To Be Overqualified You Must First Be Competent

Ace of Spades had a link to Why Working at Starbucks for Three Weeks Was the Toughest Job I’ve Ever Had.  Now before I go off on a tear I’ve got to give the author her due.  She starts with:

“I had recently moved to New York City, and I was freelancing at the time. But I had to get a part-time job in order to pay next month’s rent.”

Her solution was a short term stint at Starbucks.  Now that’s just heartwarming.  Working to make money to support yourself.  Adaptive, noble, and practical.  Well done!

Unfortunately it went downhill from there.  Apparently this hothouse flower of an individual was shocked to find out that work is…work.

“…there simply wasn’t the space or environment to train properly. It was always chaotic, with several people on the floor, calling orders, shifting from station to station, and asking you to get out of the way. Not to mention 10 customers waiting at the end of the bar for their drinks.”

No. Shit. Sherlock.

Life is like that.  Those of us who’ve lived in the real world don’t expect that a job slinging coffee will be taught by a zen master in a peaceful garden.  Learn as you go and try not to get in the way of people who know what they’re doing.  In all entry level jobs this is how it’s done.  If it cannot be learned in this way it is (for example, you’re working with high voltage or something) then, by definition, it’s not entry level.   Duh!

But hey, bitching about a job is as American as apple pie.  I was willing to roll with it.  Then came the part that stuck in my craw.  Seems that the author was a bit of a novice in the coffee slinging technologies and wished for a little leeway…fine.  But read how it was phrased:

“Just as I was tempted to remind my coworkers that they were new once, too, I wanted to tell customers that I was way over-qualified for this job, and hoped they’d see me on the street in normal clothes, not in khakis, a black T-shirt, bright-green apron and baseball cap.”

Let me zoom in on the important part.

“I was way over-qualified for this job”

Oh…no she didn’t!  I call bullshit on that snippy little bit of prose!

Ahem…is this bullhorn on?  Good.  Yeah, set the volume at eleven.  Here goes:

I don’t care if you’re the goddamn genius wonderkind cancer curing God-king of all you survey.  You are not “overqualified” at making coffee until you’re good… indeed excellent… at making coffee.  The mistaken idea that you are is either hubris or just plain stupidity.   Until you can snatch that pebble from the hand of the coffee slinging master…you are a novice.  A student.  A beginner.  A work in progress.  No human being is EVER rendered “overqualified” for a job which they can’t yet do well.  An overpriced degree doesn’t make you overqualified to serve coffee unless you got a PhD in serving fucking coffee.  Part of being a fully aware individual is understanding that.
A child might think that all jobs are a ladder with each rung higher than the other but an adult knows that the world is a bigger place than that.  Skills in one field (in this case writing for Business Insider) does not render a person “overqualified” in other fields (such as slinging coffee).  The pope is not overqualified to be a surgeon.  A surgeon is not overqualified to fix a transmission.  A mechanic is not overqualified to fix the plumbing.  And a writer who thinks they’re too good to learn the ropes slinging coffee is not overqualified…they are just snobbish and paternalistic.
I’ve had enough of this shit.  Just like the author I have a slew of credentials and specialized skills.  I might endeavor to be too expensive to be a coffee slinger but I would never claim to be above it.  And if the economy tanks sufficiently you’ll find me busting ass to be the best goddamn coffee slinger that there ever was.  If I claim I’m overqualified to sling coffee it’s because I can goddamn well do it and do it very well.  Right up to that magic moment of total mastery I’ll keep my mouth shut.  That’s a partial root of humility and it’s the cure to creeping self-indulgent ego inflating delusion that seems all too common during this; the restless crest of a wave of unearned self esteem.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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10 Responses to To Be Overqualified You Must First Be Competent

  1. Joe in PNG says:

    I do wonder if the Lil’ Precious’s situation of “But I went to college!” is as unique at that location as she thinks it is? I think if she were to loudly proclaim that her status as a J school grad placed her above the other untermenchen coffeeslingers, she would be told that Bill (the manager) has a Degree in Sumarian philosophy, Suzzanne (working the milk steamer) graduated with honors from NYU, and Alice, who is mopping out the toilets, has a PHD in Transgendered and Woman’s Studies…

    • The day I defended my thesis I brought coffee for my committee. I told the guy at the coffee shop that I was nervous because my thesis defense was in an hour. He agreed and said “yeah, my thesis defense had me nervous too…but it’s not that bad.”

      It definitely put the whole thing in perspective. So much for my elite education. An hour later my thesis defense was no big deal. Who knew?

      …And the coffee was darned good too.

  2. Judy says:

    Thank-you! Now for the flip-side. How do you convince the dim-bulbs in Personal/Human Resources/Hiring Department that just because you have an education you are not over-qualified for an entry level position in a field different from your education? If I’ve heard the over-qualified statement once I’ve heard it a hundred times.

  3. Sxooter says:

    Funny thing is, if she got a starting job or internship at a publishers etc, she’d be making coffee and running errands!

  4. MichigammeDave says:

    The problem most HR departments have with over-qualified folks from another field (or, indeed, from the appropriate field) is the fear that, if hired, the employee will spend their time either looking for a better job, or trying to find ways to do their job differently. And it’s not an altogether unreasonable fear.

    • It’s not unreasonable to expect it to happen. It’s unreasonable to fear it. Differently isn’t inherently bad and neither is short term if the person is good.

      I’m of the opinion that HR tends to hire the lowest common denominator cattle that’ll fill a particular stall. Precisely the kind of folks that’ll never do anything differently and never go anywhere. If HR wields too much power for too long they’ll create an organization full of lowest common denominators cemented in place like inept human barnacles. The product or service will slowly drift downward until the organization’s output ranges from mediocre at best to inconceivably inept. HR seems immune to the blowback from their own creation.

      • MSgt B says:

        That’s why the BEST companies out there hire vets.
        My boss is a vet. He hired me.
        I’ve hired two more vets to work for me.
        Our company has been steadily hiring new talent for the past four years.
        That’s right. Hiring steadily through the worst recession we’ve had since the 30’s.
        There’s not a vet out there who’s “overqualified” for anything.
        We get the job done. Some of us even have degrees.
        Mine is from The Community College of the Air Force. I paid about $500 for it. It qualifies me to work my ass off day and night to get the job done, No matter what that job is.

        What are you waiting for? Go out and hire a veteran.

        OK. Rant lamp is extinguished now…

      • AC, That definitely depends on the HR and the corporate culture, but I’d have to agree that most HR decisions are based on “least likely to make problems or cause paperwork” instead of “most likely to be excellent for this company”, unless they are consistently pressured otherwise.

        One other sentence stuck out for me: “Since there was no chance my colleagues… and I would ever memorize all the drinks, we handled everything else.” So, from the start, she’s declaring herself incompetent to become a fully qualified worker – the most self-fulfilling prophecy I have ever heard! A novice coffee maker with an attitude problem and no motivation to excel – I’m sure her boss was just as glad to see her go as she was to leave, and don’t wonder why she got cut after announcing she was leaving soon.

        MSgt B, I love working with vets, and strongly encourage their hire. Y’all know the difference between when it’s a good time to point out that there’s probably a better way to do something, and when an order needs to be obeyed first and questioned after the fact. Even better, once I know you’re competent on a task, I never have to babysit you to make sure it’ll get done correctly and on time. I adore competent coworkers and subordinates, and do my best to see that they prosper.

  5. Precious Darling’s problem is that same as that afflicting the (now) famous idiot who took a sign to the “Occupy” protests bemoaning that he owed money for an expensive degree in Puppetry and couldn’t get a job….both fell for the common scam that claims that a degree in something other than hard science or engineering qualifies you to do anything other than go on to get the next higher degree. Most science and engineering degrees are only good for going on to the next step, too, for that matter. My Father was a Professor of the History of Science and Technology. He loved it, but he was also somewhat baffled at society’s continued willingness to underwrite his hobby-horse.

    Time was when a kid who wanted to be a puppeteer would have hitchhiked to Hollywood and tried to get a job with Jim Henson Studios. Any job, doing anything, if they would let him hang around and learn. H. L. Mencken got his newspaper job by hanging around the newspaper office until he caught a break. He also wrote what is still the standard work on the American Language without getting as college degree.

    Sooner or later the whole structure of Higher Education in this country is going to come crashing down, and it couldn’t happen to a smellier assortment of work-shy bums. The few exceptions (like my Father) will come out all right…because they will have done original research and published about it. They’ll have something to show that they haven’t been taking a decades-long nap….

  6. MamaLiberty says:

    Delighted to find your blog!

    My mother had a very true saying: “School” is where you learn the vocabulary and the rules of the road. The only way to make that worth anything is to work your tail off applying it to life.

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