byÂ Tyler Coates
There may be nothing more humiliating to hear during an interview than, “You’re overqualified.”
I know â€” it’s happened to me several times. You can’t be choosy when you’re on the job market. If you have less than a decade’s worth of experience, and have bounced around between a handful of jobs in less than five years, it can be tricky to figure out what you’re actually qualified for â€” especially when you’re not exactly sure what it is that you want to do.
A few months after moving to New York from Chicago, I got a Facebook message from a college friend whom I had not seen in a few years. It turned out that the operations team at her non-profit organization was looking for a program coordinator, and she encouraged me to apply. It seemed like a pretty cool, relaxed organization, and I was eager to move into a non-profit environment after working most recently at a â€” gasp! â€” for-profit university.
I had a first-round interview with my friend, which was only slightly awkward, and a week later, I was called in for a second interview, this time with the other woman to whom I would be reporting, as well as the operations chief of staff. Both of them were fairly young â€” probably in their early thirties â€” which I was very excited about. For the first time, I felt pretty comfortable interviewing, answering all of the questions quickly and confidently.
Then I heard something that made my heart drop:
“You have a very impressive resume,” she said, which is something I seem to only hear when I’m interviewing for jobs that require the least amount of experience. If the rate at which I actually land interviews tells me anything, it’s that my resume is not particularly impressive.
“I know the title is ‘Program Coordinator,'” she continued, “but it’s very much an admin assistant position. My concern is that you’ll be really bored.” Well, honestly, that was my concern, too!
Inevitably, I asked the most important question: How much did it pay? Again, I felt a physical reaction to the answer. “It’s a salaried position â€” $30,000 a year plus benefits and a 35-hour work week.”
I left the interview in a funk. If they didn’t decide I was overqualified and actually gave me the job, I knew I wouldn’t be able to take it. It paid considerably less than my last job in Chicago, which is an extremely affordable city compared to New York. I was able to rent a one-bedroom apartment for a little over $800 after utilities. In New York, I would barely be able to get a room for that amount, and especially not on such a low salary.
And there was the issue of working for my friend. I knew that if I took the job, I would have to keep looking for something that paid more, and that could take weeks or months. The idea of taking a job and then leaving immediately is bad enough, but it’s worse when it affects someone that you know and like.
My friend called me again a few days later.
“So, do you want a job?” she asked.
“Sure!” I ecstatically replied. “Butâ€¦”
I told her my hesitation, and admitted that I would have to keep looking for something, which put me in an awkward place. She told me she would talk to her colleagues to see if they could raise the salary, and the opportunity seemed to become a bit more realistic. I decided that I would take it if they could raise it by a couple thousand dollars a year. I would simply have to make a deliberate effort to write as much as possible on the side to supplement my income.
Two days later, I got a call from my interviewer thanking me for coming in and praising the impression I made on everyone I met at the organization. Unfortunately, there was no room in the budget for them to raise the salary, and I thanked her for getting back to me so quickly.
I am convinced I made the right decision by turning down the job, but in this time of economic uncertainty and rising unemployment rates, I immediately started to worry that I had screwed myself over.
is a freelance writer living in New York
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