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I complained to my line manager about another division's manager being far too junior for his responsibilities. I wasn't asking for a promotion or raise, but I was baffled by the implications of having a junior person in a very senior role.

My manager identified the problem as me being too senior for my role. It's the first time I hear "you are too senior for your role". I just don't know what it means, if it's a real issue or if it's just gaslighting or nonsense.

What does "you are too senior for your role" mean, from a career perspective? Can you be fired for being too senior for your role?

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    What does too junior mean? Too young? Not well educated? Not experienced enough? Aug 9 '19 at 20:15
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    Why are you complaining about another division's manager?
    – sf02
    Aug 9 '19 at 20:20
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    Possible duplicate of "You're overqualified" - What does that really mean?
    – gnat
    Aug 9 '19 at 20:27
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    Given the context, it may just be a snappy comeback for the "too junior" complaint. Stereotypically, senior people are more likely to complain about junior people just because they are junior, rather than for some specific problem. Aug 10 '19 at 7:02
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    So I guess you think it's OK for you to call someone out but not for you to be called out, eh? Turnabout is fair play, as the saying goes.
    – joeqwerty
    Aug 11 '19 at 3:53
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You are too senior for your role means the opposite of you are too junior for your role

Your manager was probably trying to get across the idea that seniority alone may not be the only requirement to fill a position.

In other words, he could have said: "If seniority was the only thing that mattered, you'd be in a different role."

There are a variety of implications that stem from this interpretation, and maybe it's something to think over.

If you are unclear on the meaning, you could also just ask you boss what he means. I would also refrain from passing judgement on reporting lines themselves, but instead highlight actual concrete issues to your boss, without attributing the issues to the idea of "seniority".

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  • From the context of the original question, I believe the boss was trying to convey is that OP shouldn't be expecting division managers to have OP's degree of seniority.
    – Haem
    Aug 12 '19 at 9:09
  • I think this is the best answer, especially for asking exactly what your boss means by that. It could lead to you searching for a new job and solidifying @joestrazzere's answer. It could just show you the exact items you need to work on to ensure you move forward to a more appropriate or desired role for you.
    – zr00
    Aug 12 '19 at 14:47
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What does "you are too senior for your role" mean, from a career perspective? Can you be fired for being too senior for your role?

It means you should be looking for a new job, since they can get by with someone far more junior than you.

It probably also means that you shouldn't be complaining about other managers if you value your current job.

As @PatriciaShanahan wisely points out in her comment, "Given the context, it may just be a snappy comeback for the "too junior" complaint. Stereotypically, senior people are more likely to complain about junior people just because they are junior, rather than for some specific problem."

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    Thanks for addition this answer.
    – Monoandale
    Aug 11 '19 at 20:17
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What does "you are too senior for your role" mean, from a career perspective?

It could mean that if you leave the company (willingly or unwillingly) it will be very difficult for you to find another job of the same position. I'd take it as a friendly hint that you would be wise to go for a promotion.

On a side note I've seen managers get employees in other departments fired after that employee rubbed the manager the wrong way. Giving unsolicited opinions about managers to their friends and associates is risky.

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Maybe it was just an off-hand silly comment but what they might mean is that you are too expensive for the role. Senior / Junior really comes down to experience and of course cost. If they put someone with your wage in that role they would have to justify spending that amount of money on the role.

In tech companies that often want young ill-experienced people working on projects as they are easier to boss around and have working for long hours. Maybe they meant that in that role you wouldn't fit in as you wouldn't fit the young tech person type.

Can you be fired for being too senior for your role?

Yes but instead of fired you will be "made redundant" and a few months later the role filled with cheaper employees happens all the time. Seniority isn't always a positive thing and there are industries where it is the norm to get rid of older employees and replace with younger employees for example IBM.

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I would assume (optimistically) that is simply an expression for "let's look together for an increase in your responsibility".

Pessimistically it could mean something like "why haven't you looked for an increase in your responsibility".

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Actually, yes, you can be fired for being "too senior for your role". At least in my profession. You didn't mention what your profession was, and it doesn't sound like you are a programmer, but I will share my perspective, since that was one of the two questions that you asked.

In my company, you are expected to progress through the ranks within a time table. That means when you start out it is fine to need a lot of help and direction from the seniors in order to do your job, but each four year period of employment had better see you advance through the ranks or you will be laid off. I believe this is an imitation of the practice that the bigger employers have adopted (Google, and maybe Amazon as well). The ranks are carefully crafted, for example, rank 2 might be that you look for bugs to fix on your own and take some responsibility for improvement, on up to the highest level of non-management, which is being a company expert in some technology which the company needs.

If you don't advance, it is taken as a sign that you do not have the initiative or capability that they want to see in their employees, and you can be laid off because of that.

In any case, it sounds like your employer was hinting that you should be doing something which you are not doing. Since he didn't come right out and say what it was, my recommendation would be for you to ask for a meeting (a little formality makes you sound more serious) tell him you are a little worried about being passed by, and to ask him what you can do to improve. Be respectful and make it clear that you are listening to what he has to say. At the very least it will give him a better impression of you. It is better to be thought ambitious than to be a person who does only enough to "get by". And it may be that you can greatly improve your standing in the company and your salary by changing how you approach your work.

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    What is your profession and location? Where I am from, you can't fire someone for not taking a new role within the organisation. Aug 12 '19 at 16:11
  • @Gregory Currie, I'm a .NET programmer. It isn't exactly a "role", because your actual role doesn't change. I started with the company as "Senior Software Engineer" and that is what I intend to remain, however the company has made it clear (in a company-wide meeting, so everything is above-board) that it has professional expectations from its engineers, and that includes that they show progress in their professional performance. If we don't meet those expectations, we will be laid off and replaced by someone who will. Programming is a very technologically challenging profession. Aug 12 '19 at 16:16
  • It might be something unique to the industry, because of the speed of technological change in the IT industry. Companies cannot afford to have programmers who can't adopt new technologies. Every day I see questions that cross this board that deal with the problems of old clashing with the new for programmers. It's a huge problem. Companies had to come up with a way to frame the problem and deal with it. Aug 12 '19 at 16:21

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