perhaps giving a job your all and making it your career might be better than forever telling yourself this isn’t what you were cut out to do.


I’ve read some advice, for example, telling people to eschew staff functions in favour of revenue-generating line roles in an attempt to make more money and be promoted faster. But if you’re in a staff role (like HR) and are good at it, why should you switch if you’re successful and moving up the career ladder? Being in a leadership role in a function that pays less is often preferable to being in a junior-level position in a career path that generally pays better.


Other strategies for dealing with a job you’re overqualified for include pursuing additional education on a part-time basis, volunteering for special projects, being curious, asking lots of questions and taking a genuine interest in the business. I also think working hard, doing a good job, being professional and pursuing learning and development opportunities can help you move up faster.

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