Why You Should Never Take a Job You’re Qualified For


Guest post by Liz Wiseman Many young professions take their first job with high hopes of contributing, but they quickly learn that others have low expectations of their abilities.

Hiring managers often view newcomers both as long-term assets and short-term burdens, who need to be inducted, trained, and given lighter loads. Many managers assume that it will take months for rookies to get up to speed – while everyone else slows down to help them. Too often it is the new hire who has to slow down to fit the boss’s expectations. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

In my research for the book Rookie Smarts, I studied how inexperienced people tackle tough challenges. I found that rookies (whether they are freshly minted university graduates or experienced professionals from other organizations or functions) are far more capable that many managers think. My research showed that, in the realm of knowledge work:

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Rookies are unencumbered, with no resources to burden them and no track record to limit their thinking or aspirations. They operate with a drive that propels them to scramble up steep learning curves, explore new terrain, and innovate. They work cautiously, anxious to get it right, but they also work quickly in order to prove themselves.

So, let your neophyte status work to your advantage. Not only are you more capable that your boss might think, you might be more capable than even you imagine. Here are three strategies for taking control of your career and performing at your best.

  1. Go Big. Instead of ramping up, start contributing immediately. When eBay revamped their onboarding process for recent college graduates they sent a strong message: Don’t hold back: jump in, share your ideas, and make an immediate contribution. In their first few months of work, the 2013 recruits on average submitted 25 percent more ideas for patents than the rest of the company and had more ideas that led to formal patent submissions.
  1. Solve a Big Problem. At the beginning of your career, it is tempting to pursue the work you are really interested in. I made this mistake early in my career. The VP of my division advised me: Figure out your boss’s biggest challenge and help her solve it. Heeding my VP’s counsel, I dove wholeheartedly into a role where I had little skill (and only mild interest). As I tackled this tough work, I earned a reputation that, in turn, opened doors for me to do work that I truly loved. If you want to be given the big opportunities, first staple yourself to a big, important problem.
  1. Go Bigger. Instead of looking for a job where you have the requisite qualifications, take a job that you aren’t fully qualified for. Of course, no one wants a rookie dentist or open-heart surgeon. But, where there are multiple ways to solve a problem and a single mistake isn’t game-ending, rookies excel. So, say yes to a job that is a size or two too big. And if one isn’t readily offered to you, show that you’ve got a track record of success in rookie assignments (or build one fast). The most rewarding careers are those where we don’t linger too long in jobs we are qualified for.

As you work in the rookie zone, make sure you embrace your neophyte status and operate with “rookie smarts.” Specifically:

  • Be willing to take a constructive challenge – A good challenge should stretch you to your max, but not break you. If the challenge is legitimately too big, resize it.
  • Announce your ignorance – Don’t pretend to be an expert when you’re not. Tell people you are a rookie but then learn quickly.
  • Seek out experts – Reach out to experts and let them teach you. A sincere request for guidance is endearing and activates the mentoring gene.
  • Get fast feedback – Take small experiments and work in agile “sprints.” Check in with your stakeholder at the completion of every sprint, get feedback, and course correct.
  • Take charge – Being a rookie doesn’t mean you don’t have a plan or are relegated to follow. You can be in learning mode and still conduct yourself so your colleagues see you as charge and accountable. Be willing to lead, even if from the back of the pack.

In the current work environment, where business and innovation cycles are spinning fast, there is power in not knowing. So work your learner’s advantage. Instead of looking for a career ladder to climb, look for a steep learning curve to ascend. It is on this curve that you will do your best work and find your greatest satisfaction.


About the Author

liz wisemanLiz Wiseman is the author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work and Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. She has been listed on the Thinkers50 ranking and named as one of the top 10 leadership thinkers in the world.   You can connect with her at @LizWiseman or www.TheWisemanGroup.com.