how can I tell if an overqualified applicant is right for the job?

A reader writes:

I’m hiring for a mostly entry-level position, a basic administrative job that has been categorized at times as both an administrative assistant or office manager. This position recently became vacant after an employee of one year decided to leave. We knew he was highly overqualified for the position, but he said that he was looking or a role with less responsibility due to family issues, so we hired him. During his employment, he grew increasingly disgruntled and felt that his ideas were ignored. There are many factors that contributed to this, but I can’t help but think that his professional background made it difficult for him to swallow things that he didn’t like.

So here we are, hiring for the position. We have one applicant who seems really great — very smart, capable, and driven by our mission. However, she has many years of team leadership and project management experience. The position we’re looking to fill is a basic receptionist position with little opportunity for expansion. I’m sure she’d be able to manage the duties of the position, but I’m very skeptical that she’d find it fulfilling for longer than a year (if that). I’m also concerned that she would struggle to adopt the supportive role and that we’d see the same issues that we had with the previous person. She wants this position because she wants to work for our organization. She’s given no indication that she’s looking for a job with less responsibility and less hours (this position is both). She’d be a good fit in our culture, but I’m concerned she wouldn’t be a good fit in this position.

Am I letting our past employee influence my decision too much here? Are there questions that we can ask to figure out if she’ll be able to successfully shift to this lower level position?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 171 comments… read them below }

  1. KayDeeAye*

    So if you do hire someone who is overqualified but says he/she is looking for a position with less responsibility, and after three months, she starts talking about “This is is just a nothing job”? Prrrrrretty big red flag there! And yes, I am speaking from personal experience. I wasn’t involved in this person’s hiring, so I don’t know if anybody did the kind of close questioning that Alison recommends, but I think her scripts sound very, very useful.

    1. Manhattanite*

      Part of the issue may be that OP’s advertising the role as both an office management role and an administrative assistant role. In my city, these would be very different positions: an administrative assistant is making coffee, answering phones, and running copies along with small administrative tasks. An office manager orders supplies, conducts billing, handles schedules, and manages the administrative assistants/interns. Glorifying an administrative assistant role by giving it the term “office manager” may attract more overqualified applicants who don’t stick around because it wasn’t labeled properly.

      1. Kit*

        Everywhere I’ve worked, the office manager’s duties were making coffee, answering phones, running copies, small administrative tasks, ordering supplies, and managing the part time admin assistant who covered their days off.

        “Office Manager” is, in my experience, the kind of title that requires a thorough read of the job description.

        1. fleapot*

          I might suggest that, unless the office manager reported to you, these were only the tasks you could see.

          There were definitely people in my last workplace who thought I mainly made copies and ordered supplies—and that was part of my role! But I also did *much* higher level admin and communications work that most of them wouldn’t have registered. Only two or three people in the office saw most of the client-facing documents I produced, but did know that they could come to me if they needed a pen or couldn’t figure out how to scan a document.

          This was a special case, because my job description was pretty broad (in small company needing a lot of versatility), but it’s been true to some extent in other admin positions I’ve held.

          I wouldn’t assume that I was aware of all areas of responsibility for finance or technical staff. Generally speaking, the finance or technical staff who assumed that my job was limited to visible, basic tasks were people who wildly underestimated my competence.

          This underestimation was to my disadvantage, in many ways, but also to theirs and the company’s. In one case, a guy who thought I was a glorified secretary and proofreader put together a draft report in PowerPoint (literally, with five or six pages *and citations* entered in text boxes on multiple slides). It must have been ridiculously wasteful of company time to prepare it that way, and making it halfway functional/presentable was *definitely* a waste of time. People who recognized my skills and sought me out got ready-to-use customized .dotx files for various document/project types, which absolutely saved time in both the drafting and revision phases.

          (The guy who patiently explained to me that wooden pencils need to be sharpened, and that mechanical pencils don’t? Got his mechanical pencils, and very little else.)

          1. Chinook*

            Pencil guy reminds me of the mid level accountant at a top 5 firm that lectured me, the receptionist, on how I need to put stamps on an envelope before mailing it. Luckily, the partner who had previously watched me handle the front desk chaos of tax season which included a 100 line switchboard, bike and regular couriers as well as walk in tax clients and bankruptcy clients was in ear shot and gave the guy a lesson in respecting “low level staff.”

            It took all my effort not to tell stamp guy that I once marked 100 grade 9 provincial exams that included a test on how to fill out an envelope for mailing and every single on of them remembered the stamp, so he was all but saying that I was stupider than a grade 9 student.

            1. fleapot*

              I’m so glad that the partner took the issue seriously! If I’d had someone in that office who put their foot down like that, I would have had a much more positive experience.

              As for grade levels: I was about 30 years too old to need the “wooden pencils need to be sharpened” explanation (accompanied by miming the act of sharpening a pencil for my benefit). It’s astonishing how little some people think of admin staff.

    2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      I’m late to the party here, but a red flag I noticed in the letter itself might partially explain the problem:

      “During his employment, he grew increasingly disgruntled and felt that his ideas were ignored.”

      Even when a person is actually entry level it’s extremely frustrating when management simply ignores ideas and thoughts about process. That’s not to say that you should implement *everything* a first year office manager comes up with, but ignoring them is a red flag in my opinion. Just because someone is young or junior (or in this case junior, but not young) doesn’t mean they might not have good ideas

      This goes even more for someone hired in as “overqualified”. Just because his title is admin assistant doesn’t mean he doesn’t have good ideas. I may be reading more into this than was meant, but that’s would be a big deal for me. Even if I agreed to duties that were “lower level” than I have typically worked, I’d still hope/expect people would listen to me.

  2. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    Is there really anything wrong with someone only staying in this lower level admin role for only 1-2 years?
    I get it’s a pain to have frequent turnover, but it seems like that might be a given with roles like this nowadays. I don’t see nearly as many admins who truly wish to stay admins the rest of their careers much anymore. But you might get a lot of new grads, temporary downgraders, and the unemployed who just need a job immediately.

    1. HiHello*

      Even if a person who is in fact entry-level starts this job, they will most likely still want some kind of growth. There may be people who are ok in staying at a job like this, but most would quit for something better anyways.

    2. oranges*

      You’ll have her for six months (tops) before she starts applying for other internal jobs. She sees this role as a foot in the door. Nothing more, and exactly what she seems to have told you.

      But in fairness to her, I agree that 1-2 years IS pretty standards for a lower level admin in this economy.

      1. High Score!*

        Yep, I’ve tried this before to get into companies I’ve wanted to work for but never got hired that way bc employers didn’t want someone over qualified who was going to start applying for better fitting internal jobs ASAP.

        1. Karia*

          Also I found that once you’re seen as an admin, it’s difficult to move beyond that perception.

            1. Who Am I*

              It is if you want to advance. If you want to be a career admin, being perceived as an admin is great – it’ll help you. But if that’s not the road you want to follow, it’ll only hurt you. I’ve been an admin (in construction, in the legal field, and in a few other random areas) for 40 years. Believe me, to get out of an admin role, even if you have advanced degrees, you’ll need to leave whatever company you’re with and even that might not help. Again, there’s nothing wrong with being perceived as an admin if that’s your desired career path – and it’s absolutely a valid career path (and necessary role). But if that’s not what you want, it’s a strike against you. I’ve always advised – and continue to advise – people who are just looking for a foot in the door not to take an admin role because it won’t do for them what they think it will. (Yes, I’ve read plenty of stories about the receptionist who stuck in out and became a VP but I think those are exceptions. I have met literally no one, in 40 years, who has had that experience.)

              1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

                I started as a receptionist, and after about 18 months, applied for a para-professional position in-house and got it. One of my receptionist predecessors did the same, and, since she was younger and more ambitious, continued to move up in our organization. When she left, she was able to use that experience to get executive positions. Another receptionist who had the position after me eventually moved into a position in the HR department. Another got promoted to a higher job in visitor outreach. It was usually seen as a launching position in our organization.

              2. Bunny Girl*

                I have to agree with this. I have been in an administrative role for most of my career and I went back to school a couple years ago and have almost finished my degree. I freaking hate being an admin. Now that I am just two quarters out from finishing my degree I am applying for something, anything to get out of that role. I haven’t had any luck moving up in my current department (because I’m “just so good at my job”) and the only call backs for interviews I’m getting are still leaning more towards administrative. It’s really depressing because I am so miserable at work that I completely shut down on Sundays because I dread going back to work.

              3. lyonite*

                The plural of anecdote is not data, but since you’re saying you know no one who has moved into another role from an admin position, I’ll chime in that I have a good friend who took exactly that route. The extenuating circumstances were that she had a good boss who recognized her potential, and the role she transitioned into was very much in demand and hard to hire for, with job requirements that have a lot of overlap with admin work. So I’ll agree that it’s not the easiest way to get into a job, but it can happen.

              4. PotteryYarn*

                My company puts a big emphasis on promoting from within, and most of our admins have gotten promoted to roles in other departments within a year of being hired. A few leave for other opportunities and others genuinely like their work and have chosen to stay in their roles long term, but at least one of our VPs did start as a receptionist many years ago and worked her way up to her role today, so it’s definitely doable! All this to say, it really depends on how the organization views its employees and its entry-level positions. If an entry-level position is designed to be a temporary stepping stone, you’re much more likely to retain those employees and grow them into something else that is beneficial to the company (and still have them around to provide support to their replacement). But if you design it with a glass ceiling overhead, you’re unlikely to keep much of anyone in the role long term.

            2. Karia*

              I did not say it was a bad thing to be an admin. I said it was difficult, if you are promoted internally, to change people’s perception of your role. Especially in particularly hierarchical workplaces, and especially if you are a woman.

              1. fleapot*

                I’d add age to gender here. If you’re a 25yo man in an admin role, you’ll be seen as a good sport who’s willing to work his way up. A 25yo woman in the same role is less likely to be viewed as someone on the rise, and a 35yo woman in that position is almost certainly going to be left to stagnate, whatever her skills and qualifications.

                (Speaking from painful experience and from observation. It would vary in some workplaces, but I’d wonder about the demographics of these counter-examples.)

            3. Gary Patterson's Cat*

              I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be an admin and you’re great at being an admin. I have worked with a few career executive admins, most of whom are about my age (40’s-50’s) and they sure know their stuff. But I just don’t see that quite as much anymore, and I think that maybe it’s asking a bit much maybe?

              Perhaps it’s a factor of more college degrees in general, or just a younger cohort, but most seem to want to move beyond admin work and are just looking for a foot into a company. Or, they need a job pronto. Not that those are bad things either.

      2. Artemesia*

        This. If her motive is to ‘work for this organization’ you pretty much know that she will be looking to move up almost immediately. If you have someone who is a good fit without this baggage, you are probably better off.

      3. Aerin*

        In a case like that, you could get on the same page by asking the candidate about their long-term career goals, and also by making it clear if there’s an expectation for how long they would need to be in this role before being considered for an internal transfer and how much hiring from within is realistically happening. (Like, spouse’s old company talked a big game about hiring from within, but people very rarely got promoted off the front line.) Depending on how badly this person wants in at the organization, they might be perfectly willing to stick it out for longer than they’d otherwise like if they know the timeline going in.

    3. Allonge*

      Most likely not – or at least there is not OP can do about it – but it matters whether the one hired stays for one yer or for three.

      1. Jasper*

        Thinking you can find someone who’ll stay for three years is already a wildly optimistic assumption.

        1. Karia*

          There are people who enjoy and prefer administrative work. If the company is offering pay / benefit increases, there will be candidates who would want to stay long term.

        2. kittycontractor*

          I was a Staff Asst. for 3 years and then moved to an EA role for the next 8. We had people who had been working for years as admin (I’m talking a couple of decades) at my last organization. Heck my building’s receptionist (technically a staff assistant) has been in the same role for 12 years, perfectly happy.

        3. Allonge*

          Not with that attitude you won’t!

          Seriously: not everyone wants to climb the career ladder and become CEO if only they can get a foot in the door. Some people need a job (in 3 years’ time too), and are good at and enjoy admin stuff.

    4. BRR*

      Yeah I also get that it’s a pain but people need to be realistic about what candidates they can attract. There might be someone interested in staying in a basic administrative position long term, but if the job doesn’t pay that well, it’s going to be tougher to find someone.

      In the case of this letter , the LW should definitely ask the candidate further about this. I would be concerned the candidate was trying to take any job with the employer to get their foot in the door since they said wanted to work there.

    5. Jessica*

      The last person I hired for my entry-level admin job stayed just over 2 years. She was awesomely efficient and I was sad when she left… but in that time, she not only did a great job, but she also helped me create a manual for her position, with tons of procedural stuff that’s going to be really useful to her replacement.

      If you have a position you expect to have frequent turnover, think about what you can do to smooth the turnover experience for everyone involved.

      1. Emily*

        Yes, especially in an administrative job, creating procedures and documentation to ensure continuity can be part of the job description. And it’s smart to think of ways you could give the employee a chance to grow a little, so maybe they stay for three years instead of one.

      2. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

        This is precisely what I’ve done. Got a new job last year, immediately realised it was not a good fit (think chaotic start-up vibes), and am already on my way out. But in the meantime I am documenting the heck out of basically everything that I have access to, so that the next person in this role will be better set up for success and so may stick around long term.
        Sometimes it might also take a few rounds of ‘bad fit’ until you work out exactly what you need from a particular role, and once you’ve worked that out you might be better able to find the right person to stay.

    6. KayDeeAye*

      I think 2 years is a reasonable expectation for an entry-level job. One year, though, is…a very, very short time! Assuming 3 months’ training, the difference between 1 year and 2 is the difference between 9 months of being useful vs. 21 months of being useful. And that’s a big, big difference.

      1. Lena*

        Most basic receptionist jobs don’t need anywhere near 3 months of training. I’ve had jobs where I was fully trained in 3 weeks.

        1. Aerin*

          My job is pretty vast and complicated and our training takes 2 months. Sure, it takes about a year for someone to get GOOD at the job, but they can still be plenty useful before then. (I don’t think of “can handle everything without having to ask someone questions” as the standard for being fully trained, because I’ve been here a decade and I still encounter weird stuff I have to get help with.) When I was at The Mouse we got a week (or less!) before we were turned loose with the heavy machinery.

          If it’s a role where it’s reasonable to expect significant turnover, it’s in the business’s best interest to streamline the training. Even if it takes a long time to get fully trained, get them to a point where they can be contributing *something* as quickly as possible. (In my case, even though training lasts two months and they’re closely monitored for a while after that, they start actually doing the job for real, in a controlled way, after 2-3 weeks.)

    7. Glitsy Gus*

      This was my thought as well. I get that the first person may have expected a little too much too soon, and that he wasn’t ultimately the right fit for larger reasons, but this is something OP may want to think about.

      Even if someone is truly entry level experience wise, how long do you expect them to be staying at this very first position? Most Reception jobs I had when I was starting out, or have worked with, had someone new every two years or so at the most. Unless it really is more of a true Office Manager role, where they are in charge of procedures, budgeting, etc. these kinds of entry level jobs aren’t usually the kind of thing someone makes a career out of. If you really don’t see any growth track for this position you need to understand that this will limit how long good folks will stick around.

    8. Babz*

      My thoughts exactly. This is an entry level, transitional role. No one is going to stay in the job more than 1-2 years. The hiring manager should stop approaching their recruiting thinking they will hire a lifelong employee.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I’m convinced this is why none of the entry-level jobs in OldCity hired me. I was clearly more experienced, but I applied because I needed to work. One employer even said they were looking for someone who would stay in their $10-an-hour front desk job forever.

        It’s unrealistic to think this. People are either going to leave eventually or move up, assuming there is anywhere in the company to go. It’s obvious when you see the same job being posted over and over and over.

    9. MCMonkeyBean*

      I do think that with a role like this you often just have to accept the fact that the type of people you most want to hire for the role have significant overlap with the type of people who will fairly quickly outgrow it.

      That being said, I probably wouldn’t hire an overqualified person who only says they want this job because they want to work at your company but not really at this job specifically.

  3. DrMrsC*

    I work with someone now who came to my healthcare department as a staff clinician after having been a department head for 20+ years. A number of staff voiced concerns before she was hired about her being able to adapt to a non-leadership role. I’d like to say that our concerns were unfounded. She does have a ton of experience with the actual clinical job, but has butted heads repeatedly as she tries to manage and direct (or in her view, mentor) other staff – including many with literal decades of experience in their own right. Some have had to outright say to her “you are not my manager ” among other firmly worded boundary setting efforts. It’s been 5 years and still a struggle. Most of us are just waiting for her to retire at this point.

  4. Riot Grrrl*

    Adding to the advice in the article, I think if you do decide to hire this candidate or someone like them, I would think right away about managing a real and legitimate career path for them that moves them toward where they want to be. That doesn’t mean you have to make a promise such as “In X months you will have position Y.” But it does mean taking seriously would a career path might look like that you hadn’t considered before. And if that career path seems unmanageable or unlikely in a reasonable amount of time, then I’d think it would be best for you and the candidate alike to pass on this hire.

  5. Lobsterman*

    The job’s got to pay enough to be worth keeping, or else it won’t matter who you hire, they’ll move on in a year.

  6. Alex*

    Sometimes it feels like employers feel they need to have the “most qualified” employee, meaning if they have an admin role that basically requires answering the phone and making copies, and they get 100 applications from candidates with graduate degree, they feel like they should pick one of those because they are “more qualified”. I know my own organization is guilty of this, and as a result we have people in roles that actually require a high school degree filled almost exclusively by people with graduate degrees, making everyone feel like in order to get any job, they need to get a graduate degree, and this compounded by all the other companies who do this leaves us in the situation our country is in, where everyone is drowning in debt and working jobs that didn’t require them taking on that debt in the first place.

    I may be projecting…but also I see it happening all around me.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      I think this really speaks to Alison’s point about looking at the qualifications for the specific role; having a graduate degree doesn’t necessarily speak to administrative or service skills!

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        So very true. I have a graduate degree. I have a director-level position in my current field. I would make a TERRIBLE admin.

        1. Isben Takes Tea*

          I still remember teaching a top-university English major how to put bullets into a Microsoft Word document—and she was an editorial assistant at a major publishing house.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          SAME. My admin is awesome – she’s detail-oriented and keeps track of five of us and sends us reminders if she hasn’t gotten the info she needs. She remembers to order snacks for meetings, prepare copies for people, checks in to see if we need help with a deck or with proofreading, and all the little essential and nice-to-have details that are easy to forget about when you’re dealing with the big picture stuff. My former admin had a similar skills set and has now moved on to a project manager role. She’s amazing at it, too.

          I considered my last admin “overqualified” for the job and asked why she hasn’t applied to what most people would have considered a more substantive position. She said she just really enjoyed organizing things and administrative work and that, while she probably could do the other position, she didn’t feel like she’d enjoy it as much based on her past experiences. One of the best hires I’ve ever made, though we did make room for internal promotions to keep her challenged and interested, which sounds like it might not work here.

        3. Chauncy Gardener*

          LOL! Me too.

          That being said, I hate when a role “requires” a college degree when it really doesn’t. An Accounts Payable Clerk, a Payroll accountant, etc. These roles do NOT require a college degree!

      2. starfox*

        This is a really good point. I have a graduate degree, and was working with my current company as a receptionist while I was finishing that degree. I still work with the same company, but in a much “higher” level role.

        My more “complicated” job is a million times easier than when I was a receptionist. The phone ringing constantly… having to put together paperwork while talking on the phone AND greeting people… it was a nightmare for my ADHD self! And I also don’t react very well when people call and yell at me, which is just something the General Public does a lot.

        Unfortunately, our receptionist left and we are all having to take turns at the front desk/my worst nightmare, lol.

      3. Emily*

        Not at all. I started in my field in an office manager role and I was frankly pretty mediocre at it. I was right out of college and didn’t understand why people couldn’t prepare their own FedEx packages. A good admin enjoys figuring out the process and systems that make an office run and making them better, and has lots of other skills that are not universal. (I also don’t necessarily think of this role as “entry level.”)

    2. Dr. Hyphem*

      When I was working at a university, I saw a lot of qualification inflation–program assistant positions with “Master’s degree preferred,” program coordinator positions with “Master’s degree required, PhD preferred” when the specifics of the job do not require an advanced degree. This creates problems on both ends:

      1. People who have the skills to do the job without advanced degrees aren’t considered, which may push someone who really wants to do that kind of work into an advanced degree program, perpetuating the cycle, like you said. Given that perk of a working at most universities are free classes, if these jobs didn’t have qualification inflation, these jobs could help someone finish their degree or pursue an advanced degree (if they genuinely want it) without debt, but as it is, you have to have advanced degrees to land jobs that are basically entry level.

      2. It leads to devaluing the advanced degrees, not because having the degree makes a candidate “better,” but because an advanced degree denotes having a specific skill set and/or subject matter expertise, and the job is requiring the degree but not actually using the skillset/expertise. Just like an entry level job should not require 3-5 years of work experience, it should not require an advanced degree.

      Universities are able to get away with this because these roles almost always pay more than adjuncting and have benefits and they have a pool of people with advanced degrees who think working at a university, even in a role they are overqualified for, will put them closer to the dream of a tenure track job.

      1. AnonToday*

        When I considered being an admin at my university to take free classes to finish my degree (after dropping out and working in private industry as an admin for a few years), I was told that nobody would respect me enough to give me a lab internship if they knew me as “the admin.”

    3. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

      Literally. Admin is a skill set that requires things that aren’t always a part of a degree (although I know there are admin-type degrees), but DO require a certain kind of mindset. I literally have to prod an administrative person at my job to do things that should be glaringly obvious: call clients who are supposed to be dropping off dogs for boarding, then TELLING US THAT. Letting us know when she’s leaving the front desk for the day so we can open the back door… etc. Some of it is her never having had this kind of job before, but you’d think the girl would catch on when she sees every other administrative do that. Or catch on that I have asked her to do it every evening…

  7. Dr. Rebecca*

    This may be off topic, but do you need your administrative assistant to be “driven by (y)our mission”? If so, why?

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      I think it’s important for everyone in the company to at least have a basic buy-in of the organization’s mission, in the sense that everyone feels they are working in the same direction. If someone happens to be personally “driven” by that mission, that can work in your favor, but the wording makes me hesitant as it implies—whether it is expected or offered—a level of dedication beyond reasonably paid working conditions.

      1. Just Another Starving Artist*

        It “driven by mission” can also mean “giving a damn about the community we’re serving.” If you provide services to the unhoused, you probably want someone who will treat clients with empathy and respect when those clients are frustrated, not someone who thinks homeless people are icky and visibly can’t wait to clock out.

        I know it’s in vogue on this site to treat work like it’s pointless, and that makes sense if you’re a clog in the machine of selling crap no one needs, but if your job affects actual human lives, it genuinely does make you a better employee (and person) to care about that part of the job.

        1. Mid*

          I wouldn’t say it’s “in vogue on this site to treat work like it’s pointless” it’s more that people are finally pushing back on the ridiculous idea that you should be willing to die for your office, when the vast majority of companies wouldn’t give a second thought about firing you. And frankly, that should apply to all jobs, including non-profits. Many non-profits get away with horrible abuses of employees and dysfunctional workplaces because people care about the mission. If you’re hiring someone for a reception job with no room for growth or upward mobility, they aren’t going to stay forever. If they do their job and do it well, it doesn’t matter if they love the work or the mission or not, and I’d argue they’re more likely to be a productive, good employee if they aren’t emotionally invested in The Mission to the point of accepting dysfunction.

          1. Dr. Rebecca*

            This, thank you.

            I’m a professor; I’m passionate about my students, but never once have I cared two figs for the “mission” of my employer beyond whatever covered “teach well and be good to the students,” and quite honestly most of them don’t even cover that.

            If someone shows up, does their job for the assigned shift, and is pleasant to work with, that should be enough for just about most jobs.

            1. Dr. Rebecca*

              Actually, come to think about it, the people I’ve known who *were* passionate about the university’s mission made the MOST obnoxious colleagues…

            2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

              Nod. I have no passion for anything because my emotions don’t do passion but eh you get your lil work done and stuff. ‍♂️

        2. Nightengale*

          I am a health care provider and care a lot about my patients and providing them the best care I can. I cared about that other places I worked also. I expect the other people working in my department to care about providing good care.

          But I am not at all driven by my giant health organization’s stated mission “to create a remarkable health experience, freeing people to be their best”

          1. Just Another Starving Artist*

            This feels like a deliberate misunderstanding of the difference between a mission statement (usually a nonsense PR thing) and an organization’s actual mission.

            1. Loulou*

              Right…and it doesn’t take a ton of imagination to understand that even people who are not directly providing care to patients still feel motivated by the idea that they’re contributing to a positive patient experience…you might call this “being mission driven,” unless you are extremely pedantic and pretending not to understand this for some reason!

            2. Nightengale*

              I know the difference.

              I am not convinced the people who do hiring understand the difference, and could definitely see talk about “our mission” being more towards nonsense PR buzzwords than to true commitment to patient care.

        3. Asenath*

          I’m not sure the distinction is that clear. I used to work in a place which dealt with the general public – all types of members of the general public, almost all of whom were frightened or upset. My job didn’t deal with the public directly, but I noticed my co-workers who did were able to deal with their clients professionally, even if, privately, they sometimes got frustrated at the work. I have no idea whether or not they cared about the institution’s mission, or the clients, but they knew how to behave professionally, even under very trying circumstances.

    2. attorney the hun*

      You don’t necessarily “need” someone who is, for example, obsessed with selling office supplies to mid-sized corporations, but you don’t want Tyler Durden working that front desk. You also don’t need an admin assistant to be “driven by the mission” at the DEA, but they shouldn’t be advocating for and using mushrooms while in that role either.

      I think “committed to” might be better language because you don’t expect them to leap out of bed every day with consuming passion and exuberance, you just don’t want someone working for you who’s totally apathetic or actively undermining it.

    3. Emily*

      No, but I’d like to hear something from the candidate about why they like administrative work, or helping people, or anything specific to the position. We get a fair number of applicants who just want to get a foot in the door at our organization, so I do pay attention to why they say they’re interested in the position.

    4. I Wore Pants Today*

      The homeless suggestion above is one, but if it were Alzheimer’s or cancer awareness, maybe not so much. Animal welfare yes, especially if there’s a revolving door of pets. I couldn’t see someone allergic to cats in that job.

    5. Madame X*

      This comment feels unnecessarily nit-picky of the LW’s phrasing. It’s pretty clear that the LW is not requiring that all employee’s they hire dedicate their entire lives to working for this organization. Rather, the LW is looking for appropriately qualified candidates who are motivated to perform well in their role. As the hiring manager, they should be querying why someone is interested in the role to ensure that they are not hiring people who are careless and completely apathetic.

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        I’m not saying they were wrong to want it (nitpicky); I’m saying I don’t understand why they want it. I warned that it might be off topic, as well.

        A person can be passionate about the mission and still be careless and apathetic about filing, scheduling, taking phone calls, and dealing with patrons. I didn’t see the connection between the two, and quite frankly I still don’t.

        1. Just Another Starving Artist*

          If you care about what the organization does, you’re more likely to feel that filing and scheduling matter — the line between “filing scholarship paperwork” and “making sure disadvantaged students are able to complete the semester” (for a dumb example) becomes more clear. People are more likely to be diligent about tasks where they care about the result.

        2. Karia*

          I think ‘alignment with values’ works better. I don’t expect employees to be excited about the ‘mission’ or filing. More that they’re in sync with values like doing a good job, helping their team, improving where they can etc.

        3. Karia*

          Also, there’s a wonderful Jacobin article that I think this blog has referenced in the past about how passion is a swizz. Nobody expected you to be passionate about your job sixty years ago. Companies just tried to pay well and offer career longevity.

    6. anonymous73*

      I don’t think you need ANY employee to be driven by the company’s mission. As long as you’re not actively working against it, it shouldn’t matter.

    7. Jellyfish*

      It helps to at least understand your role in the business and the company’s role in the community. I’ve been a long term admin twice, and it makes a difference.

      In the first position, I really, *really* did not care about the company’s goals or mission. My job, ultimately, was to keep the office running so that the higher ups could profit. We weren’t providing a clearly necessary service, doing any discernible good for the community, or making people happy. While I’ve learned I’m not a great admin, part of my dissatisfaction with the job was that it all felt so pointless.

      In my other similar role, it was much clearer to me what my company achieved. At the end of the day, I knew that my coworkers and bosses provided an important service. It wasn’t a service I was passionate about or even particularly interested in, but it was more than just profit for its own sake. (Think something like pest control or plumbing repair) I stayed longer in the second place and did a better job there because I understood the purpose of my job in terms of both my office and the city I lived in.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        My current role is for a company that does immunotherapy stuff for cancer and other diseases. I work in IT in a support role. Am I “on board” with this? Yes. My father died of cancer.

        It checks the box of “doing something good for others in an area I have history with” much more than a Google or Salesforce would. I’ve worked for companies that made their money by advertising, and that didn’t tick the “helping people live well” box, it just ticked the “get a paycheck box”.

    8. LilPinkSock*

      “Driven” by a mission? Maybe not, but at least “give a damn about the work we do here” would be nice. I’m an admin, and I’ve supported roles that I didn’t know the first thing about…but I still cared enough about it to do a great job and support my team in their projects. Not sure why an admin wouldn’t be expected to care as much as anyone else in a company.

    9. Ampersand*

      If you’re someone like me, yes. I’ve learned through trial and error that if I don’t care about what an organization does, I can’t be bothered to care about my job. It’s not that I’m being malicious—it’s that if the end goal doesn’t align with my values, I just don’t have the energy or mental bandwidth to care and do a good job. It turns into drudgery.

      As others pointed out, “driven” can be broadly defined. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re 110% behind whatever the company mission is.

      1. Parakeet*

        It took me far too long to understand this about myself, and I am happier and better at my jobs now that I do.

        I’m a socialist, I don’t agree with pretty much anything about how the economy is set up, I don’t agree with the need to do wage labor or own capital to have a decent life. And I do socialist organizing to try to bring a world that matches my values about. But meanwhile, I’m spending over a third of my waking hours (assuming ~8 hours for sleep, and a 40-hour workweek) at my job. And also I’m autistic + ADHD (i.e. hyperfocus on some things, a lot of difficulty focusing on others!). So I do care that it be meaningful and values-aligned as well as intellectually interesting to me, not just for some kind of life satisfaction but because that’s the kind of job I can consistently perform well in (and after a lot of trial and error, I’ve made my way into a niche that works for that).

    10. Lizziana*

      It’s not necessarily a requirement of the job, but when I hire admin staff, it does help if they either express an interest in admin work generally, or our mission.

      Basically, they like organizing and filing credit card receipts because having our spending organized genuinely makes some people happy, or they understand that by handling our spending, it allows our llama groomers to groom more llamas.

      But at the same time, if an applicant was super excited about llama grooming and didn’t make the link to the admin work, that would be a yellow flag. I’d want to make sure they understood that the job was admin work, and there wasn’t a chance they’d be asked to groom llamas. I’ve been burned by people who apply for entry level admin jobs and then get cranky when I ask them to do admin work rather than work that’s more directly related to our mission.

  8. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

    I would add talking through with the candidate the types of decisions they’ll be responsible for making, what they’ll be able to give input on, and what they’ll be expected to implement without input. Like, “In this role, you’re responsible for making sure all customer phone calls get responded to and resolved in a day, and you’d design your own system to do that. You’d also be responsible for implementing a new technology for the company — the decision about which tech will be made by your manager, but you may have narrow opportunities for input and you’ll project manage the implementation, including… Finally, this role will be responsible for stocking office supplies using the existing vendor and organizational system, and that’s an area where we’ll be asking you to use the existing system rather than creating your own.”

    And then follow up with: “What sounds most appealing to you about that, and what do you think would be most challenging?”

    Two members of my team are “overqualified” for their roles, but they knew exactly what they were walking into. They have been awesome and are among the longest-tenured employees on my team. The thing that made me confident to hire them was when I went through the notes above, they asked really good clarifying questions about what it would look like in practice before they answered. Like 30% of the interview ended up being focused on the transition from leadership to a 2-4 years’ experience role.

    1. Riot Grrrl*

      When I’ve been in a similar situation, I also try to add detail around the least appealing part of the job to make it undeniably clear what they would be signing up for. For example, “This job involves crawling around under people’s desks in order to plug in their computers. And it can be dusty under there.”

  9. learnedthehardway*

    One of the things I look for with over-qualified candidates is whether they are focused on the job itself, in the interview. Do they give me relevant examples that are tailored to the position. Eg. if someone was a VP Sales, but is interviewing for a Sales Rep role, are their examples of strategic thinking relevant to the Sales Rep role? Do they mention accomplishments that are relevant to the junior role? OR, do they tell me about the company-wide sales strategy and the team they developed as the VP Sales?

    The other thing I look for is whether the candidate is able to stay in their swim lane. Eg. someone who tells me they can add value across the organization because of their prior experience is often signaling that they’re not going to be interested in the narrow scope of the more junior position. Sure, they CAN add value, but I want to see that they are focusing their attention on the job at hand. The same with candidates who tell me they could take on other roles/responsibilities in addition to the core position. Well, that’s great, but a) there are probably other people doing that work, and b) there are only 24 hours in a day, and the more junior job probably fills up most of the working hours, even for an over-qualified person who can be really efficient at getting the work done.

    1. Jessica*

      Exactly. At the end of the day, I still just need somebody to refill the copier, and I don’t need them to have a PhD to do it. Au contraire, I have dozens of PhDs on hand, and you think any of them can refill the copier? Ha.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I think a lot of people are reluctant to hire over-qualified candidates, but this is a stereotype, like any other. There are VERY good people who make great employees, even though they are over-qualified. You have to look at the person’s motivation for looking for a less senior role.

      eg. perhaps the person has personal stresses that mean they simply cannot be in a senior level role where they have to make strategic decisions that will affect other people’s jobs. Or maybe they really do not enjoy managing a team, but want to get back to being hands-on. Perhaps the person feels they just want to be able to do their job and go home at the end of the day without having to spend non-working hours thinking about the big issues (like how to solve strategic issues or major problems in the business). Maybe they need work/life balance to care for elderly parents. OR perhaps they are moving their career in a new direction and are prepared to invest in a lower level role to get experience they need that will help them reorient their career (from finance to marketing, for example). Or maybe they need to re-establish their career after a period of time out of work or having immigrated.

      These are all good reasons for taking a more junior role. In some, a career path forward should be identified. In others, a time period for how long the person wants to be in a more junior role would be good to have in mind.

      1. kiki*

        I know a lot of people who have taken a step (or several) down career-wise and I think most of them were very intentional about it and end up making fantastic employees. Having employees determined to move up is cool and necessary, but it can be really great for a business to have somebody good at their job who wants to stay in that role for a long time. A few of them had moved into management roles then stepped back. I think their bosses may have feared they’d try to manage, but they were SO happy to leave that to somebody else and they were really sympathized with their bosses when it came to the difficulties of management. All people are different, so over-qualification can lead to early employee departures, but I think we need to expand our narratives of what folks want from work.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          As soon as I don’t need the management money any more, I’d like to take a step back into an individual contributor role. Management is fine, but I miss the feeling of accomplishment that came with successfully completing specific/measurable tasks. I promise not to try to manage my future boss, either. :)

      2. RC+Rascal*

        This. The people I know who have successfully stepped back either had family obligations that precluded them from the stress and travel of the higher level role, or who simply found out they did not enjoy managing people.

  10. attorney the hun*

    I’m an attorney and I stepped down into a law clerk position after a few years, due to burnout and newly-diagnosed ADHD. I am essentially the office manager and do a lot of things that a really good paralegal could do, but I’m happier doing this. I don’t work the long hours expected of customer-facing attorneys and I don’t have the responsibilities of answering massive, complicated legal questions, which burn me out. The position suits me and I got “exceeds expectations” on my last review. I agree with Alison in that you need to ask very specific questions that the person should be able to answer, and it’s not automatically a big problem that someone overqualified is applying.

  11. Moonlight*

    I have 2 thoughts about this letter.

    #1: is this applicant applying because they really want to work for the org and hope that by starting in an entry level role, it’ll actually get then into the org and then in a year or 2 they could get a promotion and will already be in the org and more likely to be considered? I’ve noticed with a lot of orgs that I feel pressured to apply below my actual skill level as an external candidate because why would they take a risk on an unknown quantity who’s perfectly qualified but they may have an internal person who’s also perfectly qualified and who’s work their more intimately known with and therefore I feel like if I am overqualified (at least by a bit) their more likely to take the risk hiring me, and since it’s normal to move onto new roles within 1-2 years, I’ll be able to get the more challenging roles at this org I care about later. I’m not saying this isn’t flawed logic… but it’s the kind of logic that people can come up with when they have, for years, been at a disadvantage trying to get jobs (even qualified candidates) and where it can be challenging to get into organisations who’s missions you care about. Just presenting an option here, I recognise I may be wrong.

    #2 is it really so bad that someone leaves after a year? That *can* be regarded as a short time, yes, but most people I know (late 20’s to early 30’s haven’t kept their jobs for more than 2 years or have a lot of shuffling around, such a internal promotions, or lateral moves).

    #3 I find it odd that the previous person’s ideas were seemingly being ignored. Or that he felt this way. Is there room to give a receptionist ways to meaningfully contribute to ideas at the organization? Maybe there’s a reason that their role can’t be expanded (eg you don’t have the funds to pay them for more work or you can’t just be like “well, X project you did should be paid at a higher rate than you’re being paid at” and you can’t just fluctuate their salary, but is there an option for bonuses or something?). I’ve worked reception at some places and I often had good ideas because I was interacting with clients, often receiving their feedback, having to be familiar with where things were in the organisation, having to understand the chain of command and processes etc. and I found my ideas were dismissed a lot (eg clients not being able to easily access a certain service when a certain program was being offered, a top down communication model with management being incommunicado and difficult to locate, and a lack of privacy for clients waiting to access services, some of which involved a high degree of confidentiality and sensitivity, etc) and no one cared when I flagged this stuff… but it was valid stuff to be concerned about and it was kind of insulting that because I was “just” the receptionist that my ideas didn’t matter as much.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      I think 2-3 years is a reasonable expectation for an entry level role. One year…is a very short tenure, though. It takes most people at least a couple months to become truly useful in all aspects of a new job, so if they leave after one year, you really only got about 9 months good work out of them.

      1. Raine Wynd*

        It’s also worth figuring out if this position is truly entry-level. Many receptionist/front-desk admin positions are dead end jobs, with zero or little room for advancement.
        Also, entry level does not equal “this job will allow you a stepping stone into this company,” because for most of the companies I temped at in five years of high-level admin assistant work, it was a sure path into nowhere.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I find it odd that the previous person’s ideas were seemingly being ignored.

      I’m not sure that his ideas were being ignored so much as that he expected to have influence above that which his role warranted. I could have a lot of ideas for my workplace but my job isn’t at a level, and consequently my familiarity with the organization as a whole, doesn’t actually put me in a position to have many *workable* ideas.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        Yeah, I might have very strong ideas about, e.g., my organization’s lobbying efforts, but lobbying is not my job and it never will be my job. If had such ideas, I could pass them along, but the chances of my actually coming up with something useful that they haven’t already are not all that great.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I wonder whether the ideas he had were related to the reception area/role or were about very different roles/areas? I could see ideas about accounting software being very much ignored from a receptionist for example.

      3. Environmental Compliance*

        Agreed – I have some staff I work with that have a lot of *opinions* on a lot of things, but they really aren’t feasible due to organizational restraints, financial restraints, hey that’s actually illegal by regulation restraints, and even when it’s explained to them why we can’t do xyz, it’s that they’re “getting ignored and (company) doesn’t want their ideas” and not “we investigated and it’s not going to work in the way you think it is”.

        Examples: everyone wants to start recycling everything, but I need a place to recycle it first, and then figure out how to get it to that place. I do not have a magical recycling wand that poofs waste streams into the recycling centers and also makes it 1000% cleaner without any contamination. (This is a monthly discussion. We really are looking at expanding recycling/reuse efforts, but not everything can just…. be immediately sent for reuse/recycle, or we probably would have done it already.)

    3. kittycontractor*

      All of these comments are excellent. It’s absolutely possible for someone to work in a role they are over-qualified for, and do so successfully. Some of it is getting the person with the right motivation (and the current candidate definitely sounds like she’s using it as stepping stone into the company, perfectly fine if each side is cool with that), but most of it is going to entail treating that person and that their contributions/suggestions with value. Not to say the LW won’t but like you said, it was a complaint of the last person so maybe something to look into….(and it is super easy/common for people to dismiss the entry level staff insight).

      1. Smithy*

        I think when you work at a place that has either mission or name brand draw, then for entry level positions – I think the best thing you can do is to set those roles up with very clear guidelines around when someone can use them as a “step up”. So while a lot of places will have guidelines around internal transfers needing to be there for at least a year, I think it might be beneficial to try and get in writing when you want that time period to be at least two years. Any longer than two years for entry level, I do think ends up being overly punitive and can depress a candidate pool – but I think it can be really help to put up some formal barriers when you will never be able to truly screen out everyone trying to use the job as a stepping stone.

  12. Scout Finch*

    One of my college professors (adjunct for my night program – worked at IBM full time) said that companies should hire the best receptionist/admin possible and pay that person very well – so well that they will think twice about moving on.

    The receptionist is the first point of contact for most customers. A bad receptionist/admin can and WILL cost the company $$. A great one will return many times the salary in customer satisfaction and other areas (company/industry knowledge, time/meeting management, internal systems mastery….). Plus it is assuring for a customer to see the same face every time they walk in the door. Makes the company look stable.

    I don’t know WHY companies don’t get it. Turnover is expensive, y’all!

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      ^^^ This! I have made multiple decisions about which doctors and dentists I go to based entirely on front-office staff.

      1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

        One of the reasons I fired my old PCP was because of her surly, uncooperative front desk people. I was seeing a few specialists at the time, and their office people begged me to change my PCP because they didn’t want to deal with them, either.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Second this. It is BEYOND frustrating to have to deal with front desk staff who only sort of know what they’re doing, or are only superficially familiar with the kind of business they support. When I call my vet’s office I don’t want to talk to someone who seems to know less about animals than I do and to whom I have to explain literally everything–not reassuring.

      1. The OG Sleepless*

        Veterinary receptionists are not the best example of this. A veterinary receptionist needs to be organized, empathetic, and understand the flow of the hospital. They will probably know what needs to be seen right now, what needs to be seen this afternoon, and what can wait until next week, and that X procedure needs to be scheduled for Y amount of time with Dr. A, but they cannot and should not be able to give a pet owner actual medical advice.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          I agree with your comment OG sleepless. But, like Dust Bunny, I have to explain those very things to some of the vet front desk staff.
          I don’t want medical advice, but when I have to explain what a reactive dog is and the procedures the doc has put in place to manage my dog, it gets old. And when my dog was ill, I called to ask what the next steps would be. We wound up bringing in a stool sample when something not measured by a stool sample was the problem. It delayed his care. I should not have to explain these things to the front desk and if they don’t know, they should be asking up the chain, not deciding!

          1. burned out*

            Not to start an argument but a busy vet hospital can see 60+ patients a day. They’re not going to remember everyone. There should be a note in your pet’s chart about being reactive but if there isn’t, it isn’t fair to blame the person answering the phone.

            1. AnonToday*

              I think what Chilipepper meant was that the front desk had no idea what a “reactive dog” WAS so they didn’t understand the office *needed* to do anything special. And the thing about the stool sample probably meant they garbled the request up the chain and got an answer to a different question than the customer asked. I had that problem for my own medical problems with staff at multiple doctor’s offices. They wouldn’t understand what I was saying about my symptoms and write down something unrelated, then call back with instructions for something that didn’t fit my problem at all. (Just like the problem I had with Google Fi recently: I used to have cell/data signal in the basement parking and now I can’t get it. I was trying to find out if it was related to T-Mobile shutting down the Sprint networks, and they kept giving me instructions for “can’t connect to Google Fi ever anywhere.” Which I was reading on my Google Fi data connection.)

    3. no longer working*

      Yes! For instance, someone who is required to leave reminder messages for patient appointments should not be leaving mumbled & unintelligible messages. A clear & understandable speaking voice should be a requirement for a person tasked with this job. I had to call back to make sure I understood that’s what the message was about, and I explained to the person I reached – who I understood perfectly – that there was a problem that needed fixing. I hope they made her aware & she corrected it, or else assigned the task to someone else.

      1. Dragonfly7*

        This is my pet peeve! The person who sets up the referrals for my PCP’s office only leaves messages via speakerphone, and I often still can’t quite hear the message even with my volume maxed out. I have to call her back and ask her to repeat it.

    4. kiki*

      Yes! A good receptionist/admin should ideally understand *a lot* about the business and be trusted to make important decisions. Theoretically a lot of the position could be just “answering phones,” but even if that’s the case, you want the admin to actually be effective on the phone with clients and vendors, which requires skill and training and knowledge.

      1. Raine Wynd*

        It also requires a level of caring about:
        – what the company does, so that the front desk person knows specifics and can route calls/visitors/mail/couriers appropriately
        – what the front desk/receptionist role is in that process (act as gatekeeper, first-line customer service, screen visitors)
        – what skills are required to be successful in the role
        – if specific items must be completed within a specific period
        – how success will be measured
        Too many people assume that front desk = anyone can do it, but that’s not true. I’ve trained front desk admin staff. Someone who can’t multitask, handle competing priorities, handle the stress of said competing priorities, and do that all with a smile will fail and fail epically.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I suspect some people move out of that position not because they don’t like it or like elements of it, but because the salaries are so low. In fact, most of them are not even livable. If a company declares that their front desk person is a very important employee in the organization, their pay needs to reflect that.

      1. AnonPi*

        That and frankly a lot of companies/managers don’t treat admins well. Hearing people in your office dismissing you as “just an entry level admin” (when you have many years experience), assume you can’t do things like basic copy and paste in excel because your “just an admin”, and in other ways berate, demean, and belittle you, you sure as heck aren’t interested in staying.

      2. Scout Finch*

        Exactly. That’s why my instructor noted that they should be paid very well. They are basically the face of the organization & need to be compensated properly.

    6. anti social socialite*


      I used to be a receptionist. I wasn’t getting paid much but I enjoyed the work & the people I worked with for the most part. Then we lost half the team (not bc of bad management or anything, just timing). It took over a year for management to bother looking for replacements. Then COVID hit and we got extremely busy, remained short staffed and unsupported by management.

      Kudos to the other person in the role who is still there but I could not stand it. If we had gotten more support (& LBR, more pay) from the upper management, I wouldn’t have left.

    7. fleapot*

      Thinking of an anecdote I read about a receptionist for a printing company who took a call from a potential customer asking about a guillotine. They advised the client that the company didn’t supply guillotines, and ended the call.

      Some time later, the receptionist discovered that the client 1) wanted a paper cutter, not a device for severing heads and 2) had signed a new supply contract with a competitor.

      A competent receptionist would have known to refer the inquiry to sales personnel (*especially* if they were baffled by the client’s request!).

      The management probably had no way to know that they’d lost a potentially valuable client, which actually underscores the point about investing in competent admin. It might seem difficult to make a business case for incurring the expense of properly training this receptionist—or of doing more to retain one who had more experience and a grasp of basic industry terminology. But if you don’t make that investment? There will absolutely be losses you can’t quantify.

      (Can’t recall the exact source for the anecdote, but I think it was some kind of “my biggest work fails!” listicle.)

  13. kiki*

    Like Alison said, I think the best thing you can do is ask questions and make it clear what this role is or isn’t. I wouldn’t let your experience with your previous employee dishearten you too much– sometimes people think they want one thing and realize they need another once they’re in the role. I know you probably want to avoid making the same mistake twice, but your next hire could leave in under a year for all sorts of reasons. The next hire could become a contestant on The Bachelor or decide to take their bee-keeping side business full-time. Ask this candidate questions, listen to their answers, and decide from there.

    1. toolittletoolate*

      I actually had a really good employee leave after a few months for a role on The Bachelor! It was so fun to watch her on the show—she didn’t win but she had a blast…

  14. Not Today Josephine*

    Sometimes “overqualified” is just an excuse for ageism. For an admin role, or any role, someone over 50 will probably have over 20 years experience, thus making them overqualified. So if you say you are looking for someone with only 1 or 2 years experience, you are really looking for someone in their 20’s.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Not really – in this example, someone who has had significant leadership experience and is used to a level of autonomy and influence would not be expected to be happy in a receptionist position without a compelling backstory. It’s the same as any big career change, you need to include the narrative.

      Usually when you say 1-2 years experience it’s because that’s what the salary is set to reflect. But typically you list experience in specific areas, not just overall work experience, which has to do with defined skills.

      1. pcake*

        Eldritch Office Worker – why not?

        I went from being a manager of a club and 2 associated businesses to being a hostess. at the same club. The money was MUCH less, but it was such a relief not to have to deal with all the many issues that came with the management job – dealing with interpersonal issues, vendors, ordering, inspections, legal issues, our armed security company, getting appliances fixed, scheduling, dealing with money physically, dealing with theft from customers or employees and more.

        I was much happier not doing all that.

  15. Lost in Nonprofitland*

    I am a pregnant executive director of a small nonprofit who is seriously burned out and seriously considering (with my partner’s support) in using the pregnancy to gracefully step away from my extremely stressful and demanding role that’s still having me work 60 + hours/ week during the busy season, while pregnant, and causing some health issues that resulted in an ER visit just two weeks ago.

    I have no idea what my next steps are after my unpaid maternity leave, but it definitely won’t be as an underpaid, overworked executive director. I would honestly LOVE a receptionist position with a steady 9-5 and clear work/life balance, and not have to be “on” all the time trying to fix everyone’s problems so I can focus on my family–my partner and my children (because we plan to have more than one). But I know I will face this challenge–trying to convince future employers that, just because I was an executive director for four years doesn’t mean I want the responsibility, the workload, or to grow in a position–at least not for a few years. We just need the extra money to help supplement my partner’s salary.

    I certainly suspect I’ll want a more challenging role once my children are older… but there is no guarantee of that, either.

    Please ask the questions to see what the candidates’ goals are. Not everyone who is “overqualified” wants to continue working those type of roles. Maybe they have extenuating circumstanes–burnout, children, caretaker duties, etc. that make a more challenging role too hard to juggle.

    1. Raine Wynd*

      In your case, I would make it clear in my cover letter that you’re looking for a change in responsibility to be able to focus on limited tasks and give them the attention they deserve or something like that, so people won’t be put off by your previous level of responsiblitiy.

  16. Critical Rolls*

    I agree with previous commenters that being really clear about the scope of the role is key. I also want to separate being “overqualified” from being “too ambitious for the role/organization.” There are times in my working life when I have been correctly qualified, but the role/org called for someone who just did the work and never looked at the bigger picture, and that has *never* been me. If I can’t do process improvement, I don’t stay.

    Also… *were* you ignoring his ideas? If so, why? It’s not clear to me from the letter if he was out of his lane, or if you weren’t interested in any contributions from due to the low level position. The latter would be short-sighted. One of the best parts of having “overqualified” people in low level roles is that they often have bigger picture insight that can make meaningful improvement.

    1. Riot Grrrl*

      I know that we have precious little information about the previous employee, so both of us are just guessing here. But I really homed in on OP’s wording that he “felt” that his suggestions were being ignored.

      Ugh, for me, hearing that is like having an old sports injury flare up. I have managed more than one employee who had loads of “helpful” ideas in areas where it was not their job to come up with such ideas. And they were often genuinely good ideas! But because I like most people have a to-do list that already has 47 urgent tasks I haven’t gotten to yet, there’s just zero chance we’re going to be able to implement your great idea when we can’t even implement the ideas from the people who were hired to provide those ideas. Such employees always feel that they are being “ignored”, when–at least in my case–it’s almost always a case of limited bandwidth, resources, priorities, and so forth.

    2. Snarktini*

      I’m the same. Even when I was entry-level I was always asking questions and offering suggestions — and while I expected to make my bones and listen first, I also expected to be heard and taken seriously regardless of my position/age/gender. (And, mostly, I was.) The right place for me values my curiosity and systems thinking. A place that wants me to stay in my lane is not a fit for me.

  17. pcake*

    You can never know whether someone who isn’t overqualified is right for a job, either. That a person is overqualified makes me think they have enough work experience to know what they want, where someone who isn’t overqualified might not have that level of work experience.

    And in a year or two, absolutely anyone’s life can completely change, and there is no way to predict this. They might have to move to another state to care for a loved one, may get married or divorced, may develop a physical issue which will keep them from working at that job or something else. Heck, they could go into the witness protection program.

    1. Squeakrad*

      I took a job like this some years ago. I was interested in hearing from the OP that it’s not quite a full-time job. That was what made my job work for me – I was doing a lot of other things and couldn’t commit to a full-time job so I took a basic admin job that I really enjoyed. Was actually one of my favorite jobs and got me through till I decided to enter graduate school. So I think it would be worth teasing out from your applicant what’s in it for her not just in terms of the job but also in terms of the part-time nature of the work.

  18. Sunflower*

    You just never know about a person’s situation. I know someone who graduated from a prestigious university, got a job in her field…and hated it. She’s now happy as a clam doing admin work.

    I know another person who was a manager and now loves her entry level job.

    So the first one didn’t work out but that can happen with any job at any level.

  19. Sarah in CA*

    As a job seeker, I find the disconnect in the job title and/or description.

    “Office manager” leads me to believe there are responsbilities beyond just greeting people and answering the phones.

    If this truly is entry level, the pay rate should indicate that and I pass on ones that might indicate more responsibility but pay entry level.

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      That jumped out to me too. Sure, often Reception will handle some basics of running the office, ordering supplies, making sure the kitchen is good to go, organizing service people and deliveries, that kind of thing.
      An Office Manager is a very different, more advanced role with a lot of responsibility around making decisions for the office, budgeting, scheduling, that kind of thing.

      We can’t tell from the letter, but from my own experiences working in various offices over the years in entry level roles, this is one that gets real mushy real quick and you want to make sure that you are very clear and open about what the job is. It might be a good idea for OP to really take a look at what the job description is and make sure that the title is clear and that you are paying for the role you are actually filling.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree with this. If you want a receptionist, advertise it as a receptionist position with some additional duties. Call it “Receptionist/Administrative Assistant”. Spell out the job responsibilities out in the job description.

      Office Manager roles all tend to differ just a bit but typically involve ordering supplies, ensuring the lights stay on, dealing with maintenance issue (even if this is just getting building maintenance out and ensuring the problem is fixed), and being the go-to person who gets stuff done.

      1. Raine Wynd*

        It can sometimes also involve:
        – running payroll
        – acting in place of HR because they’re too cheap/small to have one
        – doing the company bookkeeping/accounting
        – cleaning and stocking the kitchen
        – watering the plants
        and a host of other duties listed as “other duties as assigned”, which as a career admin, is a warning bell for me to ask what, exactly, does that mean. Does it mean I plan the annual company party or all the company social activities? Do I get asked to be your personal assistant too?
        If you want someone to answer the phone and greet visitors and that’s it, that’s a receptionist to me. Anything added on to that is technically a higher-level administrative position, if you go by the US IRS salary/job descriptions.

  20. Jenna Webster*

    We routinely hire great people for our lowest level jobs who are looking for that “foot in the door,” and we’re delighted when they get to move on to bigger and better things. We’ve had really good luck – the people we’ve hired have been extremely easy to train and have generally improved our processes while they’ve been here. We do have to hire more often, but it has definitely been worth it – both for the benefit to our department and to the organization as a whole – and it doesn’t hurt us to have people outside the department who think of us fondly, either.

  21. Echo*

    I would actually encourage LW to use way more specific language in the interview and call out the typical pitfalls of this role for someone with extensive qualifications. I’ll use some pretend examples so I can describe what more specific/explicit language would look like, since it will vary greatly by organization and role:

    “Since we are a theater company, we often see applicants to this role with a background like yours who are interested in acting roles with us and see this role as a stepping stone into the organization. I want to be upfront that we don’t have a pathway from this role to an actor role – we work directly with the guild to find actors. Given that, does this role still sound like it would be the right fit?”

    “I want to be upfront with you that this role is an operational/execution focused role. One of the ways we’ve seen people struggle in this role is if they are process designers at heart, because there are few to no channels to share ideas about how to improve our protocol for accepting new clients (and frankly, a lot of the reasons the protocol is the way it is aren’t visible from this role’s vantage point). Can you tell me about a time when you had to work with a process or system that was inefficient, but you knew it wasn’t going to change, and how you managed your expectations?”

  22. anonymous73*

    There will be very few people who start an entry level job intending to stay there forever. For most it’s a foot in the door to gain experience and if they’re a good fit within the company, advance into more responsibility. A few jobs ago before they outsourced our help desk, a large majority of our IT department started as help desk analysts. As long as you’re honest with the job candidate about the responsibilities and opportunities for advancement (if any exist) and feel they’re being honest with you (it’s always a crap shoot because some people will say ANYTHING to get a job), you’re always going to be taking a risk. And it’s possible that some are not being honest with themselves…they THINK they want a job with less responsibility but are bored once they start.

  23. Karia*

    Someone taking a lower level role isn’t always red flag territory. Plenty of people try management and realise it’s not for them, people do those jobs while focusing on something else, some people genuinely prefer admin etc.

    But she’s a project manager, and is being open that she wants a higher level role with you. I’d encourage her to apply to one when if and when it becomes available. I can’t see this going well.

  24. Coyote Tango*

    “During his employment, he grew increasingly disgruntled and felt that his ideas were ignored.”

    Well…. were his ideas ignored? Just because someone is a receptionist doesn’t mean their ideas have no merit. Our admin staff are involved in our planning processes when it impacts their jobs.

  25. Antilla the Hon*

    I have run into this so frequently over the last seven years. I live in a small town in the middle of nowhere with one major employer. Over the years, I have applied for DOZENS of administrative jobs with them that have less responsibility than positions I’ve had in the past. I am actively seeking administrative roles because I have a talent for that work and genuinely enjoy it! (I’m an excellent admin, plan ahead, and anticipate the needs of the people I support.) I think I have a pretty good cover letter that covers my career pivot and desire to serve in an administrative capacity. My career transition into an administrative role is not that big of a “step down” either. Regardless, I have received dozens of rejections and my only guess is that I’m overqualified and HR will not send on my résumé hiring managers because of this. I have only had one interview out of all of these applications in seven years. (In that instance the manager hired her best friend.) It has been so demoralizing and frustrating. I am not a good fit at this stage in my life for fast food or retail work. Im stuck in a rinse and repeat cycle. It doesn’t do any good to get a new degree or acquire new professional skills (the latter of which I’ve done) because there are no jobs to be had (unless I want an unworkable commute halfway across the state). I am not able to move due to my spouse’s job. I am currently working in a remote position that I am entirely unsuited for with very long hours and a ton of isolation. (Heart attack or nervous breakdown here I come!) I follow the Ask a Manager site daily for advice and have honed my résumé and cover letter to no avail. I am just in a no-win situation and really feel like I am just out of options at this point. Many of the remote admin positions I see online are not a good fit or have extremely low pay. I have tried advice I’ve seen from the commentariat over the last year to no avail. I honestly and genuinely believe the best solution would be to move, but my spouse will not move. I have even looked at living on my own somewhere else but we are not able to make that financially work. I am just venting at this point. But if anyone has any ideas for a Hail Mary pass, I’d love to hear it! (By the way, I am not resting on my laurels here. I am a proactive go-getter who is active in my job search and I try to be inventive in establishing my admin assistant career.)

    1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      Many of the remote admin positions I see online are not a good fit or have extremely low pay.

      Is it possible to take one of these even for like 6-8 months even if it is crap pay? It used to be that temping was a good way into admin jobs and people would temp admin at a few companies for 1-3 month stints. Not sure if that’s still as much the case though nowadays. I know that sucks, but sometimes if you can just get that ONE job, it puts you on the path.

      1. Antilla the Hon*

        Funny you should mention that. I am looking at working for a local employment agency as a means of getting my foot in the door with our local major employer. After thinking it over, the lower pay doesn’t upset me too much. The main drawback is that I need GOOD health insurance (it’s too cost prohibitive on the ACA Exchange). Thank you for the thoughtful advice!

  26. Jenni*

    I’m overqualified and newly in an admin support role.

    Pandemic and multiple family members with cancer paired with burnout at the last job is my backstory for looking for something with less responsibilities/more flexibility.

    Having the admin role considered “part of the management team” by the organization (for me this shows they value the role) and then being open to my wanting to move into IT project management were huge in making the job a good fit.

    2.5 months in and I’ve clarified the contractor hiring process for managers, launched a new online system for reserving “hoteling” workstations as folks come back to the offices part time, manage parking, door access and maintenance requests for 2 buildings with different property managers, oversaw a complete PC hardware refresh project before the end of FY22 – and just got certified as a Scrum Master so I can move 25% into supporting an API Dev team integration projects next week because I was afraid I’d get bored going forward as I already tackled all the bigger projects.

    The pay isn’t the greatest – so I spend some weeks working side jobs in live events – multi-camera/streaming or theatrical events (12-40+hrs a week on top of the standard 40)

  27. Anonymous Educator*

    I’m with Alison on being up front about the day-to-day duties and the pay.

    I’m also someone who took a receptionist position as an “overqualified” applicant, and I made it very clear to the hiring manager why I wanted that position. The hiring manager took a chance on me, and it worked out, and I stayed a receptionist there for 4 years.

    That said, I did feel that my ideas were listened to, and I think people in lower level positions should have their ideas considered. I didn’t try to dictate policy, and I wasn’t insubordinate. But I expressed my opinions, made it clear I’d respect leadership’s ultimate authority, and sometimes my ideas were implemented.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I have a feeling that the key was that he felt he was being ignored. Even if he genuinely wanted less responsibility over all, being treated as (fill in the blank) …dumb, worthless, inexperienced, third class… isn’t something that most people will stick around for. A receptionist should still be treated as though they are seen and heard.

  28. Flowers (formerly potatoes)*

    My experience in looking for an entry level job when I had previously been a senior/manager:

    I recently began my job search after an almost 2-year break. At my long term job I had been a manager for several months before being laid off. After that I took on a job as a senior; I was fired after about 6 weeks because they felt that I wasn’t performing at the level and all but said they felt like they’d been lied to. That shook my confidence majorly. At that time I had decided that whenever I was ready to begin job searching again (I took an active break for a few months), I would look for lower-level jobs to:

    1. learn the job again from scratch
    2. lower level = lower pressure.

    I had to decide what salary level I was comfortable with; unfortunately true entry level would just barely cover my share of the household & childcare (emphasis on my share – we split it equally) expenses with not much left over. I knew that would be a financial constraint and lead to more unhappiness for me, so I set my sights a bit higher at mid-level but not quite senior.

    What I did actively decide to do was that in every conversation with recruiters and prospective companies and in interviews – I made it VERY clear where my experience lie and at what level I would expect to perform. I adopted an attitude of “I’m too old to lie and BS my way through anything. This is my experience, this is what I know, I’m willing to work hard and learn. But this is what I need to be successful.”

  29. Coin_Operated*

    Is there a way you can ballance the role, while giving whoever this person is, some more challenging tasks? I think you do a diservice by locking this position into just “admin/receptionist” mindset, because you should be setting all employees up to grow, and expand in their work. Sure you may not want an overqualified candidate, but even someone who is perfectly qualified, and suited for the task wouldn’t stay very long if they are not able to grow in any way.

  30. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    At the reception level, I don’t even think 1-2 year turn over is really that frequent — 3-6 months would be bad. It would be better to adjust the expectation that the position will be a long-term job for any candidate. Even if someone is a career admin, moving up the admin ladder from reception would be a normal expectation. What’s the concern about her being a good fit for the company, but not this particular position? Isn’t that a good thing in some ways? The company brings in an excellent employee that can grow with the organization. Even if no new positions are created ever in this org, certainly there will be turn over at other positions that an internal candidate could be a fit for?

  31. Dr. Hyphem*

    “We knew he was highly overqualified for the position, but he said that he was looking or a role with less responsibility due to family issues, so we hired him. During his employment, he grew increasingly disgruntled and felt that his ideas were ignored. ”

    I’m struggling to express this idea, so forgive me if I don’t communicate this well, but I feel like this is presented like a contradiction when it isn’t necessarily one. If he was told “this is an entry level role” and he had a background in the field that includes years of increasing responsibility, he could have genuinely been looking for a role that had less responsibility than his current role and saw this as “an entry level role in his field” which would have had been less responsibility than his current role. The letter writer says directly that there is no opportunity for advancement or taking on more responsibility, but I wonder if they were comfortable being that direct in the hiring process, so he perceived it as being entry level in the sense of “a return to the work that I was doing earlier in my career when I had less experience.”

    Like, say this guy was a director of project management or a senior project manager and the position is titled “Office Manager,” it is conceivable that he might think “this will use my project management skills but have less responsibilities than my old role.”

  32. Erica*

    YUP. Back when I was desperately trying to get a public policy job (with an MA in environmental policy) I took the “get your foot in the door” advice at nonprofits that were notoriously hard to get hired at. And I did get the admin role, and they sort of hinted that it could be a “stepping stone” role, and then I was fired for, after completing all my assigned tasks, asking the program directors if there was any work in their departments I could volunteer to assist with.

    Eventually, I gave up on trying to break into the field and changed careers entirely (coding bootcamp). My main criterion when deciding what I wanted to do was: I want to DO THE THING. Not an auxiliary role to the thing, not admin assistant to the person doing the thing, but the core business function. No more foot in the door!!! And to do that I had to find a field with more demand than supply. I’m pretty happy with my decision.

  33. Not A Real Manager*

    Maybe tangential: An office manager would not be an entry level position. I know the duties can vary a lot, but that is my title and I handle payroll, employee engagement, onboarding/offboarding, benefits, contractors (like plumbers, electricians) for the building, as well as lots of other admin duties. I technically report to someone, but in practice I am my own department and manage my time and duties independently.

    It sounds like your company is definitely hiring a receptionist or admin assistant.

  34. DJ*

    Why is there not possibility for advancement. It’s something that the company needs to look into and ensure that happens as with many dead end roles the incumbent will wish to move on after a year or two anyhow.

  35. bamcheeks*

    Lots of people (including Alison!) are describing this role as “entry level”— entry-level, to me, means “this is the level you enter at and then you rise from here”. It does not mean “we are looking for an excellent person who wants this job long term.

    So OP, Alison’s scripts make sense for the conversation you need to have with this applicant, but looking more broadly, if you keep attracting candidates who see this as an entry point but want to move on to something else pretty quickly, think about whether you’ve structured the role right and whether your job advert and the pay and benefits you’re offering is doing what you need it to do.

    There are tons of people out there who want steady, well-paid work that gives them security and lets them focus on things outside work. If that’s the person you want, think about what you’re offering that will attract that person. Decent salary? Great benefits? Flexibility in their hours? What would make this job WORTH not moving on from?

  36. Ugh*

    Oh, this brings back bad memories. My company needed a role filled and hundreds of overqualified people applied. During the interview process we made EXTREMELY clear what the job entailed, what it did not entail, and that there was absolutely NO path to the higher positions in the company that would utilize the person’s professional degree. (Because we needed someone in THIS role, not the higher level roles, which were, weirdly, much easier to hire for.) This was reiterated in 4 interviews with a variety of different people in the office. Yes, yes, the candidate said no problem. Ha. Within a few months they were complaining and insisting on doing the upper level work that would use their degree. They stopped doing what they had been hired for. For a variety of reasons we couldn’t let them go, we had to wait until they left.

  37. nnn*

    A few thoughts:

    1. To me, the term “entry-level” suggests that people aren’t expected to stay in that position, that there’s room for growth and/or expectation that they’ll move on. It might be clearer to frame it specifically as “There isn’t room for advancement” or “This job isn’t a stepping-stone to other roles in the organization.” or something similar.

    2. Were the ideas that he felt were being ignored related to his overqualification? (e.g. “As a fully-qualified lawyer, here’s how I think we should be writing our contracts!”) Or were they related to his actual position? (“It would be easier to multitask and more ergonomic if we got office phones that let us connect a headset”)

    3. If you want people in this position to stay long-term, you need to make sure there’s a budget for raises etc. If you want someone to happily do this job as a long-term career, you need to treat it like a long-term career.

    1. GlowCloud*

      YES! Have 1,000 kudos for making these excellent points!

      It really sounds like the problem is the role itself – a box OP is trying to cram people into… more of a coffin than a company vehicle.

  38. All Outrage, All The Time*

    I think you need to be more specific about the job title. Sounds like it’s a recptionist role, not an administrative assistant and definitely not an office manager. Those jobs aren’t interchangeable. Office manager is not an entry level role. Office administrator under the supervision of someone who might be an office manager is an entry level role.

    1. QuickerBooks*

      Sounds like it’s a recptionist role, not an administrative assistant and definitely not an office manager. Those jobs aren’t interchangeable.

      That’s right… under most circumstances. But given a small enough or “lean” enough organization, they could be. Also throw in proofreader, IT support, messenger, bookkeeper, and social media manager and you have a job description that fits at many micro-organizations.

      1. parsley*

        My first office job was very much one of those roles, I was reception, office manager, HR, bookkeeper, marketing, facilities. My job title was ‘Office Administrator’ – my manager acknowledged that it was a bit insufficient, but we struggled to find an alternative because she was already the Office Manager.

  39. Babs*

    I had a similar experience of interviewing an overqualified person for an admin role five years ago. He was an older guy who was looking to change fields and particularly wanted to work for our charity. We really clicked at Interview and I really wanted to work with him, but felt that he wasn’t a particularly strong administrator and that the role wouldn’t be a good fit. I still think that was the right decision. It all worked out in the end though as, six months later, a more senior role came up and we were able to offer him the job without going through a whole new recruitment process – five years on, he’s one of my favourite coworkers of all time.

    1. parsley*

      See, I wouldn’t consider that person to be overqualified because you didn’t think that they had the requisite skills for the role. He wasn’t qualified enough for that job, but he did have the qualifications for the other one.

  40. GlowCloud*

    Why not just believe people when they say they want the job? If you’ve accurately described the role to them, and they meet the requirements, “Overqualification” should be the least of your concerns. “Overqualified” means this person has more than enough experience to handle the job, and could excel at it!

    I have an “overqualified” relative who has not been in stable employment for over a decade, because full-time professional jobs won’t hire her!! She works 8 (Eight!!) jobs!! Most of her work is self-employed, gig-based work, which keeps her trapped in poverty. I am angry on her behalf!

  41. HBL*

    I hired someone way overqualified for a very basic admin role, was very clear on how simple it was. They’ve stayed 3+ yrs now, it suits their home life, no stress etc. You should never assume what somoeone will be happy with.

  42. parsley*

    Yesterday I got rejected from a role that the employer said I was perfect for because they were worried I’d ‘get bored’, and it is grinding my gears horribly that they didn’t give me an opportunity to respond to that concern before hiring someone else. It ticked all my boxes in terms of job responsibilities, location and salary, and I’m not a person who’s generally interested in progressing into management roles, so the lack of progression wasn’t an issue for me, which was something I even addressed in the interview, and yet.

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