Young worker at the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad 40th street shops, 1942.

Getting that low-level job as a Hidden High Potential

E. Forrest Christian Careers, Underachievers 6 Comments

Today’s post talks about another blogger, Julie Neidlinger, a wonderful North Dakota-based artist who is currently having an “Art Rummage Sale” where you pays your tiny bit of cash and get a random set of art from her office. This seems to be pretty worthwhile: I’ve not seen anything that you’d be disappointed in owning. Frankly, it’s way too little for what you’re likely to get. I recommend you get this before the world wises up and her stuff is priced where is deserves to be.


Sometimes when you’ve been the Hidden part of “Hidden High Potential” for way too long, you just want to find something that pays the bills. You look for a job, any job.

This is hard to do, even when times are good. When times are hard, it seems impossible.

Just ask Julie Neidlinger. She knows all about how hard it is to get a job when you’re grossly overqualified. The story she tells is an excellent example, because it’s such a common one to so many of you Hidden High Potentials. She went looking for an office job in the state with the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, lower than my region had during the good times.

I was looking for something Monday through Friday, normal business hours, regular paycheck, nothing retail or selling — I just want to be able to put aside money and rebuild my savings.

For some reason, in this type of work, I am not hireable. I do not know why.

So I’m going to tell her, and give some hints as to how she might be able to pull this off, and close with the core truths that are more useful.

Today’s Case Study

Chocolates. Licensed from 123rf.com

In case you’ve never read her stuff or strolled through her online galleries (the comics are hysterically funny), here’s some things you should know. Neidlinger lives in Bismark, North Dakota. With around 60,000 people, Bismark is about the 400th largest metro-area in the United States. That’s about the size of Michigan City, Indiana, which is near where my current office is. That’s not a small town, but you’re talking about 100,000 people spread out over a lot of area. (Bismark itself is around 60,000 people.)

Neidlinger is an artist. She’s done graphics arts — ads, layouts, paid graphics, etc. — previously but currently makes her regular dough as a barista. She sells paintings and custom comics.

She’s careful with the money she earns, “someone who doesn’t have a debt issue, isn’t spending like crazy”.

She’s done nigh on everything since getting her art degree several years ago.

I’d done the night-shift-warehouse work (post office sorting facility), teaching (public school), creative service industry (graphic design/T-shirt shop), stringer (per-article reporter for a newspaper), freelance (my own business of art and writing), retail, and the general service industry (food, coffee, etc.). The last office job I had, in fact, was back in college. I worked two summers in a crop insurance department which required me to take a timed math test in order to get the job initially. I’d done the night-shift, the six-day week, the summer-off, the day-job-and-second-job-night-shift, the sporadic, the seasonal…

She’s also created a reasonable vehicle in loneprairie.net. She may have problems with maximizing its potential, but it’s a solid piece of work, and considerably better than the site you’re on now.

She seems to be less than optimistic a good bit of the time, but as with all underemployeds / underachievers / Hidden High Potentials, it’s hard not to think that if you remove the pain of working below her capacity she would get a lot more happy. Perhaps not “perky as a cup of espresso” but happier.

She also admits to reading the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, which is not your normal bedtime reading.

Looking for an Opportunity for Job Slumming

Neidlinger has decided that her various side things (cartooning, painting, even a cupcake business) have not been bringing in the goods, and her “day job” as a barista has beaten her down just too far. It’s time for an office job.

Since she’s capable of so, so. so much more, this is what we in the IT field used to call “slumming”. You’d take a job beneath your ability in order to relax for awhile after a hard project, or because you wanted to go home at 5pm rather than 10pm.

Nothing wrong with it.

Summary: Neidlinger is looking for a low-end office job. She lives in an area with wildly low unemployment numbers. She lives in a small metro area that is the capital of her state, one of the smallest in population in the nation. She’s accomplished. She seems to be depressed about her job situation. She’s shopping around for something that she can do in her sleep.

So why can’t Neidlinger get these jobs?

I’ve got to start with the most important thing: she should really be looking for something better.

But that’s probably going to take more Courage than she wants to commit, and there’s a load of uncertainty. Better the devil you know and all. Still, I always have to start off with the fact that you’re a high potential who is hidden because you’re working in the wrong market. Find people who want you and start building a future that fits you.

Now that that is out of the way, let’s move onto a couple of things that she did wrong. They aren’t wrong for normals, just wrong with someone with so much capacity.

Résumé/C.V:

Neidlinger tried out her first CV and, when it didn’t work out, changed it:

I highlighted my skills in communication and management of content and documents, and the various projects and positions which called for me to act in an office setting. I highlighted the software I knew, my familiarity with concepts (cloud computing, social networking, etc.), networks, and various hardware. I made note of my time-management skills and ability to stay on task as a micro-business owner is required to.

Big problem here. She’s looking for a low-level office job but highlighting what looks like management knowledge and experience.

When you are apply for a job, target your experience listed to fit the size of work being asked for.

That’s really important. They want to know that she can do the job, not the boss’s job. Or his boss’s.

She needs to redo her résumé and “dumb it down” a good bit.

Licensed from 123rf.com

Attitude

When you are two to three levels above the average capability of the people in the place you’re trying to work in, you can’t have the same attitude that people who fit that role have. Remember one of the big Secret Rules of Career Success:

The biggest person in the room buys the coffee.

In this case, Neidlinger looks down on these “simple people” (my paraphrase) whom she deals with every day as a barista.

Where I currently work, I see people who work in offices come in and have difficulty making sense of our menu board and ordering a sandwich without help. We have been asked to describe what hazelnut-raspberry tea “tasted like” or if the creamy vegetable soup had cream in it.

These people are clearly idiots, so what’s the problem with her thinking it?

Since she is so much bigger than they are, she has to have a better attitude about them — love them, really — than they have to have about her. They can take from her, but she has to give to them. It seems so unfair, since they make a lot more than she does, but that’s how it work. The person who is bigger (mentally, in our work level way of thinking) has to be the Big Person. All the time.

She will have to find a way to start in her heart, let it move into her body, and then through her mind. Heart-Body-Mind. She has to find a way to love them, even thought they treat her poorly.

“What? They get to walk all over me but I can’t retaliate?”

Sorry, guys: you can’t. Not without it looking like an unfair fight. It’s like you’re the heavyweight and they’re the featherweights. Your hits are just so much more powerful.

Just the way it is. Sorry, my friends. I am well aware that it sucks to be you.

Over-qualified, under-experienced

One of her friends hit the problem of hidden high potentials right on the head:

A friend told me I was, in a sense, over-qualified while being under-qualified. I didn’t have the necessary paperwork (degree) that said I was qualified, but the entire collection of things I’ve done and could do was too much for the positions I was applying for.

It’s more that you don’t have the experience but are at the same time too senior. You’ve done too much (too experienced) but because you didn’t follow the right career ladder for these jobs, you don’t have the experience that they expect. It’s not about being able to do the job but about fitting their expectations of someone who is in that job.

You’re not “over-qualified”. You’re “wrongly qualified”.

And that’s a big difference.

She has the usual problem of a hidden high potential, where her accomplishments will not lead to success.

Even where she can help a company innovate beyond any of its competition, she can’t get the job because they can’t see it. They only see the threat to their social order.

Solutions

Let’s move out of Neidlinger’s particular problem and into general solutions for most of you.

There’s not a lot of good solutions for hidden high potentials getting low-level jobs, regretfully.

The best thing to do is to look for ways up and out, paths where people recognize you a bit, and take them. This almost always requires you to activate courage. More courage than most people are ever required to activate for their work. Courage to face who you are. Courage to insist that you know who you are even when the world is against you. In a way, it’s taking a bit of insanity.

You may have to move or work with people whose values you don’t want to accept to find work. That’s life: there are few jobs for people like you and you have to take them as you find them. I’m not arguing for working for Big Jimmy, the Local Arm Breaker. There are lots of people who you just don’t really click with, or whose values (e.g., “I work to make money and lots of it”) don’t fit with yours.

A good way to do this is to figure out who a Real Boss would be, what that would look like, and then working your network tirelessly to get in front of that type of person. It worked for Alan, and it’s worked for others.

Problem is that many of you have been working for idiots for so long that you have severe problems with authority and want to work on your own. You’ll have to get over that in order to use this suggestion.

You can blow off the pressure created by working at low-level jobs with outside activities. That can be useful as you essentially lie about who you are in order to get that low-level job. I have found, however, that people with great potential have a very hard time being accepted into their communities.

You may also want to consider finding short-term gigs where you come in to fix some horrible problem and then leave. People don’t want you around for a long time. You threaten them. This is both harder and easier than you think.

To maintain positivity in light of the challenge, there is always going the Spiritualistic route, where you look for things that are not of this world and reframe persecution in some spiritual light. That can work very successfully. You don’t get any respect from religious people but you may find solace with other spiritual folks. Some of you are already spiritual gurus, if only in practice, where people seek you out to find solace from the agonies of their souls. You should seek gifts from this, favors immediately afterwards.

Last, you have to accept who you really are. There are a whole set of you who I know immediately, who I can eyeball and accurately assess. I’m never wrong with y’all: it’s like you wear a big neon sign on top of your head advertising who you are. Accepting this curse of being a high potential isn’t fun. It kills so many of others’ dreams for you. But you are set free in an important way.

[I’ll tell you the truth here, if you want it: Accepting you who really are, and who other people are, is not the last. It’s the first, the beginning of change and work redemption. But it takes Courage to tolerate the Fear and embrace Positivity while rejecting the Negativity that comes up. This takes a long time and is very hard for us. More on this later.]

Today’s post talks about another blogger, Julie Neidlinger, a wonderful North Dakota-based artist who is currently having an “Art Rummage Sale” where you pays your tiny bit of cash and get a random set of art from her office. This seems to be pretty worthwhile: I’ve not seen anything that you’d be disappointed in owning. Frankly, it’s way too little for what you’re likely to get. I recommend you get this before the world wises up and her stuff is priced where is deserves to be.

Photo by Delano, Jack. Young worker at C&NW railroad, 40th Street shops. Chicago, IL, 1942. (Library of Congress Collection)

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 6

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    Julie, as Michael pointed out I was writing about lots of people, just using your points to spring off. Being “over-qualified” while at the same time being “too senior” is a difficult thing for HHPs. There are, of course, enlightened employers who look for just these qualities because they know that this is what brilliant people look like. They are few, unfortunately, and tend to be serial entrepreneurs with wildly divergent fields for each startup. That requires courage (or more properly, “activates fear which must be tolerated”), something for a later post.

  3. Julie, as Michael pointed out I was writing about lots of people, just using your points to spring off. Being “over-qualified” while at the same time being “too senior” is a difficult thing for HHPs. There are, of course, enlightened employers who look for just these qualities because they know that this is what brilliant people look like. They are few, unfortunately, and tend to be serial entrepreneurs with wildly divergent fields for each startup. That requires courage (or more properly, “activates fear which must be tolerated”), something for a later post.
    +1

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