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Career Advisor by Edgar Saadi

Told you were overqualified? Winning interviews are a learned skill

Finding the right match is critical. But if you make the wrong job move, there are actions you can take

March  1997
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Are you overqualifed for the jobs you seek? One reader is, and he's having a tough time with it. Another reader is upset because a new, entry-level employee is earning the same as this grizzled, 10-year veteran, while a third is not finding his new start-up job favorable. (1,700 words)

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Dear Edgar,

I am currently a systems manager for an advertising agency in the UK. I find myself constantly unappreciated by the management who seem completely oblivious to what it is I spend my life doing.

Despite numerous attempts to convince management that my job is not a simple one, they refuse to accept the hours I put in as being indicative of a heavy workload, and so I find myself looking elsewhere. In doing so, I've now gone for two jobs interviews at a major computer company and have been declined at both attempts because (And I quote): "You know too much." In other words, they considered me overqualified for the posts (both senior support in pre/post sales).

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not disheartened, but I wonder if you have any thoughts on how I can be overqualified for such highly-technical jobs at the age of 24, and how I might go about getting past this obstacle and get out of the rut I'm currently in!

Thanks in advance,

Dear Overqualified,

Interestingly, your intitial complaint that your company does not understand what it is you do all day is exactly the problem voiced by so many of the systems administrators that our recruiters talk to everyday. They are frustrated by the fact that they are invisible to management and the users until there is a problem, in which case they are immediately in trouble.

Managing and administering complex networks can be a difficult job. And although it can often be a thankless profession, there is an increasing demand for these kinds of generalists. It is rare that I see 24-year-olds who are so advanced in this field that they cannot find a job. If you are clearly overqualified for a support position, I can only imagine that they would forward your resume to another department.

I do not mean to dishearten you, but unless you're Doogie Howser, chances are that these interviewers were in fact looking for a way to let you down easy. I base this statement almost entirely on the fact that you are young.

Go back in your mind and recall the interviews. Did you really bang all the questions? Were the managers really impressed at your resume and at all the answers you gave? One of the most important things to keep in mind when you are assessing your career and actively pursuing a job is that you be absolutely honest with yourself.

This is not to say that you are not good at what you do or that your current employer does not, in fact, understand or appreciate your job. If it is indeed true that you are overqualified for these positions that you have applied for, then the answer to your problems is simple: look for more advanced jobs that match your skill set.

I would also like to take this opportunity to present my bias of asking the advice of a good recruiter. Such professionals can usually help you fine tune your interviewing skills. Another thing to keep in mind is that a hiring manager will rarely be honest with a candidate on why he was rejected. A good recruiter can easily get this essential information. I've worked with excellent systems administrators that have inadvertently presented themselves as egotistical, scattered, or timid. The point is that these were likeable people, highly skilled people -- they just didn't realize how their nervousness affected the first impression. Interviewing is a skill like any other.

Regardless of how this current problem works itself out, take heart that if you continue to work hard and concentrate on following the right technologies, you will find yourself one day far and away at the top of your field.


Running the numbers: Salary discrepancy doesn't add up
Dear Edgar:

A junior writer has been hired at my rate of pay. I have over 10 years experience in the industry; she has less than six months, none of it at a commerical software house.

I'm upset about it and very resentful. How can I communicate this to my manager and not cause problems? I'm feeling like I want to leave the company -- and I started here three months ago.

Cheated by New Math

Dear Cheated,

This just does not add up. It would be helpful to know a little more information here, such as, what were you making in your previous job? And when you accepted your current position three months ago, were you satisfied with the salary?

I can only imagine two possible scenarios: either you were severely underpaid at your previous job -- and your current employer looked at that number then offered you only an incremental increase of salary. Or, there is some favoritism at play with this new hire -- i.e. the person who hired the junior writer knows or likes this person.

If the junior writer had a couple years of experience this would be a more fathomable situation. But with six months, it seems hard to believe that management would consider this person of equal value to you, who has ten years in the field. Even if your job has not changed much over the years, either you are being severely underpaid, or this person is being ridiculously overcompensated.

In any case, something sounds very wrong. My guess is that the truth is some kind of a combination of the two situations.

My advice is to diplomatically raise the issue with your boss. I suggest you posture the conversation as, "A salary issue has come up that has begun to affect my enthusiasm and productivity. I really like working here and perhaps I am misunderstanding the situation, could you explain it in a little more detail?" This puts the ball in your manager's court.

If he/she unregrettfully admits to the uncongruous pay scale, I would kindly accept that information then quietly set out to find an employer that will pay you what you are worth. If this happens, be sure to select your next job very carefully. You cannot afford to be known as a job hopper.

Mistakes do happen
Dear Edgar,

I recently joined a four person start-up company, thinking it'd be a good change after working for big companies for the past seven years. I took a 50 percent pay cut thinking that I'd be an important staff member and would be compensated when the company took off. I was prepred to work hard, long hours, and learn.

On my first week, I realized I was wrong. The people are nice and the atmosphere casual, but while my boss was looking to the future on a hot project utilizing new technology, I am lumped with a recent college graduate to debug and maintain an existing product. He is hiring his old friends from his previous company to work on the new, exciting project.

I found I absolutely hate the long hours, the lack of privacy, the uninteresting work, and the low pay. I made a bad mistake joining them. I am thinking about leaving the firm after only being there for two weeks. My friends advise me not to leave before getting another position.

How can I be in my top shape to job hunt and talk with an agent when we all share the same room and the same phone? Also, should I stay at least a year just so my resume won't look bad?


Dear Hating-It,

Normally when someone starts a new job and does not like it, I advise him/her to stick it out for a while -- give it some time. The reason for this is that people often see only the bad things at first and are a bit shaken by the new environment and resist the change of management style.

That said, your situation seems to be clearly different. You have not joined a big organization that has a history and a culture to learn. Rather, you have come aboard a group of four that seems to be taking advantage of your committment and sacrifices from the start. Don't make a short mistake into a long one.

As I have mentioned in a few recent articles that touched upon joining start-up companies, these moves are risky. You seem to have entered into your current situation with a clear head and accepted the pay cut, long hours, and lack of privacy; but with the expectation of doing something exciting. And although there may be some money at the end of this ordeal, it is not worth it if management will not make you a true part of the team and let you work on the exciting projects that brought you to the company in the first place.

Sometimes in life you make mistakes. More important is to be able to recognize when you do. It doesn't look great on the resume if you keep bouncing from job to job, but in this case, that is a less important consideration. It's impossible for me to know if your company has been dishonest or misleading. I only know that, from the tone of your letter, the chemistry is not right. You seem to clearly know what is right for you.

Although I understand that it may be difficult to find the time or privacy to use the telephone, you should actively begin your job search and attempt to take all your calls at night. And remember, do not jump ship until you have another job lined up.

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