my interviewer warned me that I’m too good for the job

A reader writes:

I have been looking for a new job for more than a year now. While part of me is frustrated, my industry is very competitive in my geographic area and most people I know with my skill set end up taking two or three years to find new jobs.

At a recent job interview, I was left a bit speechless.

I interviewed with an agency about a year ago for a position and didn’t get the job. A new position opened up and I was emailed by everyone I had interviewed with to apply, so I did. The second interview was going extremely well until the portion where I would have been allowed to ask questions.

As preface to me doing so, the person who would be my boss gave me a 10-minute lecture about how I was “too smart” to work there, how she had concerns about how I would be intellectually frustrated by the things I would see, how she feared I would be unhappy, and how I’m doing such amazing work in my current position that she was afraid of taking me away from my current agency and leaving them to accept the fact that they would never find someone good enough to really replace me so the agency would suffer forever (that’s all her language, not my ego). She said I reminded her of a young version of herself and she wanted me to really think about whether I would want to be there or not. She also stated that these concerns were why they didn’t offer me the first job a year ago. I feel like she was waving a big flag that said, “This place sucks. I hate it here. Don’t kill your soul like I did.”

After this speech, I was given a writing test. Even though I was given an hour to do it, it only took me about 15 minutes. I stared out the window for another 15 to avoid seeming “too smart” and like the assignment was beneath me. When I was done, my potential future boss called me into her office and told me that she wasn’t trying to discourage me, but wanted me to really think about what I was doing. I told her that I wasn’t just looking for a new job, I was looking for the right new job and I know what that means for me.

That was four weeks ago. Today I got a call from an investigator giving me instructions for a background check and fingerprinting for the agency. I haven’t heard anything about whether I got the job or not or what the status of everything is. This phone call was the first I’ve heard anything since the interview and it caught me completely off-guard. So part of me is a little miffed about a clear lack of communication here.

I know I will pass any background check easily and the salary should be an increase over my current situation (assuming they offer me the job, but again, I have no idea what’s going on). Plus I know how hard it is to find a job in my industry in this market. How should I be figuring this weird conversation into my assessment of the job?

Well, when an interviewer tells you “don’t take this job,” I’d lean toward believing her.

But it’s reasonable to try to get more information here.

I’d email the hiring manager and ask for a status update — say something like this: “I was just contacted by an investigator about a background check and fingerprinting, but she didn’t give me any information about where you are in the hiring process. Any chance you have an update you can share with me?” Assuming that you hear that you’re a finalist or about to get an offer (which sounds likely), I’d then say, “I was hoping to talk with you a bit more about some of the concerns you raised in our interview about whether I’d be happy there. Could we set up a call to talk more?”

And then on that call, I’d say something like this: “I take what you said seriously, and I was hoping you could tell me more about your concerns. You had mentioned that you thought I’d be frustrated and unhappy. Can you tell me more about what sorts of things you think would frustrate me?” And then depending on what she says, feel free to continue asking follow-up questions. You definitely don’t want to take this job without really delving into what’s going on here, so I wouldn’t worry about being too blunt or too inquisitive — if you’re going to seriously consider the job, you’re going to need that information. (And if she doesn’t want to elaborate, at that point you won’t really have any choice but to turn down an offer.)

It’s possible that through this conversation, you’ll realize that the stuff that she thinks will frustrate you won’t actually frustrate you. It’s also possible that she’s the frustrated one, and she’s projecting that on to you.

But I’d stay pretty wary, because this is the person who will be your boss and you now have a pretty weird data point on her. (To be clear, it’s not inherently weird that she might have these concerns; it’s the way she’s handling them that’s a little alarming — especially the “your current agency will have to accept the fact that they’ll never find anyone good enough to replace you and then they will suffer forever” thing.)

Also, pay lots of attention to other data points you have. For example, do you have enough of a sense of the work you’d be doing to know whether you agree with your interviewer that you might be bored by it? What do you know about how the agency operates? Do you see any of what she might be referring to? What about the would-be coworkers who you met during the interview process — did they seem smart, driven, and engaged? Or … not so much? In fact, if you haven’t yet had a chance to talk to other people there, this would be a good time to do it and get other perspectives in the mix.

But through all of this, maintain a pretty high degree of health skepticism. You’ve got someone who knows the job intimately warning you off of it.

{ 106 comments… read them below }

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      It’s one thing to view someone as overqualified. It’s quite another to assume a person would be intellectually frustrated or your old employer would suffer without you or that this person is a younger version of yourself.

      That’s taking a lot of liberties with a lot of unknown people’s intentions!!!!

      1. Three Thousand*

        Yeah, this feels like at least 95% projection on the interviewer’s part. It might be flattering to be talked to like this, but she is NOT talking to you.

    2. So Very Anonymous*

      So very much this. That has happened to me twice now, once before I took a job, and once after I got the job, before I got there. It may sound flattering, but it can cause all kinds of problems, especially if you know you’re going to have a learning curve.

  1. Elizabeth West*

    It occurred to me that this person may feel threatened by the OP–maybe she’s not doing so well and fears that if the OP is such a superstar at her old job, that she’ll end up being replaced by her. Or she could really hate it there. Or she’s just weird.

    Regardless, I think more investigation is definitely warranted. If OP wants this job, she’s going to have to do some digging. Better now than when she’s already in it and finds out it’s a nightmare.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Ooh that’s a good thought. But why were they all encouraging her to apply if they had this concern last time and now? So odd.

    2. Mazzy*

      This is a good one, maybe “you remind me of a younger version of myself” means “I don’t need someone as ambitious as I was back then hanging around.”

  2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Once I was sent on an interview by a devious headhunter – during my “out of work” time – and the manager wondered why I was there. Good guy, just that he looked at my experience, etc. and said “this job is way beneath you”.

    It was a clerical job. You basically reviewed paperwork for those applying to log into the computer – although the headhunter glamorized it to be far more than that. Furthermore, she lied about the salary – like, it was HALF of what she told me.

    She wasted time for both of us. I finally called the manager and told him “now I see your concerns!” … he agreed.

    So – yeah, I’d take that advisory seriously. Your career can only afford so many “jumps” but you have to exercise them carefully – and not spend a jump and a part of your career in a dead-end, or boring job.

    1. BusSys*

      I had this happen too. Was told I’d be going on an interview for a lateral role, and when I got there the hiring manager looked at my resume and was like “Honestly, I think you’ll be bored, unless you’re just looking for something slower paced?” It took us a good 15-20 of mutually confusing “fit” talk before he finally asked what role I thought I was interviewing for.

      Also their VP of HR was beyond crazy negative about every aspect of the company. Like, it was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in an interview to just sit there and have him rant versus asking me a single thing.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        Also their VP of HR was beyond crazy negative about every aspect of the company. Like, it was the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in an interview to just sit there and have him rant versus asking me a single thing.

        LOL! Wow. Sounds like the poor guy needed a nice long vacation.

  3. Dan*

    I once interviewed at a company whose work was right up my alley. But I was interviewing for a niche position, that I didn’t have a ton of experience with, and was a very small slice of the company’s overall work program.

    They declined to extend me an offer on during the second interviewer. The head of the department looked me straight in the eye and said, “I can’t give you an offer. Given what you can do and what I need, you’re going to get bored and quit in two years, and I can’t risk that.” IOW, it was a rather classic “You’d be great for this company somewhere, but not this job.”

    The thing is, the guy was right in spirit even if I wasn’t actually going to quit in two years. The job wasn’t quite checking all of the boxes, and just wasn’t quite what I was looking for. He just didn’t give me the choice.

    1. overeducated*

      Yeah, the part that surprises me about this story is that the interviewer had these reservations but still seems to be keeping the OP in the running. I have had some experience with this (the curse of the PhD-holder who actually doesn’t want to be a professor) and usually I get selected out so they can either hire someone who’s been doing that exact job for 20 years already, or a 23 year old.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I wonder if the hiring manager was pressured into bringing the OP in for an interview? Or felt like there was pressure to hire the OP?

  4. Tony F*

    I’ve given that advice. You should strongly consider taking it. I was hiring computer consultants to do basic systems and network administration. I had a guy come in who was out of work and waaaay overqualified. I know he wanted to work and could do the job without breaking a sweat but I also knew he would be bored out of his mind and within a few months would be looking again. I felt bad for his situation but I couldn’t bring myself to make him an offer.

  5. Random Lurker*

    OP – if it helps, I’d take the advice and not go there. Here’s why. I’ve received similar feedback in an interview. My would be manager told me that he would try to talk a friend out of taking the job, and he would say the same thing to me. I withdrew. I thought that there were 2 possible reasons someone would want to say something:
    1. It’s the truth – things are broken, I’d be bored, etc
    2. My would be boss doesn’t have much of a filter and says things outloud that maybe he shouldn’t. Everyone is different but I can’t work well for someone like that.

    1. nebbe*

      Yes yes yes yes yes yes. My last nightmare (did I day nightmare? I meant job) was with a psycho (I mean boss) who fell in to bucket #2. Worst working situation I’ve ever had.
      My advice? RUN.

      1. Chloe Silverado*

        I dealt with this at my last job. My boss was a loose cannon and had no concept of discretion. He routinely made comments that either made our team look bad to other departments or caused drama within our team. It was an incredibly frustrating work environment – I was able to deal with it at the time, but it is so much nicer working for a boss with a filter.

      2. Doriana Gray*

        Mine too, nebbe, and my former boss’s mouth finally got her demoted (to the delight of everyone in the division, including her former boss who couldn’t wait to tell me about the “reorg”). But while she was in charge and I was under her…man, I drank a lot.

    2. Jaydee*

      Yes. One side of this flag is Crimson and the other is more a maroon, but either way you look at it, it’s a red flag.

  6. Snarkus Aurelius*

    This stinks.

    If they thought you were “too smart” to work there and you’d be “intellectually frustrated” and they had all these concerns before, then why on earth did they interview you and allow you to proceed with the selection process?  This is on them, not you.

    You definitely need all the information AAM is suggesting you get, but I’m highly suspicious of someone who didn’t select you the first time, doesn’t seem to want you the second time, and is allowing your application to go forward.  What on earth does she expect you to think?  And to be clear, I don’t know what I’m suspicious of, but I’m suspicious in general.  This woman may be thinking she’s being honest, but she’s unintentionally acting in a dishonest way.

    If it helps, the opposite happened to me.  I applied to an Assistant Teapot Innovator Director position.  The bulleted list of duties in the announcement were ALL non-admin.  When I showed up to interview, I found out it was an admin job.  When I asked about the bulleted list of duties mentioned, I got told, “You can take a crack at all of those other things provided your admin work is done first.”  Then the interviewers went on to tell me that no one with a grad degree applied and no one with that many years experience applied and they definitely wanted me and they were impressed with all of my “qualifications.”  (I’d been out of school for a decade at that point.)

    My point is sometimes employers don’t really know what they want until someone like you shows up at their door to confuse things even more.  If they’d been clear and direct about the type of person they wanted, this wouldn’t have happened to you.

    1. BRR*

      Yeah I’m a little confused why they brought the LW in and if they extend an offer why again.

      I’d proceed with caution for this position.

    2. Laurel Gray*

      I think more and more job descriptions are becoming inflated to attract the unicorn candidate. I know some people at a particular large corp and they all admit their job descriptions look so much more complex and technical than their actual day to day duties and they wonder how many people do not apply to open positions because of this. Trying to disguise an admin job as something more technical is a bad idea. Requiring a bachelor’s degree but “desiring” a masters for work that requires neither but basic OTJ training is an even worse one.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Thank you for this explanation.  It has shed a lot of light on something I’ve been wondering for almost a decade!  

        To your point about making job descriptions more complex and technical, that was the detail that made me want to tear my hair out.  I had the word “Manager” in my then-job title.  The duties listed in that job announcement mirrored what I was doing and aspired to do.  Yet the interviewers were sincerely surprised that someone with my resume was interested in what they clearly viewed was an admin job.  Their reactions felt more stupid than manipulative but I still felt manipulated.  

      2. Rater Z*

        I applied for a job as a traffic clerk one time and wound up being the traffic manager without realizing it. Had I known what the job actually was, I wouldn’t have taken it. However, it wound up being a bridge job until another job I was qualified for (and wanted) opened up three months later. My original job had shut down and I moved 600 miles for the second job and then the third job was just a daily commute from there until I moved a little closer. Three jobs (plus a moonlighting job along with the second job) in a year and I was out of work only about three weeks total.

        In regards to the comments about the original posting, I wonder if sometimes a resume doesn’t always do an adequate job of reflecting a person in some ways that talking with the interviewer will bring out all the experience and knowledge the applicant can bring to the company. I grew up knowing that it’s not right to talk (or boast) of my achievements so I really struggle when trying to write a resume or cover letter. (I was 37 before I finally found out that my dad had developed a way to mass-produce penicillin. I just knew that he had managed a penicillin plant during WWII and that was why he was never in the military.)

  7. CaliCali*

    If this person is your potential boss and is already saying this, I would definitely take it to heart. Not because she’s necessarily 100% accurate in her assessments, but because she’s telling you that she’s miserable there, and her reasons aside, it’s absolute drudgery working for a miserable boss. Her misery will very likely trickle down to you in no time, should you get the job. To put a spin on a popular adage, when someone tells you what a job will be like, believe them.

    1. OP Here*

      Thank you for this. I hadn’t yet considered how her feelings about her job and the agency might trickle down to me.

    2. Mazzy*

      It might just be this simple, we can try to decipher what she was thinking all day long, but at the same time, it doesn’t really matter in some ways, the point is, she doesn’t seem happy.

    3. Doriana Gray*

      she’s telling you that she’s miserable there, and her reasons aside, it’s absolute drudgery working for a miserable boss. Her misery will very likely trickle down to you in no time, should you get the job.

      All of this. OP, tread very carefully here if you get an offer.

    4. Callie*

      >it’s absolute drudgery working for a miserable boss.

      O M G. Yes. My “boss” hates her job and is always complaining about how useless everyone is and how she CANT WAIT to get out of here, but to be quite honest, part of the reason she’s miserable is that she looks at everyone as being useless, keeps her distance from everyone, and refuses to make any changes to anything. Everyone avoids her because she’s so negative, which increases her “everyone hates me” paranoia.

  8. hbc*

    Yeah, this is a no-win. She might be right, in which case this is a stifling job that you’ll be bored with it by the time the newness wears off. Or she might be wrong, in which case you get to work for a person who’s projecting herself all over you and is going to be a nightmare to work with.

    My money is on the last one, because who the heck says, “You’re a rockstar, you remind me of me!”? It’s self-aggrandizement thinly disguised as a compliment. Look forward to all the assignments that she thinks she would have wanted in your position, no matter your own opinion on the matter.

    1. nebbe*

      See my comment above – my psycho boss who has no filter said this exact thing to me many times. It felt good at first, to be spoken so highly of, but soon became torture when i finally recognized her lack of boundaries was pathological and very harmful to the day to day experience of her employees.

      Beware the projectionist.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Everyone who has ever said, “you/she remind/s me of me!” is someone whose judgment I didn’t really trust. Or at least not in that situation. They were stuck on their own vision of themselves (which probably wasn’t accurate anyway; few of us are good at seeing ourselves). And they were seeing both themselves and the other person too narrowly.

      My cleaning lady says this about my daughter–whom she has met twice, for about 2 minutes each time, and about whom us parents speak somewhat infrequently. I refrain from rolling my eyes.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        “You remind me of me!” can also seriously bite you in the butt once that person bumps up against evidence that you are an entirely separate person who is not, in fact, them. It was like I’d violated my terms of employment by not being just like that person.

    3. JessaB*

      Could we possibly use “Cat Grant” as an alias for this boss/hiring agent, because seriously, seriously.

  9. Lanya*

    I’ve given this sort of well-meaning advice in the past, when I was in a terrible workplace and wanted to try to save a dynamo job candidate from the negative experience I knew was looming before them.

    Run, don’t walk!

      1. Mookie*

        Probably someone who can put their head down, block out the toxicity swirling around them, and do yeoman’s work without a fuss. Not every otherwise competent, educated, skilled, and experienced candidate can actually do that for very long without losing concentration and growing frustrated. Others thrive in that kind of environment and perform their most meticulous work; far from being terrible, they become an asset to an overworked manager and lift some of the burden off a demoralized team. It’s the manager’s job to find the right applicant for the job as it currently exists and as it functions within the greater whole, rather than lie about or distort the nature of the job to make it more attractive to desirable applicants (who will invariably be resentful and eager to resign if they’re hired without any indication of what problems they’re inheriting as a new hire). In difficult and challenging circumstances, it’s even more important that a good, honest manager finds a way to make her team more cohesive and productive, and that’s accomplished by smart, strategic recruitment of willing and fully prepped candidates. It’s in everyone’s best interests that the manager explains the situation to each applicant and allows them to decide whether or not to continue on further into the hiring process. Ambitious people and people who know their limitations should self-select out of there, leaving behind a more manageable pool containing the clueless, the desperate, and the ones worthy of being shortlisted.

  10. Kyrielle*

    Yeah, I’d ask carefully, but I’d be inclined to run. If it were someone *other* than the position’s manager I’d be more open to deciding to go ahead with it, but since it was the position’s manager…yikes.

    There’s a *thin* line in the middle where she thinks, based on your resume, that you are interested in things you’re not. If reality is in that thin little line, you can decide to accept the position, she’ll see over time how you really operate and accept it, and you’ll be happy.

    On one side of that narrow buffer, you have a job that is very boring – possibly boring beyond what was in the advertisement – and she’s right that you won’t like it.

    And on the other side of the thin line, you have the situation where she is burnt out, negative, projecting her own dissatisfaction on you, utterly unable to evaluate others and consider their likes and dislikes, or some combination of those…which would be *fine* except that she would be your *boss*. Any of those issues, in a boss, can create problems in the day-to-day work that range from nuisances to screaming messes…among them, they can really mess with the boss’s ability to provide useful feedback on your performance.

  11. DMC*

    In my current job, something a little similar happened, but not to the same extent. The interviewer mentioned to me, “Based on your past experience, I think you might end up bored here. What do you think?” I told the interviewer I didn’t think so…and I got the job, and I’m still at the job, and I love the job :) But it was a one -shot inquiry, very quick. Your situation seems different and I’d be cautious.

    1. Elizabeth*

      Yep, this happened to me too. I was taking a step down and they thought I’d be bored, but I was getting out of a really toxic work environment and while yes, nearly three years later I’m kinda bored, I’m about a thousand percent happier than I was previously. I’m good at coming up with self-directed productivity projects, and that helps stave off the boredom.

    2. OP Here*

      You’re right. I’ve had interviewers ask me questions like this before and I have clear answers as to what I’m looking for in a new position and why I think their position would be a good fit for me. I usually do a lot of research on an agency before applying because I want to make sure that the next step I take in my career is a good one.

      I was not prepared for a 10 minute lecture/rant that made a lot of assumptions about me and my current agency or made me feel like I was walking into a death trap.

      1. VideogamePrincess*

        So you felt like you were walking into a death trap . . . that typically means you are walking into a death trap. Listen to your own concerns, both now and always. They mean something.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        That is troubling coupled with the fact they covered up the time you were supposed to be allowed to ask questions with this rant.

  12. Meg*

    Lesson learned from a past job, if the person interviewing you tells you that it is a terrible place to work, believe them. Now in my case, I was being interviewed by a peer with a similar job rather than my supervisors, but I should have listened. The job market was tough, and I had no other offers so I took the job. I knew in my gut that it was a bad idea, but I did it anyway. It was clearly immediately that the job was not a good fit for me, and I was miserable the entire time I worked there. While I worked there I had a coworker try to explain that it was normal to go home and cry after a day’s work and that I could expect that at any similar employer. Looking back from 6 years working at different employers doing slightly different work, I now know that is crazypants talk. It sounds like you have options so regardless of what the manager says now, this is a major red flag, and I wouldn’t advise taking this job. When people tell you who they are, listen. When an interviewer tells it that the employer is terrible and not right for you, listen.

    1. wanderlust*

      Definitely second this. We tried this tactic at an old job I had and nobody ever believed that it was as bad as we made it sound in the interview… we got a lot of idealistic new grads applying (that’s how I ended up there myself, except in my case nobody was honest about the situation) and they all thought we were just trying to scare them. Every single one that ended up working for our organization later said they just didn’t think it would be as bad as we made it out to be.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I had something similar, but I took the job.

      One of the people I was interviewing with, who would have been my boss (he got let go shortly after the interview) made it very clear that the hours were crazy during crunch time. Like, 3am and weekends crazy. I had suspected it (known it, really–and I’m an experience pro, so there was no naiveté here), but he was very clear. I think he felt that he didn’t want to recruit me under false pretenses.

      I made my point in all interview that I knew this, had known it when I applied, and that I was ready for it. I got the job, and I’m doing fine. For a while, it *was* really hard during crunch times–but it’s heavy lifting, not toxicity.

      1. Lois*

        I’ve got to remember that phrase: “it’s heavy lifting, not toxicity”. What a great way to distinguish two different ways a workplace can be difficult.

        1. TootsNYC*

          The interesting thing is that I have colleagues here who turn it –into- toxicity. They focus on how disrespectful it is for the people at the front of the process to hand us stuff so late; to make so many changes to it while it’s moving through our processes, etc.

          If they just did it, without framing it as a personal or professional snub, it would be a tough job, but we’d all be in it together. Instead, by making it sour, it becomes really divisive–even among all the rest of us at the end of the process with them.
          And worse, lately it seems that this put-upon, resentful attitude is bleeding over to their interactions with the rest of us.

    3. BusSys*

      I third this. At my last job they described the department to me as a sinking ship. I asked why I’d want to join a sinking ship, but I let rosy vision of the company outweigh the hard facts staring me in the face. Its a mistake I’ll do my darndest to never make again.

  13. Mockingjay*

    Back in February, I asked the AAM family for advice on handling interviews when the company is toxic or failing.
    [BTW, the position has been postponed, so problem solved temporarily. There have also been some recent small steps to improve things – I’ll post Friday. :)]

    Perhaps the interviewer is in a similar situation. I agree with Alison that she seems to be projecting her dislike and frustrations. [I wanted to avoid that.] Call and get more info.

    On the other side: This is a company that liked you and your qualifications enough to consider you twice. I think that they really want you on board, but the available role is somewhat lower than what you do now, and they are trying to figure out how to hire you anyway?

  14. Bwmn*

    I think that there’s a strong possibility that this is basically a red flag for a lot of reasons already mentioned – such as the work will actually be boring and there are red flags with the boss.

    The best case scenario that I can think of is that the overall structure of the organization places loads of roadblocks in front of you that mean that skills ABC are not as valued, but rather XYZ. I went from a small organization with an externally facing position. I’m now in a very large organization where despite having basically the same externally facing job title – that’s not how things have worked out. Instead I do a lot of negotiating massive institutional bureaucracy, working internal politics and figuring out workarounds. For people who bring amazing external skills (as you’d advertise for based on the job title), the amount of internal issues and roadblocks can become very demoralizing and leave someone with the feeling that they do very little.

    Building off of AAM’s suggestions, there may be the possibility some structural issues like this may be at play. And if you’re going from a small shop to a large shop, there may be the feeling that someone’s “smarts” will be wasted playing bureaucratic games.

    1. OP Here*

      I do think she was trying to warn me about bureaucracy and structural issues at her agency, but in doing so I think she made a lot of assumptions about where I currently work. There was a part of me that wanted to rant off on all the issues at my current job, but, you know, that would be unprofessional and off putting. If she wanted to have a serious discussion about how the work culture and decision making might be different than what I’m used to and how that might be frustrating, I was prepared for that — I’ve had that conversation numerous times (people definitely romanticize the type of work I do). But that didn’t happen, sadly.

      1. Sad Kitty*

        I’m curious about what type of work you do, especially given the lovely pedestal she hoisted you upon, if you cared to share! I know people are very vague about that here, understandably. But if you would share, even a more general description, I’d be thrilled! lol.

        (I don’t know if I am alone in this, but I am always so curious about what people on this site do for work and that rarely ever is shared)

        1. Sad Kitty*

          (I saw down-thread you painted a really nice picture of what you do and shed more light on why the interviewer went on her tangent)

      2. Bwmn*

        Yeah – romantic notions about some jobs vs bureaucratic messes in another can definitely build up notions of “goodness” in terms of how people do or don’t fit into positions.

        As I mentioned below, my experience is in nonprofits – and working for a small organization definitely comes with lots of romantic ideas of staff being summed up with lots of “good” and “noble” descriptions. But like most of those Buzzfeed-style “what people think I do/what I really do” posts – there are some fairly small, petty, unglamorous, and bureaucratic aspects of every job. In interviews, I would often emphasize how while I loved working for the mission of the organization and all that romantic whatever – it also taught me how be audited by the German government, which has to rank as one of the least romantic things that can ever happen.

  15. Anonymouish*

    It actually kind of sounds like she’s romanticizing your current company. I’m adding lots of context to this that maybe I shouldn’t, but if your industry is so hard to move around in, consider not only that she may not like it where she is, but that she wishes she were at your agency instead…and if that’s true (or if, unbeknownst to you, she’s trying to get out of there) she may feel guilt about ‘luring’ you away only to then leave you there, in a not-great job with who knows what kind of boss.

    1. Bwmn*

      I also heard echos of that.

      I’m in the nonprofit world, and romanticizing small or grassroots organizations is really easy if you’re with a large organization. However, it’s also common to want to go to a large organization when you’re in a small place because of the romance of the big name – but also tangible opportunities for development and advancement that are often missing from smaller places.

      I definitely projected a lot of my experiences on this letter that may be entirely misplaced – but I read this letter thinking of the OP working for a local animal shelter and applying to the SPCA (or 101 other equivalent situations).

    2. OP Here*

      I think she definitely romanticized what my current environment is like and you’ve jump started my brain into thinking about how I can address some of those misconceptions in the future.

  16. greenbeans*

    >>the person who would be my boss gave me a 10-minute lecture

    I can see asking you a question about this topic, or maybe saying a few introductory sentences before asking you about your thoughts, but talking (at you) for 10 minutes? That’s a significant chunk of time, especially in an interview when time is often short. I think the length of that speech really says a lot, even more so because it was a speech and not a two-sided conversation.

    Please keep us updated. I’m curious whether you’re able to talk with her more on the phone like Allison suggested.

  17. Big Hat No Cattle*

    Something similar happened to me awhile back. I was at an interview, and it seemed to be going well. The interviewer was looking for someone of my level, experience, etc. It was all swell until we started to talk about salary. When I told them my salary requirement range, the interviewer started stumbling and said, “Well, we don’t really need someone with your experience…um, we’re looking for someone who is cheaper…UM, I mean less experienced.” Keep in mind that this was for a management position who would have several direct reports to manage.

  18. Atlanta*

    If you are considering this job, any chance you might be able to speak with others working there, or even visit?

    FWIW, I once interviewed for a job, and the hiring manager told me I’d be a better fit in a different department at that agency (incidentally at a lower salary). I then interviewed with the other dept head, who also told me her dept would be a better fit. From the outside, I didn’t really see it, but within a week of the new job, I was incredibly glad I had taken the position in the second dept; lower salary not withstanding, the work was more interesting and the working environment better. The people on the inside knew what they were talking about. And the person who did take the first job lasted less than six months.

    1. Tex*

      Yes, this! You have the names and numbers of a lot of other people whom you interviewed with and who liked you for the position. This woman is your would be boss, BUT she might be considering quitting/on her way out; gut instincts are important, but if the rest of team likes you just her opinion should not be enough to deter you from finding out more.

  19. A. Nonymous*

    I’m shocked at how many people had something similar happen! This whole letter threw me for a loop and I almost couldn’t believe it. If someone who works there tells you to burn that bridge, I’d burn it, OP. Some industries, like mine, tend to almost encourage hopping every 4 to 5 years, but I’m shocked someone would be that straight forward. It’s either the interviewer hates their job, the company is sinking, or they’re very intimidated by you.

    I wouldn’t take it at all.

  20. TootsNYC*

    I did once tell someone not to continue applying for a job working for me because I thought she was ready for something new.

    It was a lateral move. We met, and I liked her, but I asked her why she was looking to leave, especially to alateral move. Essentially, she said she was kind of tired of having to go along w/ the decisions her boss was making; she didn’t agree with them a lot of the time, and she wanted to work somewhere else.
    I told her that it sounded more like she was ready to BE the one making those decisions. That she should really set her sights higher, that it sounded like she was ready to move up a level. And that even if she thought I was sensible to work for (unlike her other boss), that she’d soon chafe at not getting to just decide things. So, I said, apply for chief jobs. I’ll keep your application in the pool, but this may not be the best move for you. (I don’t remember if I went with someone else because of this issue, or if it’s just that someone else ended up being more appealing; I think the latter.)

    And she did. A couple of months later, she asked to go to lunch w/ me to ask me about how to transition from indian to chief. Because she’d gotten a chief job!

    I was so proud.

    So, maybe this is what this woman is thinking. But she didn’t explain it in any sensible way.

    1. OP Here*

      Thank you for this. You’ve definitely given me something to think about in my job search.

    2. pandq*

      Please rethink your indian to chief terminology. Can you see how that expression is insulting to actual Indians and might be one we want to stop using? The rest of your comment is so smart.

      1. Amylee*

        +1 This was so jarring and uncomfortable to read, and it detracted from the otherwise good point.

  21. Lauren*

    Something similar happened to me. In my second interview for my current job, my boss told me that his biggest concern was I would get bored and it would not be intellectually challenging for me. He also said that the positive part of the position is there was a lot of wiggle room around my daily duties that could be used for learning things I was interested in and working on projects. He also said that he didn’t want to hire me if I was going to turn around and quit in 6 months-a year because it was mindnumbing. I took the job, and it was true. It was mind numbingly boring, but I did get to learn a lot. And in less than a year, the mind numbing duties were given to someone else, I was given an amazing raise and much more interesting duties with the caveat, “we never move people this quickly, nor do we give raises like this.” I definitely agree on finding out why she thinks it is below you, but it may not be the worst thing.

  22. Chickaletta*

    I’d have to agree with what everyone else is saying here. I know it’s hard when you really want the job, but consider this a helpful warning that you’ll be looking again in a short time.

    I was on an interviewing panel once where we actually did not select the best person because we could tell right away that she was too good for the position. Did it suck she didn’t get the job? Maybe, but her talent would have been wasted in the position we had to offer. She would have been frustrated and probably would only last a short time until she found something better. Plus, there’s the company culture element, I don’t know if she would have accepted or even understood the “level” of work we needed from her. (As an analogy: If you’ve ever seen America’s Top Model, think of it as commercial, catalogue, couture: she was couture, we were catalogue. Sure, she could rock it on a runway in Paris, but we needed her to sell tank tops for a department store.)

  23. Mary in Texas*

    I had an interview tell me he thought I was “too nice” for a position. How do you come back from that?

    1. VideogamePrincess*

      I think AAM ran an article on this. Sometimes they do need more forward people. Maybe he was just a bit of a jerk, maybe not.

      1. ReanaZ*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t ever phrase it like that and it certainly sounds like it has some element of sexism lurking under the surface but I absolutely have interviewed people and thought “Yeah, the stakeholders for this project will eat you alive.”

        I need people in this role who will stand calmly when a C-level exec demands impossible things (or just ridiculous things but Exactly Like That No Discussion) and then tell them professionally to stuff off because they’re being unreasonable. I have someone on my team (inherited) who is way too nice for the job, and it really hurts both the quality of their work and their potential for advancement.

  24. Observer*

    I agree with whoever pointed out that this woman seems to lack a filter.

    There were two other things that jumped at me. One is that the position and company may not be as bad as she makes it out to be. But, if you get offered the job and take it after she went on so long about how you shouldn’t how is she going to react?

    The other thing was about not wanting to take you away from your current employer. Your employer DOES NOT OWN YOU. You are NOT a pawn to be given and taken. It concerns me that she is talking this way. On the one hand, she should be thinking of what’s best for her organization, not yours (outside of illegal or unethical things.) And secondly, will she expect that if you take this job you will “belong” to the company heart, soul and career?

    By the way, no poaching agreements are generally illegal. I doubt that that’s what is going on here, but there is a reason why they are illegal. And the problematic thinking behind such agreements seems to be at play here.

    1. OP Here*

      Swerve: the position/department are public relations/communications related — you know, where filters matter.

      Here’s how it went down in teapot world:
      I get teapots to underprivileged kids in low-income communities. Would be boss said that she was worried that my current agency would never be able to find someone as effective as I am in giving teapots away. In fact, she would feel guilty that fewer low-income kids would be getting teapots because she stole me away from the teapot giving organization. And she was having a personal struggle with accepting that kind of responsibility.

      1. Sad Kitty*

        I asked about what you do upthread, but this answers it quite well.

        And ah…. that makes my bleeding heart ache.

        She might be really passionate about the goals and missions of your org, and maybe sad that in her org she joined for similar goals but has found she isn’t able to do the kind of work that she longs to do// has to deal with crazy bureaucracy, and maybe finds she doesn’t feel she is making the impact she’d wanted to make in going into the nonprofit.

        She’s totally handling it wrong, but this sheds a lot of light on it.

        1. OP Here*

          You bring up something new to think about here. Both she and I have the same extracurricular passion — we spend our free time volunteering for similar causes. Maybe part of this is that she wishes she could find that same satisfaction in her 9-5 job and wants to find a way to warn me not to give that up so easily.

          But yeah, if that is what she was trying to do, she went about it all wrong.

      2. Tex*

        You are not an object to “steal away”. That’s awfully patronizing of her. It’s your career and if you want to sell your soul by encouraging cigarette smoking in elementary school kids, so be it.

        Tell her you have outgrown your role there and are planning on moving on regardless if you land the job at her agency or not.

        1. OP Here*

          I think one big thing I’m learning about the comments here is to do some more digging into how I frame why I want to move on and how I address some people’s romantic notions about what I do and who I currently work for. Thank you for that.

      3. MK*

        Frankly, she sounds almost unhinged. Whether you leave your position or not, the outcome would not be her responsibility.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          I was thinking dramatic as opposed to unhinged. The whole, “Your agency will never find anyone better than you and they’ll suffer forever!” bit was very over-the-top. OP may no doubt be great at her job, but no one is totally irreplaceable.

      4. Observer*

        Blech. You are a free agent. You have a right to stay in your job or choose to move away. You are not an object that she could “steal.” I do understand not recruiting you when you appear happy at your job. But, this goes way beyond that and totally ignores your agency here.

        Honestly, I would talk to people who work directly for her, and under her to find out how she treats people and about her expectations.

  25. Anonsydance*

    I’ve been in similar positions. I’ve had interviewers tell me that I’m “too smart” and that I’d be bored. I’ve also had former employees tell me not to work for companies. In these situations, I’ve learned to listen to them. It was beyond frustrating to hear from someone that I shouldn’t do something because I’d be too bored and start getting antsy with the job, especially when I was trying to leave my retail job for an office position. I didn’t really care, I just needed out. Eventually, I did find a job similar to the ones where I was told I would be bored. And guess what? I’m bored. Haven’t been here for a year yet and I’m very bored. I’m constantly chomping at the bit to find something new to do and thankfully when something does come up, they teach it to me. But it’s still not enough. My boyfriend and I are planning on relocating to nearishby major city (3 hours away) so I’ve been looking for jobs out there. If we weren’t planning this, I would probably be looking anyways.

    Side note: really believe former employees, especially if they’re friends. I worked at a store for a grand total of 6 weeks (I was still working another job so there’s no gap). It was the most toxic environment I’ve ever worked in: my first day the store manager made one of the long term employees cry on the sales floor for being late. A few months after I quit, I noticed the one good supervisor’s job being posted. At first I was like, yay she found something new. No, he was looking for replacement and she didn’t know anything about it and was blindsided by the firing. There were several other examples, just don’t feel like going into it.

    Good luck with the job search!!

  26. AnotherAlison*

    Haven’t read others’ comments, but I wonder if there is a personality difference between the interviewer and the candidate that the interviewer is not accounting for?

    Case in point: I think my mother and I have equal intellectual capabilities. I’m someone who always needs new, big challenges and wants to climb the ladder. My mother has been in the same accounting support position for 30 years.

    One person’s idea of boring is another’s dream job.

    1. overeducated*

      This is a good thought. I valued “involving travel/the outdoors/movement” for almost the first decade of my career, and only now am I trying to figure out how to make a shift to “decently compensated” and “interesting problems” even if it means being at a desk all day. The interviewer might have different ways of thinking about what makes a job worthwhile for someone “smart.”

  27. Biff*

    This sounds exactly like one of the bosses a family member had. The boss was incredibly prone to dramatic language like this, and these sorts of weird ‘flights’ in her decision making. But, she was bonkers about getting my family member to work for her so she really sold it. And for a while, it seemed okay, said family member was apparently a dream employee for 6 months who could do no wrong. Not surprisingly, suddenly, the boss had a problem with pretty much every little thing. Constantly.

    I kid thee not, my family member was dressed down viciously for not wearing trendy enough shoes one week, and not ‘rotating’ shoes. Because it was unprofessional to wear the same shoes two days in a row.

    At the time I was in college and just though the whole thing was weird. But as I’ve gotten older and watched the business (albeit from a distance) I think that the nutty boss created drama on her team because she lacked professional sense and boundaries. She also consistently attacked anyone who did some aspect of the job even slightly better than she did. It didn’t matter if it was a tiny thing and the employee in question was otherwise very junior.

    Now, this might not be relevant in OP’s case, but I do wonder if some sort of dog-eat-dog sexism might be in play because over the years I’ve come to understand that the nutty boss in this story was especially hostile towards other woman at the agency.

    At any rate, the behavior the OP is describing is surprisingly similar to what my family member experienced. I don’t think they can expect good things if they join this agency.

    1. Biff*

      A more elegant way to parse that is…. ‘how does the behavior I’m witnessing right now inform me about how this person manages their team?’ and ‘How would I feel about getting assignments and feedback presented this same way.”

      The story is just to illustrate one way this might go.

      1. OP Here*

        I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

        I do believe that the only reason she called me back into her office after the writing assignment was because the other people in the room probably told her that her lecture didn’t come across well (the other people that work in the department were in the interview, but she was the only one asking questions).

        Ideally, she would’ve called me and said that she was interested in moving forward with my application but wanted to have another discussion about the issues that were brought up because she recognized that the conversation didn’t go well. Then we could’ve had a nice chat and I could’ve moved forward with the fingerprints and background check. That would’ve sent me some very clear signals as to what she’s like as a manger and how it would be to work for her. But she didn’t do that. And that kinda makes me wonder how she handles things.

        1. JessaB*

          I have an issue with fingerprints/background check. This is NOT something you ask for without a preliminary offer on the table. You discuss the job, the potential salary/benefits, etc., and then say “this pending background check.” You don’t go to checking before you actually say you want someone in the job.

          In some states/locations this is a big red flag because you’re not supposed to use things that could discriminate or give you information to discriminate until after you’ve decided who you want for the job.

          I once applied for a job that wanted a drug test and because they were so far away from where I lived and I could not afford to keep driving back and forth actually had to write up a statement that it’s okay they test me NOW, and if they don’t offer me the job even if I pass the test, it’s okay because they’re still interviewing. It was a rare one off.

          It’s really weird to be asked to do this kind of thing before an offer, so that really stuck out to me.

          1. OP Here*

            Agreed. The communication element here threw me way off. Someone should have called me and said “We want to move forward, the next step is this, an investigator will be contacting you with the paperwork and instructions.” Ideally that conversation would’ve also revisited the awkward conversation in the interview.

            But instead I got an investigator who said he received my file and didn’t know anything else.

  28. newlyhr*

    I think these comments say far more about the interviewer than the person being interviewed. You as the applicant need to clearly understand what the job is and then decide for yourself if it meets your needs.

    People have all kinds of reasons for taking the jobs they take. The things that bother or concern the interviewer may not be things that bother you. As long as they are up front about the job, you should decide for yourself if it’s the job you want. Your priorities for job satisfaction are not necessarily the same things that the interviewer wants for her job satisfaction. I think she might be projecting some of her stuff onto you and this process.

  29. Mirilla*

    I had a situation several years ago which isn’t exactly similar but it reminds me of this. During 1 of the 4 interviews for this job, one of the people there basically told me all of the things wrong with the company and said absolutely nothing positive about the company. I kept replying with “I can handle that” , “That won’t bother me” etc…. but it became really awkward after a while. It was obvious she hated working there and didn’t want someone else to suffer the same fate.

  30. stevenz*

    I don’t know if the interviewer feels threatened or is unhappy or just being brutally honest. But what struck me is, what would she think of you if you *did* take the job against her vehement advice? She might question your judgement, or not take you seriously, or get in your way. I don’t know why she interviewed you in the first place, but she certainly has the option of not offering you the job, and if she is so interested in doing you a favor, she shouldn’t offer it.

    A couple things were pretty rich, though. Her comment about the agency suffering forever if you took the job. Can’t be a very stable business if their entire future depends on whether or not you take a particular job!

    And the remark that you – a clear superstar – remind her of herself. That’s pretty self-congratulatory!

  31. Jennifer*

    I still don’t get why the employer is going through this extra work if she’s made it pretty clear how much she doesn’t want to hire the OP. What the heck? I read most of this thinking, “Well, I guess you’re not getting the job then,” and then that. Whoa.

    1. OP Here*

      I thought the same thing. I didn’t even send a thank you note to anybody in the interview and just thought of it as another learning experience. And then I got the call from the investigator. That’s why I would expect that a decent manager would’ve called me to say she wanted to move forward but let’s rehash that weird conversation first and see where we go from there.

  32. Rana*

    I have to say, reading this thread is sort of depressing if you’re trying to change careers. You can’t switch to a position at an equivalent level (because you lack experience) but then you can’t switch to a position at a lower level (because then you’re “overqualified” and “would be bored”).

    1. OP Here*

      Not to do it. But I do keep coming back to the fact that I’ve been searching for a new job for so long. My current job isn’t horrible, but it does have its issues and it is definitely time for me to move on.

      1. Kyrielle*

        But the last thing you want is to move on to somewhere that will make you want to move on again quickly. Better to be in a job that isn’t horrible, but that you should be moving on from, than one that _is_ horrible in some fashion.

  33. BoredBrains*

    I was in a similar position to yours once and I took the job, where I ended up spending 4 dreadful years. It was just awful. The trouble was that not only was I bored to death, finding a position that was stimulating and at my level became a daunting task because I was so drained all the time.

    Not only did the interviewer tell me I’d be bored, I also had a bad feeling during the interview, which I regrettably (oh, so regrettably) ignored. If I could do it over I’d spend my energy finding a job that wouldn’t have crushed my soul and intellect.

  34. KAG*

    I was told the same thing by an interviewer for a job out of college. She gave me a glowing recommendation (which apparently was quite rare for her) and I received an offer, which exceeded my next highest by $15k.

    I accepted another offer because I respected her judgment. The company folded within the next two years. She had my best interests at heart.

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