The Danger of “They Won’t Pay Me What I’m Worth”

I saw a post the other day that made me angry. I couldn’t tell why right away, but as my brain has chewed on it, it’s become clear that the reason is because it’s something I’ve thought as a job searcher. And it’s the flip side of one of the main concerns of a business owner.

In a Facebook group dedicated to one of my hobbies, someone made a post that said in summary, “I have been doing this hobby for years, and I have experience in this closely related industry. But I put my application in for an entry-level position at a business in the industry that is my hobby. They told me I was overqualified for this position, but that just means they won’t pay me what I’m worth.”

As someone who has been looking for a job during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also as someone who has run a business, I can relate to both sides of this. As the job seeker, you need to believe you are as valuable as possible. However, if you apply for a job significantly below your experience level and expect to be paid for your expertise, you are not respecting the job description created by your prospective employer.

When you run a business, there are many things that need to be done. Some of them are complex and require knowledge, experience, and expertise. Others are entry-level jobs that you can pull nearly anyone from the street and have them fulfilling the duties with 30-60 minutes of training.

Those entry-level jobs are where you will get people applying who are “overqualified for the position.” But you can only pay what that position is worth to your business. It doesn’t matter if you have the world’s leading expert in a different position, you only need someone to fill the position you advertised.

As a job seeker, you want to believe you are so amazing that when you apply for a job, your value should be instantly recognizable and you should be paid what you think you are worth, regardless of what you applied for. But the job seeker needs to accept they are not applying for the job worth their knowledge, they are applying for the job that was advertised.

If you want to accept that job, at its lower pay than you want, you better actually be OK with that pay for that job. Because if you go into the interview expecting you’re going to get more than the advertised rate, it’s going to be clear. And your prospective employer isn’t looking for the job you want, they’re looking for someone to do what they need.

Looking to switch career fields can be a valid reason to take a lower pay rate. But you need to actually be OK with that. You can’t resent the fact you accepted a lower position to get experience and work your way up.

But the danger with thinking, “They won’t pay me what I’m worth,” is that you are not looking at reality. You are projecting your wants onto a prospective employer and expecting them to accommodate you. But they just need someone to fulfill a specific task.

When an employer tells you that you are overqualified for a position, they’re being honest. You are overqualified for the position. And you probably showed an unwillingness to work the position they advertised during the interview process.

If you want to get your foot in the door, be happy with that. Don’t expect to be paid for an advanced position that isn’t what you will be doing. You need to do your job and look for opportunities to increase your value to the business. Then you will start to get paid what you’re worth.

So, when a prospective employer tells you, “You’re overqualified for this position,” accept that statement as truth. But you have the option of responding with, “I understand that, but I want to get in to this industry. I’m willing to work this job to get started.”

And trust me, if you’re serious, the employer knows you’re not planning to stay in that position long.

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