What To Do When You’re Overqualified

What to Do When You're Overqualified For Your Job | CorporetteHave you ever taken a job for which you’re overqualified?  Reader C recently took a step back from her career in order to spend more time with her family, and while she likes the money and hours, she isn’t thrilled with the level of daily challenge:

I’m a midcareer professional taking a step back into a new company. I made this choice to spend more time with my family and because the pay is great. However, I miscalculated how much of a step back it was and I want to position myself for rapid advancement within the co. to a level more consistent with my capabilities by trying to highlight my strengths and experience. I find myself handling many clerical level tasks due lack of staff to delegate to and I’m often complimented on very mundane activities (“nice job organizing that meeting!”) which happen to be much more visible than my strategic responsibilities and I don’t know how to respond. I want to acknowledge the compliment but also make clear that work of that nature doesn’t reflect my full role or potential. Jokes like “you should see what I’m really capable of” are vague, not always appropriate and wear thin quickly. Any recommendations for responding to these specific comments and for positioning for future advancement?

Hmmmn.  I’m curious to hear what readers say here.  You say the pay is great, and it sounds like the work/life juggle is in alignment — so what you want is more challenging work for the hours you’re there.  A few things to ask yourself:

– Where was the disconnect? Was the job description not accurate, or did you misunderstand it?  Or is there an internal problem — for example, did you underestimate how important challenging work is to your happiness? The answer here will help inform how you proceed — if you thought you were taking a different job than the one you have, you should speak with your boss immediately.  Assuming you didn’t, however:

– Is this job/company salvageable? Depending on how far of a step backwards you’ve taken, you may or may not be able to “position yourself for rapid advancement in this company,” because it may be difficult for coworkers who’ve only seen you in a support staff capacity to accept you as something more.  If you’re going to have to change companies entirely (but are OK to do the job for a little while): enjoy the money and the reasonable hours now, keep your ear to the ground for new opportunities that fit what you need in terms of money/time/challenge, and put a solid date in your calendar for when you will start the hunt for a new job.  In the meantime, try to do strategic volunteering to keep your skills sharp — this will give you something to talk about while you’re networking and interviewing, and may help in the “fulfillment” area as well.  This may mean additional hours, but they may be more realistic hours to take on during these family-intensive years.

– If you’re not off your career track entirely, can you talk to your boss about getting the work you want? (IMHO, I’d cut the little comments and take a direct approach.) You may STILL end up doing the clerical work, because that’s what the position needs and they won’t hire someone else to do that, but you may be able to work more on projects that will showcase your skills and abilities, and eventually move into a new position where you’re only doing what you want to do.

I think you might also have to separate a few things in your mind: how you spend your day, your pride/vanity in your work, and how/if this job will affect future opportunities.  To wit:

– What really is bothering you about the clerical tasks?  If you truly don’t enjoy organizing meetings and doing other clerical tasks, then you may just need to look for another job.  On the other hand: If your main complaint is that you’re being “underestimated” because you’re capable of more and no one sees your brilliance — that may be your pride rearing its ugly head.  It’s cool to say, “I AM better than this and I DO need a better job for me,” but do recognize that it’s for internal, personal reasons.

– How will this job affect future opportunities? There’s a difference between what you spend 80% of your time doing, and what you can talk about in future interviews.  The truth is you only need a few good projects to talk about in interviews — if you keep your eye on those few brag-worthy projects, can get over the blow to your pride, and don’t hate what you’re doing on the day to day — then this job should be fine for the limited time period you see yourself there.  Keep your eye on those few big projects, though, as well as which new skills you would want to acquire.  (I’d say a career plan sounds like a great idea in this circumstance.)

It may also be helpful to read Ask a Manager’s words on why hiring managers don’t want to hire overqualified candidates — it sounds like Reader C’s situation exactly.

Readers, what are your thoughts — how do you manage doing a job that you’re overqualified for? How would you make the determination whether to stay, go, or try to change the existing job?

Pictured: Desperate, originally uploaded to Flickr by thinkjose.

Social media images via Stencil.overqualified for my job - image of a bored woman

A reader wrote in, worrying she was overqualified for her job -- she knew she was leaning out so she could spend more time with her family, but didn't realize quite how far a step down it was. We gave our best advice on how to deal when you're overqualified for your job, and then turned it over to the readers...


  1. Wow, this was ME! When I gradeauated law school, I was NOT abel to get a great job right away b/c I had issue’s in my summer jobs. I did not get Offer’s b/c I did NOT get a long with one guy (who was sexist) and the other guy wanted to sleep with me, but he was GROSS. FOOEY!

    So I wound up out of law school after the bar exam with a job in NYC serveing subpeenees and summons’ for a company. I do NOT think I needed a law degree for it and they were NOT paying me a legal salary, tho they used me alot to sign afadavid’s of service for them. I did this for a while until I met the manageing partner in an elevator, and it was ONLEY then that he realised my POTENTIAL as an attorney. If I had stayed serveing supeeenees, I probabley would have advanced to senior management by now, but I would NOT be handeling case’s in court like I do now.

    So the moral is to alway’s try to get ahead, but if you are stuck, make the most of it. YAY!!!!

    • Actual Lawyer :

      Oh, dear. I wonder if this is just a fake post. No one one could have graduated from law school with such poor writing skills .

      • You must be new here.

        (Welcome! First order of business: Google “Corporette Ellen Watch” and have a good laugh.)

      • Are you kidding?
        Lots of lawyers are quite mediocre scholastically/intellectually… (unfortunately)

        • Anonymous :

          I always try to remind myself of this when I do something stupid like file a draft brief.

  2. Anon - Tipping :

    Quick TJ: I have an appointment to get my makeup done at Sephora. There is a $50 minimum purchase. Am I expected to tip the lady? If so, how much?


  3. Anonymous :

    Suck it up! This is what you signed up for. “Positioning yourself for rapid advancement” just sounds so ugh to me. You just positioned yourself for slower advancement.

    • I agree with you. LW deliberately chose to take a step back and now she’s complaining the work isn’t challenging? What exactly did she expect? This is like someone who’s fluent in a language taking an intro-level course in that language and complaining that they don’t get to discuss complex literature in class.

  4. It doesn’t sound like the letter writer is actually being required to act as support staff to others. She’s doing her own support work, which is very different than acting as someone else’s admin. I doubt she’s being paid a great salary to act as a glorified admin. It sounds like she’s used to having someone support her, and feels it’s beneath her to organize her own meetings.

    • IMO a well-organized meeting is a thing of beauty and massively under-appreciated. I’m very proud of my meeting-organizing skills and a *good* meeting does a lot to serve the strategic goals of the organization. just sayin.

      • I agree, and I also think you stay in the loop better when you do your own admin work (as long as it does not become overwhelming).

  5. I know that doing work that is really easy compared with what you know you are capable of can impact your self-esteem, but maybe you should rethink it. I mean, you took a step back for a reason, and your reasons are good. If you want to advance again, you will be tossing those reasons aside. Are you sure that’s what you want? If it is, go for it. Just don’t forget what made you step back to begin with.

  6. Sorry to hear you’re not getting quite the right balance. Hopefully it is easier to dial up than scale back. Seems like maybe you have yourself positioned well to manage your own growth as you have the time and desire. Are you able to do so by request more challenging projects over time? Perhaps there are internal/external mentors familiar with then environment and industry that can offer specific advice, and an internal sponsor to help you move forward as you’re ready?

  7. This is challenging and it depends on the exact situation.

    Are you really not doing things in your field and getting stuck with admin work all the time? if so, that’s an issue and I agree either talk to your boss and see if maybe it can be fixed or maybe the job isn’t right. But if you are doing work in your field, but it is mixed with admin at times and maybe you don’t get the most exciting or best assignments, I think that’s what you chose and think carefully about why you chose it before finding something else.

    In my position, I work in my field, but I do not always get the assignments I would love. The really important and high-reward ones. Because I have chosen to work 30 hours while my kids are young. And really most of us have to choose which area of our life we are going to emphasize at any given time. They just aren’t going to give the best and most rewarding assignments to someone who isn’t going to work as hard or be as available. It’s not about how bright you are or your potential, but about your priorities. That can be hard at times. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss those plumb assignments. But I feel for me the trade-off is worth it and I think I will be able to switch to a job with more visibility and rewards (and also pressure and demands) if I want in a couple years because I am keeping my foot in the door and my skills current and doing a really good job with the projects I do have and occasionally I do get to work on some great things if they are short in duration so that my schedule won’t be as big of a deal for them. But that’s because I have over time proven that I will put in more hours if I really need to and won’t drop anything.

    There are jobs that just aren’t good fits. If they want you to be their admin and that’s not what you signed on for, then this may be one of those situations. But if your priority right now is your family and this allows you to spend time with them while still doing work that will ultimately be helpful to your career, just not as much or at the level you previously did, that’s worth something. I would think really carefully about what you want before making a move in that case because you probably aren’t going to find that perfect job that lets you be a superstar, but not infringe on family time. There are seasons in life and if this is one where your career isn’t first in your life, then definitely think about that and what you are really looking for and what you can realistically find.

  8. Because of my parents divorce, my mother was thrust back into the world of work with the need to make money to put a roof over the head of her two children. She was an attorney, but 25 years ago no one would hire a female single parent attorney who had been out of the work force for a few years.

    So she temped. She got a 2 week gig to cover the end of a legal secretary’s maternity leave. when she retired from the company 20 years later, she was a VP in charge of corporate compliance (after the company was indicted on criminal felonies). She didn’t advance by telling everyone how amazing she was, and how much more she could do. She advanced by doing the job she had as well as she could, being willing to take on extra responsibilities, and showing that she could be trusted to do whatever task she was giving carefully, completely and professionally. The job she started with was beneath her skills. But by not acting like that, she ended up advancing farther than she really knew was possible.

    • Coach Laura :

      ECMD – love this story!

    • This is a great story. I work with a few people who love to say that something “isn’t their job” and then wonder why they never get assigned more responsibility or get promoted.

  9. Bnonymous :

    This happened to me. I hated my firm job so I left for another job. I thought it was a newly created position and they advertised for a JD but it ended up being an admin position. They even got me flowers on Administrative Professional’s Day (which I used to do for my support person!). Even though the job provided me with great work/life balance it was a dead-end in terms of advancement and the fact that the people I worked with couldn’t change their mindset that I was a professional and not support staff. I left after six months and found another position that has good work/life balance but is in a professional setting and I could easily transition into something more high powered if I wanted to. I think you have to make an assessment based on whether you can do the job every day (I was constantly unhappy) and whether it is worth it in the long run (either for your family or career).

  10. Meg Murry :

    also took a big step back this year, so I can relate to feeling like “I’m better than this”. If you are otherwise keeping up with the work you’ve been tasked with, I agree that you should ask for a small project to keep you challenged – but only if you can keep the rest of the job duties from sliding. Remember – SOMEONE has to do admin duties, and in this case, they hired you for that. Its not beneath you – its your job, and it keeps the company going. That said, if a lot of the duties are time consuming and repetitive- can you find a way to automate or streamline some of them? That would free you up for more ” meaningful” work and less admin tasks.

  11. Breezyred :

    I can relate to a similar experience. In order to make a transition into a different, but related, field, I ended up in a position where my strengths were underutilized. I ended up transitioning to another organization after one year because I was bored to death with so little meaningful work even though I was obviously recognized by my peers and supervisors as having capacity for so much more. In this case, there was no opportunity to fast-track advancement. The path to upward mobility was based almost more on time than ability, so I would have had to wait out advancement for the very long term.

    I think a first step toward getting what you want is determining what is possible. How do people advance in the organization? Is rapid advancement possible? How did your supervisors (or even their supervisors) get into their positions? Did they perform certain roles first or serve the organization for a given set of time or did they come in from the outside? It could be that you are in a key role for advancement, or it could actually be a dead end type of position.

    As a note to the admin tasks, my current role includes admin responsibilities because there just aren’t the numbers of people to cover everything. The admin stuff can definitely be tedious and take time out of my real work in my organization. It definitely took some time to find the balance. One thing that helped was getting my supervisor on board. I couldn’t fulfill my role to her and my organization if I was constantly dealing with calendaring and other admin tasks. We narrowed down my list of admin responsibilities to the most pressing ones for our team, and things run much more smoothly now.

    As far as people’s perceptions of you, I had to overcome this as well. A number of our partners at first thought I was a full time admin assistant. To clear things up, I made a few strategic moves that have proven helpful. (1) I listed my degree in my signature (I have a masters in my field and am working on a doctorate, so this automatically cleared up some confusion with people who mostly communicated with me via email). (2) I started taking over meetings that my supervisor had normally led or attended. (3) I reached out to key partners with my thoughts and experiences to answer ongoing questions.

  12. This just sounds so entitled. You wanted to improve your work-life balance – you found a job that pays well and let’s you do that! Plus, your co-workers appreciate you. So many people would kill for that. I can’t bring myself to think this is a “problem” worthy of attention or counsel. Sorry.

    • Anonymous :

      I’m the OP. From some of the comments, I think I didn’t do the best job of representing my concerns. I don’t think the admin work is beneath me at all, and I’m not trying to get out of the work I was hired to do. I’ve rarely had staff available to support me and don’t object to doing whatever is necessary. When I’m complimented, I take it with a smile and “thank you” and I am truly glad that they feel I’m capable and contributing, the comment about jokes was meant to forestall the type of advice I’ve seen elsewhere which I don’t think is appropriate. What I’m really seeking is thoughts on how do I get beyond perceptions of me as support staff so that I may be offered more opportunities to demonstrate my capabilities.
      I won’t deny there may be 1% ego in this, but its really about career advancement and I appreciate the responses here with practical suggestions as well as recommendations about thinking hard about what I really want.
      That said, the themes of “you’ve made your bed, lie in it” and “sounds entitled” are also causing me to take a hard look at myself so I do appreciate even those comments

  13. This is why people don’t ever want to hire “overqualified” people. They get the job and immediately want to advance or do something other than what they were hired for.

  14. Anonymous :

    If the OP thinks that certain tasks are beneath her, what does she think of people who do those tasks as their regular job?