August 8, 2011

Are you over-qualified for a grunt job?

Filed under: Hiring, Interviewing, Job Search, Readers' Forum

In the August 9, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter gets rejected for demonstrating initiative, and asks for a work-around:

You have urged us to convince the hiring manager we can bring value to a job. Believe it or not, this doesn’t seem to be appropriate in some circumstances, unfortunately.

I have had experiences with accounting and IT (information technology) hiring managers. Each had a detailed requirement of the role to be filled. When I focused on what I could bring to the table, the post-mortem in each case was, “She is overqualified.” They just wanted someone to tick off the boxes on the requirement and show proof of competence in those areas. Going beyond was automatic rejection.

Maybe certain roles demand a pedantic mind to succeed, and it’s not possible to present a good business case to such people when they are the hiring managers. What do you think?

Nick, do you have a work-around for this circumstance?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

This is an excellent question. But I don’t think this is really about the job. I think it’s about the employer. I’ll take the liberty of re-phrasing it:

Do I want to work for someone who wants me to be a grunt, and not add anything to the job?

If you do, then don’t offer anything more in the interview than the interviewer asks for. That is, check off the boxes and go along for the ride. The trick, of course, is figuring out whether the employer wants more or not. I’m not sure that’s possible without betraying higher intelligence and motivation.

But if you want a job where you’re contributing to the business, and if you want an employer that cares, then keep doing what you’ve been doing. Show what you can bring to the table. Employers that want to hire robots will fail the interview, just as this one did.

No offense intended — honest — but I think what you’re getting at is, How do we dumb ourselves down so we can get a job that doesn’t require our full participation?

Maybe you just answer the questions you’re asked, and say little more than that… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week,  subscribe to the newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)…

Note to human resources managers: If your company wants grunts, please stop talking about “hiring talent.” You know who you are.

I know there are managers who don’t give a rat’s batootie how capable a job candidate is, beyond meeting the minimum requirements. There are also people who close their eyes and gobble down anything in the fridge, because they consider cooking a waste of time. Anything they can stuff in their face will do.

I don’t disparage anyone who just needs a job to pay the bills, and who will take anything they can get. But that’s not the audience I write for. I write for people who love to cook tasty meals and enjoy seeing big, gratified smiles on the people sitting around their table — like their boss and their co-workers. Because life’s too short for just plain “competent.”

Managers who reject job candidates capable of doing more than the job description aren’t managers. They’re grunts, too. When grunts run a business, talented workers eventually all leave. The customers and investors usually depart after that. I think getting rejected by grunt managers is a good thing. But if you want to work around such rejection, just sit quietly and chow down on the mush grunts serve you.

I’m sure people have strong opinions about this. I’d love to hear them! Even routine jobs benefit from smart, motivated workers who want to help a business be more successful. But I could be wrong. Are employers smart to hire grunts?

: :

41 Comments on “Are you over-qualified for a grunt job?”
By Lynne
August 9, 2011 at 7:59 am

I think some managers are afraid that a spectacular new hire could make them look bad in comparison. They don’t want to hire a future competitor for the next promotion.

Others fear that an overqualified candidate will be bored or find something better and leave right after a substantial investment in the hiring process and training.

I asked my college town municipal HR department if they saw a pattern of overqualified hires turning over faster than other hires. They don’t. Instead the city benefits from the wealth of talent that’s available.

I also suggest exploring the difference between a moderate responsibility, fixed hours job at a well-run company and a high-stress, long hours job at poorly-run company. A candidate could qualify for either job but have many good reasons for wanting the “smaller” job –which may still have space to apply many talents, with less responsibility. The “smaller” job may just be way more fun.

If the smaller job is your (long-term) goal, you need to convey your reasons clearly to the hiring manager…and speak about why this particular job is the one you want.

No one wants to be the “just couldn’t find anything better – this will do for now” choice….

By Alan
August 9, 2011 at 8:46 am

I think people forget that interviewing is a two way process. When a company is interviewing me I am interviewing them as well. If I had the experience as described in the original question, I would say that company failed the interview. I am glad they did not offer me the job because I am already on to finding someone who can give me what I want. Of course, I am currently employed, so that is easy for me to say.

By Michael Enquist
August 9, 2011 at 9:13 am

Being currently employed, as Alan is, puts one in a position to have more choices about which new job to take or pass on, to be sure, but we have to remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

If you are unemployed, out of savings and the unemployment benefits have expired: ANY (legal and moral) job that pays is a good job.

Once you have re-established cash flow and know that you can cover most of your bills, then it’s time to start looking for the career that leads to self-actualization. Who knows? That career could very well be in the same company where you were willing to take the makes-ends-meet job.

Yes, I know very well that if one is in a McJob, has kids to raise and lots of things to worry about, looking for a career that is a match for one’s interests and talents seems like an impossible dream. My response to this objection sounds cliché, but is true: We each have 24 hours and how we choose to use that time determines what we get out of life. We have to seek allies who will help us carry some of our burdens for a short while so we can invest in our future.

BTW: Time management and the ability to collaborate and handle stress are skills that make you valuable to ANY employer. So your ability to carve out time and energy to search for a good career is proof of your worthiness to achieve your goals.

By Karsten
August 9, 2011 at 9:13 am

In the current US economy, no one can be blamed for taking a job just to pay the bills, and for dumbing themselves down to get it. But that should be done with a mental state of “I will do this work properly for now to get along, and continue searching for something better”. When something better is available, it may be time to tell the first company a few words of truth.

By John Zabrenski
August 9, 2011 at 9:14 am

Middle management is often a bastion of the weak minded stuck between a rock and a hard place. The situation described by the OP describes a company culture dominated by micro managers of the worst kind.
Not a good idea to work there unless you are adept at managing the micro manager.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 9, 2011 at 9:29 am

@Karsten: But isn’t that what employers cite as the reason for not hiring “over-qualified” people? That they are taking a step down (because they need the money) and that they will soon leave for something better? Such turnover costs a company time and money. Maybe this is a loaded statement… What do you guys think?

By Lucille
August 9, 2011 at 9:35 am

@Nick and Karstan,
The economy has sucked for 12 years and so getting along in a job which pays the bills and provides health insurance to your family is a long term stategy. Therefore, an employer shouldn’t necessarily worry about turn-over.

By Steve Berkwits
August 9, 2011 at 11:36 am

Several years ago I was on an Army logistics software development consulting project. It was the kind of environment when the government “grunts” watched the clock for the last 15 minutes of the workday, and were out the door and on their way to the parking lot the moment the clock hit quitting time, while the consultants and a few of the managers stuck around until their tasks were done. One such evening I remarked to one of the managers on the dedication of a regular “grunt” who stayed late every evening, and asked about when that person would be promoted. All the manager could say was, “While I love his enthusiasm, I haven’t got the heart to tell him his extra effort is wasted because he doesn’t have enough time-in-grade for me to be able to promote him. Unfortunately I’ll have to face losing him when he realizes that.”

Too bad the Civil Service had a hiring freeze on just then, or I would have taken a Civil Service programming job, and had a nice pension by now!

By Robert Tanenbaum
August 9, 2011 at 12:24 pm

With many years of software development experience, I recently upgraded my skills to break into a new technology. Therefore, despite my experience I applied to junior positions in the new technology. The recruiter representing one of these positions said I was “overqualified”. When I explained that I was indeed “junior” to this technology and that the job was desirable because it was close to home and I was eager to begin using my new skills, the recruiter replied, “I know the manager, and he only likes to work with someone fresh out of college because he wants to ‘mold’ his recruits.”

I suspect that this manager’s desire to have subordinates who do not think for themselves actually increases the turnover rate. Many people fresh out of college move on to other jobs as soon as they have a little experience.

As for me, I am now very happy working for a company that values my experience and ability to be self-led. In return, they are very happy that they don’t have to spend a lot of time managing their “junior” developer.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 9, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Employers behave like total dopes when it comes to hiring “over-qualified” people, older workers, people who are unemployed, and people who have been making significantly more or significantly less than the company is planning to pay.

I think there’s a simple reason for this. Employers in general suck at making an informed assessment of a worker’s value to their operation. They rely instead on kooky conventional wisdom, and on the “judgment” of a person’s prior employer. All in all, employers demonstrate a total lack of competitive edge when they fail to do a thoughtful assessment. And then they wonder, “Where is the talent?”

Gimme a break.

By LT
August 9, 2011 at 4:19 pm

@Robert: If some recruiter had tossed me that softball, my next stop would have been to the first employment attorney (employee side) I could find. Even in a right-to-work state, that is blatant discrimination. Might have settled for $2 and the position so that he would have had to look at my bald head for a while, and deal with my superior not-to-be-abused (ahem, “molded”) performance.

I’m convinced that vast numbers of hiring managers and HR types have a sadistic need to hear about and read stories about very talented people now greeting at Wal*Mart, working the drive-thru at McDonalds or driving cab. And while they rise and sleep under the blanket of freedom our service people provide, they doze off with a smile on their face knowing that most vets are headed for a sleeping bag under a park bench because they can’t show the “skillsets” HR pros use to keep them off the payroll.

@Nick: We know where the talent is and where it will wind up. Owning their own business, and very likely outside of the IT realm. I hope the day comes when some of these low-life swaggering arrogant “human resource professionals” have to go plead with the owner of Sam’s Scooter Repair to come and be a developer again.

By Dave
August 9, 2011 at 4:47 pm

@Nick and all:

Again, interesting ideas and conversation. Always look forward to reading.

I have little sympathy for people who complain about “talent shortages,” “over qualifed canidates” and “under qualified canidates.” Any time I hear these terms it makes my stomach turn.

What these people should really say is “We can’t find anyone with very specific requirements at the salary we want to pay. Also we offer no employee training (i.e. we require you to know everything, and that you learned it in no more than 3-5 years)/investment and have not thought about any employee career progression at our company. We also have no idea what your worth and can’t keep your salary up with performance.”

Anyone whose under qualified can be trained, if they have the right abilities. Anyone whose over qualified has a lot to bring to the table and needs to be managed differently.

By Erika
August 9, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Great comments! I agree with Lynne about the reasons employers give for not hiring overqualified workers, and with Nick’s assessment of why they do this; because they “suck at making an informed assessment of a worker’s value to their operation.” I do NOT think it is worthwhile trying to crystal ball when an overqualified employee will leave… that depends on their reasons for taking the job and their other prospects. Employers can not expect employees to be completely honest about these things because employers are not honest, let alone completely honest, about many things— plus the job seeker himself / herself may not know what the future holds. Turnover occurs for many reasons. Snag that overqualified employee before the competition does!

By Dave
August 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm

@Lynne and @Erika

What’s stopping any employee from leaving for any reason, regardless of whether they are over-qualified?

Turnover happens. But sometimes I think people don’t take the reasons why very seriously.

In fact, I think your over-qualified/rock star people will just leave faster!

By Nick Corcodilos
August 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm

@LT: We know where the talent is and where it will wind up. Owning their own business, and very likely outside of the IT realm.

Or outside whatever realm they’re working in. Of those who can’t land jobs, the most talented people will indeed start their own businesses, thereby creating a vacuum, which will force up the cost of filling that vacant position… I think we’re already at that point. Employers just don’t realize it. This is why the “unemployment” numbers are so goofy and meaningless — while some people are actually destitute because they have no jobs and no more UI benefits, many others are finding new ways to make a buck. And they’re unavailable to employers… they’re not off the radar. They’re new businesses of one sort or other. I know they’re not likely “going concerns,” but they’re working at it. And guess what? When they do get going, many will be competitors to their old employers. The advantage they have: As tiny “operations,” they’re more nimble.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 9, 2011 at 5:34 pm

@Erika: I do NOT think it is worthwhile trying to crystal ball when an overqualified employee will leave…

Very good point. An employee leaving is just another risk of doing business, and one that a company should account for. I can’t wait for an employer to “explain” that the way to “account” for this is to… not hire “over-qualified” people who are likely to leave!

Oh, yeah? (Sorry for having a conversation with myself.) What then of customers? Does a company not take on a customer for fear the customer will one day move on because it found a better product or vendor? “Hmmm… we have this prospect sitting here who would like to order a few grand worth of widgets from us… but you kknow, it just seems to me they don’t really need our widgets as much as they say they do… I think they’re gonna buy 50 widgets from us, then you know what they’ll do? They’ll STOP BUYING from us! Huh. That settles it! Tell Joe in Sales WE DON’T WANT THAT PROSPECT as a customer… they’re just gonna drop us at some point! GO FIND ME A BETTER CUSTOMER! Get on Monster.com right away… er, I mean LinkedIn…”

You can laugh yourself silly coming up with analogies for the way companies behave when recruiting and hiring.

By Dave
August 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm

@Nick:

Something off topic…
‘This is why the “unemployment” numbers are so goofy and meaningless’

Under-employment is also not counted. Which reminds me of a story.

Years ago, I was talking with a head hunter. He thought I was under-employed at my current position/pay. I asked him to put his money where his mouth is and place me at one of his “better” positions if he thinks they’d be a better fit. All I did was get excuses, “It’ll be hard convince any hiring manager you can move up the ladder.” It’s like, get your story straight man! I think it’s a bit of tunnel vision.

By Karsten
August 9, 2011 at 5:55 pm

@Nick:

You are probably right about the “overqualified” issue. Which is why “dumbing down” may involve hiding some of one’s qualifications. As Erika pointed out; employers lie all the time, why cannot (prospective) employees?

Yeah, I know. Ethics and stuff. But ethics is a two way thing and Big Corporate could need to learn that the hard way. (Cynical? I work in the oil business…:)

By Nick Corcodilos
August 9, 2011 at 6:04 pm

@Dave: Under-employment, consulting, moonlighting, sidelighting, mowing lawns, killing yourself to get a new biz started so you can get off the corporate teat… none of it is counted. I’d love to know how many people are off this grid… and how many economists realize it or care.

As for that headhunter, you were under-employed while he considered you a prospective placement. When he couldn’t close a quick deal to place you, you were a waste of his time. Get with the program, Dave. ;-)

By Nick Corcodilos
August 9, 2011 at 6:08 pm

If employers really mean what they say (“We really need someone who matches our requirements 100%”), they’d hire the first resume that includes all the requirements. Why bother talking to anyone or having an interview? All we need is a certification service that stamps resumes “GUARANTEED.” If all a company needs is competence and the right skills, why bother checking anything else? This could save HR a LOT of money.

By marybeth
August 9, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Nick, thanks for another great and timely article. This is the story of my life–I’ve been told that I’m over-qualified more times than I can to remember. I’ve also been told that I’m under-qualified too…not as often, but it happened when I was applying for “reach” jobs–jobs that I believed that I could do because I met most but not all of the requirements set by the company.

@Lynne and @Robert: I agree with you, and I would also add that I think it is short-sightedness on the part of management or HR or the owners. People leave jobs for all kinds of reasons, some of which have absolutely nothing to do with being over-qualified. Your spouse could be in the military and you move every 2-3 years; you could have kids in school or have an elderly parent or in-law with health issues and now the job and schedule don’t work out; you could see signs of the company tanking and you decide to bail; you could get new “management” who hates you on sight, who starts messing with your schedule, who refuses to give you annual reviews, etc. so you leave; you could be recruited by a head-hunter for a better paying job or even for a job that doesn’t pay as much but that offers better benefits, a more flexible work schedule, opportunity to grow/learn, etc. so you leave.

@Robert: your comment re the employer who only wanted fresh out of college kids isn’t limited to the IT industry–it is incredibly common in academia, too. If you’ve ever wondered why many faculty members are ancient or have been there for 100 years it is because once they’ve put in a few years at one university, other universities don’t want to hire them because they’re not considered malleable anymore. The univ./dept. likes newly minted Ph.Ds (the younger the better) because they can mold them the way they want to, and they can get away with it because those new faculty are young. Ditto for many corporations–they’d rather have a young person who will make big, costly mistakes because they can get away with paying them peanuts and dumping a lot of crap on them. Older, more experienced workers know their rights and won’t take it so readily.

When I was in college, one of my jobs was working in retail, and the owners loved to turn-over because it meant that they kept salaries/wages the lowest and could get away without having to give raises and pay benefits. So guess what….they often went for the over-qualified person because they figured s/he would get fed up and leave. Which they did. But the same thing happened when they hired under-qualified people and those people learned the job–they left too due to no raises. Ditto for those who met the job requirements.

I agree with Lynne–many times it is the personal insecurities of management, too. They get threatened by someone who might “outshine” them, not realizing that if an employee/underling does well, that makes the manager look good.

The combination of pettiness, insecurity, and basic stupidity–which in the long run only hurts the company.

By Clairelynn
August 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm

@Karstan—Unfortunately; honest people, facing rejection and “goofy” reasons for not being hired may compromise their values to get a job. I am sure they would love to work for a company with reciprocal appreciation and long term gains for both parties, but as Karstan stated, companies aren’t always ethical (I worked for Big Oil too). When it comes to hiring decisions-and who will or won’t stay and for how long; shouldn’t even be in the equation. – Companies need to look at the elephant in the room.

By Nick Corcodilos
August 9, 2011 at 8:28 pm

@Clairelynn: Companies need to look at the elephant in the room.

They’re too busy coughing up the camel they swallowed.

By LT
August 9, 2011 at 8:47 pm

So how do you keep the over-qualified from jumping ship?

Decent and very flexible work / life balance.

Results-Oriented Work Environment.

Broad discretion and lots of authority on how to get their job done.

Large paychecks and big bonuses, sometime not tied to performance.

By Dave
August 10, 2011 at 9:15 am

@LT –

This applies to you’re “average” employees as well.

I think there’s a “talent management” problem – which is really common sense. We aren’t doing a good enough job making underperformers into average employees, and average employees into great employees.

By Becky
August 10, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I, too, have been considered overqualified for many positions over the years. Most of the time, I’ve just chalked it up to whatever. From time to time, though, I’ve worked through temp agencies; by making the effort to get to know my account rep, I can let them know when I need any kind of assignment and when I prefer to hold out for something better. I was told by one of my agencies that I’m the one they send when a position requires brains! I appreciated the compliment, but my pay sure didn’t reflect the status.

Now I’m facing a new challenge that fits right in with all those comments about HR and their overzealousness with skillset requirement lists. As a contract worker focusing on business/technical writing and editing, I’ve noticed that within the last year or two almost all of the job descriptions require the ability to provide/edit Web content. That used to be easy enough if it was actually necessary – but now technology has really forced decent content providers/editors to know at least HTML, CSS and XHTML coding to make the content work properly. When, where and how were we supposed to learn all that stuff?? In reality, many of the positions either don’t require that knowledge in the first place or wouldn’t have required it before being combined with another position to keep the payroll at a minimum.

I’ve found a pretty good basic text (an inch thick) through one of my LinkedIn groups, but teaching myself isn’t very easy on top of everything else. And unemployment, which is about to run out, doesn’t cover self-teaching because it’s too easy to fake; you have to be in an authorized class to have your efforts counted toward work search.

How soon can I retire???

By DLMS
August 10, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Overqualified, underqualified–never quite the “right” fit.

First, I was told to get a college degree. I now have two degrees, one certification and am about to acquire two more certifications soon.

Now, its the “not enough experience” or “no experience” line.

I feel like a rat in a maze always chasing after the “treat,” if I take the right path.

No wonder job hunters express frustration.

By Dave
August 10, 2011 at 2:57 pm

@Becky – Yeah, I understand the frustration. You want to get more skills but that little thing called life gets in the way. :-)

Secondly, even if you self teach yourself skills or take some classes, a good many employers don’t count that. DLMS beat me to the punch here.

I can speak for IT/Programming end of things – It seems like they are sticklers for really specific things/experience. But there’s a lot of transferable skills, either you can logically think through and solve problems or you can’t, and the language syntax is secondary. In fact, a good number of Computer Science courses at most universities are pencil and paper courses, with less time spent on the computer than you would think.

By don harkness
August 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm

When it comes to the overqualified scenario take heart, managers aren’t all idiots. I’m 72, my boss is 31, 28 when he hired me. He understands mgmt 101…you are only as good as the people working for you. He does not buy the concept of overqualified. It’s inconceivable to him as to why you’d pass up talent. It probably helps that it’s a privately owned company and he does view people as talent coming into his family’s company. We treat people like adults, we make sure they understand the current job/task and if they want to join us and take it on, we don’t adjourn to a field of pussy willows and try to devine their longevity. We/he believes if they add value while with him, then what more can you ask for. And so-called overqualified people do tend to be company focused and not job focused. They are looking at potential, i.e. where can they go from their starting point.
One of my recruiting managers had a great way of looking at and challenging hiring managers who were anal about candidates hitting 100% of a job description, no more, no less than. “So you’re looking for people to come here and do exactly what they’ve been doing, where there’s nothing new to learn, nothing new to contribute. Is that the kind of people you want? Think about it

By marybeth
August 10, 2011 at 9:46 pm

@don harkness: I’m glad to hear that not all managers are such idiots; unfortunately a good many of them are. You lucked out. I think it is the rare manager today who looks at talent and who passed mgmt 101. All too often managers are threatened by experienced (i.e., more experienced than the manager) and/or smart employees, so rather than realizing that these employees make them (mgt.) look good, they are threatened by them, and that insecurity makes life hell for the employees. Or they opt not to hire them at all.

I remember one manager I had, who, when I submitted a proposal to streamline the workflow and thus save the company over $100,000 and time and energy, told me that I that I was a “low-level” worker and I was being paid from the neck down (vs. the ears up).

Your recruiting manager was right. Too bad that more managers don’t have the same philosophy.

By Power Strategies
August 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

There are a lot of idiot managers that say they don’t need a person, because he is over qualified, I think a good manager is searching for a overqualified person, because he can gave to him different tasks. Good post !

By Power Strategies
August 12, 2011 at 11:35 am

There are a lot of idiot managers that say they don’t need a person, because he is over qualified, I think a good manager is searching for a overqualified person, because he can gave to him different tasks. Good post!

By Patricia
August 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

@Marybeth – you hit the right points.

I was the person whose question initiated this week’s comments, so I wanted to take a moment to explain what prompted the question. I’m a consultant. So in reality, I never look for a “job”, I just look for my next assignment. In a better economy, I can be proactive and instigate projects I might like (sometimes several overlapping). In this economy, like everyone else, I take what I can get.

Consultants look for work after each assignment. In this cost-conscious era, project duration can be anywhere from 3-months to a year or more – but heavily on the shorter span. So unlike a job seeker, who goes through this rarely, for me, knowing how to handle all kinds of hiring managers is a necessary skill.

Nick, I thought the comment that this column is written for people who want more than grunt work was maybe a little harsh on your readers now, in this economy. Maybe knowing how to persuade a ‘grunt manager’ to give you a liferaft is a valid purpose in this economy, don’t you think? I know how to deal with managers looking for the best. But in this economy, I’m also trying to hone skills of dealing with the mundane people who don’t understand excellence and fear anyone with more talent than themselves.

It’s not just ‘dumbing down’. Resumes of grunts have a particular task-oriented feel, and I guess so do their interviews. It might be good to know how to deal with these folks.

Thank you.

By Robert Tanenbaum
August 14, 2011 at 9:31 pm

@Patricia,

The idea that someone thinks you are over-qualified for a 3-month temporary job is even crazier than I thought. What’s going to happen? Are you going to quit after 3 months for something better? Duh! It’s only a 3 month job!

Sometimes saying a person is over-qualified is a way of politely saying the person is unqualified. For example. My master’s degree in computer science doesn’t make me “over” qualified to be a car mechanic. I am frankly totally unqualified to do that job because I know nothing about auto mechanics.

However, there was a time in 2002 when I was unemployed from computers and I took a job sweeping floors, cleaning toilets and stocking shelves. They said I was “slow but had a good attitude.” I got a thrill that at my age and despite my advanced degrees I could still do a job high school kids could do.

By Jane Atkinson
August 15, 2011 at 1:07 am

I always thought that “over-qualified” was code for “You’re too old” or “You don’t fit our stereotypes”.

I remember being told repeatedly that I was “over-qualified” some years ago. In fact, at the time, the only qualifications I had were from year-long certification courses i.e. the most basic thing in the field. Nowadays, I’d be under-qualified for sure.

I recall Richard Bolles, in What Color is your Parachute?, saying, regarding age, that it’s almost as though there’s only about 3 weeks of your life when you aren’t too old or too young. Maybe the kind of thing applies to qualification – there’s a very, very narrow track between under- and over-qualified that very few people get to walk.

By Patricia
August 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm

@Robert, @Jane – I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

I think we are talking about different things, however. I am not really involved in a job hunt. More of a next-project hunt. With the field so winnowed by economic problems, I am applying for ‘grunt work’ as well as the higher level projects that populate my resume. My problem is that I do not understand how to deal with a ‘grunt work’ interview. The hiring manager is a mystery to me. With so little work out there, I want to know how to deal with the grunt managers as well as the high-level people I normally do business with.

The explanations you put forward are interesting but do not really answer my question. The hiring manager isn’t using an excuse for not hiring me. Rather, the problem is that I really do not understand how to handle grunts. Can anyone help me?

Thank you.

By Lynne
August 16, 2011 at 8:44 am

@Patricia – on handling grunts:

Start by listening to what they think they need. What they think they need may not be remotely related to what they actually do need, but lesson #1 is “Perception is everything. Reality is irrelevant.” Address the perception in the interview – don’t argue that it doesn’t make sense.

I work in construction management. If the store owner on the closed-to-traffic street thinks a huge sign with 20 lines of text will increase business to his store, I give him a sign. That makes him less unhappy because it’s a tangible sign (quite literally) that he’s been heard. I know almost no one will read the sign or change their behavior because of it. But, because I know more than that store owner does, I will also run my project efficiently and hopefully open the street early, because that matters more. I’ll take care to open up the street at night whenever possible – and keep a neater, more inviting appearance during the work day. In the end, the sign will be credited with avoiding a business failure due to lack of customers, and that’s OK.

In other words – give them what they want (if it causes no harm) while also giving them what they should want. They’ll pat themselves on the back for being so brilliant – but you’ll get to be the person who brought their vision to fruition…and they’ll hire you again.

By Patricia
August 17, 2011 at 1:35 pm

@ Lynne – You seem to have some experience with the problem of dealing with grunts when necessary.

I am in concert with your process totally, i.e., agree with the client unless his concepts are harmful to the business, but then, give him not only what is promised but also what he really needs. You said it more perfectly, and that’s a great model for doing business (or anything else in life).

However, just focusing in on one little section of this process, the interview, before the work commences. In the interview with a grunt, I do agree with him/her. When asked, I also truthfully describe my past work, trying to talk more about issues that relate to their own wishes.

But grunts aren’t offering me projects. Obviously, I am missing something about handling grunts during the interview. What do you feel are the key interview points that lead to successful grunt handling? And a job offer from a grunt?

By Becky
August 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm

@Lynne – Your example of the sign for the shop owner in conjunction with your other efforts was great, but I’ve found that providing this level of quality – more than is asked for, much less what you think they need – can often scare other ‘grunts’, be they co-workers or managers, who either can’t or won’t do the same.

I think part of being “overqualified” is having the ability to see the additional layers and knowing you have the skills (soft or hard) needed to deliver what you perceive as the ‘appropriate’ result. Unfortunately, doing your best, which many of us have been taught from day one as the only way to do anything, can backfire in a grunt situation. Believe me, I know.

By Lynne
August 23, 2011 at 1:36 pm

@Patricia re: interviewing with grunts.

I’d say in spite of diversity training up the wahzoo (for good reasons) ultimately most people are still most comfortable socializing and working with people that they can relate to – about something. And a common experience or outlook can result in a shorthand of sorts where there’s little chance of being misunderstood or having differing expectations, so that desire for familiarity can be justified to a point.

We’ve all worked with the person who takes every little thing the wrong way — or just doesn’t “get” it. It’s exhausting to teach what is expected in that situation.

With your grunt: use some sort of icebreaker – asking about recent vacations or vacation plans is usually one that works. If say, hunting is planned, and you don’t hunt, talk or ask about some aspect of it that you can view positively. “I hear vension is the healthiest tastiest red meat.” or “Classic shotguns are works of art.” Find some common ground…and it usually takes just one comment or question that follows a lead given to you by the grunt. You need to be liked right off the top. If you’re not liked, you’re dead no matter how great the rest of the interview is.

You need to really hear what the grunt wants in your interview. You need to know what criteria will be used in consultant selection (the real ones, not the “public” ones). Ask what factors were most important in the last consultant selection. Ask what the last consultant did right and did wrong. Also be aware that a grunt may have already made a selection and be conducting interviews mostly for appearances or to fufill a company requirement. Changing an already-made decision is much harder than helping form one in progress…and doing so involves going back to basic goals for the project — interests vs. positions. I need to hire a webdesigner with sports experience…can be picked apart into I want my website viewers to feel the same excitement I feel during a Yankees/Red Sox game. Well yeah, most of my viewers are young girls. Oh…girls are excited by music? (or whatever…)

Don’t rely only on logic — use emotion also. Paint vivid senarios of likely outcomes. “I can just imagine the board of directors bursting with pride over this campaign – and your name will be all over it. You’ll look like a real innovator”. Stick to realistic senarios–not pie in the sky….even grunts can sense when they’re being pandered to.

If you possibly can, use headhunter strategies to know your grunt and who your grunt tends to hire and why…

Lastly don’t take it too personally – sometimes there’s just not a match for good reason. There are some jobs you should be happy not to get.

By Lynne
August 23, 2011 at 2:20 pm

@Becky – about grunt culture resenting competence:

If you want to live in a grunt culture, give plenty of credit to others whenever it’s legitimate, even if it doesn’t come easily:

“Tom’s idea led to a success for our team.” (Just put your initials on every page you wrote over those 500 hours when Tom did little to nothing…) If Tom gets asked questions about the project and can’t answer them, the truth will become obvious.

Worry about yourself – your assignments and your work products and the staff you supervise.

If you’re truly surrounded by untrainable grunts, then leave. If they’re trainable, they’ll respond to public praise for behaviors that should be encouraged.

If there’s one bad apple, choose your battles and keep your primary focus on your job.

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