I am looking for an idiom or phrase that describes an unskilled person in a skilled job or about a person who is doing a job which is nowhere close to his professional skill.

He is ____________ in this job.


Merriam-Webster: "out of one's league," and Collins' English Dictionary (for English Language Learners) : "out of one's depth" would both meet your needs.

  • Of course, this is a baseball metaphor, like so many other US English metaphors. Others are "strike out" for a failure, "hit it out of the park" for a phenomenal success, "at bat" for an opportunity, getting to "third base" in a romantic encounter, etc. Nov 15 '17 at 13:10

Such a person is in over their head:

be/get in over your head: to be or become involved in a situation in which you do not have the necessary skills, knowledge, or money to succeed


They are perhaps out of place (specifically in the context of the job).

He is out of place in this job.


out of place
not comfortable or suitable for a particular situation

He is worried about his job and feels out of place in a large organization.

Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2003. Reproduced with permission.

out of place
Not in the proper situation, not belonging; inappropriate for the circumstances or location.

For example, A high school graduate, she felt out of place among all these academics with advanced degrees , or This velvet sofa is out of place on the porch.

This idiom uses place in the sense of "a fitting position."

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Also, you can use the idiom "at home" with negation.

He is not at home in this job.


(Idioms) 27. e. at home,
well-informed; proficient: to be at home in the classics.


You can also say:

He is a misfit in this job.

Check the example phrase below.


misfit noun
3. a person who is not suited or is unable to adjust to the circumstances of his or her particular situation:
a misfit in one's job.


incompetent noun
Inadequate to or unsuitable for a particular purpose.
- He is too incompetent to be trusted with such an important responsibility.

lightweight noun
One of little consequence or ability.
- a political lightweight


phoning it in informal phrase
Work or perform in a perfunctory or unenthusiastic manner.

  • A like "lightweight" but not "incompetent" which doesn't capture the nuance that the question suggests.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 16 '16 at 5:00

Idioms like "out of one's depth" cover the case where the relatively unskilled (or differently-skilled) person is not doing a good job in the more demanding position.

To address the case where the unskilled person is doing surprisingly well in the position, you can consider the idiom "punching above one's weight".


He had no formal financial education and no previous experience with the markets, but the senior brokers at Morgan Stanley were pleasantly surprised to see that he had found his feet very quickly, turning a tidy profit within a mere week of joining the firm. "The new boy's certainly punching above his weight", enthused the big boss at the weekly board meeting.


Such a person is a jack of all trades, master of none.

Jack of all trades, master of none: (figure of speech) "Often used in a negative light to describe someone who can do many things, but is not good at any one of them". (Goodenglish.org.sg)

EDIT: As per the OP's sentence with my answer in situ: Thus, "He is a jack of all trades, master of none in this job". I see the proverbial jack here as someone who posses certain skills but none coming close to what is required or needed for the job he is doing as per the OP's, "...or about a person who is doing a job which is nowhere close to his professional skill".

  • Would the down-voter please explain how my answer, 'jack of all trades, master of none', fails the OP. Thank you. Nov 16 '16 at 9:14
  • 1
    not the down-voter, but jack of all trades master of none is more about someone with a diverse skill set who can turn their hand to anything, but isn't a specialist in any one field. This question is about someone being decidedly unskilled in a specific field. OP's person may or may not be moderately skilled at other things, but that's not what he's looking to describe. Essentially, the phrase both implies a diverse skillset which is inappropriate, and doesn't sufficiently emphasise incompetence.
    – Some_Guy
    Nov 16 '16 at 9:41
  • @Some_Guy Quite so in so far as your comment goes. However, I latched onto the OP's alternative ("...or is doing a job no where close to HIS (emphasis added) professional skill [in the job he is doing]". The word "his" obviously refers to the person the OP has in mind who evidently is someone who has SOME "professional skill", because the OP states as much, but insufficiently skilled to carry out the job he is doing. I contend that Jack is the OP's man in this sense. Nov 16 '16 at 10:15
  • 1
    A software engineer working in an auto repair shop wouldn't be a jack of all trades, though they would be working in an area nowhere close to their professional skill. You're going down a dead-end with this one. Jack is a phrase that emphasises diversity of skills, which makes it inapplicable to the question, while it does have a connotation of a lack mastery, it far from implies incompetence.
    – Some_Guy
    Nov 16 '16 at 12:12
  • 2
    The phrase highlights something completely irrelevant and probably inapplicable to the situation (being a man of many hats), and doesn't really emphasise the actual point (rank incompetence), so on 2 counts, it's not a good answer.
    – Some_Guy
    Nov 16 '16 at 12:14

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