If You’re So Damn Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?

My education has been a constant hindrance to me in the United States. When I only had a Masters Degree in English, a career counselor advised me to remove that credential from my résumé.

“Advanced education frightens employers,” he warned. “And try not to appear too intelligent if you land an interview.”

If I land an interview. Indeed, I had faxed, emailed, and snail-mailed thousands of résumés in the last two months. Only bill collectors called me. That’s what led me to the Career Center at my old university, and this grad student, who was slashing my cover letter with his red pen.

“This letter is too well written.”  He fiddled with the pen as he read.

“I’m sorry?” I must have misheard. This wasn’t a criticism I’d heard before.

“I mean, you sum yourself up completely in just a few paragraphs,” he reprimanded, “and you make yourself sound really impressive,” he further complained. He was looking at me like I was lacking in vital common sense. His brow was literally furrowed.

“Well, I’m trying to sell myself,” I argued.

“Yeah, man,” he was talking to me like a child, very slowly, “but you don’t want to sound more impressive than your potential employer.  Ya know?”

So, he counseled me. So, he counseled me. He covered my letter with his red notes.

Too smart! Too many syllables! Don’t be so smart!

He crossed out entire sentences. He rewrote my opening. The new letter was a half page grocery list. It mentioned where I had seen the advertisement for the job, two or three skills I had mastered—minor skills, and closed with an ass kissing: thank you for your valuable time, sincerely.

My education didn’t make the cut in the cover letter either.

“Just tell them you only have a B.A.,” my counselor advised. “And tell them you’re thinking about going for a Masters. They like that. They’ll see you as a project—an investment that may pay off for them. You want to be ambitious, not an overachiever. You don’t want to threaten any egos.”

I suddenly thought about a passage from Walt Whitman, something about a slave at auction, but I wiped that aside and took my improved résumé and cover letter home.

Three weeks, and several hundred faxes and emails, later—a phone call. A bored sounding man named John wanted to interview me to be something called a billing specialist. He did most of the talking.

“I know you answered an ad for an administrative assistant job, but we need a billing specialist.” I could hear him multitasking while he talked. “Can you come in tomorrow at two?”

“Yes.” There was nothing on my schedule.

He gave me the address, “see you then,” and hung up the phone.

And I had an interview! After months of newspapers and internet job banks, fax after e-mail, after fax fax fax…finally, someone had noticed me! They had looked at the thousands of résumés they get a day, seen mine, and said, “This one. This is the one who will get a chance to return to the living. He will get to go out for a beer with his friends again! Call him in!” There was much fanfare.

And for good reason, I mean, in a way, I had already won, right? Now, all I had to do was go to John Something-or-Other’s office, be slightly unimpressive yet capable, and I will surely get the job. I hope.

So, I did that. I was marginally impressive while I catered to John’s ego. He was the alpha of the room. When he noted my Bachelors Degree, he referenced his dissatisfaction with his two semesters of community college.

“I learned all I needed to know in high school, ya know,” he argued.  “I wanted to make money.” He leaned back in his smug lumbar-supporting executive chair.

I agreed with him. “Yeah, I just graduated to make my mom happy,” I smirked. “I barely made it through, and I’d never go back.”

“I hear ya, bro.” He seemed pleased. The anti-intellectual angle actually worked. Thank you, career counselor! I think John wanted to high-five me, but he decided against it.

“A lot of hot chicks at a college though, huh?” He added. I had to think quickly.

“Oh, yeah.  Totally.”

He laughed. He shook my hand as he showed me to the door. He said he had several interviews lined up for the rest of today and tomorrow, but he’d call me by Friday.

He didn’t.

I followed up. I wrote a simple letter—not too smart-sounding—and faxed it to his office first thing Monday morning. He hired me the next day.

“It was like a dog race.” John was introducing me to my fellow employees. It was my first day. “I told all the candidates that I would let them know on Friday.” He was laughing. “Then I didn’t call any of them. Hahaha.” He turned to me and smacked me on the shoulder. “I decided I would give the job to the first person who called me on Monday.” He snapped his fingers, several time, rapidly. “Ya know, show some initiative.” He smiled in my direction. “And do you know what Charlie did?” I think he was tearing up. “This man didn’t just call me; he wrote me an awesome follow-up letter! He faxed it to me while I was preparing my coffee.” He turned to me. “That really impressed me, man.”

I couldn’t believe it. We were having a moment. He was trying to bond with me. I played along.

“Well, John, we had such a great talk about my college experience, I couldn’t wait to become part of your team.” Stroke that ego.

John glowed over my inside reference to our tits and ass interview banter. He smiled his best Anthony-Robbins-radioactive smile.—be the giant!

“Yes, we did, brother.” He clasped my hand and shook it hard. “Anyway, everyone, this is Charlie. Charlie, this is the office.”

The office peppered me with unenthused greetings.

“Hey, Charlie.”

“‘Sup, Charles.”

“Yo, Chuck.”

“Chucky, baby…”

“…up Chuck, get it?”

I said the only thing I could think to say.


They filed back to their cubicles like cleaned-up zombies. A very nice middle-aged woman named Marie trained me. My training took two hours. My workday was  eight hours of punching numbers into a spreadsheet from a stack of index cards—a minuscule part of a larger billing process—but hey, I was a specialist!

So, of course, I finished my stack in three hours. I am an efficient billing specialist. When I asked for more work, it caused a stir. I was sent back to my cubby to re-read the training manual, and I was told to “work slower tomorrow.”

Six months later, I was bored to depression, but at least I was employed.

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252 Responses to “If You’re So Damn Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”

  1. By kurisu7885No Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Damn, working in an office really can kill with boredom.

  2. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Yes! I worked that job for three years before I entered a Ph.D. program. Oh, the stories I can tell. And, ok, I think I will!

    Hahaha. Thank you for reading, and commenting!

    Be well!

  3. By snakeNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Intellectual genocide. Shame.

  4. By AssHatNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    I don’t normally write comments; it’s just not my thing. But, I stumbled upon this article, and it made me laugh. Man, I have been going through this exact experience, only I’m still unemployed…

    Why is it that anybody who has any real higher education, in anything but the most practical of areas, can’t find a job? Because we make stupid people feel stupid. F*cking classic.

  5. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    It is a source of dark comedy, for sure, snake. I hope you are getting benefits, um AssHat…hahaha

  6. By Tony LaraNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    That was a good narrative. I know what you mean by being bored to depression. I was actually depressed for a week until I landed a new job.

  7. By TasNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    I think I’m beginning to understand this process – play the role of subserviency, appear as non-threatening as possible, turn up the charm and kiss ass, and appear to be qualified juuuust enough. I think college students need a class on this.

  8. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Depression is going around, Tony. At least the pharmaceutical companies can still make money. Thanks for reading, man.

  9. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Appearing Dumber Than You Are 101.

  10. By ChristophNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Sorry, but this is completely self-imposed. It almost sounds like you were looking for a crap job.

    How about just figuring out what opportunities your degree opens up for you and specifically targeting interesting companies in those fields? How about fighting for specific jobs by writing custom resumes and getting your foot in the door any way possible? How about networking, contacting people directly, publishing online and other pro-active efforts?

    Maybe you did all this, but I really think it takes a very pro-active attitude to get a good job.

  11. By ernie jonesNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    wow. i also can’t believe that someone wouldn’t want to hire someone who is not only pretentious and overqualified for real life, but will also trash them immediately online for making the mistake of giving them a chance.

  12. By Lucy WeatherfieldNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Trying to finish an Associate’s in community college right now, I was really kind of depressed by what you wrote, but mostly because I believe it’s true – my mom only had an Associate’s in nursing and she got turned down from so many jobs because she was “overqualified” by the painstaking resumé she had written, selling herself up to the max.

    I had been jobless for over six months when I landed two jobs simultaneously – an office job and a job at a supermarket – and guess which one I ended up keeping? Not only did the grocery store pay more, but at least they remembered my name. I absolutely hated working at an office.

  13. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Only when there are jobs to get, Christoph.

  14. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Hahaha! @ Ernie Jones

  15. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Hang in there, Lucy. The government is…well…um…hang in there, Lucy!

  16. By Charles DentNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    That made my day. Really well written and a great description of all of the subtle and not-so-subtle psychodramas in the job hunting game.

  17. By GerryNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Sometimes I intentionally screw up at my job so my boss can feel justified in his job. He seems to enjoy talking down to me and I just bite my lip, stay quiet and endure it. The absolute worst is when he steals my ideas and then praises himself for it.

  18. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Thank you, Mr. Dent. I love your first name! (:

  19. By IanNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Well, there goes my hope for the world for the rest of the day. Urgh. I guess I can always look to the fact that I got my job by trying to be smart. Small sample size, but oh well.

  20. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Gerry, I was once called in for an emergency meeting because the computers were down and none of my superiors knew how to divide on paper.

  21. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Ian, I’m sure there’s still hope, but I think it’s hidden with all of those Iraqi WMDs. We never find those, did we? Strange…

  22. By DavidNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    a good piece. my only problem with it, and maybe i missed it- but it doesn’t really answer the title?

  23. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Hmmm, David. I thought there was a subtly implied anti-intellectualism throughout the piece, but you’re the reader. So, you’re the boss.

    Next time, I will be more direct. I promise. Thank you for reading, and offering feedback. I sincerely appreciate it.

  24. By Nicolas BuduroiNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    O wonder!

    How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it!

  25. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    @ Nicolas Buduroi: ‘Tis new to thee.

  26. By AaronNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    This is just sad. The best managers hire people who will make them feel stupid. If THEIR managers are judging them based on the performance of their team, then having the best people possible only make sense.

    If I could do a job better than someone working for me, then I either need to train them better or fire them.

  27. By JonNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    If you’re so damn smart, why does your entire site use SMALL CAPS?

  28. By AdamNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Quote: ‘“This letter is too well written.” He fiddle [sic] with the pen as he read.’

    That’s where I stopped reading.

  29. By Guy at HockeyBias dot comNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Too well written! :)

  30. By mNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    loved this! :)

  31. By steveNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    At what point did your soul begin to escape you? I think the average is 9 months.

  32. By Miami CaterersNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    It was a problem to travel out of town because we don’t have a personal car. It was my wife who decided that we could just rent a car at a car rental shop. It wasn’t really costly and it was a good decision to make because we really needed it. Thanks to my wife!

  33. By LouNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    My first thought is to drop anyone who’s advising you to be something other than your self. The worst experiences I’ve had are those I got myself into by not being who I am. Conversely, the best experiences I’ve had are those I got into by simply being myself.

    I know it may seem that in order to get by, you have to pretend not to be so smart, or however. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Consider going forward expecting to find a job that is perfectly suited to who and what you are, and use your real credentials. Eventually you will knock somebody’s socks off. Have you given any thought to what that job might be like?

    Go ahead, bash me for being unrealistic or a blind optimist. But this unrealistic optimist just landed a dream job using the same approach.

  34. By alvinNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Props on the Breaking Bad reference.

  35. By zackNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Sounds like a great way to get a shitty soul destroying job. Good advice career center!

  36. By steveNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    I’ve worked myself out of a job too many times whilst I was a contractor. Been told to slow down at tasks. Doing what was considered a weeks work in a few hours was frowned upon.

    I now work for myself, it’s the only way really

  37. By AnonymousNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Thankfully, real jobs require more than just being generally clever.

    I know I was supposed to read this tale with a smirk (tongue planted firmly in cheek), but I couldn’t help but feel aghast at the author’s self-imposed plight.

    If you’re applying to banal jobs (apparently like “billing specialists”), you need a banal resume and a banal approach.

    Your problem isn’t that you have an English Masters, it’s that apparently your English Masters has left you without a specific interest in any field, where you could identify interesting companies to work for and craft a smart, qualifying resume for yourself to win that job.

  38. By JaymzNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Sounds incredibly grim, I’m in the UK and have never had such advice given, it’s always been the exact opposite and your education & experience is exactly why people start fighting over you. Being told to dumb down would depress the hell out of me.

  39. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Yikes! Can a brother get a typo pass?

  40. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    That would be the fault of the template designer, I’m afraid.

  41. By AmberNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    That new boss sounds like an idiot who is intimidated by anyone with a college degree of any sort. Hardly the type of person to be impressed with a well-written letter, a master’s degree or to provide a stimulating work environment.

    As it happens, I recently interviewed someone with a Masters in English and I had no doubt of her intelligence, but that’s hardly the same thing as valuable in a professional setting. The fact that she could thrive in an academic setting does not mean that she will thrive in a professional setting, and sometimes can even be a counter-indicator.

    Did you ever think that perhaps your resume or letter didn’t sound too smart, but overly formal and reaching? I don’t want someone who is preachy or full of himself working for me. In fact, part of why I’d hire anyone, especially someone with an advanced degree in English, would be for their ability to communicate and it sounds like you struggled with that most of all. It’s not about sounding smart, it’s about being clear.

  42. By uuangNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    I was hoping for a happier ending.

  43. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Thanks. This was a few years ago. I don’t work for him anymore. He was laid off on the same day I was.

  44. By Chris DawsonNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Your problem does not seem to be overqualification, it is arrogance.

  45. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Hahaha. Me too!!

  46. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Ooook then. Thanks for playing!

  47. By JasonNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    I really feel for you. No one should have to work a position where they do not feel like they are continuously learning. You are definitely stronger than I; I would never dumb myself down just to stroke some moron’s ego. I hope you find something more intellectually stimulating in the future.

    For what it’s worth, I have a BA in English/Creative Writing and currently write software for a start-up in SF. Maybe you’re selling yourself short and looking in the wrong places for employment! Stay smart, my man.

  48. By jenniferNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Amazing what drones run around in corporate departments. My only solution to escape was teaching in China (which I LOVE).

  49. By DuffNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    This is brilliant. At least you are entertaining the masses.

  50. By AlexNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    And did the promotion prospects look good? What about that job you want to go for? Any chance the boss of the job you really want will look on your current cube farm Dilbert paper flipping and declare it relevant to his company’s needs?

    Any chance that your experience in this plant farm McJob will actually matter to the next job you apply for, or will you give up your dreams for the sake of a regular paycheque, an addiction to Xanax and a worrying tendency towards acquiring hypertension and atherosclerosis in later life?

    I think the corollary to “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” is “If You’re So Rich, Why Aren’t You Smart?” Dumb luck != smarts. You can be smart, very smart, and still lose your job to some goomba who hasn’t got your brains, but who is very good at setting up rivals to be thrown under the bus. You don’t want to be stuck in a job surrounded by little Hitlers and wannabe Machiavellis, wasting your time and life earning more money for somebody else than you make for yourself, or being the only man in the entire company who prefers opera to Sports Illustrated.

    If you’re really smart, you know that you should be the one making more money than your employees, and you should have at least gone for a managerial job where you have a decent chance of getting a better job later, based on the fact that you were given a team to lead in this one.

    You got a paycheque. Cool. A pity you went for the one job. A shame you could not have managed to secure three job offers and gone for the most lucrative one.

    But now you are at work, don’t let the grass grow under your feet. This is not the place you want to retire to. This is today’s job; this year’s position. Tomorrow, or next year, you want to be running the company or die trying.

    Otherwise, you won’t be able to call yourself smart OR rich.

  51. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    I bet you say that to all the bloggers, Duff.
    Thank you!

  52. By trevorNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Your problem is being uppity.., erm unprofessional. You’ll never advance to living inside the master’s mansion in your old age if you have defiance in thy heart.In the old days it was easier, the master would brand and market us ourselves but you youngins have to do it yourselves now.

    Talk to elders on how to bend thy knee just right, how to smile while knocking your head on ground and groveling before such opportunity your lord gives you. One day you too can wear a powdered wig in high degree weather and eat some leftovers that master’s children leave behind.

    And dont even think of running away to other plantations in Europe, you think they got it better?! Those no good lazy..

  53. By Wei SypherNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

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  54. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    My liege.

  55. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Thank you. That’s very kind.

  56. By NixonNo Gravatar on Jul 28, 2010

    Perhaps you’re merely educated instead of smart. My education has never impeded my career success at any level. Maybe education isn’t the cross you bear?

  57. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Actually, I think the flavor of one’s education and/or intelligence has a lot to do with success of failure. Certain aptitudes are not valued in our very limited job market, so they wander into office jobs or academia–which is what I did. Luckily, there is an emerging creative class in today’s market. I have friends in these fields–repacking products, reconceptualizing marketing–very cool stuff. But not for me.

    I think I’m a man out of time. I would have been much happier in the early 20th century, sitting with Ezra Pound in Paris, writing long poems, watching the world explode into the millions of fragments in T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land–but instead I’m in 2010. It is what it is, I guess.

    Thank you for reading, and commenting. I appreciate it more than you will ever know.

  58. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    I don’t find any companies interesting. They’re just companies. They make things, move things, process things, sell things–bleh, no thank you.

    You shouldn’t just my life based on this blithe little story. It was meant to make you smirk, because things suck in our economy right now, and at some point we have to stop blaming the victims and start banding together to survive. I choose to make people think, and laugh, and realize their humanity–I am a teacher. I teach. I don’t need to work for a company to do that.

  59. By Rich Smart GuyNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    If you’re actually very smart and you’re not rich is because you got a job.

    Go and do your own thing, and you will see the benefits of having no limits to how much money you can make.

    Jobs are a waste of time for smart people.

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  61. By AliNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    It is not just a Masters in English that gets this reaction. I have many students and friends who have gotten their MBAs and are now being told, if they’re lucky enough to land an interview, that they are just too overqualified. With student loan debt looming over their heads, they just need a job. A good one would be nice, one that fits their interest and training would be even better, but that is just not the market we live in right now. All of these people who say that you needed to wait for your dream job or that you are selling your soul must not actually have to support themselves!

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  64. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Thank you, Twyla. I’m still constructing it, but it’s coming along nicely, I think. I look forward to your future input.

  65. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

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  66. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Blaming the victim is a very old American past time.

  67. By Deon MarcianoNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

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  68. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Thank you! :)

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  70. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    No problem at all. Good luck!

  71. By Bobby VeeNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    > Six months later, I was bored to depression…
    Why it took so long? =)

  72. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    I try to accentuate the positive. At six months, I hit a wall.

  73. By Frank SchoenburgNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Great article. I’ve read similar stories from Barbara Ehrenreich
    I’m in a similar position (passed CPA exams)
    and am very discouraged about the job market.
    The stay positive mantra is infuriating.
    Thanks for this article and good luck.

  74. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Thanks for reading an commenting. Don’t let this eat away at your self-esteem. There are cultural, historical, and economic factors working against all of us right now. It’s like a perfect storm of crisis! Hang onto something. The winds are getting very rough. Be well, my friend.

  75. By BrianNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    I understand the “overqualified” reason for not hiring someone. You’ve got to look at it from the employer’s perspective – if someone has a master’s degree, they don’t want to work long-term as a “billing specialist”. The second they get a job offer related to their field, they’re gone, and you have to go through the whole hiring/training process again. It has nothing to with being “intimidated” by a degree – it certainly seems the height of arrogance to assume this is the reason that you’re not hired.

    This is the thing – if you go and get a post-secondary degree, you need to have a plan as to what to do with it… I’ve got several friends who have a master’s in english, and also have their teaching degree – in this case, the master’s serves them VERY well, because they’re looking for jobs that apply that degree.

    As an employer, you value practical skills. I work in software development – I’d much rather have someone who spent 2 years working, gaining real-world experience, than someone who spent two extra learning things that are not directly relevant to the business’s immediate needs.

  76. By feydrNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    I don’t know what’s more depressing here — the HORRIBLE advice that you were given earlier concerning ‘looking smart’ or the fact that you are content in that HORRIBLE job cause you are *gasp* employed.

  77. By Rv CoversNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Hi there I like your post

  78. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Hi there. Thank you! Please share it with others! The world is cold and lonely for the poor little poet without readers. Please help.



    Thank you for reading and commenting. Seriously, you rock hard.

  79. By MattieFNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Reminds me of Asimov’s “The Feeling Of Power”: http://downlode.org/Etext/power.html

  80. By writing resumeNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    I wanted to thank you for this superb study!! I certainly loved every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post.

  81. By mmaluffNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    I loved reading the article, but “their just a company”? Seriously?

  82. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Eh man. I get tired. I work a lot. Cut me some slack on the comments. :) Thanks.

  83. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    And my editor works two jobs. :(

  84. By AntigoneNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Great article!
    It’s depressing that companies can be so stupid. I had a company for quite a while. When we’d interview a highly qualified candidate, I was overjoyed. But there would always be some weasel manager who would complain that the candidate was “overqualified.” I’d then have to ream them a new one, explaining how nonsensical that was. “Overqualified?!! You’d rather hire someone who is minimally qualified rather than this person who would have twice the productivity? Someone who could grow into more responsibility and help better the company?”
    Those types of managers didn’t last long at my company, and we were better for it.
    Trust me, you don’t want to work for a company that would ever use the word “overqualified” unless you’re just working for beer money.

  85. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Fevered egos cause many problems in the world.

  86. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Ok. I fixed it. Because I am very anal. Hahaha. Thanks for poking me. Good looking out! :)

  87. By alecNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Cog in the wheel cog in the wheel!!!!!!!!!

  88. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Unite! :)

  89. By CorrinNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    Wow – I’m shocked right now. I could have written the exact same story, except I’m going on 7 months unemployed.

  90. By DirkNo Gravatar on Jul 29, 2010

    I had a company, we only hired eggheads, I don’t have the company any more.

  91. By TylerNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    Welcome to the American work force. Lots of mindlessly staring at spreadsheets and sending pointless emails around.

    I had been trained in college the methods required to build highly scalable and stable technical systems, every trick in the book for preventing an attack on a network, how to identify file types and data in hexadecimal, how to build websites, and how to write computer code that was efficient, readable, and reliable.

    I found a job that, on paper, appeared to require most of my newly acquired skills to succeed in. When I made it through the rigorous interview process and finally landed the position, I discovered that 85% of my workday was copying text from spreadsheet and plugging it into text boxes on a website.

  92. By StephenNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    Your story is just wrong. I find I cannot engage in a straight forward way because that would acknowledge just how troubled our society is. But, you are quite a compelling writer and I did enjoy it.

  93. By Some GuyNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010


    I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you, but you’re not an intellectual. You’re moderately articulate, but I see no indication anywhere in your blog of any glimmer of originality, let alone any more than mediocre intelligence.

    By your own admission, you “had faxed, emailed, and snail-mailed thousands of résumés in the last two months.” What kind of an idiot keeps on doing the same thing and expects to get different results? For that matter, how much of a moron do you have to be to spend tens of thousands of dollars obtaining academic credentials without researching the value of those credentials in the marketplace?

    If you want to make a decent living, figure out what you’re capable of doing, and then go and find out who’s willing to pay you what you want to earn to do it. Nobody owes you a job just because you got your ticket punched.

  94. By Jim BobNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    I had always wanted to do stuff.

    Went to several interviews trying to pander to their needs, no luck.

    Arrived at an interview for Job A. Humming and hahing, then I said (which I had been advised against by friends and family and the wise) ‘I really like to do stuff.’ Hired!!!


  95. By OCNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    Guess what, they lied to you. Education is not voucher for being rich, nor being smart.

  96. By buy backlinksNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    Really great informative blog post here and I just wanted to comment & thank you for posting this. I’ve bookmarked youi blog and I’ll be back to read more in the future my friend! Also nice colors on the layout, it’s really easy on the eyes.

  97. By JakeNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    I have a Master in Computer Science and I have never had to “dumb down” my resume because of it.

    So perhaps getting a degree in a practical field might have been a smarter choice.

  98. By RajaNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    You have a Master’s in English which is no easy feat and I can tell by reading this article that you are very intelligent and that your writing style does keep my attention. But you forgot the most important rule of writing, “Know your audience.” Shakespearean plays were written so that both the common man and the elite were able to enjoy and understand it, otherwise his actors would have had rotten fruit thrown at them. I’m glad to see the counselor for lack of any other word, “took you down a peg.” I know you hate your job but when you go back for your PhD, you’ll be much happier after getting the corporate experience out of the way.

  99. By Michal BrandoliniNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    I actually decided to create a quick video about this, I would be pleased if you would possibly take a moment to look it and possibly leave a comment about what you think, thanks greatly

  100. By AlexNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    I have enjoyed your words :) Bouncing between their literal and figurative interpretations left me cringing but unable to stop. I can’t quite gauge if that was planned.

    And so I was tempted to read a little further, enjoying that you cut a fine line between daily tribulations and allegory. I’m really too puzzled to know where that line is, so I’ll have to read just a little more.

  101. By ErikNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    Your story made me grin and it was well written.

    However, I don’t know why you are surprised with what you had to do, and your tone was a little offsetting. It is a shame colleges don’t focus more on teaching students how to actually land jobs outside of college. As the lead web developer at my company, I handle hiring new programmers, and I’ll tell you what I’ve told my girlfriend who used to be in a similar boat a year or so ago – she also has an English degree, so I feel your pain and know where you’re coming from.

    Your degree alone isn’t worth much if you don’t have any work experience associated with it, especially in this economy. The work experience doesn’t mean you need to have had a job, just that you need to show that you know what you’re doing – even listing your blog can be a good start, if you’re doing something writing related.

    Since you just sent out a ton of resumes, it’s no surprise to me that you didn’t land a job. Did you spend, at a minimum, a few hours researching the company you were applying to? Did you write a new cover letter for each company? Did you revise your resume for each application to match what the job was looking for? If you don’t do all of these, you’re going to have a hard time getting a job because you’re competing with people who DO do these things, and just having a degree doesn’t make you stand out. You clearly spent a lot of energy looking for a job, but it just seems like it may have been misdirected.

    The fact you sent out thousands of resumes also means that you need to revise your job search strategy. No employer wants to hire someone who mass sends out resumes like that, and it is very easy to spot a resume that has been tailored for that company vs. a resume that’s the same for every company you apply for.

    Put yourself in the shoes of the employer – do they want someone with a masters degree in English (especially if it is unrelated to the job), or someone with just a HS diploma? Assuming both people can do the job with about the same efficiency (and for the job you described, it sounds like they can), no sane employer would hire the candidate with the graduate degree.

    Why? Because that candidate will likely expect a higher salary, and even if the candidate says they don’t, they likely will think the job is ‘below’ them, and will bail at the first chance they get. You make a mistake by underestimating the role of company culture – if you’re the only one with a masters degree in English, you probably won’t fit in, and that does not help a company.

    It doesn’t mean that people don’t like intellectuals; it means that you may not fit in at the job you’re applying for, and if so it will do you nor the employer any long term good hiring you. Putting a lot of stuff on your resume that is not relevant for the job – such as a masters degree in English, or that you were president of the chess club – will only hurt because it’s just, essentially, fluff if it doesn’t relate to the job.

    Your career consular is absolutely right in telling you to remove credentials that are irrelevant. However, if you’re going a job that you actually use your degree in specifically, like perhaps an editing job, you would of course want to keep it in.

    tl;dr: You’re going about job searching the wrong way, and you shouldn’t be surprised that nobody would want to hire you – I sure wouldn’t. If you really care about finding a job, start with buying this book (you can buy a used copy for ONE CENT! and a new copy for one dollar on amazon, so if you are serious about getting a job there is really no excuse) and reading it in its entirety -and- following the exercises in it.

    Good luck (but don’t leave it up to luck ;) ) if you’re still searching for a job mate! If you’ve already found one you’re happy at, then congratulations.

  102. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    If you find that line, please do share it with me. I love feedback from readers!
    Thank you for the comment!

  103. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

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  104. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    Thank you. I left office jobs for academia, so your advice about changing my job search was valuable–if no longer relevant. I can tell you that the colleges are still doing very little to prepare students for the job market, at least the colleges I’ve worked for.

    I appreciate your input and your attention. Please do comment again.

  105. By Rv CoversNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

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  106. By TasNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    In Regards to SOME GUY:

    For someone that picks at another’s intellect in such an abrasive manner, it seems that you yourself have missed the whole point of this post. The author wrote about an actual experience he had, and it is quite easy to tear apart someone else’s actions when you yourself are not part of it.
    I for one, do not believe practicality is the sole criterion of intelligence; it is a very limiting scope.
    For the record, he wrote precisely about what he had to do differently with his resumes and letters in order to land a job, which was to change his presentation and style to that of appearing non-threatening intellectually. This is more of a comment on the practical skills he had to learn which seems to run counterintuitive to the idea that the more you learn, the more you will make.
    I see no evidence of a personal claim to superior intelligence, just a retelling of advisement he received and the steps that he took to secure a job. If you feel personally offended by this, then perhaps that is something you need to take a look at.

  107. By Bruno B.No Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    Okay, so many thoughts flowed up in my mind while reading this entry that I have to carefully chose what to say.

    First, I think (and hope) this is fiction. But, if it is, I don’t see the purpose or conclusion in it. “All employers are dumb” or maybe “Be stupid to get the job”. Both of which are untruthful.

    Besides, your post in filled with sentences that make us think you have a very high impression of yourself. Maybe, in the end, that’s what you didn’t got a job until you acted stupid. Because possible CV readers ended think you are too convinced to learn something.

    So yeah, tune down the speech when applying to a job: companies must feel you are willing to learn something while working, otherwise, you will be useless in the long run.

    A final thought: you clearly chose a job that, while it may pay the bills, doesn’t help you accomplish anything. Just from your writing I can see that you are skilled, so try other companies. There is a great number of those that want people who are well prepared, hold masters degrees and write as well as you do. Look for them, their names appear everywhere. Look for Fortune 500 companies, for example.

  108. By search engine optimization (SEO)No Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

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  109. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    JUst link to the blog, if you would be so kind. Thank you!

  110. By LuzNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    Out of curiosity, what happened to your company?

  111. By anxiety attacksNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

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  112. By Tumi LeNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    It’s a bad experience for who wants to get a job. Studying and getting an MA and think that’s all what recruiter needs is not right. Studying day by day in what we want to do on specific subjects will help us to get jobs, not a huge collection of certificates.

  113. By backlinksNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

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  114. By Some GuyNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    Oh, I’m not at all offended by Charles’s tale of woe, only amused. I’ve encountered thousands of interchangeable pseudo-intellectuals in my career, and none of them will ever be important enough to cause an emotional response on my part.

  115. By Some GuyNo Gravatar on Jul 30, 2010

    Education is extremely valuable. Charles’ problem is that he didn’t know the difference between schooling and education.

    I learned more in my first year at work than I did in all the time I spent in school.

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  117. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Jul 31, 2010

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  124. By PipentaNo Gravatar on Aug 1, 2010

    This rings so true and it is painful. Want to suffer more? Try teaching at anything by a top tier university. The laziness, sense of entitlement and aggressive anti-intellectualism of the students makes teaching hellish. They are only interested in themselves and are intensely irritated if you do anything to interrupt their ongoing self admiration sessions and circle jerks. So hey, this is our culture now, and it ain’t pretty at all.

  125. By OdchudzanieNo Gravatar on Aug 1, 2010

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  126. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Aug 1, 2010

    Thank you!

  127. By AugenoperationNo Gravatar on Aug 1, 2010

    Gratulations man, Radio Berlin talked about your blog on 9 am. Header was your subject If You’re So Damn Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? | The Active Voice. Nice work. bye-bye

  128. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Aug 1, 2010

    Thanks. If you can share a link, I would be grateful.

  129. By Lou PickneyNo Gravatar on Aug 2, 2010

    Great article — I imagine that many people reading this can sympathize and/or relate with the plight you faced on the job market.

  130. By Ry guyNo Gravatar on Aug 5, 2010

    fuck life

  131. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Aug 5, 2010


  132. By katyNo Gravatar on Aug 9, 2010

    A man’s worth is no greater than his ambitions.

    Marcus Aurelius

  133. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Aug 9, 2010

    The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows. -Buddha

  134. By Nicholas RitcheyNo Gravatar on Aug 22, 2010

    It all comes down to knowing your employer. If applying to a job that requires a special education / experience, of course you have to beat out the competition. Otherwise, if you’re doing something lacking in skill, they’d rather have someone uneducated that will do what’s told without second-guessing everything — which means not too educated. If I wanted a manager’s job at McDonalds I wouldn’t say I did my masters at UPENN, but at the best middle school in Korea — UPENN on the resume got me the job.

    Know your potential employer and be what they want to see.

  135. By mikeNo Gravatar on Sep 5, 2010

    “When I only had a Masters Degree in English, a career counselor advised me to remove that credential from my résumé……….. My training took two hours. My workday was eight hours of punching numbers into a spreadsheet from a stack of index cards—a minuscule part of a larger billing process—but hey, I was a specialist!”

    So when you first came in, they told you you were overqualified.. and when you started the job you discovered you were overqualified. Um. Ok.

    Why the hell did you apply for such a boring job, again?

  136. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Sep 5, 2010

    There weren’t many to choose from at the time.

  137. By anonymousNo Gravatar on Sep 17, 2010

    What makes you think you’re smart?

  138. By Gregory MagarshakNo Gravatar on Sep 17, 2010

    What was that movie? Idiocracy. Fun :)

    But seriously, get a profession where they actually care if you’re smart. And stop trying to get employed, get clients. Corporate America can bite.

    Having said that, if they want you to work slower, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start on your next great website.

    Ah what am I talking about, tits and ass all the way baby! :)

  139. By BlahNo Gravatar on Sep 17, 2010

    I know this may not be suitable in your situation or to you personally or your line of work.

    But there are jobs in the United States where 99% of the people will never ever be classified as “too smart”. Would you be classified as “too smart” if you are applying for a PhD?

    Go get a core-virtualization engineer job at VMWare. Let me see how many people will tell you, you’re “too smart” or over qualified for it.

    And as for academics vs industry, I find there are certain areas where innovation still comes from the industry and PH.d students are still clueless when they are assigned tasks from the industry. I won’t name the company & task for obvious reasons or the students (and trust me they are not from some lame unknown institution).

    There are good sides to both academia and industry. It all depends on what kind of job you have, and the nature of work. There are really research based jobs in the industry.

    In general, find what is good for you and try not to criticize others.

    Sorry if I offended anyone with my frank remarks.

    Cheers, peace!

  140. By JoannaNo Gravatar on Sep 17, 2010

    Funny article and one I can definitely relate to! In response to some of the comments, its not that people are selling themselves short or not being proactive enough (which how can the commentor even judge that) it’s that companies really arent hiring! In my situation i was desperate and I did go look for the admin, mail clerk, whatever i can get my hands on jobs! After 7mo of searching I finally found a suitable job and am holding on to it with every ounce of my being lol

  141. By ClausNo Gravatar on Sep 17, 2010

    Someone told me that first class companies hire first class people, second class companies hire third class people.
    Apparently appearing less educated than you actually are can get you into the mess of being a 1st class person in a third class company: Boredom, frustration, disappointment…

    One problem is of course to find a great company, where you’re far from being the best – and therefore can learn the most.

  142. By Alex GreeneNo Gravatar on Sep 17, 2010

    It is interesting to see this old article popping up again.

    Why has nobody asked the converse to this blog title’s question, “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?” :)

  143. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Sep 17, 2010

    I don’t know. I think there is something cathartic about it. Not being able to find a job is hard on the psyche. I think people just like it because many of them think that their boss is incompetent, and they feel cheated. Or maybe not. What do I know? I’m just the author. The readers determine meanings.

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  145. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Sep 18, 2010

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  146. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Sep 18, 2010

    Thank you, everyone, for the retweets!

  147. By 10 tile sawNo Gravatar on Sep 22, 2010

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  148. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Sep 23, 2010

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  171. By Nicholas RipleyNo Gravatar on Jan 30, 2011

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  172. By Sherly ThomaNo Gravatar on Feb 1, 2011

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  176. By aliNo Gravatar on Feb 7, 2011

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  177. By Charles BivonaNo Gravatar on Feb 8, 2011

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