It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…
1. Senior colleague told me to “stay in my lane”
I recently gave notice at my large corporation. I accepted a similar role at a smaller company. I left due to culture fit; I like a less structured, faster paced organization.
A senior-level executive pulled me aside to give me advice: “Stay in your lane. You connect with too many people. You will look like you don’t know what you want.” My work performance and reviews have been excellent. I am skilled at building connections with stakeholders as its part of my job; hence, I need to develop cross-functional relationships.
I want to grow as a professional, but I am having trouble digesting this feedback. How would you interpret this?
Well, if it’s true, I’d interpret it as meaning that you’re sort of bouncing all over the organization, possibly being aggressive in your efforts to form professional relationships with people, and that it’s coming across as being more scattered than focused, and maybe schmoozy for the sake of being schmoozy rather than genuine.
However, it’s also possible that this executive is just totally off-base. I’d run the feedback by other people whose judgment you trust — people you’ve worked with, so they know your specific context and the habits this person might have been referring to — and see if they think there’s anything to to it. If you talk with other senior colleagues (hopefully there are at least one or two you’d feel comfortable approaching in a mentor sort of way) and they don’t agree, I’d write it off as one person’s odd opinion (and possibly one full of biases and agendas, who knows).
2. Spending six months volunteering before looking for a paid job
I recently stepped down from my high-stress/low-reward position to something much more sedate. It was a good decision mentally, and it’s meant that I can do other things with my time. One of those things is volunteering two afternoons a week with a pretty well-known NGO. Since volunteering with them, I’ve realized this is the sort of work I want to be doing. (The work is looking after their social media, making contacts with government officials/staff, writing media releases, petition signing, event management, phoning previous event participants to see if they would like to participate again, general organization stuff, etc.)
I’m wondering, though, if the work I’ve been doing for them will have a different weighting than work that I was getting paid for. I’d like to spend the next six months volunteering with them so that I have some really solid skills when I am looking for a job (also, it’s really important work and I’m having a ball). But I’m wondering if I should be looking for paid work at the same time?
Yeah, sometimes volunteer work does get less weight than paid work — often because it’s very, very part-time, and often because employers assume that there’s less accountability and the bar for performance is lower. However, you can get around that, especially the second part, by focusing on what accomplishments you had in the role, rather than just what activities you engaged in (which you should always do on your resume anyway). If you can say, for example, that you increased their social media followers by 20%, successfully placed stories in the Teapot Times and the Teapot Daily, and became a go-to resource for local legislators — or whatever your specific accomplishments are — you’ll make moot the question of whether the volunteering made it a less serious job.
So whether you should be looking for paid work now probably depends on how likely you think you are to have those types of accomplishments from the volunteer job at the end of this six months. If you do, you might be better positioned to move into this field professionally at the end of that six months than if you started now, before you have that proven track record.
3. I feel useless at my first high school job
I’m a senior in high school and I recently got my first job, which I thought would be a pretty standard part-time, entry-level retail job. I initially applied for a position that basically involved cashiering, stocking, etc., but during my interview, the hiring manager offered me a different position, more as a salesperson on the tech side of the store, and I accepted because the pay was ridiculously high for an entry-level job.
The problem is, I’m awful at it and I feel useless because of it. I was told I wouldn’t need a whole lot of technical knowledge – I’m pretty good with computers, but tech isn’t something I’m really passionate about – but every few questions a customer asks me is one I don’t know how to answer. I’m not cut out for sales at all (my planned career path has nothing to do with either tech or sales), and I feel like I’m constantly disappointing my manager. (Plus, when there aren’t a lot of customers in the store, there’s nothing to do). I dread going into work because it ends up being hours of just aimlessly walking around or failing to adequately answer customer questions.
What should I do? Again, it’s very well-paying and I’m sure it’s much more comfortable than the average high schooler’s job, but I want to feel like I’m actually contributing to my workplace instead of just getting paid to stand there and redirect questions. How do I make this job better for both myself and my employer?
Can you talk to your manager and explain that you’d like to be able to do a better job answering customers’ questions and ask if there’s any training that you could have? Or if there’s a more senior salesperson you could observe or get coaching from?
Alternately, if you’re sure that you really don’t want this job, would you want the cashiering position you originally applied for? If so, you could talk to your manager, explain that you think you’d be more interested in that role after all, and ask if it would be possible to move to it, and that you understand the pay would be lower.
There’s no shame in any of this; you’re at the very early stages of figuring out what you do and don’t like in a job, and this is part of the process. It’s not like your complaints are “I hate working at all”; you’ve identified very specific things you don’t like … and one of them is that you feel unhelpful and want to contribute more, which is a good instinct to have. So talk to your manager and see what your options are. (And then come back and update us if you want!)
4. Confusing titles on a resume
In five jobs over 10 years (in a field where that isn’t a huge red flag, don’t worry), only the most recent two have had official job titles. The second-to-last one was pretty reasonable (Senior Teapot Engineer), but the current company has its own bizarre system of job classifications and the official title is something like “Pots Developer III-a,” which means nothing to anyone external (and frankly not a lot internally either).
It seems unpleasantly inconsistent to list job titles for only some of the jobs. Is it better to leave them off entirely, or to make up reasonable, accurate, but not official job titles for the earlier jobs? And if the latter, would it be okay to list the current position as “Teapot Engineer”? FWIW, all the jobs are in the same field and could all be classified as teapot engineering, which is clear from the resume.
Well, the big thing is that you want the titles to match up with what those companies will say when a reference-checker calls them. For the jobs without titles, I’d come up with something that captures what you did there without inflating it and which — and this is key — wouldn’t raise any flags if a reference-checker mentioned the title. In this case, it sounds like they were all teapot engineering, so I’d just go with teapot engineer. (I should note, this is pretty straightforward in your case; it would be harder if you were managing the marketing team and wanted to call yourself the marketing director without ever having had the title. In those cases, I’d say to push for a title so you don’t end up in that position.)
For the jobs with the inscrutable titles, you could list them this way:
Teapot Engineer (formally Pots Developer III-a)
… in other words, a descriptor of the job, followed by the official title.