ask the readers: traveling for work when you’re new on the job

I’m throwing this one out to readers to answer. A reader writes:

I recently started a new job as a sales rep. It’s full-time, but minimum wage with no benefits. The office is very small and there is no opportunity for growth or promotion. No perks, not even office coffee. This is all OK–not perfect, but OK.

On my third day at the job, the boss/owner/president called me into his office and asked if I’d be willing to go and do a workshop presentation the following weekend in a town 300 kilometers away. Now, I certainly have zero problems with travel, and I enjoy presenting and lecturing, but I had been at the job three days. At the time of the workshop I would have been employed nine full days–four of which had been spent completely alone in the office as everyone else was traveling. I told him I did not feel qualified or knowledgeable enough about the company to do so, and expressed that I would be more than willing to travel in the future, but I didn’t think it was a good idea so soon. (At the time I didn’t even have a company computer login or email. Training had consisted of an hour going over some of our suppliers.) He tried to convince me that I could learn one product very well (we sell high-level technological trainers that rely on renewable energy–I have no science background) and present on it, and I said I could probably do so, but I would be completely lost answering any questions about anything else regarding the company. He told me that was fine.

My dad–who is a very accomplished, high-level CEO in his own right–has told me I should have gone on the trip, as it was my boss’s way of showing the flag. I am OK with the way I handled it–I was respectful in saying no and explaining my reasoning why, my reasoning was not simply “I don’t want to” or just jitters, but genuinely being unqualified, and I reiterated my interest in and desire for travel in the future. I would have been OK with “man our booth and hand out flyers and pens,” but I was simply not knowledgeable enough about the field as a whole to give a presentation and field a question-and-answer session afterwards.

Did I handle this properly, or should I have gone? I can’t help but feel I could have damaged the company reputation by going (“Let’s go to a different company–the woman at that one couldn’t answer a simple question about what kinds of CNC machines she’d recommend!”), but I’m worried I’ve damaged my own reputation at the office. By contrast the other sales woman just went on her first presentation workshop trip, and she’s been here six months. What should I have done?

Readers, what do you say?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 105 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT*

    I think you could argue this either way, and I feel like your CEO put you in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

    I’m sure he would have been unimpressed if your presentation bombed, and he sounds unimpressed that you didn’t go.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Yep. I agree with the LW and disagree with her Dad and her own boss who pushed her. What was the boss thinking? Unless you were hired because of your knowledge of the technology, this sounds like a really bad idea.

  2. Allison*

    I agree it would have been silly for them to send you out to sell a product by yourself when you’re so new, and it would’ve been a little delusional to believe that anyone there for only 9 days could be expected to be successful in that situation. First time out should always be with someone more experienced who can jump in if you freeze up or get asked a question you can’t answer.

  3. Elizabeth West*

    I think the boss was remiss in asking you to do it so soon. If it were me, and the more experienced employees weren’t able to do the engagement, I would have covered it myself rather than asking the brand new person to do it.

    If your boss told you that was fine, then he’s probably okay with it. He may have asked just to see if it were feasible, without really thinking about it, and upon hearing your answer, realized that it probably wasn’t. I think it was good that you said you were interested in future travel, which would have bolstered your reasons rather than sounding like “I don’t want to.”

    1. AMG*

      +1. At some point all you can do is present someone with the information/feedback and let them make the decision. Even if the boss was unimpressed, a sane person can appreciate why and perhaps he will have time to look at it objectively and soften his opinion.

      Going forward, your overall character and professionalism will give him an accurate picture of you. I know that’s a bit rosy, but I believe it applies to most instances. If Boss is irrational/an idiot then you are screwed anyway.

  4. EngineerGirl*

    Six months is a whole lot different than 9 days – that’s just long enough to find the toilet! What was your boss thinking? One way you could have handled it – ask to accompany someone on a trip so you can learn it. The big thing with CEOs us yo try to say yes in some war even if you ere saying no. “I’m excited about this opportunity. In order to represent the company the way you want me to we probably should do a, b, c first. Otherwise the consequences would be…. Are you willing to assume that risk?

    I would go all out to learn the product line. Lean the presentation material, and if there isn’t any then develop it. Become as much of an expert as possible

    1. C.*

      I laughed at “just long enough to find the toilet.” And I concur. Our team bought our boss a gift card for a massage at Christmas but I went and purchased it and needed her full name. I realized quickly I had no idea how to spell it. There was an “i” where I thought a “y” should be in her first name and no “i” where I thought one was in her last name. And this was over a month in. So menial. But imagine if someone had a great knowledge of your company and was having to school YOU versus the other way around! You made the right choice, and as someone mentioned above…only if you came in with serious knowledge of the industry and maybe even as a previous employee of a competitor would this make sense to me, but even then, I’d never have sent you alone. Hope you are still feeling good about your decision and everyone is still making you feel comfortable and like part of the team!

  5. Ivy*

    It depends on the company culture and expectations, given that your colleague did it first after six months for me indicates it may be OK.
    In our culture you would have been absolutely expected to go and do the best you can. A good answer would have been – I can do it with the caveat about my relative inexperience but I need A, B and C to prepare (detailed spec on the product, somebody to coach me on the presentation and talk me through typical questions, etc). And if you were faced at the presentation with difficult questions take them, take the contact and promise to get back to them within a day or two in detail.
    But we are a bit unusual, a go-getter culture. In most companies it wouldn’t be unexpected to decline a challenge.

    1. AMG*

      I was expected to provide a trianing session after 3 weeks, and it was also somewhat of a go-getter culture. When my boss’ boss found out, she overrode the decision and told me I had been steamrolled. I really respected things like that about her. I should have been able to decline it with my boss, and he shouldn’t have asked, so we both made mistakes. Fortunately the boss’ boss stopped both of us.

    2. Leslie Yep*

      Agree. OP, I think this is probably an indication of the culture of your workplace. Some companies are toss-you-in-the-deep-end kinds of places, and others are exhaust-all-avenues-first kind of places, others fall in between. Yours is probably more of a toss you in the deep end kind of place, and the expectation is probably that employees will be “figure-it-out” kind of people, not “dot-every-i-first” kind of people.

      This is all to say that, probably now and in the future, your boss expects that you will at least try to dive right in, even with very limited context. Is it always smart? Nope. But it is probably not the last time this will happen to you in this role, so I think you need to think about how to adapt to this expectation.

      1. Sophia*

        But I’m not even sure it is a toss-you-in place since it was 6 months before the other new person went on their first trip

    3. Kathy*

      There’s a significant difference between being a “go-getter” and knowing your limits. Going to a conference and presenting in a new field after, say, three months, is an achievable challenge that a go-getter can handle. Going to a conference and presenting in a new field after less than a week? That’s insanity, and no amount of cramming would adequately prepare her for the situation the company was asking her to be in. I think she did the right thing, both for herself and for her company’s reputation.

      1. AMG*

        Exactly. Maybe being a go-getter means doing a stellar job on the presentation, not agreeing to do whatever regarless of the quality you are able to provide.

  6. Kelly L.*

    My first instinct is that needing someone so new to do this is kind of red-flaggy about the company as a whole. I may be off-base.

    1. Jax*

      Full-time, minimum wage, and no benefits was a red flag to me. Is this base + commission? I’m curious to know why the OP took this job.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, I think it’s everything added up together. That and the only other salesperson is also new, at only six months. Unless the actual company is really new, I’m wondering why they can’t retain people. Might be the low pay and thrusting people into bizarrely unsuitable situations.

    2. Meg*

      Yeah I’m not thrilled about the description of the company as a whole. I’ve worked for companies like this, with no benefits and high turnover. It was not a positive experience.

      That being said, I think the OP made the right decision. 9 days is just not enough to appropriately learn the ins and outs of a product you’re expected to promote, and I think it’s smart to recognize that. I’d suggest watching closely to see how your boss acts toward you in the future.

    3. Ethyl*

      ME TOO. There’s a difference between “go-getter” and “throw you in the deep end” and “disorganized,” “set up to fail,” and “lacking long-term vision.”

  7. Joey*

    See, to me I see this as a challenge that you weren’t up for, which would be disappointing. Instead it would have been much better to say “absolutely. Let’s figure out the resources I’ll need to be prepared.”

    Its easy to find a reason not to do something. Its much more difficult to find a way to make it work. Who would you want to hire?

    1. Kelly L.*

      See, to me I see this as a job that woefully underpays its sales force and throws them into situations without training them first. Where would you want to work? It goes both ways.

      1. Joey*

        Its kind of hard to use that as justification when you knowingly accepted it.

        The mindset shouldn’t be “I don’t get paid enough to do this.” It should be “I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity to add an accomplishment to my résume, especially when I’m underpaid so I can get something better that much quicker.”

        1. Colette*

          I think there’s a strong personality component there.

          Some people are comfortable winging it, while others want to make sure they thoroughly understand a concept before they share it with others.

          The first category of people are often visionaries, while the second category are often implementers. An effective company needs both.

            1. Marie*

              I am comfortable both with winging it and with heavy preparation – but not in the same situations.

              On weekends I sing in a band, and if I was, say, asked to sing a solo of a song I didn’t yet know well, I would give it a try because the job needed doing. On weekdays, I work as a lawyer, and if I was asked to, say, advise a client on an area of law I hadn’t encountered before, I would insist that someone senior sign off on all my work. The difference is not in my personality. The difference is in what is at stake if I fail.

              In other words, if you can get sued for doing a bad job, then winging it is not appropriate, but if the only consequence is embarrassment (and provided that the company will not hang you out to dry if you fail), then I think that it is worth being game for it.

              1. Colette*

                That’s a good point.

                I’m a details person, and I’d happily take part in an impromptu discussion about pretty much any topic with others from my company.

                I’d be far less comfortable winging a presentation where I’m representing the company, especially in a technical field where people will have highly technical questions.

              2. Piper*

                +1000 on that

                I’m the same way. There are simply situations where winging it would produce undesirable results no matter how well you “winged it.”

            2. Colette*

              Can someone who’s naturally a visionary take care of the details of implementation? Sure – just like someone who is naturally a details person can come up with new ideas.

              However, one of these will often come more naturally, and no one can both be neck deep in the details and paying attention to the big picture at the same time.

        2. Nichole*

          I would normally agree with Joey on this, but when an “opportunity” has such a high likelihood that you’ll crash tremendously, it’s not much of an opportunity. There’s a difference between stepping up to a challenge and setting yourself and your company up to look foolish before you even have an e-mail address (!). Nine days is just not enough time to present oneself as an expert, no matter how good you are. I think the OP did fine here.

    2. Poster formally known as Jane Doe*

      I agree with you entirely. I may have asked him for some tips or advice, but then I would have researched the hell out of it, try to figure out what questions I could anticipate, and figure out the answers. I’d also be comfortable saying “I don’t know the answer to that, but I am going to find out for you!”.

      This question really seems to have nothing to do with travel, but just with the presentation aspect.

      1. Judy*

        Yes, I started work for a company on a Tuesday and was told I was going to out of town training on the next Monday. And ended up staying a few days to talk with co-workers at the other location.

        It wouldn’t matter if the conference was in the work city and during a work day, rather than traveling for a weekend conference. It’s about representing the company at a conference with presentation and Q&A.

    3. BCW*

      I kind of agree. Without knowing the full context, its very possible that she could have done an acceptable job with this presentation. Plus, I doubt your boss would’ve looked down on you for not giving an A+ session. I once got a teaching job at the very last minute, like I got the offer Thursday, went in Friday, and school started Monday. I had to have a full day’s worth of material to do on very short notice (along with getting my class together, etc). My administrators definitely helped me. But I couldn’t imagine telling them “No, thats too soon for me to actually be in front of the kids”. Now some people may have done that, but I think sometimes you rise to the occasion.

      1. TL*

        But presumably you were teaching something you had a background in and you had taken courses in how to teach/done student teaching.
        (presumably, as most teachers are qualified that way. Maybe not.)
        If so, you were a lot more qualified to walk in the next day and start teaching – and to be fair, the first day is often just getting to know your students and outlining expectations – than the OP is qualified to present tech, with no tech background.

        1. BCW*

          Yes and no. I was teaching 2 subjects, one I had experience teaching (although a different grade) and another that I didn’t. However, while the first day is getting to know students/expectations/etc, the point is you still need to plan 6 hours of stuff in advance. I think if you have a week to prepare a presentation, you can cram and get prepared enough to do it, maybe just not answer every question that comes up.

          1. TL*

            Right, but being unable to answer the questions that come up, either the majority of the them or something basic – or even something not basic but vital – would really ding the company and the OP’s reputation.

            She has nothing to help her wing it, whereas you had previous teaching experience and previous teaching experience in the subject, so you already had the background to prepare (though I’m sure it was difficult!). And – at least in biotech – your sales representatives need to be extremely knowledgeable and at least be able to make an educated guess to questions they’re not sure about.

            I think the key point here is that she has no background in tech.

    4. Mike C.*

      What about the customer side of the equation? If I’m to be presented to, why should I have to be the lab rat that suffers if this experiment in “taking the challenge” fails miserably?

        1. TL*

          It is if I end up talking to a vendor who can’t answer my questions and either don’t buy or go to another company because it sounds like the company doesn’t know what they’re doing. Or, at least, it should be.
          In fact, even if they answer “I don’t know but I’ll get back to you quickly!” if it was a fairly basic question, I’m not going to have a particularly good impression of that salesperson.

          1. Ethyl*

            Also, didn’t the OP say they didn’t even have an email address yet? How exactly are they going to get back to them? How will the client get in touch with OP? This is a bad, bad idea.

        2. Meg*

          But why not? Part of the OP’s job is presumably to provide great customer service and promote the product. If she can’t explain the product adequately or answer the customers’ questions, then she’s not doing a great job promoting it in the first place. And we’ve all seen examples here of bosses that aren’t concerned about things they need to be concerned about.

          1. Poster formally known as Jane Doe*

            All of this assumes that the person is going to fail. There are things I have done on one days notice that I can’t believe I was able to figure out and make happen successfully when I look back at it. But I put my head down, figure it out, and as corny as itcsounds, don’t consider failure an option. It IS possible if you get in the right headspace for it. I have insanely happy clients who simply don’t know that I learned all about what I am presenting in the 24 hours before I met them.

          2. Joey*

            I never said it was the right decision. But even if its not that doesn’t make it okay to not do it.

            1. Colette*

              In the general sense, if I see my boss making a decision that I believe is not in the best interests of the company, I’m going to say something. That doesn’t mean I won’t do it, but I’m certainly going to push back and explain what my concerns are.

              1. Poster formally known as Jane Doe*

                I think is entirely reasonable to say something, I just would make my case, but if after doing so, still wanted me to do it, then I would do it, and do everything in my power to make it a success.

      1. Kelly O*

        I’m with Mike on this one – it seems wrong to both the employee and the customer.

        It’s not as though the OP is a seasoned veteran in this, and the biggest slip-up might be saying the wrong company name. This is three days on the job, without even a login to the system, and being asked to “wing it” in a high profile, customer-facing way.

        I’d be uncomfortable too, and I absolutely side with the OP in the decision to not go.

        For the record, I’d also add that someone who “tests” new employees to see how much of a “go-getter” they are in ways that make them extremely vulnerable to this level of customer-facing failure have massive issues, at least in my opinion.

        I know sales is a different animal (that’s why I don’t do it) but it just seems an awfully bad way of handling something that has the potential to backfire on everyone in a massive way.

    5. TL*

      Yeah, but with science and technology it’s really easy to make a fool out of yourself, especially if you’re presenting to people who are working with that stuff every day.

      The salespeople who come through my workplace. generally have a bachelors or a masters in the field they’re selling in and I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

    6. anon*

      That’s assuming that the boss’s “who would you want to hire?” answer isn’t “The person who will take lousy pay and no benefits to make things I don’t want to think about be not my problem.”

      You’re assuming that the boss is going to actually help the OP figure out what they need to be prepared and give them adequate support. Given the description of the job, I highly doubt that’s the case.

  8. Allison (not AAM!)*

    I think you handled it perfectly. What I would do from here on out, though, is to make him focus on getting you trained. Whether he does it himself or sets up something with coworkers or your vendors, let him know that you continue to be interested in the opportunity to travel and make presentations once you have the lay of the land. Maybe you can also tag along with a coworker to see how the presentations generally work to get yourself up to speed. Like Kelly L. said, it IS kind of red-flaggy, but you’ll know as you go if it’s a situation that works for you.

  9. Jen*

    I’m going to jump on the “Should’ve done it” bandwagon here. You’ve said you’re a confident presenter, and your boss didn’t think it was an issue that you might not be able to tackle technical questions. In my reading, it seems like the material was created, you just had to cram for a few days, then go present it.

    I’ve been working in High Tech marketing for a while now, and it’s not uncommon for a sales or marketing person to defer quite a lot to more technical staff, or collect technical questions for a follow-up response later on. It’s all in how you handle your “I don’t know.” What I often witness is a salesperson at a presentation being asked a question, then giving a general answer, and saying “I’m pretty new at Chocolate Teapots Inc. (or ‘you’ve surpassed my technical chops’) and don’t want to give you the wrong technical info, but let me take your info and have someone follow up with you for the details.”

    As for how much you may have damaged your internal reputation, I suppose that all depends on how much your interviewing process/job description focuses on being able to present on the fly.

    But generally, if someone asks me to do something I’m not particularly strong in or equipped for, and I raise that and they say ‘do it anyway’ I take it as a sign that they have faith in me, so I should just have faith in myself and give it a go. (And they’ve had fair warning if it tanks – which it hasn’t, yet!)

    1. Jen*

      Also, you don’t say how big this ‘workshop presentation’ is. Being tossed into the deep end (and potentially bombing) in front of 15 or even 50 people is a whole lot different than being expected to keynote for 500 or 5000 with zero prep or knowledge.

      Maybe the stakes aren’t particularly high for this group, for your company, and your boss figured it would be a good training ground?

    2. Scott M*

      If someone asks me to do something I’m not particularly strong in or equipped for, I don’t take it as a sign of faith in me. I take it as a manager who doesn’t understand the details of his subordinates job. I’ve seen too many managers like this to default to the “faith in me” conclusion.

      1. Joey*

        Ugh. Is that your answer if its in the form of an interview question?

        Tell me about a time when you didn’t have all of the resources you wanted/needed to complete a project/task. What did you do?

        1. Kelly L.*

          The situation in the OP might actually make a decent interview question. “If you had to make a presentation about our chocolate teapots after only 3 days of training, what would you do?” But it’s one of those things, IMO, that should stay in the realm of the hypothetical and is just not a good idea in practice.

          And I seriously doubt Scott M’s answer is the way he’d put it in an interview. Why would it be? We talk about all kinds of topics on this blog more candidly and informally than we’d talk in an interview.

          1. Joey*

            No. There will be many many times in your career where you’re in that same position. It’s just not a good reflection on you when your excuse is “well, I haven’t been properly trained (woe is me).”

            1. TL*

              There’s a difference, though, between not having been properly trained but having the background knowledge to pull something together and not having any training when the training is to going to provide background knowledge.

              I would be perfectly happy in presenting, for instance, something molecular-based for Death Sciences, even if I had never seen the platform before. I could whip something together in 3 days, sure. I could not whip something together for, say, Poinsettia Stone’s new language learning program, where I have absolutely no background knowledge.

        2. Mike C.*


          More seriously, there’s a huge difference between internal and external projects to consider. I can think of plenty of times where I was pushed into the deep end, but I certainly wasn’t dealing with the direct clients of my company.

        3. Scott M*

          Early in my career I would have worked late and weekends and stressed out over the project to complete it on time. And it still would not be as good as it could have been.

          Now I would push back and point out the lack of resources, and indicate how it would affect the quality of the end product.

          Managers need people who tell them the truth, not “yes-men” who hide the realities of the workplace to please their boss.

    3. Mike C.*

      What I often witness is a salesperson at a presentation being asked a question, then giving a general answer, and saying “I’m pretty new at Chocolate Teapots Inc. (or ‘you’ve surpassed my technical chops’) and don’t want to give you the wrong technical info, but let me take your info and have someone follow up with you for the details.”

      Wow, that really wouldn’t fly in my industry.

      1. TL*

        We’re in the same industry, more or less, but it wouldn’t fly where I work either.

        Beyond the simple sale, if it’s something that you anticipate may need customer support in the future, it gives you the impression that the company isn’t hiring/training people appropriately and that when you have a real problem with the machine, no one will be able to fix it.

  10. The Other Dawn*

    I think OP did the right thing. I’m surprised the boss would feel comfortable having a brand new employee half-ass (unintentionally) a presentation that could end up damaging the company’s reputation. That’s a bit of a red flag to me. He should have sent a more experienced person and asked the OP to tag along.

  11. ChristineSW*

    What…no office coffee?!? Time for a new job! :P Just kidding!

    Hmmm….I was leaning towards agreeing with everyone else, but then I saw Joey’s post, so now I’m mixed. Was travel mentioned in the job description when you applied? When you interviewed for the position, did you get into any details about whether you’d have to present or otherwise travel? It’s been awhile since I’ve interviewed, but one questions I’ve seen recommended is something like, “what will be expected within the first X days/months of hire?”

    It does seem awfully soon to ask you to present, especially on a topic you said you’re not familiar with. Sure, you could’ve perhaps read up on the subject ahead of time, as Joey suggested. However, I think your supervisor probably could’ve given you a bit more time to get acclimated to the job, office and (if you’re new) the field itself. It sounds like you made the right choice in this instance, but I would get yourself familiar with the field so that you can be confident the next time they want you to present.

  12. pktechgirl*

    This would be the right decision at a well managed company and possibly a bad decision at a poorly managed one. when I can afford to be wrong, I like to do the thing that will be rewarded in the situation I want to be in.

  13. AmberBL*

    I think the OP did the right thing for her reputation, as well as the company’s.

    I am a scientist who deals with technical suppliers and purchasing quite often. Nothing changes your company’s reputation more than sending someone who doesn’t know their products and I’m sure the OP will be ready soon enough. Good luck!

  14. Mike C.*

    As a potential audience member, I would have been livid to find out that this company couldn’t bother to send anyone with more than two weeks experience on the job. I would have felt that my time was wasted, that I was treated unprofessionally and that the person giving the presentation was put in a really bad situation.

      1. Mike C.*

        I’m not talking throwing things at the wall while cursing in three languages here, but I would be really irritated that my time had been wasted with someone who wasn’t properly prepared.

        That irritation would be reflected directly in any future decisions to (not) deal with this particular business.

        1. Gjest*

          Yes, I would be completely annoyed that the company wasted my time sending someone so new without having a more experienced person with them. I would much rather have the company call and reschedule. Maybe I’d be a little annoyed at that, but less than if I wasted a whole day hearing a presentation that contains nothing more than if I read the manual myself, and hearing “I don’t know but I’ll get back to you!” over and over again. That’s a perfectly acceptable answer, but the salesperson should only need it for less than 10% of questions, in my opinion.

    1. Laura*

      I agree.

      I think that if it had been presenting with another person there, I would have said yes, absolutely. But alone? After 9 days on the job? As a customer, I would have been very forgiving of someone training giving the presentation, as long as it was clear it was training and there’s a trainer there to help out and answer more technical questions. Otherwise, I’d be looking for a company that can actually help me.

    2. Joey*

      Either that or it wouldn’t have even occurred to you that the person was new.

      Besides wouldn’t you be more livid if it was someone who’s been there for years and couldn’t help.

      It’s not how long they were there its whether or not they properly serviced you.

      1. Kelly L.*

        But don’t you think there’s a higher probability that an employee of only a few days will be stumped by a question, than someone who’s been there for years?

        1. Joey*

          Sure. But after you agree with your boss on how you’re going to address those concerns you can’t really use that as an excuse not to go anymore.

          1. Scott M*

            I think the point is that those concerns were NOT adequately addressed.

            The OP said “I would be completely lost answering any questions about anything else regarding the company.”

            The response? “He told me that was fine”

            1. Anonymous*

              Yeah, that is not the answer of someone who’s going to give you all the materials and preparation you need ahead of time. That is the answer of someone who doesn’t give a s**t.

  15. Former LEO*

    You missed an opportunity. Sorry, there it is plain and simple.

    I think the way you handled it and presented your reservations were very good. I would personally work very hard to be ready for the next opportunity. I could go either way on this, but with you being so new I also doubt you did a lot of damage to your internal credibility unless you are dealing with just incredibly petty people.

    That is a tough spot to be in, but I know when I’ve been asked to do a presentation on something new I read up on it as much as possible and defer questions I can’t answer. There is a bit of an art to it because you don’t want to flat out say “I don’t know” but you also don’t want to attempt to answer anything with inaccurate information. It would have been uncomfortable, less than ideal, but very doable. Also, presenting is always a risk whether you’ve been there 9 days, 9 months, or 9 years. I’ve dealt with plenty of “veterans” who couldn’t answer the most basic of questions, so with some decent prep you’d probably be just as good or better than most who just walk in cold assuming they know what they need to know.

    Ok, so you DID miss an opportunity but you made your case well. Don’t bend yourself into a pretzel over it. Just make sure it is clear your open to this as an opportunity when you are more seasoned. Maybe after 12 days? (Kidding!)

    1. Scott M*

      Let me tell you , as someone in I.T. who has listened to presenters dancing around questions and avoiding saying “I don’t know”… you aren’t fooling anyone.

      It lowers our opinion of you and your company. And we talk to our bosses who value our opinion.

      1. Former LEO*

        Don’t dance. It’s obvious and insulting. Like I said, it’s a bit of an art. The problem with “I don’t know” is that it shuts doors and always sounds to me like “I don’t care enough to find out”.

        No one knows everything. It works much better, even as a presentation, to offer to follow up on any questions you might not have been prepared to answer that day. However, you have to make a point of following up.

        I’ve had much better results with “I don’t have that information but I can ask someone who is well informed in that area and get back to you with an answer”. As a consultant or presenter I never used “I don’t know” unless I honestly could not answer the question even superficially and knew I was in a position that I was not going to be able to follow up on.

        1. Scott M*

          Well, to be fair, the way you phrased it sounded like you never wanted to admit you didn’t know something. Perhaps the phrase of “flat-out” should have been “only”. To me, “flat-out” means to be direct, so the opposite would mean to be indirect or vague.

          But yes, I agree that “I don’t know but I can find out and get back to you” is the textbook way to answer questions when you don’t know something. However, if you are answering every question that way, the presentation will not go well.

          Also, talking about prepping for the presentation. Remember, this is a minimum wage job, and the OP had only been there for nine days. I didn’t take this to be a professional job, where it was assumed the employee knew something about the subject matter before being hired. To me, this indicates the OP didn’t have any knowledge of the subject AT ALL before they started the job, so a few days of prep isn’t going to be enough.

          Yes presenting can go wrong no matter how long you’ve been there, but the likelihood of having problems is VASTLY greater when you’ve had 9 days of prep vs 9 months or 9 years.

          I say the OP made the right call.

  16. RedStateBlues*

    OP I don’t know if declining to go will hurt your career or not, but for what its worth I would have done the same. I’m not very comfortable with public speaking, but if its something that I know what I’m talking about, you wouldn’t know how uncomfortable it actually is for me. On the other hand, if I’m put in a situation where I don’t know, or barely know, what I’m talking about (which sounds like the situation you were in) I come off sounding like a blathering idiot.

    1. TychaBrahe*

      I’m a very confident public speaker and have been training technology users for 15 years.

      I wouldn’t have felt confident going. Mostly I wouldn’t have felt assured that a company that couldn’t even give me access to e-mail and the network in three days could give me enough information in six additional days to confidently present our software.

  17. Anonymous*

    If this reader is only making minimum wage and the company (a) hired her without a technology background that would help her understand the product and (b) doesn’t care that they’ll be putting someone out there who’s barely gotten to know the office, much less the product, then it sounds like…maybe not exactly a scam, like those “marketing manager” positions that are door-to-door sales for windows or satellite systems, but a shady organization nonetheless. All they care about is warm bodies. God, even the Kirby vacuum people teach you a little about the product before they send you out for “free carpet cleanings.”

    What those types of companies have in common is that they’re very good at flattery, at making something like this sound like you’re the exception because you’re such a huge cut above the rest, when in reality they just don’t care who goes. I fell for a couple of these when I was just out of college and didn’t know how to recognize them. Think how hard it is to get recognition at most jobs even when you have things down cold and bust your hump day in and day out, but here you’re elevated after barely a week? This manager wasn’t “showing the flag.” The company is just run terribly.

    1. Jax*

      I thought “scam” too…but that’s probably because I put my resume on Monster and have had 3 phone calls from awful sales companies this week.

    2. Sara M*

      I worked in a job like this when I was young and didn’t know better. I think the OP might very well be in one of these jobs. I was sent on a business trip on my third day, and the real purpose was to get me immersed in the job where my friends and family couldn’t talk me out of it. Be careful, OP. Especially if this job involves any promises about commissions.

  18. My Name is Ozymandias*

    I am leaning towards agreeing with the group that says you made the right choice. Your reputation, as well as your company’s, were both on the line. In my view, this is also a case of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” You could have prepped and studied for days, and thought you had a handle on the material, but could have easily been blindsided by details that could have only been gleaned from on-the-job experience.

  19. JW*

    I think you did the right thing. I remember when I was asked to represent my company by “manning the booth and hand out flyers and pens.” At one point I was bombarded with questions I didn’t know the answer to – so even THAT can damage the reputation of the company! I can’t imagine being the presenter!

    From here, I’d reiterate your willingness to do this in the future. Definitely ask if there’s an opportunity to shadow someone else presenting on behalf of the company.

  20. LeeD*

    OP, I think you made the right choice and handled it well. Given that you said there is absolutely no chance of growth or promotion, this job is a stepping stone that will let you build your knowledge, skills, and reputation. I know you’re worried about your reputation in the office, but your job performance and reputation in your field could have taken a huge hit. How could these people eventually trust you as a salesperson if their very first impression of you was that you’re untrained and uninformed?

  21. Traveling OP*

    Hi all,

    Traveling OP here. Just to answer a few things….there are only two other sales people and my boss, and all of them were traveling for the entire next week and time of the presentation–so no one to tag along with, no one to sub in for me, and no one to train me or answer questions for a week. I think my boss’s thinking was “no one else is available, so we’ll see if she wants to”, and now–on my fourth week on the job–there don’t seem to be any repercussions.

    For travel….yes, I was told that there was some travel involved, which I agreed to and had no problem with (and still don’t), but I didn’t think to ask I’d be traveling while still training.

    Finally, it pays wage plus commission, though I really don’t see how why I took the job is relevant. (Because it is a badly-needed paycheque for my family, mostly.) Because this is not going to be a career for me (re: no possibility for advancement in this job, and frequent family moves), I’m confident that I can do the job to the best of my abilities for a few years without worrying about this blip–and yes, including traveling and presenting once I’m confident that I can answer questions and discuss the equipment.

    1. COT*

      I think you also made the right choice, so I’m glad it apparently hasn’t damaged your reputation. It would have been different had your boss said, “I know this is early, but we really need your help on this one, and I’ll do everything I can to help you get ready.” But as you said, there was no training or support and that wasn’t likely to change anytime soon.

  22. Cath@VWXYNot?*

    I also think you made the right choice, and justified it well to your manager. When I worked in marketing for a biotech company several years ago, I wasn’t allowed to give presentations until I’d been there a full year – and even then there were multiple run-throughs with various levels of management before the final slides were approved, and I still got questions from immunologists that I couldn’t answer with 100% confidence (not my field). This level of preparation was overkill from a staff morale and efficiency point of view, IMO, but that extreme’s better for the company’s reputation than the opposite extreme of sending people out after nine days – yikes!

    (Side note: In my last job, back in academia, the professor I reported to asked me to fly out to a one-day meeting about a new consortium he was involved in, during my third week in the job – and he’d been out of town for my whole first week, so I’d barely met him. He couldn’t make the meeting and asked me to represent his opinions and projects. I was like, “and what would those be, exactly?” Luckily for me though, it was decided on the day to defer all decisions / votes until the next meeting, which my boss was able to attend).

  23. Jake*

    I agree with just about every comment on here that the OP made the right call, but I see where the OP’s father is coming from.

    In my office, saying no to that would not have gone over well, at all. We have the kind of culture where the managers want to have to pull the reins on you, not push you. I could easily see my manager demanding this of me after 3 days, then a day or two before the presentations saying, “hey, I appreciate your willingness to do this, but I thought about it, and I’m going to send Mike instead.” In fact, I think just about everybody in our office has run into something like this within their first week, whether it is going on a trip or taking on some “out of scope” responsibilities.

    That being said, I think we are kind of the exception to the rule.

  24. Jane*

    You’re going to be asked to do things that make you feel uncomfortable – and give presentations you don’t feel prepared for – more and more frequently as you move up the ladder. Last week I was asked to pinch-hit for another co-worker and give a specialized presentation on her area of expertise (decidedly NOT mine) with 45 minutes notice in front of two of the three tops execs of my company who were visiting from our national office.

    Saying no didn’t even occur to me.

    Saying no would have put my boss in a bind, and this was a great opportunity to demonstrate to him my ability to perform under pressure – as well as impress several visiting execs. Did I really sweat the following 45 minutes? Absolutely. But the presentation went off without a hitch, and my boss was extremely grateful – and has mentioned it several times since.

    I understand that you were new at your company, but your boss was offering you the opportunity to distinguish yourself as someone ready to pitch in and work hard. If I were you at this point, I would be actively asking him for opportunities to take on extra work and additional tasks to try to demonstrate his initial experience with you is not representative of your willingness and ability in the organization.

    1. Scott M*

      I would say that your experience was different. You had already been in the job for a while and might have a general idea of your coroworkers work. The OP had just been hired as a sales rep, someone who is supposed to be intimately knowledgable about the companies products in order to get people to actually buy them. Tossing someone like that into a presentation 9 days after being hired is not reasonable.

      1. Jane*

        I work in a sales field, and though my colleague also works in a sales field, that is where the similarities in our work end. For example imagine that I sell grapefruit to individual supermarkets in the west, and she sells men’s socks to a nation-wide retailer.

        And – just to make it more fun, I’d just moved into the office the week before. I knew literally nothing about my coworkers program (however, I know a lot more now)!

        Sales in particular rewards initiative, energy and a customer-focused attitude. Failing to capitalize on your first opportunity to demonstrate this at a new job is a flub – but can be overcome, if she puts her mind to it.

  25. Cassie*

    I agree with the way the OP handled it. As the client, I would not want to be listening to a presentation by someone who doesn’t even know what she is talking about. You might as well just send the powerpoint slides to the company and they can just look at it – what’s the point of a presentation if there won’t be any meaningful dialogue?

    I haven’t been in meetings with vendors much, but I have attended some meetings with the folks over in our development/fund-raising dept. Sometimes our faculty will ask them questions and for some of the newer staffers, it’s like crickets chirping. There’s a high-level of turnover there so this seems to happen often. They may be qualified as development people (marketing-types, schmoozing kinds of people) but they usually have no technical background. Which would be okay to some extent, but it seems like they don’t even read the notes from the previous staffer.

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