Backing Down the Ladder

Yesterday, as I was in the office of a local veterinarian, filling out an application for a vet assistant/technician job (no experience necessary, will train the right person, must love animals) I received a phone call.  As it was about a job I applied for a few weeks earlier I stepped outside to take the call. 

Sorry, I was told, we didn’t select you for the position (administrative office job).  I asked why since during the phone interview it seemed as though I was perfectly well qualified.  The prospective employer paused and then told me that yes, I was perfectly well qualified, actually over qualified and that was the problem.  Although I had assured them that the salary was not an issue they just could not believe I would stay in a job that paid less than one-third of my last wage.  And she told me, before I could get a word in, speaking to one of my prior supervisors only confirmed her belief.  He had told her he just couldn’t see me doing the job and was surprised to hear that I’d applied for ‘such a low level position.’ 

This is not the first time this obstacle has arisen in my job search.  Employers find it hard to believe that someone would willingly back down the ladder to a position and wage they passed by decades ago.  They assume you are only taking the job as a stepping stone and that you will give notice the minute something better comes along.  They worry that you will be bored, or resentful in your new position and that hiring a better educated, more experienced person might create conflict or concern amongst their current staff.  One employer told me that they couldn’t hire me at a lower salary (for the mid-level position they had open) because the senior staff objected to having a more experienced person making less money – it made them worry their own worth would be devalued. 

I ended the phone call and went back to filling in the application for the vet tech position – honestly answering the questions about my education, past wages, and years of experience, all the while feeling that each answer was a nail in this job’s coffin.  I sometimes think I need a new identity to go with my new career!

This entry was posted in 2nd Career, job search, recession, unemployment. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Backing Down the Ladder

  1. sparkly jules says:

    Although there are some thoughtful comments here, there’s a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on.

    It sucks out there, plain and simple. It doesn’t matter how much education you have or don’t have–there just aren’t enough jobs, of any kind. A friend of mine from college with an MA in English has been working at McDonald’s for two years. He’s excited because he has an interview this week at a bank.

    It’s bad, still.

  2. Rosa says:

    Okay, THIS I am good at. My income peaked in 2000.

    You have got to fudge your resume when you apply for low-level office jobs (no idea about vet tech & similar). You were working for someone doing ebay stuff for a while, right? Make sure to include that and the salary for that, put down a reason for leaving that isn’t on you – I think I remember you saying the woman stopped doing eBay, that’s a good reason.

    If there is ANY way to fudge the salary on your last professional job, do it – you can list a net minus travel expenses, or if you made base+commission or base+bonus, just list the base.

    Or just leave it off if that’s an option at all.

  3. Adrienne says:

    I suggest you address the issue head on. On our last hiring we had a cover letter from a very overqualified person. Her letter stated her reasons for wanting to step back. We would have never interviewed her if not for her thoughful letter. (other similar people with no explaination were not interviewed…)

  4. Lynn says:

    A lot of places don’t contact references unless you are about to be offered the job, so if it is any comfort, your application and interview were good.

    Just yesterday I was thinking of you and hoping your current expereince might be a real asset in a position, perhaps, working with homeless children or single mothers? Like at Transition House or Storytellers? (Storytellers is not literally that—they care for children of displaced families while the parents look for work.) It should be obvious to anyone that you love children, do a good job with them (since yours are all doing so well despite difficult circumstances) and really KNOW how it is to start over and to live on less. I’d bet you could start as a volunteer and wind up running the program within a year.

  5. SAB says:

    I like Caroline’s idea of contacting the supervisors you are listing as references, and giving them a brief overview of your situation. They don’t need to know specifics, just that you’re applying for many jobs right now after being unemployed for so long, and that they may get calls for references on positions that might surprise them. That way they are better prepared for the calls.

    • boxcarkids says:

      The ones I’ve spoken to say they have not been contacted! So maybe it was just a fabricated excuse. I will say that in the other cases where I’ve been told that I’m too qualified no one has even bothered to contact references. It’s a mindset or perhaps a situation they have experience with – maybe they have hired overly experience candidates only to have them move on. A friend alerted me to a conference/job fair next month at our local naval base on the “Green Military” – I’m signing up for it.

  6. How disappointing about the last job, and what one of your former supervisors (likely unintentionally) did to sabotage you employment opportunities. I agree with the other poster who suggested having a talk with all three. Explain what happened. Maybe they will think twice before saying such things in the future.

    However, it could be a blessing is disguise. You seem to love animals (I deduct this by the fact that you have two dogs, and you worked to find a home with friends for your cat rather than dumping her at a shelter). I could see you being very happy working at a vet’s office. I know the women who work at my vet’s office are almost like family and they all seem to really love what they do. Good luck!

    • boxcarkids says:

      Thanks! BTW our kitty is also home with us again and while she insists on going out, and even follows me when I walk the dog, she seems to be wary of getting too close to the street. She’s not helping my insomnia as she likes to go in and out all night long!

  7. In the past when working a a low-level job, I have let it slip…”when I was in grad school,” or “when I worked in research.” After that there was trouble and resentment amongst the people who had only a hs education. I took a lot of sarcastic remarks without recognizing them as such just to keep the peace and keep my job. The people who hired me knew, but not co-workers.
    Then there is the barrage of remarks…”with all YOUR education,” “If you are so smart…,” “why CAN’T you find a job?” They will not let up! It is almost as though they are so glad a person with a good education and good position and her own office has fallen and can’t get up. Or, there is “you don’t talk like anyone I know,” or “why do you use big words?” I really don’t, but after finding out about an education, they won’t let up. Oh gee, if they catch you talking with the boss about things they have never experienced, you are really sunk! Talk about the Summer Conference experiences and you have betrayed co-workers. I could write a book about one woman’s expression of the fact there was a conspiracy theory between the boss and me. We had known each other when we were equals.

    I was not deliberately or continually going over their heads. I know how to adjust language for the listener. I would never talk about the efficacy of something. I would ask about the effectiveness. Yet, it was their insecurity that played out each day.

    Sorry to hijack your post.

  8. docdave says:

    I had lunch today with a former colleague who was let go by an incoming new boss (I survived the transition, but my friend does not hold grudges!). He has had several interviews but none have panned out; a couple of prospectives have given him the same line you encountered; he’s a “lapsed” CPA, lots of experience–but potential supervisors who ought to know better make the assumption that he wouldn’t be happy with something as relatively simple as, say, SSA eligibility determination. What they miss is his very strong orientation toward work, as opposed to “not-work.” Their loss and my gain, because I get to enjoy his company at lunch (and will be able to pick up the tab, since I’m still an employed civil servant).

    I started to run into the same problem: doctorate, wide professional experience, too much so for some posts I sought. I learned to overcompensate in the interview and in the cover letter; I landed my current post not just because of my professional skills but also because I have a blue-collar background and was able break some of the interview tension that way. Was I faking something? No, but I was working hard to ensure that my prospective employers had no reason to suspect that I might be just taking this post until that elusive teaching gig came along.

  9. liza says:

    you are wiser, and have more experience than I,
    so basically this is assvice as they say on the interwebz.
    Could you just call all your references and tell them something like the truth:
    I am homeless and haven’t had a job in two freaking years: please be upbeat and
    say how wonderful I would be. You would not be leaving an admin position so quickly in this economy no? so why shouldn’t the references know that?
    apologetically,
    liza

  10. Barb says:

    Yes, I second the idea of speaking with each supervisor you have had and letting them know in an upbeat way that the current employment market has not been kind to you so you have broadened your search. You are searching for lots of jobs, including jobs that are less than your old job. You would very much appreciate their assistance in taking reference calls and that you would like them to only speak about your transferable strengths. Say something about being happy to get your foot in the door and working your way up later. That money and responsibility are not your primary concern at this point. Directly ask for their assistance in helping you do this. Again, keep this all positive. Everyone knows the market is tough. I am a licensed teacher with 2 masters and I was offered and accepted an aide job. Yes it is boring, but I never stop looking for a teaching position. In my interview I did address my overqualification, but said that due to the market I was just happy to be in an educational setting where I could help kids in some way. Another tip is to focus not on the job duties, but the industry or the company and why you are passionate about that. In my case, I said that my passion was helping kids and even though it wasn’t a teaching job, I would still be able to do that. Hope this helps.

  11. SAB says:

    That really stinks that a prior supervisor basically sabotaged your changes at this job. It wasn’t necessary, he could have said positive things about your work ethic, etc, and kept his OPINIONS on how long you’d stay in the job, and his “surprise” to himself. If they were calling references, they must have really liked you. I’m soooo sorry!!

    • boxcarkids says:

      I think maybe he was taken aback. The employer wouldn’t say which of my former supervisors it was so I can’t address it with him (yes, they were all men – at least in the past 3 jobs I had to list).

      • Caroline says:

        If it wouldn’t be too embarrassing for you (I don’t want to presume), it might be helpful to have a talk with all three about this issue. It does sound like they liked you otherwise — and I’m disappointed in this supervisor’s behavior regardless of whether he was caught off guard.

  12. Narya says:

    I’ve run into this, too.

    Other possible jobs for which you can get training include working with electronic medical records/ billing. there’s a big push to move everyone to electronic health records, and therefore a need for people who can do the billing and associated recordkeeping.

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