Convincing your spouse to allow you to go on a trip with friends to Vegas is easy compared to convincing an employer to hire you if you’re overqualified, too old, or don’t need the money. Finding any type of work is like dating. The older you get, unfortunately, the harder it seems to find a match.
But just like dating, finding that perfect someone is often hilarious, frustrating, expensive, and sometimes painful. Let me share with you a short story about one company I met with a while ago where I failed to find a connection.
MONEY OR SUCCESS CAN PUT YOU AT A DISADVANTAGE IN YOUR CAREER
Part of my value proposition as a content marketing consultant is that I’ve built a brand from the ground up with practically zero spend and zero public fan fare. My great challenge since the beginning was to see if my writing alone could take Financial Samurai to the promised land. Maybe things will change later this year with an explosion of self-aggrandizing, but not now!
After six years and 10,000+ hours of finger flexing on my own sites, I understand how to help companies build their content marketing efforts, rank well in SEO, engage an audience, build a community, and generate leads if they’re willing to stick things through for a couple years. The Chief Content Officer role is something to look out for. Millions of dollars are at stake for nascent businesses that want to survive and grow, or established organizations that want to pivot their image.
I found a fantastic company looking for a “Director Of Content & SEO” down in Silicon Valley on AngelList during the holidays. They kindly responded, and I drove down to Santa Clara to see them for two hours. I was peppered with a ton of questions during the interview and over e-mail, and I answered all of them thoroughly. But when I asked for feedback or how they would approach the questions they gave me, things went radio silent from one interviewee. I suspect he didn’t have the time to respond (even though I wrote back 700 word responses that took an hour), or simply didn’t have a proper way to respond because he didn’t know. Ignoring someone is a GREAT way to save time, but it is off-putting.
About a month had passed when the CEO wanted to meet me again for a follow up. We sat down in one of those laptop-filled coffee shops in downtown SF to chat. He’s a nice guy with a lot of energy. Here was his response in a nutshell:
“I like your background and I think you’d add a lot of value, but I’ve got three concerns. 1) Why would you want to work for us if you have such a good thing going already with Financial Samurai? 2) Are you sure you’ll be able to work hard? We’re a lean startup and will be working on weekends and all hours of the day. 3) Can we provide you the compensation required to make you happy so you don’t leave after a year”
All of the CEO’s concerns were valid. In fact, about 45% of you answered, “No. What’s the point of working so much more if you have a livable passive income stream and business income already. Consulting for one company for 25 hours a week is enough.” in my survey on whether I should take up new freelance opportunities or seek full-time employment.
Here are my answers to his questions:
Why would you want to work for us if you have such a good thing going already with Financial Samurai?
1) I believe in what your company is trying to do, and I believe my skill-set can help your company get there. The greatest thrill I get is building something from nothing to something significant. Money is important, but it is not my primary motivation. Working with good people who can make a difference in society, and address a pain point is very exciting to me. Financial Samurai is something I’m proud of that I will likely always keep. It’s like my personal journal that I write in during off work hours.
Are you sure you’ll be able to work hard? We’re a lean startup and will be working one weekends and all hours of the day?
2) From 1999 – 2000, I got up by 4:45am to get to work by 5:30am every day. I’d work until 7:30pm on average, and often times until 9pm. From 2000 – 2012, I got up before 6am every day to get to work by 6:30am or be online by 6:30am because that’s when the stock market opens on the West Coast. I’d often stay until 6pm and take clients out afterward for several hours. Since 2012, I’ve continued to get up around 6am and work for an hour or two before working another 9-10 hours at my consulting clients’ respective offices. I then come back and work at least another couple hours online. I’m not afraid of hard work. I will work for as long as it takes to get things done and produce results. Working in banking was no walk in the park.
Can we provide you the compensation required to make you happy, and not leave after a year?
3) I applied to the job based on the salary and equity metrics you listed on AngelList, so I am interested in the compensation you listed. After the first meeting, you mentioned that you were also flexible on compensation. I’ve had a track record for company loyalty, having been at my previous full-time employer for 11 years. I’ve also spent over a year consulting for one client already. I think in five-year blocks, and don’t go all-in unless I really believe in the company and the role.
COULD NOT UNDERSTAND
Our meeting lasted for an hour, and I went into much more detail explaining myself in a conversational manner. The CEO just couldn’t get over the fact that I’d ever want to go back to work full-time due to the income I’ve been able to generate on my own. It didn’t matter what I said, he just couldn’t believe it.
In fact, by the end of the conversation, he convinced me that I would be crazy to take the role. The most they could pay would be maybe $135,000 along with 0.5% equity. And the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with the CEO! Why would I dedicate ~50 hours of my life working for a company that paid me less than my passive income stream alone?
Sure, I liked their business model, but couldn’t I spend that 50 hours building Financial Samurai and other websites into something greater? Even if the company sold for $200 million dollars vs. the average exit valuation of $40 million for Y Combinator companies after 10 years, I’d still only pull down maybe $1 million gross. That is not inspiring given the years of below market pay.
When I got home that evening, I thanked the CEO over e-mail and told him that he was right. The role was not the right fit for me. He thanked me for the note, and promised to keep in touch. I think the company will do well, and it’s too bad we couldn’t connect. But like I mentioned, finding the right fit takes time and effort. So I continued my journey.
I’ve NEVER had someone question my work ethic, especially if they knew I came from banking, because everybody knows that people in banking often work 70 hour+ weeks and get their face kicked in all the time. The pressure to produce is immense. If you don’t produce, you get shown the door, hence my mindset for writing, If You Produce Nothing How Do You Expect To Make Any Money?
I’ve also never had anybody question my loyalty before either because 11 years is a damn long time to work at one firm in this day and age where three years seems to be more the norm. I looked at the resumes of the founder and people I met, and none of them stayed at their previous positions for more than three years so I was flummoxed by their questioning of my dedication. Was this a case of, Do as I say, not as I do?
They couldn’t possibly understand my situation because to them, it’s inconceivable that someone would primarily focus on an opportunity for the experience, knowledge, and journey.
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY!
I’m going to say this as clearly as I can: Once you’ve accumulated “enough,” it’s not about the money!
If it was about the money, I wouldn’t have left a high-paying job on Wall Street to make hardly anything as a writer. If it was about the money, I wouldn’t have paid myself nothing for years. If it was about the money, I wouldn’t have decided to consult in the first place because consulting income is much lower than my business income.
All I want is to be paid a “fair market wage” based on the value I can provide. I don’t want more money, or less money than deserved. I certainly don’t ever want to feel cheated either. I’ve done plenty of financial analysis on working for a startup, and I believe working for a startup will probably make you poorer, than richer. You can also sell your startup for millions and still not be a millionaire. And I just don’t know how many employees really understand that they could get screwed, despite owning stock options (watch out for those 2X liquidity preferences).
It’s an incredible feeling to work with a group of folks you get along with. To build something together and watch it grow in the world is amazing. To grab some beers after work and commiserate is just fun.
My main tip for those who’ve accumulated enough, but who still want to be an active part of society is this:
Just like in the Stealth Wealth Movement, DO NOT overemphasize your successes. Instead, calibrate your successes to a range that is conceivable to your prospective employer. You want to fit in, but stand out just a little bit so that they hire you. Once they hire you, consistently underpromise and overdeliver.
My biggest error was being too proud of the work I’ve done online. It helped me get multiple interviews, but it lead people to think, “What the heck are you thinking? If I were you, I’d be sitting on a beach somewhere drinking a Mai Tai!” as one fellow colleague told me the other day.
Instead of highlighting Financial Samurai’s success, I should have highlighted a smaller site I’ve built instead.
Other tips for those who are seeking a job, but who may be overqualified:
1) Dumb down your resume. Instead of making your resume look like you could be the next President of The United States, dumb it down so that you’re more like a Joe Biden or a Senator Kerry instead. You don’t want your potentially younger and less experienced employer think that you’ll want to run the company one day or leave soon after joining.
2) Remove your graduation dates from your resume. Age discrimination is real folks! Why else do employees have to attend mandatory “age discrimination” and “sexual harassment” training? It is not kosher to ask someone’s age, sexual preference, and personal relationship status. By removing your graduation date, and curating your resume to fit your accomplishments better, you stand a better chance of blending in.
3) Pretend like you don’t know as much as you do. Downplaying your knowledge and intelligence is the key to my post, Are You Smart Enough To Act Dumb Enough To Get Ahead. You want to demonstrate your competence in the interview process, but you don’t want to seem so knowledgable and intelligent that your employer views you as a threat. Your goal is to get the job and then adapt.
People will think you are crazy if you want to continue working when you don’t need to. Only when people reach financial independence will they realize the journey is the most enjoyable part of it all! It’s up to you to paint a different picture.
Recommendation For Leaving A Job
If you want to leave a job you no longer enjoy, I recommend negotiating a severance instead of quitting. If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training. Since you got laid off, you’re also eligible for up to 27 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.
Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye, on how to negotiate a severance. I first published the book in 2012 and have since expanded it to 180 pages from 100 pages in the 3rd edition thanks to tremendous reader feedback and successful case studies.
If they think you’re overqualified, screw them! Take matters into your own hand and start your own business online! It used to cost a fortune and a lot of employees to start your business. Now you can start it for next to nothing with Bluehost. Brand yourself online, connect with like-minded people, find new consulting gigs, and potentially make a good amount of income online one day by selling your product or recommending other great products. Not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for starting Financial Samurai in 2009. I have maximum freedom now thanks to working on my side-hustle while working for 2.5 years. You never know where your journey will take you!
Updated for 2020 and beyond.