interviewer told me I’m being wasted in my current job

A reader writes:

I interviewed recently for an internal (lateral) transfer. The interview went extremely well. However, I knew that another internal employee (with far more years at this organization) was also interviewing for the position.

I thought I had mentally prepared myself for not getting the position – indeed, I found out this morning that I hadn’t gotten it. However, it was the hiring manager’s feedback that ended up depressing me. She’s a lovely person and told me that it was a very difficult decision to make. She then went on to say that she really felt I was being “wasted” in my current job, that I had so much more potential than the role I’m currently in, etc. I thanked her, but I’m secretly really bummed out about the idea that I’m apparently “brimming” with potential, but stuck in a role with very limited mobility. The kicker is, I really like the organization, and would hate to leave.

You’re letting this one person have far too much power over your thinking!

Did you feel you were being wasted in your current job previously? Do you see real merit to her assessment? You should certainly think over what she said, but this is something you decide for yourself; it’s not something to let other people dictate for you.

Additionally, she might have meant this very differently than how you took it. This is the type of thing people will sometimes say when they really mean, “I think you’re great, and I feel bad that we weren’t able to hire you, and I think you have a promising future.” It probably doesn’t mean, “Ack, what are you doing in your current dead-end job? Get out immediately!”

So I would take this with many, many grains of salt. But regardless, if you’re feeling antsy in your role, there’s no reason that you can’t talk to your manager about what your future growth might look like with your current organization, and what you can do now to start better positioning yourself for that.

And if you weren’t feeling antsy before this person’s comment? I’d just let it go. You’re the judge of your own happiness, not someone else.

{ 22 comments… read them below }

  1. jesicka309

    I’m in a similar situation at my own office (though I was thoroughly dissatisfied before I went for the lateral move).
    Sometimes this feedback could be indicative of your department’s role within the organisation. My department is… well…technically based, and known for bitchy cliques, boredom, having the top Internet users in the organisation, and worst of all, no one ever moves out.
    The interviewers might be gently warning you that your current role in your current department, is not highly looked upon by the rest of the organisation, she was surprised to see a candidate that impressed her coming out of that department. While you might be satisfied with your work, she may feel like you don’t fit the image she had in her head of people from your department, and was expressing that, in case you weren’t aware.
    Not sure if that makes sense… believe me, people are surprised to see myself, an honours communications grad, doing data entry…yet because I’m doing data entry, my department won’t see my communications experience.
    Ask your manager if there is any way you can learn some skills and meet people that are outside your job description. My boss has organised me to sit with her PA to learn the corporate side of things…you could spend an afternoon shadowing someone in another department, really anything that shows you’re super interested in moving around the organisation without quitting. And the next time an internal transfer roles around, you won’t be ‘that internal candiate from the traffic department’ you’ll be ‘Oh, Jane from traffic, yeah, she’s super interested in sales, she was up here last month sitting with Bob, and she seemed pretty nice’.
    Long essay, but one last point. Don’t let that ‘bummed out’ feeling fester, particularly if you’re planning on staying with the company. Be proactive now, while everything is fresh, as if you leave it several months, you’ll end up bitter and hateful, and that won’t get you far out of the department. I would know. :(

  2. Katie

    Long ago, a person at my organization said a something similar about me (it was my boss’ boss, the director of our department). I took it as a compliment, figured that she’d keep me in mind for future opportunities, and continued to look for ways to develop and use my skills so that she wouldn’t forget about me. A year later, I was promoted from part-time frontline staff to management. So maybe your interviewer’s comment is a good thing? Would she be willing to serve as a mentor of sorts and help you figure out what you can do to move forward and out of your current role?

    1. mh_76

      I’ve been told that throughout my workplace existence (still have yet to start a career) and always took it as a compliment. The people who wondered what I was still doing in X job or why I’m still having a heck of a time finding an FTE job (or even a decent contract job) are all people who would have hired me if they were in a position to hire and had an opening that would be suitable for me. I can see how some might see it as a warning and maybe it is/n’t but I see it first as a compliment. Maybe that interviewer will have recommendations for what jobs wouldn’t waste you and would be willing to help a bit (the latter depends on where you are geog. though).

  3. NewReader

    Super advice going on here. I really think that the interviewer meant her comments as flattering. I have no idea what your setting is like- is it possible to go back to her and ask for suggestions? You said she was a lovely person – so am thinking my idea here is not throwing you to the wolves. You and she got along okay.
    Even a general question like “What have other people done to successfully move around in this company?” Would get you some inputs with out making you feel self-conscious. I am sure there are many people in your company in the same boat as you- and not sure how to proceed. I wouldn’t know- I would be totally dependent on others around me to advise. Look for people whose opinions you respect.

  4. Mike C.

    On the other hand, maybe your interviewer has some insight in your department that you do not and is trying to warn you before something bad happens.

  5. Lady Pedantic of Pickiness Kingdom

    “Many grains of salt” doesn’t mean what the rest of your sentence implies it should. “A grain of salt” is a useless amount, whereas many grains would have an actual impact on whatever dish you were adding it to. /Pedantry

    1. moss

      Actually, then, that would mean that you should take things with many grains of salt. In other words, change the flavor of the remark.

    2. KellyK

      Yay for pickiness and pedantry! I like the nitpicking, but I disagree with your conclusion.

      The “grain of salt” idiom comes from a reference to an antidote for poison. To take something with a grain of salt is to be suspicious that it might be poisonous. So, based on the idea of salt being an antidote for poison (which it’s actually not), if you’re not just a little suspicious but *really* suspicious, you might take more than a grain just to be safe.

      AAM is definitely not the first person I’ve heard use “take it with many grains of salt” or “don’t just take it with a grain of salt, use the whole shaker!” or something similar to mean “be really really skeptical and use a whole bunch of common sense in evaluating this.”

      1. kate

        Also love an examination of a good idiom… especially one you can play with and mold to suit your individual needs.

        Love AAM’s advice – it kind of sounds like this suspicion was already growing in your mind, so this might be a good opportunity to have a “where can I grow from here” chat with your existing manager. If you don’t find any help there, might be worth building your relationship with this hiring manager who clearly sees potential in you.

      2. Lady Pedantic of Pickiness Kingdom

        See, I’ve always heard it used as “DON’T change the ‘flavor,’ just accept the remark for what it is” – pretty innocuous without more information, and therefore not worth agonizing over.

        Your explanation is way more correct given the history of the phrase, though, so I will go back and finish my coffee, and spread my morning proofreading YouTube comments!

  6. Jamie

    This reads to me like just a badly worded compliment.

    If I took anything away from this it’s that the OP has someone in her corner and should keep trying for internal promotions/transfers.

    Sometimes we need to look past the clumsy wording for the intent – and I think the intent was positive.

  7. Mike

    I think the frustrating part is just that when people say things like that, it’s not constructive. Unless they help you divise a clear plan on nurturing that potential, it’s like saying to a person who’s angry, “Just calm down.” It’s not helpful and it makes you more frustrated.

    I recently didn’t get an entry level job at a company where I’m temping. The feedback I got was all about my potential, but they did connect me with some networks. Unfortunatly, the networks said I would have to get an entry level job like the one I applied for to get a start on my way. How helpful.

    1. Jamie

      I know that it’s frustrating to get turned down, but that doesn’t mean the advice they gave you wasn’t valuable.

      You are better off than you were before, as you have network connections that see your potential and this may be helpful the next time one of these positions become available. It’s possible that next time you will be the strongest candidate and get the job.

      Again – I know it’s frustrating – but as you have no way of knowing the qualifications of the person they ultimately hired it’s best to just focus on moving forward.

      Sometimes networking bears fruit a painfully long time after the seeds were first planted. Good luck.

  8. Lanya

    Dear OP, while the interviewer used strong words about your talents being ‘wasted’ at your company, I agree with the others here who are saying it was just a sincere compliment. Don’t try to read into it too much. But at the same time, your strong reaction sounds like the interviewer’s comment has validated something for you and maybe you are realizing that it is time for you to move on to something bigger and better, and you are looking for confirmation of that. (Why would you have been interviewing for a lateral job move if you were not in the market for a change?) Take action and find something new!

  9. anon-2

    In these times of economic recession – there are a LOT of people in jobs that are beneath their capacity, but there just aren’t any jobs for them to advance into and reach their full potential.

    The advice I can give — PREPARE yourself, mentally acclimate yourself into a thought process, where you should go, and where you WILL go when the opportunity presents itself.

    The OP received great advice. I’ve been in a position where I was passed over (but not OVERLOOKED) for a slot “up the ladder” — and would rather be told “Look, we only had one position, and we went with the other (guy, gal). We know you could have done that job well, too.”

    The reality is – sometimes you HAVE to leave to advance your career, if you find yourself “logjammed”. The questions are –

    – do you love your organization enough – and are they treating you FAIRLY enough – to make it worth your while to stay?

    – is advancing your career a priority, so much so that you’re willing to leave your “home base” to get where you think your career should take you?

    The answer to these questions could be yes/no, or no/yes — ONLY you can decide those things.

  10. Jen

    I respect Alison 100%. I do get tired, though, of the pop psychology rhetoric that one self-help author probably coined ages ago about not letting someone have “power” over you. It seems to have become an all-pupose way to try to reassure people in any number of difficult situations involving someone else’s actions. I do hope the OP can look at ways to feel “unstuck”, which is a valid way to feel, which I relate to and can certainly color how you take criticism, which has been stated here before.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think it’s pop psychology. She let one remark from one person depress her, change her thinking about her job, and even question whether she needed to leave the organization. That’s an awful lot of power to give to one person’s (nicely meant) remark.

      1. Jen

        You’re just illustrating my point about the “power” rhetoric. It is a mindset, certainly. It is not really about anyone having any power but about letting circumstance get you down. There are a lot of great comments here and worthwhile advice generally on this blog about approaches to take.

    2. NewReader

      I think one of the things about that phrase is that it does not provide steps to do. If my thinking is in a rut- I can know, “yeah, I need to pull myself up here” but I don’t know how. Typically the answer is found in taking several, unrelated, pro-active actions.
      It can be a painful process to figure out what those next steps should be.

      Usually with power questions- I end up saying “Why does that remark resonate with me so very much?” I find the core issue, then start on my list of next steps. This is not easy stuff, at all.

      Alison is good at hammering out “next steps”, that is why I keep reading this blog.

  11. OP

    Thanks Alison (and everyone else) for their great advice!

    Yes, I do feel “stuck”. I did take a job (almost 2 years ago) that was beneath my capacity. So perhaps the hiring manager’s feedback just affirmed what I was already thinking, and it was the idea of feeling “stuck” that depressed me. Then again, maybe I really was bummed about not getting the job; who knows. But I think you’re all correct: it was likely an awkwardly-phrased compliment. And I should be more proactive about putting myself in a better position for other opportunities, should they become available.

  12. Cindy

    I worked at a company that (illegally) hired perma-freelancers to do full-time work for years on end. It paid well, but it was hard knowing there was really no way to ever move to a “real” position (like with health insurance) in the company. But it was good money and fun work in a shrinking industry with few jobs, so people stuck around, feeling mildly icky about their situation.
    The CFO was a massive jerkface and is known for saying to a freelancer, when they’re alone in the elevator together “So… you’re still here.” I wasn’t the only one who went to have an existential cry in the bathroom after that.

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