when the job you’re interviewing for keeps changing

A reader writes:

I am currently interviewing for a job and I think I may get the offer. I just finished up my third and final interview and expect to be notified soon.

However, I am struggling because the position has been described differently by different interviewers and does not seem to match the job description. The job description states that the position is primarily administrative. It was made clear to me, when I met with the executive director, that actually it is a fundraising position, including grant-writing and soliciting major gifts. But in my second and third interview (with a board member and the organization’s founder, respectively), they stated that it was less focused on fundraising, more on administration, with some overlap. In my last interview, when I asked the founder for clarity, he said he would have to speak to the executive director.

If the job description says one thing, the executive director says another, and other staff say something else, what do I do? I need more clarity before I accept the role. I’d be happy with it either way, as I enjoy and am good at both administration and fundraising, but I want to know what I’m getting into. How should I ask for this clarification? Should I ask for an updated job description? Or for something written into my contract?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Specialk9

    I’d be concerned that even with an updated job description, they will still expect OP to do whatever they want. In many jobs, “that’s not in my position description” is seen as very aggressive and uncooperative. (Though some jobs are the opposite, like govt or union jobs.)

    Reply
    1. Amber T

      Yeah, if Bob think’s someone’s coming to help with grant-writing, but Susan thinks she’s getting administrative support, and Velouria thinks she’s getting help with front desk coverage, and all of this is supposed to be 50% of the job… I think the biggest question here, as Alison’s points out, is *what* is causing the miscommunication among the people interviewing you, and if it’s anything less than what you’re 97.5% comfortable with, I’d say “thanks but no thanks.”

      Reply
        1. NotAnotherManager!

          Agree – I would be really hesitant to take this job because everyone’s expectation seem too widely flung to be able to meet them.

          I also loathe things like soliciting donations, so I would be super ticked about taking a job I thought was administrative and basically having to do sales.

          Reply
    2. PizzaSquared

      My philosophy in my career has been to take job descriptions as marketing materials. They roughly outline the job, but they present it in the best possible terms. And at the end of the day, what matters is the understanding between you and your manager about what you’re supposed to be doing. In my experience it is not common to refer back to the written job description once someone is hired — at that point it’s all about working with your manager to set and manage expections. Very few jobs are set in stone, and over-reliance on a written job description is not a recipe for success IMHO.

      That said, I 100% agree that you need to hash out discrepancies before accepting a job. It’s highly unlikely that it’s going to become MORE clear once you start…

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        Exactly. Mine has always been a starting point, and reality has sometimes diverged quite a bit.

        Reply
  2. Treecat

    If you can, this is a very important thing to try and clarify now. My organization lost a really good employee 9 months after he started his job because what he ended up doing was really different than the original job description, and he was not happy about it. This totally was not on him–sadly the director for his department is known for pulling this kind of thing. (Why the org keeps this director is another question entirely… sigh.)

    Reply
    1. Angela B.

      Same here! I was hired a year ago at the same time as another person, both under the same job description and at the same level but one in the main office (other person) and one in the satellite office (me). It turned out that by virtue of being in the main office, the other person was doing a totally different job than what was described in the posting and by my boss when he hired her–and she left last week. And again, really this was on the boss and the deputy boss for not making it clear that her day to day focus would be on one particular project that wasn’t what she signed up for. It’s so crazy to me though because we had completely different onboarding and supervisory experiences with these same people, hers was abysmal and mine was pretty good. Go figure.

      Reply
  3. Mockingjay

    This seems typical of roles in small organizations, when they need a lot of help but have dollars for only one body.

    If they say the role will be a mixed bag of responsibilities, ask what percentage of the work each task encompasses. And drill for details. Fundraising duties might be as simple as envelope stuffing, to making cold calls, setting up a dinner, to working directly with donors and writing grants. Administrative duties are wide-ranging – receptionist to office manager to EA. Which role fits this job?

    Also, find out who you will report to. If the role is ‘shared’ by the senior leadership, who resolves competing priorities for your time?

    Reply
    1. Turquoisecow

      Yeah, it’s also possible that they need a person, but they haven’t quite worked out what the person will do. I’d think it would be hard to hire for a role if you don’t know what the role encompasses, and indeed this often ends with both sides being confused and wanting to end the employment.

      OP, are they asking different types of questions? Does one person ask admin type questions and another asks fundraising questions? Which will be your direct boss? Is there a clear hierarchy? Often at small organizations, these clear hierarchical lines get blurred, so even if you report to the person in charge of fundraising, and that person wants you to fundraise, other people might ask you to do administrative tasks. Is the boss going to step in and shut this down, making it clear that fundraising takes priority, or are you going to be expected to do whatever tasks are thrown at you, regardless of type or requester?

      Reply
    2. Lil Fidget

      Yeah but it can also be a red flag – they only have the dollars for a junior level position, but the work is more senior, so they’re going to hire an admin at minimum wage and then request them to do grants management and funder solicitation.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        I too noticed the significant difference between admin work and fundraising. My friend does fundraising and is amazing at it, but it’s a skillset she’s developed over years. Admin can often be an entry level job (though it can be more senior, eg admin for an executive is usually pretty darn skilled and on the ball, and should pay that way – this doesn’t sound like that).

        But to have your job be either admin or fundraising seems like they may be trying to pay entry level wages and demanding mid- to senior- level work.

        Reply
    3. Irene Adler

      If they can’t address what % of the job is admin, fundraising, etc, might ask under what circumstances you’ll be asked to do each of these duties.

      My Mom was hired at March of Dimes as a secretary. But they also told her she’d have fundraising duties. She was a bit leery of the fundraising part. They explained that once a year, at their telethon, she’d spend an entire weekend covering phones, procuring meals for folks, keeping track of scheduling stuff for the immediate boss. That was acceptable to her. It was a very exhausting weekend, but it provided something different.

      Reply
  4. PNW Jenn

    run Run RUN

    I took a job years ago as the marketing manager for a small, family-run company. On day 1 they told me that they’d downgraded/changed the title to marketing coordinator and that my role had also changed very significantly.

    I lasted 14 months. It took me years to recover from the setback that job caused my career.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      OMFG I’ve been in some silly switch a roos but a downgrade would have me walk out faster than the psychopaths who were mad I couldn’t manage 3 departments and do the jobs of at least 2 employee per department to the utmost perfection. I hope you heal from your experience, that’s not at all normal even for small family business (which is all I know).

      Reply
    2. DonnaNoble

      This was my immediate reaction too. The first full time job I was hired for after college…. the manager couldn’t tell me what the team did on a day to day basis. I chalked it up to him being upper level and traveling.

      Nope. The “marketing” team was actually product development, had no real leader, and was an extremely toxic work environment. I lasted 5 months (before I moved on to my dream job!)

      Reply
    3. SoCalHR

      I once applied for a software training position, mid way through the interview the manager starting talking about putting me in an Operations Management role. The offer letter came for HR Manager. I definitely should have heeded the red flag on that one…

      Reply
    4. CoveredInBees

      Yes, RUN AWAY NOW! This is a sign of a bad work environment. They may be wonderful people with a wonderful mission but you’ll likely end up in a situation where everyone thinks you’re failing to prioritize because you’re given different sets of priorities.

      I interviewed for a job as an EA and everything went swimmingly when I talked to the recruiter and the CEO. Then, I had to interview with two high level employees, with whom I would work very closely. This is where the wheels went flying off. I interviewed with both at the same time and they seemed to only sorta get along but even worse they each had an idea of what the position was and those differed from the CEO’s idea. I spoke to the recruited after that interview and she admitted that was actually why they were hiring and had more turnover in that position than I’d been led to believe.

      Reply
  5. Bea

    I’ve never had much of a job description and fallen into a gap of doing everything I’m capable of. It is important to approach it as “what will the focus be” and not a “I will only abide by my job description” if it’s a small office. Some people will have a different perspective depending on how you’ll assist them. The director who manages fundraising will tell you that’s their goal and jobs for you, Exec Director is thinking you’ll do their clerical duties or greet the public kind of thing.

    I had a marketing manager who stole all my CSRs for her pet projects in a previous role. Another person grabbed them for other tasks here and there but they were supposed to and were hired to be customer service, sigh.

    I would be cautious when everyone is all over the place.

    Reply
  6. Lady By The Lake

    Second the “figure out who resolves competing priorities” question. I’ve been in jobs where various senior people had different ideas of my role. That put me in a “can’t please anyone” situation — everyone was unhappy — including mostly me!

    Reply
    1. Seriously?

      I think that part is key. Having a mix of several different jobs can work, but you need one boss who will help you prioritize if you get conflicting instructions.

      Reply
      1. Bea

        And that boss shouldn’t be overrode by others a step above them…argh I guess the scar is still there after all.

        Reply
  7. Bookworm

    Been in somewhat similar situations: hiring org filled the job internally and I found this out at the interview itself (which they used to interview me for another position) and recently where the position (which would have been a step up in responsibilities and title) was changed to one similar to what I do now because they had a huge project that required extra hands.

    I’d be genuinely concerned if it seems these are different views of what the job actually is. If it’s a “jack/jill of all trades” where you might be expected to actually do everything you wrote than that’s different but it definitely sounds like some sort of miscommunication somewhere. If you still think it’d be a good fit and would still work (or you really need the job) then good luck! Some people really thrive on that (not me!) so I hope it all works out, regardless of what happens.

    Reply
  8. Purplerains

    I worked at non-profits for many years as a grant-writer and a development director and am currently an EA in another field. Please get clarity on your duties and your salary before accepting the position. I would give the most weight to what your potential direct supervisor is telling you the job would be as the board members are not in the office day-to-day (and don’t need to be if it’s a well run organization.) Depending on how big the non-profit is, you could be wearing many, many hats, which can have it’s perks, no two days the same, etc. However, if you are going to be hired for an administrative position and not a fundraising position, yet you would be writing grants, working with donors, managing the fundraising for the organization, etc., your salary should reflect that.

    Reply
    1. ComputerBlues

      Yes, I was going to write something similar. Salaries for fundraising professionals at NFP seem to be higher than most admin positions (YMMV). Also, soliciting major gifts and grant-writing have the potential to be quite different. Solicitation may involve lunches with Ritchie Rich, evening events, nicer wardrobe required whereas grant writing might be mostly in office, data gathering and report writing. Of course there is some overlap, but at most nonprofits where I’ve worked those positions are two separate and different things.

      Reply
  9. AnonEMoose

    I would say to be very cautious at best, and possibly “RUN.” It very much depends on you, what you like and thrive on in the workplace, and the answers you get when you attempt to get clarification.

    I once found myself in a position with really contradictory expectations. Like, work on this stuff that requires sustained focus, and it has to be done by X time. But you must always be available to clients, no matter what. It didn’t end well. Or…maybe it did, because getting fired from that place let me to my current job, by a somewhat convoluted path. And I’m much happier here.

    I also once withdrew from consideration for a job because the recruiter told me one thing about the job, and the company, when I interviewed with them, told me something completely different – and what they wanted was just not something I could do. At all. Fortunately, the recruiter was very understanding about the whole thing, and it all worked out.

    Reply
  10. BRR

    This reminds me of a situation we had where we got approval for a new staff member and everyone saw the role differently. This position was always planned to help with A, B, and C and the people from A,B, and C saw their area as the biggest priority. Well we hired an amazing candidate who ended up being way too overworked from the start. Luckily a new manager started soon after and saw this and addressed it quickly.

    Reply
  11. Sometimes yes, sometimes no

    Hah. This happened to me when I interviewed for Amazon. I had 2 phone calls before I was brought in for an in-person. Both of those calls covered slightly different functions, so I figured, you know, no big deal!

    At my in person, when the first interviewer talked to me about why I was applying to represent product X, I hesitated but answered as if that was totally what I was interviewing for.

    Then the next person started asking me targeted questions about product Y and the specific markets it was in.

    It wasn’t until I met with HR halfway through the day of interviews that I was told the original position I applied for was filled, and I was shopped to three other product centers for the same position, and oh, hadn’t she told me?

    I didn’t end up getting that job. Er, any of those jobs. I work in marketing and, wouldn’t you know, having context for the product and its market kinda matters.

    Reply
    1. user3241

      At Amazon I had the impression I interviewed for 5 different positions during my 5 interviews with them :)

      In one case it was actually simply the interviewer’s mistake. She discovered in the middle of the interview that I had never applied for A and the interview was actually for B.

      It was the most chaotic recruitment process I went through in my life.

      Reply
    2. Treecat

      Ughhh yes, Amazon is totally known for doing this. On the one hand, it’s nice that if they want you they’ll try and find a position for you, on the other… this can happen.

      Reply
      1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.

        Yes! Like, *most* people are probably fine with the idea that they’re being considered for multiple positions. But the key is to actually tell them that! Like so many things in hiring, it’s a weird hiding of the ball, when nobody would take issue if you just were honest about what was happening. Employers are always trying to back-door it, but there’s no benefit to doing so (other than the perceived feeling of superiority one gets from holding all the cards and keeping secrets).

        Reply
        1. Beatrice

          I had one a few years ago where I applied for a Teapot Coordinator role, and the HR manager told me I would be considered for their open Teapot Manager role instead, based on my experience. In my interview, I learned that the Teapot Manager job involved about 75% travel to one specific office, and they would provide an apartment there. They might as well have wanted 75% travel to the moon, it was so wildly impossible for me. Then the HR manager berated me for wasting THEIR time, and said I should have paid attention to the travel requirements on the job posting. I went home and checked…the job posting said “occasional travel may be required”. They had filled the Teapot Coordinator role in the meantime.

          I applied to work there again a few years later, and had an equally weird experience. Strangely, I had work acquaintances who worked there and reported being really happy – that’s the only reason I tried a second time. Never again – it’s clearly not meant to be.

          Reply
    3. Bea

      Amazon is the worst, I’ve only heard horror stories. Now that they’re crying over the proposed head tax, I’m not even in the mood for their bajillion dollar tears.

      Reply
  12. Hey Karma, Over here.

    “I’d be happy with it either way, as I enjoy and am good at both administration and fundraising, but I want to know what I’m getting into.”
    Yes, to both these things. It’s great you’d be cool either way. And it’s great that you understand you need to know before you get six months into some amorphous nightmare with three people assigning you work and no one to actually manage you or your career with the organization.
    Stay strong on this and good luck to you.

    Reply
  13. user3241

    OP should think twice before accepting the job even if the job description gets clarified.

    It seems that different people on which they would be dependent have very different visions of what the position would involve. I am currently in this situation and although it’s about my boss and his boss (= one chain of command), it’s still complex to navigate.

    I would be wary even if it didn’t matter to me whether I’m in fundraising or administration. Because it might be that the different people would fight for OP’s time, trying to make them devote their time mostly to one or the other.

    Reply
  14. saffytaffy

    I forgot about this letter, and it was so useful to me at the time! I love when you re-post letters and we get to talk about them with fresh eyes.

    Reply
  15. the_scientist

    I would be……extremely cautious about this. How is performance evaluated and who is going to be evaluating you? If you are reporting to multiple people with different expectations, you can easily end up in a no-win situation where SOMEONE is dissatisfied with your performance no matter what you are doing.

    Also, maybe I’m off-base, but wouldn’t an administrator and a fundraiser have vastly different salaries??? When I see things like this (vague, ever-changing, or unclear job descriptions) at small non-profits, that to me immediately says “we want someone with the skills to be a fundraiser, but who will be happy with the salary of an admin assistant.”

    Reply
    1. Serin

      This thing about the salaries is what I came up to say! Grant-writing and fund-raising are more highly valued than admin; if they can’t decide what they’re hiring, how can they decide how to pay her?

      I’m also concerned that the OP be certain to find out what the priorities are according to the person who will be evaluating her performance. If they can’t decide what they’re hiring, how can they say whether or not she’s succeeding?

      Reply
  16. Sally

    When I read Alison’s advice on the questions to ask, I thought, “that sounds completely reasonable.” But when I’m in a situation like that, it’s hard for me to make myself ask those completely reasonable questions because I feel like they’re so “nosy.”

    Reply
  17. Amy H

    Do not take this job. I had so rthing similar happen. I applied and interviewed for a marketing position, but they started throwing in administrative duties. I thought it would be an occasional thing, but I ended up being an office manager, marketing manager, and personal assistant to my boss and his wife, training sales in New software, etc. I ended up leaving in less than a year.

    Reply
    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      OP should be very aware of this, scope creep and scope shift. Everyone is flowers and puppies during the interview stage, they will tell you all the great things you will be doing. They may even mean it, right now, but that is because they have nobody right now. If the reality is that you are hired into an office with no support staff, someone needs to be support staff. And since you will be new and eager to prove yourself and to live up to what you think you agreed to. You could be burned out in 6 months, or pigeonholed into something that throws you off your own path for years.

      Reply
  18. MsSolo

    Since this is a reprint, I’d love an update no whether the LW took the job, and what it actually turned out to be!

    Reply
  19. Penelope

    This exact thing also happened to me at my current job! Long story short, it’s indicative of poor communication and a lack of clear direction from possibly many layers up.

    I interviewed on the phone with my boss for one position, then had an in-person with him about that same position, and when that was over, HIS boss and one other came in to talk to me about a totally different position altogether. As soon as I realized that was happening, I spoke up immediately and let him know I thought perhaps we were on different pages and I was confused. He then said there were actually two jobs they were hiring for, and really believed I’d be a better fit for the second position. At no point was my boss involved in this conversation, even the second time I met with his boss, and I didn’t speak with him again until the day I decided to accept.

    After the interview, I called my recruiter and told him what had happened and he too, was baffled. He had no idea they were seeking to fill a second, totally different role. It took at least two days of phone calls to get it sorted.

    It was between that job and another, and this job seemed to offer a lot more growth potential, so I accepted it. Now that I’m employed by the company, it all makes total sense. The left hand rarely knows what the right hand is doing, and that whole confusing interview situation was a huge red flag that I perhaps should have heeded.

    Reply
  20. Denise

    Danger, Will Robinson!

    While this doesn’t mean it’s a bad company or that you would be miserable working there, it does mean they haven’t gotten themselves sorted out yet and shouldn’t be hiring anyone until they do. Like Allison said, OP should address this with them directly and see if they are able to resolve the conflict. The particular reasons for the discrepancies are what will make the biggest difference in whether it is manageable or not, but that’s where you are pretty much in the dark as a candidate.

    I’ve definitely experienced taking a job where there was a lack of clarity about the role, which I knew and pointed out, but they convinced me to reconsider, and it was not a good experience.

    Think of it this way–an organization that has a clear understanding of what it needs, who it needs it from, and why will be a much easier organization to succeed in.

    Reply

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