I have a weird patchwork of responsibilities, sharing a desk, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. I have a weird patchwork of responsibilities and feel unqualified for anything else

I don’t know what my job is. Or, more accurately, I don’t know what to tell prospective new employers what my current job is. I work for a nonprofit with a very small central office team. When I started here, I had fewer than two years of office experience. I was hired for what was meant to be a support position, but in the three+ years I have been here, my responsibilities have changed radically, to the point where my on-paper job description doesn’t describe my work at all. Basically, every time someone leaves or is hired, everyone’s work is reshuffled, and we’re chronically understaffed yet expanding our program work, so if you have a certain skill you’ll wind up with new responsibilities based on it.

I am currently responsible for things that would have fallen under two or three very different departments in my previous workplace. Some of my responsibilities are pretty low-level, while some of them are things that my boss’s boss handled at my previous job. I have little direct supervision, and there is no one else here who is directly responsible for the same broad categories of work. As a result, I have had to learn a lot of this stuff on the fly.

In one sense, this has been great. I’ve learned a lot, and have been able to implement some new projects which I probably wouldn’t have gotten to touch at a more traditionally-run workplace. But now, I’m becoming burned out and frustrated by the huge variety of things I am responsible for (and the fact that new responsibilities keep being added without an accompanying raise or title change), and I am starting to look for a new job with more clearly defined responsibilities.

The problem is, I look at job postings at other nonprofits and feel weirdly unqualified for them, because of the patchwork and ad-hoc nature of my responsibilities, and because I have not had a mentor or supervisor in my specific field(s) for over three years. I run our social media, but I have no idea how SEO works, because we’ve never used it here and I haven’t had time to learn. I manage the calendar for, gather info for, write, and edit all of our grant reports, but I have never applied for a grant and can’t point to a record of securing new ones. And so forth. And forget about applying for jobs at a for-profit company – I have almost zero idea of how my skills would be applicable in a for-profit environment.

I really don’t know quite what to do about all this. I know I have skills, but I have no idea how to talk about them in the context of other jobs, because my job is so… weird. And I’m afraid I have shot myself in the foot in terms of my professional development by spending a good chunk of my 20s in this job where I have such undefined responsibilities and no mentor. Where do I even start with this? It’s incredibly frustrating and demoralizing.

For now, leave aside the question of what your job is, and instead focus on looking for jobs that you meet 80% of the qualifications for. (If you’re not even sure what those are, spend some time on Idealist poking around.) Apply for those, and when you do, tailor your resume to play up what you’ve done that’s most relevant to the job you’re applying for. Because your current job is scattered around, that means you may end up making lots of versions of your resume, and that’s okay.

But don’t feel like you have to meet the qualifications 100%. People get hired all the time as an 80% or 90% match.

2. Sharing a desk

I would like some advice on how to advise a friend. They are starting an academic teaching job and will be working 30%. Thus far, it has been treated as a matter of course that they would be getting a desk, but today they heard that since they are only working 30%, they will have to share the desk. My friend feels they have been unfairly treated. I am in two minds about what to say, because on the one hand, this is impractical and with academic work there is a definite tacit understanding that you spend the rest of your time doing research. On the other hand, I know there is a space shortage and I actually don’t know what is “normal” in these situations. Any thoughts?

If they have a space shortage, this really isn’t outrageous. They can’t create space out of thin air, and someone who’s only there 30% of the time is the logical choice for desk sharing. I’m wondering if there’s something else going on that’s making your friend so indignant.

3. My old job didn’t hire me full-time but keeps talking about how much they miss me

A few years ago I was working for a small company on contract work, and the contract shut down, so I was out of work. I took some part time jobs in order to keep myself going, and some of them turned out to be really interesting to the point that I decided to keep myself going on those part time jobs for a few years.

During that time I found a part-time job that I really loved. I liked the people there, they liked me (so i thought) and i clicked with the work. I raised the profile of the position, and they actually kept me on way past the point that they promised. So I thought all was okay.

During that time, a long-time employee left. I loved this department, and I was more than qualified for the position, so I applied. Everyone seemed happy, the people on the hiring committee convinced me to go for it. I never consider anything guaranteed, but this was the closest I would have said to a job that I was likely to get in my history.

I didn’t get it. I was crushed.

I ended up doubling my job search for a full-time position, becuase I could no longer work in the part-time position knowing I’d lost out on the full-time job, and because part of the reason I applied was to cut down on some of my part-time jobs (which was up to three).

I found a full-time job on the same campus with a different division. The old job keeps telling me how much they missed me, how it was difficult to replace me. They didn’t want me to go. I’ve been generally nice about the whole thing, and professional, but it’s starting to grate on me a little. To make things worse: I spearheaded a huge job before I left, and I’m being cut out of all credit for it.

Am I petty for being annoyed? Am I petty for wanting recognition for the job I worked on? Am I petty for being angry that the hiring managers told me to apply? For what it’s worth, I have a lot more experience than the person hired. I don’t know why I wasn’t. I mean, there must have been something I didn’t see, but this is kind of killing me.

I don’t think you’re being petty, exactly; it’s natural to feel disappointed, and it’s natural to wonder why they didn’t hire you if they miss you so much now. But I don’t think you should be angry that they told you to apply for the job. They saw you as a promising candidate, but that doesn’t preclude someone else from being stronger (and that’s not just about amount of experience; people can be better qualified in other ways). And it’s also true that you can really miss an old coworker while still acknowledging that it made more sense to hire someone else. (Plus, it’s sometimes the kind of thing people say to be nice — not that they’re intentionally being disingenuous, but that it feels like the right thing to say in the moment.)

The thing about not getting credit for the project you were spearheading before you left is a little trickier. It’s hard to say with certainty without knowing more, but sure, it’s possible that they should be acknowledging your contributions there. (On the other hand, if you were only there for the first, say, 20% of the project, it’s pretty normal that the person who took over after you would be the one getting the accolades.)

In any case, I think you’re doing yourself no favors by holding on to this. Jobs don’t always work out the way we want, and it’s rarely personal. It definitely doesn’t sound personal here. I know it feels personal, but I think it would be a huge kindness to yourself to try to stop seeing it that way and not let it gnaw at you.

4. What does this information from my interview mean?

At the beginning of my second interview (the first was a 40-minute phone discussion) the interviewer shared the hiring timeline. The interviewer explained five interviews were being conducted of the 10 screened over the phone. From the five, one to two finalists will be selected. The interviewer also mentioned there is a strong candidate who would be out of the country the next few weeks, so final decisions would be towards the end of the month.

Information about benefits were also shared: salary range, likely starting salary, time off, etc. I was also informed that someone from HR would email me benefit details. The interview went well and I should know if I am still being considered by next week.

Why would the interviewer, who is also the boss, mention the strong candidate? Why would benefit details be provided by HR before a formal job offer?

Don’t read anything into any of this; it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not uncommon for HR to share benefit details with all candidates at this point in the process (in fact, it’s smart to, so that in case you do get an offer, you’ll have had a head start on reviewing this stuff). And it sounds like the interviewer mentioned the strong candidate to explain why they’re waiting a few weeks before wrapping up the process.

{ 103 comments… read them below }

  1. Jeanne

    #4, I think I would like that company. They’re not playing games with the starting salary and benefits. I don’t like when it’s all a big secret. They may even narrow the field a little. If you couldn’t live with their health plan or if the salary is off by a huge amount, you might withdraw now. It feels weird because we expect the games but they sound good.

    1. GrandBargain

      There is something about this situation that I don’t like. It’s not about the company or its willingness to be open and fair. Instead, I’m wondering about the position you (and the other not out of the country applicants) will be in as the company holds its final decision until that last strong applicant can be interviewed.

      So, you are in the second round of interviews with five other candidates with an additional round of interviews for the one or two finalists. Does that mean one or two finalists in addition to the other strong candidate… with that candidate given a pass through all the initial interview stages? And will the finalist interviews be conducted prior to that person’s return? Ideally, you’d like to be interviewed at roughly the same time. Giving her the chance to go last (up to several weeks after your interview) and have the advantage of being able to address any questions or ideas or suggestions that came up with you and the other finalists really seems to tilt the decision toward the absentee interviewee.

      That said, I’m wondering what you can do to restore a little more balance. Perhaps, you can simply ask that your finalist interview (hope you get there!) be scheduled so that all the finalists can be interviewed at the same time. It might help to ask what it is about this other candidate that makes her particularly qualified (since the interviewer brought it up). Any other thoughts?

      As open and transparent as the company is being, the dynamics of the situation seem to give one candidate a clear advantage over all the others. That leads me to have not such a nice opinion of this particular opportunity.

      1. MK

        One, we don’t actually know that the strong candidate will interview so much later than the other four; right now, the four haven’t even been selected yet. Two, I don’t agree that interviewing last is such a huge advantage as you make it out to be. Three, it’s perfectly fair of the company to want to make the best hiring decision, even if that means giving a strong candidate an advantage the others don’t have. Candidates don’t have to start at the same gate; in fact, they usually don’t. Four, it’s incredibly presumptuous for a candidate to try to negotiate how the hiring process goes for their own benefit.

        The company is being open and transparent, but I don’t think the OP should take this as an invitation to question their practices. The only thing to take from this is that there is a strong candidate for the position, so the competition is stiff.

        1. Random Lurker

          +1, or I should say +4, for each of your points.

          It’s normal for a company to ask a candidate what their timeframe for making a decision is, and using that to shape their own hiring timeframe. Sometimes a candidate has another offer on the table, so a company may accelerate an interview process. You shape your interview process around what makes sense for you to acquire the best talent possible. The only difference here is the company in the letter is being refreshingly honest.

        2. GrandBargain

          Re: One… you assume the other 4 haven’t been selected. The letter doesn’t say. We don’t know whether the other four have been selected. They may have, they may not.

          Re: Open and transparent… I’m not suggesting the OP question the company’s practices. I’m suggesting the OP be aware of her own negotiating position relative to the absent candidate. There may not be anything she can do to improve that position, but it’s information worth having.

          1. MK

            No, I didn’t assume that; I said that we don’t know. But since the information was given to the OP before their own phone interview, it’s actually more likely that they weren’t selected. And your advice to the OP wasn’t simply to take the information into account, it was to ask that all final interviews be scheduled close in time to keep things more “fair”; if that’s not questioning the hiring process, I don’t know what is.

            1. GrandBargain

              Read your own comment why don’t you… “right now, the four haven’t even been selected yet.” Yeah, you did assume that.

            2. TheLazyB

              I’m confused. The OP says that this information was at the beginning of the second interview, after the first interview which was the phone interview. So the OP already knows they are one of the five. Presumably the strong candidate is too.

              1. Anon13

                That’s the way I read it, too, TheLazyB. I think the confusion is stemming from the fact that the second interview (the one with the five candidates, including the OP) was also conducted by phone. MK, I agree with the rest of your points.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        Everything MK said.

        And there’s no reason to think the other candidate skipped the earlier interview stages; I’d assume they were interviewed earlier and it’s their final interview that needs to be delayed. But even if that’s not the case, that’s totally the company’s prerogative. And there are legit reasons for skipping earlier stages with someone, like if you already know them/worked with them in the past. But even without reasons, it’s still the company’s call to structure their hiring process however they think best. That’s normal and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Their goal is to make the best hiring decision for themselves, according to the priorities they set; it’s not to provide a perfectly level playing field.

        The OP definitely should not ask that all the finalists be interviewed close together, or what makes the other person so strong. Both of those would come across as odd.

        1. GrandBargain

          No, I totally agree that it is up to the company to decide how to structure the interview process and that there might be very legitimate reasons for doing so in this case… no quibble there. Nor do they have an obligation to provide that level field. Just that it seems this particular process has a built in advantage toward one candidate over the others…

          So, does the OP have options that might level the field?

          1. DQ

            I’m not sure what you’re reading into the letter, but what I understood was that it went like this:

            – many candidates applied, including OP and SC (“Strong Candidate”)
            – OP, SC and 8 others were phone screened
            – OP, SC and 3 others were ID’d as top 5, and scheduled for interviews
            – SC interviewed before OP and during that interview said, “hey, I’ll be out of the country for a couple of weeks”)
            – Hiring manager thought SC was great and expects him or her to be one of the finalists, so is telling OP and the other 3, “we won’t be scheduling the final round for several weeks so don’t expect to hear anything from us until then”

            What built-in advantage do you see?

            1. GrandBargain

              I don’t see any advantage one way or the other in the situation you describe. However, I read the letter as saying that all the interviews (phone, in-person, and finalist) would be completed for the OP and other candidates before SC’s return. Then the hiring decision would be put on hold for a couple of weeks pending SC’s finalist interview.

              But, if the timeline is as you suggest, then I don’t see much there and the interviewer is simply saying she has another strong candidate (little sc) to consider.

            2. Anon13

              This is how I see it, as well, except my reading was that SC hadn’t yet had her 2nd interview (which will also be conducted by phone, which I think is confusing some people here). Regardless, I don’t see a big advantage for SC either way.

          2. flutterby68199

            As an HR/recruitment professional if a candidate asked me to do anything that you suggested it would certainly not make me look at them in a favorable light. However with that being said, no one is telling the writer to stop looking, when a company halts the hiring process for any reason they know they run the risk of losing talented and qualified candidates. I have been in a situation where my hiring leaders halted the process and we had to start the process all over again because the top 2 candidates both went off the market.

      3. Artemesia

        If a candidate started telling me how to structure my hiring practices they would be dropped immediately from consideration. I cannot tell you how deeply out of line this sort of thing appears to me. The OP is not entitled to the process she most approves of — she is entitled to whatever the hiring manager is offering. An OP who wants to start bossing the hiring manager’s practices before a job offer or even making the finals is going to be a nightmare on the job.

      4. crazy8s

        Be careful trying to tell a company how to run their hiring process. I personally would not like the implication that we (HR) had not thought of these issues and could not factor them into our selection process. From what the OP wrote, it sounds to me like the company is being communicative and upfront about what is going on. I don’t think you can expect more than that.

  2. So Very Anonymous

    Re #2: I’m wondering what “working 30%” means? Is your friend employed full-time and expected to spend 30% of their time teaching (with the other 70% spent on research and service, for example), or are they working part-time as an adjunct or something similar? It’s an unfortunate reality that adjuncts/part-time instructors often may not be given office space, especially if there’s a space shortage. If your friend is working full-time, I can understand their concern, but if it’s a part-time time position, desk sharing may just be the reality of the situation.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian

      This. My college is short on space right now, so we have a couple of situations where three adjuncts share an office with two desks in it. We are in the process of hiring two to three additional instructors for a program expected to double in enrollment, and since those instructors will be full-time, their office needs will take precedence over that of the adjuncts. Our current situation is that full-time faculty do not share offices. I don’t know what it going to happen when we’re at capacity, but I’m sure the doctoral students and adjunct instructors will be affected first.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        Our adjuncts and doctoral students are the only ones in the college who all have shared offices inside the departmental suite; other departments have had to house their adjuncts and doctoral students in ad hoc office spaces throughout our four-building college. So that’s probably what we’ll end up having to do. The college is currently working on a big room with ten to fifteen desks in it that, when finished, will be for doctoral students’ hot-desk office space. We’re going to build an additional building to expand, but that will take a long time, so meanwhile we’re forced into less-than-ideal solutions.

    2. Libervermis

      This. It’s unfortunate that your friend was simply informed of the desk-share situation, but it’s not uncommon. Office space in my grad program was recently reshuffled to free up two offices for tenure-track faculty, and several of the 8 grad students who used to be in those offices are sharing desks in other offices.

      I don’t know what kind of advice you were looking for to give your friend, but unless your friend is full time, tenure-track faculty I don’t recommend making a fuss about it. Use the desk for office hours and either find somewhere else to work or negotiate with the desk buddy about who is going to be there when. There are plenty of more valuable hills to die on in academia, and space is almost always at a premium on college campuses.

      1. Adjunct Gal

        I’m in a desk share situation now as an adjunct, which is fine, even though I had the cubicle to myself last semester. I expect that. The problem for me is who I get to share it with, which is a whole other kettle of fish.

        I say, as long as adjuncts can have a space, shared or not, at least to be able to meet with students and do prep, then we’re doing okay, at least in that regard.

      2. Another Academic Librarian

        Also, unless they are full-time, tenure-track faculty, there is no expectation that they will do research, publish, or be active in committee or other service work. This means that their office is just for class prep and scheduled office hours. Anything other than that would have to be negotiated with their officemates… But I would probably recommend they scope out other places on campus instead–such as the library, which may have study rooms, quiet floors and/ or solo carrels that would suit their purposes.

    3. Today's anon

      Yes, it’s totally normal where I am for adjuncts or other part-time non-faculty workers to share desks and computer workstations (they each have their own login). However adjuncts do not usually have any expectation of research or publishing, they are usually there only for when they are teaching and/or the hours they are supposed to be working. There is also no expectation that they will attend department meetings or other college meetings; they may, if they want to but they are not required.

  3. Jerry Vandesic

    With regard to #2, it could be that they are expecting more than 30% out of the employee. This is common in academic settings. I had a 50% appointment when I was in grad school, but my advisor expected me to be working full time. I was at my desk much more than 20 hours a week.

    1. EddieSherbert

      I’m not in academia but this makes sense to me – if the school/boss is thinking “they’re only here 12ish hours a week and mostly in class,” sharing a desk seems reasonable. But if Friend knows they will really be there like and extra 10ish hours a week working at the computer, sharing a desk is tough!

      Again, no idea if that’s the situation, but this setup makes a lot of sense to me, and wasn’t something I’d think of on my own (being in a different industry). Thanks, Jerry!

  4. AcademiaNut

    For the desk question, I think it depends a bit on what they mean by sharing.

    If the LW’s friend gets office space to use on the day when they are teaching, but not on the other days, then given a space crunch that seems pretty reasonable – they can plan to use it to meet with students, prepare classes and mark, and work from home on the other days. If the sharing doesn’t have a schedule attached to it, then it would be unreasonable and annoying to not know when the desk is useable, and would make it difficult to schedule visits with students, or plan to prepare classes or mark when on campus.

    If I were to guess, I suspect that the level of indignation might be a mismatch in how the position is viewed, if the LW’s friend is hoping to end up with a full time research or teaching position, and sees this as a step to getting it, she could expect reasonable support for her research, like office space. But if her employers see her only as an affordable part-time instructor, they would see no need for that.

    Part time teaching and contract sessional work can be a pretty brutal system, with the lecturers desperately holding on to hope that they will eventually get a tenure track, full time position, and the administration regarding them as cheap disposable labour.

    1. Today's anon

      But that demonstrates a lack of understanding of how tenure track positions are filled in my opinion, where there is usually a search, and the results have to be vetted by other larger committees. I’ve never seen a “you prove yourself and then you are tenure track” kind of progression. Certainly, if we know you, that can be to your advantage but I can’t just offer you a tenure track job because you are terrific, as much as I’d love to.

      1. Unemployed

        This is more of the way in a community college. Adjuncts work for a while and when someone retired, usually adjuncts are considered first. But in an RO1 school, it would be a full search. In adjunct scenario sharing a desk is fine. In R01, nope.

        1. Bang on the Drum All Day

          Tensure track positions are extremely competitive at the community college level these days. They are hired for explicitly.

      2. AcademiaNut

        Oh, definitely. But for someone who is hoping to get a tenure track position, keeping up with research is important – if you’re not publishing, you don’t have a chance. So I can see someone taking an adjunct position to stay in the field, with the plan that they’ll spend the time they’re not teaching doing research and writing papers. Essentially, trying to function as if it were a research position, but with the research part unpaid. Having office space makes that much easier. Being told that you don’t rate your own desk would be an unpleasant splash of reality.

        My view is that the reason universities can get away with staffing their teaching with underpaid, disposable adjuncts is that they’re paying in hope. The people taking the jobs are doing so because it’s still connected to academia, and they are hoping that they can hang on long enough to get a long term position. But the longer they’re scraping by in short term teaching contracts, the lower the chances of getting a faculty position. It’s like the unpaid internship and maybe you’ll get a job in the future trap, but for people with PhDs.

  5. Miles

    #2: Your friend is likely just upset because s/he feels like the desk was promised and now has been taken away. I’d argue it has little to do with practicality and almost everything with an emotional response to loss of resources. (Though desk space can have a big effect on workflow… A desk that nobody else has access to is a place to store things that need grading without worrying about regulation and confidential information being seen by people who aren’t supposed to see it.)

      1. BRR

        I was thinking the same thing. Most adjuncts I know doesn’t have any space (assuming the person is an adjunct).

        1. Adjunct Gal

          And that’s something adjuncts should really fight for. Mine got taken away, and then I was given space back because I took on some other responsibilities (though not even close to approaching full time work). But we need to meet with students, and not being able to have private space to discuss grades and whatnot, to me, is a HUGE FERPA concern. We should be shouting that loud and clear.

          1. Lew

            In addition to FERPA, At my institution holding office hours is a senate requirement… I can’t imagine that “I’ll be in the cafeteria between 10 and noon” would satisfy the admin higher-ups. (To add to the chorus for the OP, our adjuncts also get shared desks and office space, even ones that have been there for years.)

            1. Nerfmobile

              Actually, at the R1 university I attended as a grad student, I knew several faculty members who held office hours in various coffee shops around campus. It’s certainly not appropriate for all disciplines (those math-y types need their blackboards) but if you’re talking about poetry, say, it usually does just fine.

              1. sarah

                Yeah, when I was a TA in grad school, I definitely sometimes did my office hours in cafes or other public spaces (we had a big open room for all grad students to hold office hours, but it wasn’t the nicest space). I think if a student had a confidential matter to discuss, I could have booked a private room on campus, but it wouldn’t have been “my” space.

          2. Cat steals keyboard

            No idea what FERPA is (am in UK) but I had a room to do office hours. It just wasn’t in any way *my* office.

            1. SarahTheEntwife

              FERPA is the legal requirement to keep academic records confidential — if you’re just talking about a student’s research paper, I’m not sure if FERPA applies (though it would certainly be awkward and distracting to have to do so in a busy public area), but if there’s any sort of grade-related discussion it could potentially be a big liability.

    1. Caity

      I adjuncted at a school where there was a large room with unassigned cubicles, assigned mailboxes, and a couple of admin staff, so when you worked in there you’d choose an open cube and tell the admin “hey I’m expecting some students, I’m in the back to the left” and she’s direct them your way when they arrived. Students could also turn in stuff to the admin and she’d time/date stamp it for you and leave it in your mailbox. It worked pretty well.

  6. MillersSpring

    #1 You could focus your resume on highlighting the responsibility you’ve been given over a wide range of areas with no need to claim expertise you don’t have. Something like, “Gained skills in social media, program management, and writing grant reports. Entrusted with a wide range of responsibilities as the organization evolved. Run X successful projects while managing Y and Z during an interim period.” Etc. Start to see these three years as a time when you had to be a self-starter who worked autonomously and dived into myriad projects. This is great experience even if you didn’t hone any particular skills. Good luck!

    1. Kate M

      Yes, focus on the things you have done, in the context of the final product.

      So you could say: “Scheduled, researched, wrote, and edited grant proposals that 75% of the time ended up being successful.” (To me, that sounds like you did the whole process minus pressing the send button, but I don’t really know what more there is to grant proposals. But focus on what you did within the project).

      For what it’s worth, there are plenty of positions that sort of include “social media management,” which is just managing a company’s social media pages and outreach. Plenty of roles don’t have to have more in depth knowledge of things like SEO. That’s not going to be a pure social media job, but a lot of roles like “coordinator” or something loop in a lot of those responsibilities. So you could definitely point out “managed non-profit’s Twitter and Facebook pages, and increased interactions by x%.”

      1. Leah

        Re: the grant stuff – the letter writer is talking about writing reports for activities performed under existing grants, rather than writing proposals for new grants.

        1. Kate M

          Ah gotcha! I was confused about that point.

          But OP, you could still talk about what you did in the project. There are plenty of people who pick up part of projects as part of their work – in fact it might even be more common than someone who does an entire project from start (the proposal) to finish (the final product given to the client or published or whatever). Plenty of people mainly work on proposals, or research, or editing, or the budget of a certain project, or scheduling. You don’t have to be able to claim to be able to do everything there is in a job in order to point to accomplishments.

    2. sam

      Yes – you could also highlight in, say, an interview that while it wasn’t a core part of your job, because of the small nature of the organization you took on certain responsibilities in other areas that really helped you gain an understanding not just of those “jobs” but of how the larger organization works. (If true, of course!)

      A lot of people end up in jobs where they have deep knowledge of their specific job, but no wider knowledge of the system/company. Play up the latter angle as something that was valuable.

      (I speak from some experience – I’ve had the opportunity to work on a few projects at my company waaaaay outside my traditional area of expertise, but which gave me a chance to work with people in the actual ‘businesses’ – people in my own department now come to me to figure out who to talk to elsewhere in the company and I’ve got relationships with people deep in the company that I can leverage for various things)

  7. Jane

    #1 – Man oh man, do I feel your pain. In my case, it was 10 years at one job and 4 years at the next (and I fully believe I was hired at the second place because I had several key contacts who recommended me for the position). Now here I am, looking for a new job and feeling like I have zero transferable skills because both of those jobs were just so…weird.

    As Allison recommends, I craft my resume depending on the position – I have one version for marketing coordinator, one for event planning, one for product management, one for copywriter/editor, etc. That tactic has proven pretty effective – I’m getting a healthy number of replies from employers wanting an interview. In fact just today I heard from an agency I’d applied to for Social Media Content Developer – which led to a different issue – they requested writing samples and I don’t have anything usable from prior jobs, so I’ve written sample pieces to show my style and voice. I think you’ll be surprised at how well you can tailor your work history to fit different job descriptions, and since you’ve been a jack-of-all-trades and performed a lot of your work independently and without supervision, it will probably come to you pretty easily. Good luck!

    1. TJ

      This. I worked for a small nonprofit 15 years and the responsibilities became disjointed after time, just like OP. I created multiple versions of my resume depending on what job I was applying for. Lo and behold, my new job uses many skills that I learned over time at the old job, it’s been so rewarding to be able to say, “I know how to do that” to my supervisor.
      Best of luck OP.

  8. matcha123

    #1 reminds me of me. I don’t think I can even get as high as an 80% match on requirements for most jobs I see. What’s worse is that I’ve been working full-time for 10 years. Very frustrating feeling.

  9. KWu

    LW1:
    If you’ve been building skills, you haven’t been wasting your time. Sure, it might not have been perfectly optimized, but that’s just hindsight talking. As MillersSpring said above, being skilled at “can figure things out in an unstructured environment” is desperately needed and widely transferrable! Some additional ideas for you:

    Think more about what you’ve accomplished, vs the patchwork of stuff you’re responsible for. If you don’t have this yet, start keeping a series of write-ups about all the projects you’ve been spearheading and driving and keeping alive, that if it weren’t for you, would be worse off. Make sure to include context of why the project was important (why should people who aren’t familiar with your domain care about this) and who benefitted (whose lives, internal & external were improved because of your ideas and work.

    Remind yourself that “not knowing 100%” isn’t the same as “knows nothing.” You may not know how SEO works…for now. But you know it is a thing, you’re even aware it’s an expectation other people might have, and so just armed with, if you needed to, I’m sure you are capable of learning more about it. A candid awareness of where you need to grow to be more well-rounded—this is fine, and better than many people who are overly confident in themselves. The thing for me about imposter syndrome and Dunning-Kruger and all that is I think that if you aren’t occasionally (but non-cripplingly) worried about whether you’re competent, you should be worried. Otherwise it’s normal, because everyone else looks more confident than how you feel about yourself, but your brain is lying to you and not comparing the right things.

    Specifically for figuring out which skills and how to talk about them for other areas: try to describe what you do to someone else and have them help pick out what to highlight that’s transferrable. Even if you are in the non-profit world now, hopefully you have some friends amongst us in the for-profit world :) or think about it as if your job were being done by another friend and how you would talk up that friend to someone else. Sometimes my friends at my old job would trade doing performance review self-assessments and write a first draft for each other. Turns out it’s *way* easier to describe what someone else is doing than what you are doing, when you have worries about overselling yourself. Good luck!

    LW3:
    I just wanted to say that I’m with you in being bewildered by why people would say something that it seems clear to me isn’t in alignment with what they actually did. People are very, very bad at seeing where they are being inconsistent.

      1. Simms

        I think it is less the “We miss you” than the constant “we miss you” combined with “it is going to be so difficult to replace you/don’t want you to go”.

          1. MK

            A rant would be a terrible idea, but if this is causing the OP such bad feelings, it might be a good thing if they put a damper on such conversations, like EB mentions below. As is, when told they miss you and it’s hard to replace you, don’t smile and thank them and say you miss them too, but go “well, I am sure the person you chose is doing a great job too, and I am very excited to be where I am”.

            1. JM in England

              To give another job/dating life analogy, the best way to get “revenge” on an ex is to let them see how happy you are in your new situation…………….

        1. Chris P.

          Hi, I’m the original poster. Yes. It’s the “difficult to replace you” really, and thinking I was being cut out of the work. The good news is that I did discover a few days I am not: the project was pushed back because they lost my expertise, and actually asked for my help one last time. I did, because of the project.

          I agree I should let it go, it wasn’t personal. It would just be easier had so four out of the five people told me to go for it, even after I said “Hey, I think I’m not going to apply” and the person they hired had a lesser skill set than me with the exception of one, targeted project.

          But this is good advice here, and thank you, Allison. I appreciate getting my head around it. I’ll focus on making my new job awesome.

          1. MK

            Hmm. You know, that even makes more sense. Suppose that, for this job, expertise at A was crucial, skills at B and C important and knowledge of D and E preferable but not essential; suppose that you had all of the skills and were better than the other candidate at B, C, D and E, while they were a superstar at A and adequate at B, C and D and didn’t have skill at E. If so, it makes sense to choose the other candidate, in fact, they might have felt they “had to” pick them, given they had an edge at the most important part of the job. That doesn’t mean that your former coworkers won’t miss how good you were at B, C and D and your expertise at E.

          2. EB

            Sounds like they made the mistaken assumption that they would get to keep the both of you.

            I can see a department thinking that since they already had you on the payroll they would hire someone to augment the skillet of the department members already on the payroll.

            My response to the “difficult to replace you” talk would be to say something like “I really enjoyed working here, but as you know I’ve been on the job market looking to move to a FT position for the last year, so I just can’t pass up this opportunity.”

            1. Layla

              If I read the letter correctly, they could but LW chose to move on.

              It’s like bosses deliberately keeping employees at lower level because they need someone good at that low level , not thinking of the need for growth for their employees.

  10. Joanna

    Re #1, if you frame it correctly, you could present being able and willing to quickly learn things outside your key responsibilities as a big assets. Lots of jobs involve sometimes doing things that are outside the key responsibilities but many people are stubborn about learning new things or are well meaning but slow learners.

    As for the gaps in your knowledge on things like SEO or grant writing, perhaps you could consider something like listening to podcasts or audiobooks on the topics while you commute or work out. This won’t make you an expert, but it will hopefully get you to the point where you can have an intelligent conversation on the topic, do a few basic things and be able to make specific, informed requests to specialists working on the projects.

    1. Beezus

      I was coming here to say this, too! Being flexible and being a quick learner and being able to work autonomously is a huge asset – it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people and is difficult to train. If you’re going to use that, though, think a little more about why you’re leaving and what you want out of your next role, because it’s kind of at odds with what you said in your letter about wanting something more structured with defined responsibilities. It sounds like that flexibility is your strong suit for now; you might do better for yourself if you make this job change more of a three-point turn than a U-turn – shoot for a role where you might have to be willing to take on new challenges and fly by the seat of your pants a bit, but maybe to a lesser degree than you are now, and/or with more mentorship. In that role, focus on gaining some more focused skills that you can use going forward.

      I had to do that with my last job change – my job was everything coffee, it was a teapot company with a coffee side business, but no one cared about or wanted to be involved in coffee, so I had to handle a wide range of things. I was able to transfer to a corporate governance team that wanted someone who understood coffee. I really didn’t want anything to do with coffee anymore, but I had to grit my teeth and do some coffee related things for a few months, while taking time to teach my new teammates things about coffee, and learning about the teapot side of the business. Two years on, almost none of my work is coffee related, I’m considered too valuable to work directly on coffee stuff unless there’a a coffee crisis, and in a few months we’re making some drastic changes to our coffee business that will render most of my coffee knowledge void, and I won’t even be my team’s expert on coffee anymore.

    2. MinB

      Yes, this! Being willing and able to pick up new skills is a valuable skill! Play it up!

      #1, I just left a position almost exactly like the one you described – I started out part time in a small nonprofit’s education department, helping coordinate classes and instructors. As people left over the next three years, I went full time and added on everything from graphic design to HR functions to webmaster to IT to facilities, most of which I had to train myself how to do.

      This summer, I started job searching because the lack of focus was burning me out and I made sure I emphasized that I was a fast learner and really interested in learning and growing. I also made sure to apply to organizations that mentioned valuing continuing education and training. I ended up focusing on roles related to my webmaster/marketing duties since those were the areas I most enjoyed.

      That worked out – I was able to explain in interviews that being exposed to all those different responsibilities let me see what I actually wanted to do and now that I know what I want to do, I’m looking for a more focused role in that area. I just finished my first week at my new job and I’m so glad that I took the leap. Good luck, OP1!

  11. Nobody

    #1 – I think your smorgasbord of responsibilities could actually be advantageous in some ways. First of all, many places do behavioral interviews where they say, “Tell me about a time when you…” With your wide variety of projects and responsibilities, I bet you will have no problem coming up with examples for this type of question. Even if you don’t have a 100% match, or even 80% match, I think a lot if employers will think it’s a plus that you’ve proven yourself to be adaptable and a fast learner. You can really improve your chances by tailoring your resume for each job you apply for, and focusing on the responsibilities and accomplishments most relevant to each job (I suggest keeping a master list and selecting the best ones for each job from there).

  12. Unicorn Horn

    Alison, lately I have been getting ads on here that try to redirect me to the App Store. I don’t know if anyone else has this problem?

    (I am on an iPhone)

    1. Miaw

      I have exactly the same issue. Browsing aam with iphone is just impossible because I keep getting redirected

    2. Chocolate lover

      I just downloaded an ad blocker browser to my droid specifically for reading this site. I couldn’t close out the ads and would sometimes take me to the store also.

    3. Anonymousaur

      Same. This has been happening on and off for months now – I’ve left comments about it before. It’s become literally impossible to even visit/read the site on my phone at all when this happens.

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes, they come in ebbs and flows. There’s been a new influx of them the past week and my ad network has been working on it.

      That said, I ask that you use the ad reporting form that’s link above the comments box rather than alerting me here in the comments (because I don’t read every comment and may not see it, and because the form collects all the info I need to report them).

  13. alexa

    OP #1
    I was in a very similar position. I spent my 20s working for a small non-profit with 3 employees. We all had a lot of crossover and varied responsibilities. I was the events manager for some very large scale events, but didn’t want another job in event managing. I was able to dissect the skills that I had and translate them to a marketing position.

    It was discouraging when it seemed like none of the jobs I was interested in matched what I was doing now. But if you break down the skills that are required for the bulk of the position you can sell yourself as a good fit-just be prepared with great examples of how you used your skills. Good Luck!

  14. Rob Lowe can't read

    I can definitely relate to LW #3, and I think Alison’s advice is really sound. I was passed over for a higher position at my first job out of graduate school, and while I could concede even then that the (several) people they hired into the vacant higher positions were well-qualified, it still stung! Because my lower position was at high risk of elimination, I decided to start job-hunting (and was upfront with my boss about it), and then I started getting comments from coworkers about how great I was in my lower position, how I was the Jr. Teapots Assistant of choice, how they knew they could trust me to do Sr. Teapots Assistant caliber work, etc. And even though these never came from my boss (the one with hiring/promoting power), it was like…why don’t you promote me to Sr. Teapots Assistant then?!?!

    Moving on is important. I feel lucky that I was hired for a really great job elsewhere, and for me that was a huge part of being able to move on.

  15. BRR

    #1 i would make a master list of your accomplishments. then wen you find a job you are interested in, copy and paste those into your resume. The variety in your role can be an advantage because you can apply for a wider variety of positions.

    1. CMT

      This is a good idea. I have a running email of “resume things” that I add to when I’m inspired. I keep meaning to put them all into one giant master resume that I can pick and choose from as I apply to different jobs.

  16. CWM

    To LW #1: I second Alison’s advice. Similar to you, for two years I worked at a very small nonprofit where I did a little bit of everything. Then I suddenly had to find another job, and ended up applying for a position that required teapot marketing experience, which I didn’t have. I got a call for an interview, where I was honest about not knowing much about teapot marketing. The hiring manager said she was willing to teach that part of the job but really wanted someone who could write, which I could. I ended up getting the job. So like Alison said, don’t think you have to be able to do 100 percent of the job description; most people can’t. Find a description where you can do 80 percent and stress in your cover letter you are a quick learner who can pick up the rest easily, and give examples from your current job. Good luck!

  17. Violet Fox

    #2, I work at a university department, and we are very short on space. For people who have non-fulltime positions hot desking is very much a thing, and very normal. Each person though does get a private, locking storage area even though they don’t get their own desk.

    But yeah #2, that’s pretty normal for a 30% position.

  18. Letter Writer #1

    Hey, writer of letter 1 here! I hear you all about presenting the various responsibilities I have now as a strength, but the thing is, I really don’t LIKE that aspect of my job and would prefer not to work in a similar environment next time around. Of course I know not to say that in so many words in an interview, but I’d also hate to give a false impression that I love that kind of multitasking. I’d much rather have fewer areas of responsiblity and more time to work on them!

    1. whippers

      I had a really similar experience at my last job and it too left me with huge anxiety as to what my job actually was. It must be a non-profit thing! How about thinking about what things you really enjoy doing at your current job (say 3 or 4 major responsibilities) and focussing on jobs that include those things in their job description. You don’t have to mention all your other responsibilities in your application, but really focus in on how you you do meet their criteria.

    2. Persephone Mulberry

      Whippers said exactly what in was going to advise. This is your opportunity to take a critical look at what your skills and responsibilities are, and cheery pick what it is is you WANT to do next. I was also in a similar role (it’s not just nonprofits!) and that’s usually how i framed my answer to “why are you leaving your current position”: because I’m really interested in area X and I only get to do a little bit of it now.

      I also used my jill-of-all-trades skills to spin why I’d be able to quickly pick up a new role that I have less experience in.

    3. MillersSpring

      If you don’t want to ever have umpteen responsibilities again, you still can highlight that you’ve been given with a wide range of duties. Trust me: it makes you look adaptable, trustworthy and level-headed. Applying for jobs with narrow scopes shows that you want to focus on one role. You also can state in a cover letter and in interviews that you are seeking a role with a more narrow focus, but that you’re proud that the current organization trusted you over and again. You absolutely can spin this very positively but still avoid similar roles for your future.

    4. Rika

      Hey OP, it’s as if I’m hearing myself. I’ve been in the exact same situation not so long ago. I too hated that aspect of my job and after I was let go (due to cut backs) I too was worried about the patchwork nature of the job I had just left. But after a while I realized just how much I could turn this to my advantage. Where most others have done one type of work for years you have gained a myriad of experiences and skills. You are now employable in many fields. That’s how you should look at it. And it really doesn’t matter that you didn’t do each type of work full time: a skill is a skill. Do as Alison and many others here have suggested: taylor your resume to each job you apply to (I have five different resumes by now). Don’t leave out information, just put the most relevant work experience at the top. Basically what you want to do is rearrange the info on your resume for each different purpose.
      I just landed a job in data maintenance at a publishing house for school books. I have never worked in data maintenance or publishing before, but maintaining a database was one of many parts of my last job, and I just so happened to have experience with the right software.

      One more tip: I don’t know if it’s customary in the US to list all your responsibilities per job on your resume. It is in my part of the world. In order to make the load of different responsibilities in my last job look more comprehensible on my resume I tried to look at them as a whole. It struck me that they basically covered every area of running an antique coin business. So that’s exactly how I introduced them. I put “basically everything needed tot run a coin shop: (… and then a list of responsibilities…)”. I found that with this introduction the at first strange seeming cocktail of tasks made a lot more sense to prospective employers.

    5. Mreasy

      Here is another positive spin: when you get to the point in your career where you’re applying for GM/ED level positions, even if you’ve had more siloed-skillset jobs in between now and then, it will make you both a more desirable candidate and a better director/manager to have working knowledge of many areas/departments. I’ve had a patchwork of experience in my field, and now as a GM, I am able to understand and work with the needs of other departments more knowledgeably than some of my peers, because I have done those jobs, and understand exactly what those departments want/need from someone in my role & the other roles I direct. Even a small amount of understanding with a broader scope will really help you stand out, and help you in the day to day, even if that point in your career is a decade away.

  19. Wildflower

    I could have written #3. I have to leave my student job (graduated in the spring) at the end of this week, and when my immediate boss left her entry level job, I wasn’t chosen to fill the spot. Now they say “what are we going to do without you” and “I don’t know how we’ll ever train someone to replace you” and similar things that feel pretty empty. They went with the best candidate and I’m sure he’ll do well there, it’s just really frustrating. Especially since I haven’t had much other luck with my job search and I’m going to be unemployed in a week.

    1. Not really a newish lurker anymore...

      My job went with someone else, who’s currently burning bridges like crazy. I got my one snarky “you should have hired me!” in to someone not in the hiring process and now I’m just waiting to see what happens.

  20. MissDisplaced

    #1 I think you will be a “better fit” for some jobs than you think you are.
    As others said, think very hard and write down the skills you DO have. Organize these into different areas, say “social media,” “marketing,” “event planning,” etc, as well as things that can be transferrable to any position, such as project management, writing, etc.
    Also, I think that given your jack of all trades training, YOU need to decide what area you want to delve deeper into (unless you actually want another jack of all trades type position). Are you more interested in communications versus marketing? Grant writing? Program management? They are all pretty different things: which one do YOU want to pursue?
    Once you answer that question for yourself, you can begin to gain some additional skills in that area. For example you mention social media and SEO. If you interest truly lies in that area, well you can “skill” yourself as there is a wealth of self-training available out there, including training and certification in things like Google Analytics. Also, as you’re still employed, you can try to take on those specific goals or projects while at your job to have some hard examples you can point to. (such as a social media campaign you create and track)
    I know it feels overwhelming now, but you will find your niche.

  21. Just Another Manager

    #3, if you’re open to constructive feedback you could ask for that on why you weren’t chosen for the full time position. Whether you agree with the feedback or not, you might feel better knowing the reasons. Anyway, I’ve always found that getting a promotion from within is harder than leaving to get a promotion somewhere else. It seems like you can get pigeonholed into a certain position and no one can see you doing more.

  22. Jane

    #2 Key thing is whether they are sharing an empty desk with others, or they are using someone else’s desk e.g. the desk ‘owned’ by another part-timer.

    I shared a desk with a jobshare partner. She was appointed before me and worked more hours (basically I was appointed to fill in the hours she didn’t work). Theorectically we shared a desk, but the reality was that I worked at her desk, which was decorated with photos of her children, her cuddly toys, her cosmetics, etc. It was horribly ackward, especially when anyone came to see me at work, as I’m not the sort of person to have trinkets on my desk.

    Could your friend find out the ground rules for this shared space, e.g. Do staff have lockers, drawers, or a filing cabinet to store their personal belonging? Is it expected that they will clear away their work at the end of their hours, etc.

    1. Kate the Little Teapot

      Totally agreed! Ground rules for desk sharing are as important as roommate ground rules.

      Where I went to grad school, all the adjuncts and grad students shared a few different offices. There were nominally desk assignments and people would use the drawers, but it was sort of assumed that you shouldn’t leave lots of things on top of your desk because if two of the occupants of another desk were both there and having office hours, one of them might need the surface to meet with students.

      Ask to see where the shared desks are.

  23. emma2

    #3: I totally sympathize with this OP because I just got out of a similar situation – I was doing contract work, everyone loved me, I really wanted to replace the full-time employee who left for grad school, but in my case I didn’t even get an interview. I am also more qualified on paper than the person they ended up hiring.

    I totally get that another candidate can be qualified in other ways, and that a company can really like you as a contractor/part-time worker while still preferring another person for the full-time role. But it’s still really annoying to see the whole thing play out before your very eyes. The resentment led me to leaving the company and signing on another contract with a different company. I think something that also contributes to my resentment is the number of times I have heard from career counselors and mentors “It’s all about who you know! There are people with less credentials than you who get hired just because they know someone in the company!” when in my case, having connections AND credentials counted for nothing!

  24. Former English Adjunct

    No. 2, about sharing a desk: A 30 percent appointment is probably an adjunct appointment, that is, not tenure track and subject to annual renewal. I taught for 14 semesters this way and always shared a desk with other adjuncts.

    I’d be more surprised if this sharing expectation was not the case. Your friend should get over it.

  25. Kate the Little Teapot

    #2 – Your friend might be able to get a reserved carrel in the library for work or study! Different schools are different about this – I had one for all 5 years at my undergrad, and I would constantly study there, but my grad school didn’t have them. Worth asking about though.

  26. Tiny_Tiger

    OP #1: You have all my sympathy on that front. I’m in a similar boat with my job. I’m actively searching for a new job with a company that I have an “in” with, but trying to figure out my resume is a nightmare. At my current job I basically do 3 jobs in 1: clerk, administrative assistant, and buyer. My title is still “clerk” but that only accounts for maybe 40% of the work I do. The rest is carried over from when I was the administrative assistant and they never felt the need to replace me. The best advice I have is fill in the skills immediately relevant to your current title first then add the additional skills you’ve acquired.

  27. Critter

    #3 – I totally sympathize. Something similar happened to me a couple of years ago – I was temping for a company, and I bounced around between a couple of different departments for about a year. Positions would open up – one of them I was temping for. “Yeah go ahead and apply!” “They said I can’t have an assistant now, but if I can open up a position again I’ll be knocking down your door.” They did open up a position, got another person from the same agency I was working with! And nothing. It did chap my ass for a time, but eventually I found a full time job somewhere else that ended up being a much better fit in a ton of ways. Letting it go (as much as I could) was the best thing.

  28. Kate

    Re #1: I’ve been working in nonprofits for my whole career (6 years out of college) and I feel your pain! But, I think it’s key to realize that SO MANY nonprofits operate like this! They move people around as they have needs because they are understaffed. So when you’re applying to other positions, I think it’s important to stress your flexibility, your ability to quickly learn new skills, your willingness to do a wide variety of tasks, etc.. And I find that when I’m networking, and people ask me about my job, I have a few different ways to explain it, depending on who my audience is, and I always say, “I do [this], but I also handle [this & this]. You know how it goes… I wear a LOT of hats!” And people usually laugh and nod understandingly. The point is- you’re not alone, and even your skill at handling all your random jobs is a transferable skill! Don’t be discouraged!

  29. YetAnotherAlison

    #2: This is soooooo normal in higher ed. I’ve worked at 5 institutions and they all had some sort of space-sharing setup for non-full-time faculty.

Comments are closed.