I feel limited by my entry-level job and want to do more

A reader writes:

My question comes from the perspective of a newly college graduate, beginning his career as an HR assistant with no experience. Essentially, I am working what I believe to be my dream “entry-level” HR job, that will catapult me into the next step of attaining a higher-compensated position with more responsibility. I have been with my company for about six months now, and though I wear many hats and am learning quite a large amount of business sense, I feel as if I am not learning quite as much as I want in regards to HR. My supervisor, the director of HR, does a great job, but I often find she takes on a lot of the work that I would love to have a bigger hand in. Often I feel that I will never learn this trade if I am not informed on the bigger going-on’s in the company. To combat this, I find myself asking many questions to stay informed, which might come across as distracting and maybe even annoying.

Given my situation, I feel as if it would be a good idea to continue to do the work at hand with no complaints — except that I am a bit of a dreamer and desire to do bigger and better things for the company. This is limited by my lack of experience, and lack of knowledge of the many facets of HR. If my job were a metaphor (bear with me here), I’d say that the company is a large prime rib, and I am stuck trimming the fat (party coordinating, ordering supplies, opening mail, organizing, etc.) What is the best approach to attaining more responsibility and trust in order to contribute to the “meat” of HR, and achieve my own sense of professional growth?

You’re not going to like this answer, but the best approach is to do your current job really, really well and not get frustrated that a junior-level job is giving you junior-level work.

You’re six months into an entry-level job. You’re not going to be given the sort of projects that the HR director has; she’s in a much more senior role, and her work requires more experience and more expertise. This is normal — it’s how this stuff works.

The way that you get more responsibility over time is by doing your current job really well. If you demonstrate via the not-super-challenging work you’re being given now that you pay attention to detail, follow through on instructions, have good judgment, and care about quality, over time you’re likely to be trusted with more interesting work. I’m stressing the “over time” piece of that because it’s not something that happens right away. It happens gradually and it’s a longer-term thing.

Certainly at some point, it’s reasonable to express an interest to your boss in taking on more responsibility or being more exposed to higher-level, more strategic stuff. But six months into your first job out of college isn’t the time to do that; it would come across as premature and unrealistic. The earliest I’d say you could raise that would be at the one-year mark — and even then it’s pretty early, so you’d want to go into that conversation with the recognition that one year into your first job is still very, very junior, and the reality is that they probably need you focused on the stuff they hired you to do, even though it’s not particularly exciting work. But if you have that conversation after a year of happily doing really well at what you were hired to do, it’s likely to get you better results than if it comes after a year of obvious straining against the confines of the job you’re in.

Meanwhile, take a look at the people who are doing the type of work you’d like to do. What are their backgrounds? What did they do before? How long did they do it? What was the path they took to get to their current positions, and how long was that path? That’s going to give you the most realistic sense of what kind of path you should aim for and what a realistic timeline might look like.

{ 202 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessie*

    OP, you say you think this job will “catapult” you to bigger and better things. That’s the problem right there – jobs aren’t catapults. That is way too fast for how promotions and job growth works. It’s slow going. You’re the turtle in the turtle and the hare race. Just keep plugging away, do the best you can, be professional, be responsible, be reliable. You are not going to catapult anywhere. But as AAM says, over time, you’ll get there.

    Just stop thinking of catapulting. :-)

      1. Annonymouse*

        Unless you work for a small business (think 10 employees or less) and have to wear many, many different hats, there isn’t going to be room to take on new responsibilities and projects so soon.

        6 months of career time is nothing. I know it feels like eternity for you and that you SHOULD be ready for bigger things but it’s just not the way it works.

        Look at it this way: you haven’t proven you can do HR projects and big work yet – because you are still building trust and skills with your director.

        If you leave for somewhere else you will literally have to start at the beginning again.

        As Alison says: the best way to build that trust is to do the job you’re doing now, do it well and without workplace complaint.

        Once people see:
        “I can trust Jane to manage our stationary.”
        “Jane is so thorough and efficient with filing.”
        “Jane always does a fantastic job coordinating our meetings.” Etc

        Then they know you are ready to be trusted for bigger things.

        How long will it take? Unsure, but more than 6 months!

        1. Chinook*

          “6 months of career time is nothing. I know it feels like eternity for you and that you SHOULD be ready for bigger things but it’s just not the way it works. ”

          I think you have to realize too that, at 6 months into any job, never mind a career, you still don’t know what you don’t know. You still haven’t gone through an entire business year, so how do you know that what you are doing now isn’t showing you the bigger picture? And even if all you are doing is “trimming the fat” by party coordinating, ordering supplies, opening mail, organizing, etc., then you need to see these tasks as a way to better understand what is going on in the company. You are learning a lot about company culture, their processes and their objectives. You are also building up trust and relationships with those you are working with. A career is a marathon, not a sprint and those relationships you build or ignore now will bear their fruit down the road.

          Aside from that, you have to stop looking at the company as owing you a career or an opportunity to learn. They owe you nothing but a pay cheque. You owe them the time they pay for and doing the tasks assigned to the best of your ability. Even if, worst case scenario, you had that job for 10 years and never earned more responsibilities, would the company be ripping you off? Not if they are paying you for your time and effort in the manner you both agreed upon. They do not exist to educate you or to improve your career prospects.

          Lastly, if you show up to work with the attitude that I see coming through this letter that they do, you will find nothing but resentment from yourself and those you work with. Someone has to do those things you have been assigned and, since you presumably earn less per hour than your boss, the best use of company resources is to have you do that while your boss does the stuff that requires more experience and more responsibility. If you start acting like they are a waste of your time because they are not helping you advance your career, you may find that your career comes to a standstill while you find your next position.

          1. sstabeler*

            I slightly disagree- your company DOES owe you the opportunity to learn more. However, the OP hasn’t realised, I think, that they ARE being given an opportunity to learn. Specifically, as you noted, you are proving you are capable of being trusted with more responsibility. I’m guessing the OP is half-assing their work because they don’t think it worth their time. The company will assume that means they will half-ass higher-level work too.

            That, and if an employee is getting bored with their work within 6 months, and seeking advancement, that has got to make an employer wonder how long it would be before they got bored with the higher-level work. Once you get above entry-level, it’s likely you would be working on longer-term stuff, and that can only cause problems if half-assed because you are too interested in career advancement.

            a career is supposed to last what? 40-odd years? if you got promoted every 6 months, that would be 80 jobs. I don’t know of any career that has that many levels of advancement. Realistically, I would expect a minimum of 3-5 years per stage, so 3-5 years at a minimum with slightly more responsibility per year. (POSSIBLY in cases like maternity leave or other medium-to-long term, absences a more experienced entry-level worker could fill in at a higher level.)

        2. Marisol*

          And just expanding on this point:

          Once people see:
          “I can trust Jane to manage our stationary.”
          “Jane is so thorough and efficient with filing.”
          “Jane always does a fantastic job coordinating our meetings.” Etc

          Then they know you are ready to be trusted for bigger things.

          If they see you slacking off at those menial tasks, they won’t say to themselves, “awesome HR assistant is clearly underperforming because he is bright, but bored by these tasks, so we should get him something more stimulating, asap!” You really can’t afford to short change those things because they are the only basis for evaluating your work. If you suck at the small stuff, they’ll think you will suck at everything.

          1. Annonymouse*

            Thanks for the expansion Marisol!
            I’m self conscious of my posts going to long.

            As a new manager myself this is so so what I think. I have one employee that does what is asked but does it kinda half assed. (Easy/labour intensive tasks that aren’t exciting).

            Does that make me want to give them more responsiblility? HECK NO!

            It makes me take time out of my schedule (that I don’t have/could be using for higher end projects/priorities) to closely monitor them.

            It is breaking the trust and making me think they aren’t worthy of more skilled work – if you can’t accurately do a stockcount or use our database system I’m not willing to trust you with clients or important projects.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I agree… although I do think there are roles that can accelerate you. It’s not going to be this role for this LW — but it’s something to look for as you move forward. Some jobs will better position you to take a big next step than others (access to senior people, leadership on projects that are highly valued among muckety-mucks, etc.).

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        When I say that it’s not going to be this role for this LW, I mean that it’s not going to be any first job.

        1. AMG*

          Yes. I remember being in college and a Professor telling his class that almost nobody is going to get a management job right away. Or in the first year. If you did, it’s because you already have management experience in an office setting. The number of people who did not believe him was incredible.

    2. Charlie*

      Also, you are not catapulted by your dreams, aspirations, and ambition. You are catapulted by your skills and demonstrated accomplishments, and six months into a new job, you’re barely mastering the basics, and haven’t accomplished anything yet.

      That’s not to diminish OP’s potential, but the amount you have to learn before you can justify increased responsibility and involvement in the bigger company picture is simply staggering, and not fully visible to you yet. For a while, you’re going to feel hungry for more and impatient that you’re not moving forward. Then you’re going to learn just enough to realize how far you’ve got to go, and it’s gonna be tremendously discouraging. And then you’re going to learn enough to actually take on more responsibility, and you’ll have earned it.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        You are catapulted by your skills and demonstrated accomplishments, and six months into a new job, you’re barely mastering the basics, and haven’t accomplished anything yet.

        I would say a new first job. Six months into my current role, I had many accomplishments to put on my resume. Hell, even a month or two into it, my manager kept telling me what a huge relief it was for him to have me transfer departments and how valuable I already was to my team. But a first job right out of school? Nah, you’re right in that there probably isn’t much accomplishment yet unless the job is very low-level and unskilled.

        1. Two-Time College Dropout*

          And if you DO somehow manage to “catapult” through the ranks quickly, there’s a very real possibility that long-time members of your team will resent you for it and not respect your authority.

          1. Jen*

            Or you get in over your head, and everyone loses respect for you because you get viewed as a climber who’s above his/her station. And/or you can’t be trusted to do the role you’re in, so people have to work around you, cover for you, etc.

            (Thinking of a former manager of mine, who’s a joke here now because of how incompetent he was.)

      2. Anonamoose*

        This is also a really great opportunity to spend time volunteering for a professional organization that relates to your career path, or seeking leadership opportunities within a non-profit volunteer program.

        OP, you have tons of free ‘brain space’ right now. Doesn’t mean you have to waste it! Build your resume with a day job and supplement it with outside volunteer work – THAT will help ‘catapult’ you.

        1. Chinook*

          “This is also a really great opportunity to spend time volunteering for a professional organization that relates to your career path, or seeking leadership opportunities within a non-profit volunteer program.”

          But don’t expect to be put in a leadership position there the minute you sign up, either. You can’t be an effective leader if you neither have previous leadership experience nor skills/knowledge/experience in the field you are trying to lead. There is a reason that, in the military, brand new lieutenants always have sergeants (who earn that position with years of experience and, hopefully, training) – it is to be the voice of wisdom to the wet behind the ears leaders who really has no field experience nor been in charge of anyone other than fellow classmates.

  2. sunny-dee*

    My mom used to tell me (quoting the Bible) “whoever is faithful in little will be faithful in much.” Alternatively — there are no small parts, only small actors.

    I totally get why the OP is feeling pinched, but Alison makes a great point – the only way to get where the OP wants is by laying that foundation of mundane work and doing it responsibly and well.

  3. Rowan*

    In the meantime, maybe the LW could get some of that “doing big things” satisfaction from volunteering or activism?

    1. jennie*

      I was going to say the same thing! Whether in a cause close to your heart, or in an HR association, volunteering and participating will add to your skills and knowledge.

      1. VolunteercoordinatorinNOVA*

        Plus it’s a great way to meet new people in your field and see new points of view. I belong to volunteer admin group and i’m now the president of the board and it’s really been a great growing experience for me in many ways!

    2. Charlie*

      Maybe, but as someone who’s coordinated volunteers, no volunteer is more exasperating than the one who expects to accomplish big things. Even as a volunteer, you’re going to be helping with little stuff.

      My advice would simply be to enjoy it. No, the small stuff isn’t anything to brag about, but you don’t stay awake nights worrying about it, either.

  4. crazy8s*

    Patience and perseverance. It’s normal to feel this way in your first job. Career progress is much slower than you’ve been led to expect in school. It’s an unfortunate part of higher education that they don’t paint a more realistic picture of what to expect in the workplace. Time takes time. Real work is much different from internships. Hang in there. You will be fine. In the meantime, do your current job well, volunteer to take on extra work when it’s appropriate, and show up positive and professional every day.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      This. And put some of that energy and enthusiasm into observing and learning what you can about office norms, and some of the practical stuff of the working world. You can learn an awful lot just by keeping your eyes and ears open.

      Also, you could consider asking your boss if there are any HR blogs or other resources she likes and would recommend. Not that you should be reading them at work (unless your workplace is ok with that and you have the time), but it’s a way to demonstrate that you want to learn more that doesn’t have a big impact on your boss’s time.

      Make sure you’re familiar with your company’s policies and practices. Look around for coworkers you particularly respect, and/or who seem particularly effective. Not that you should slavishly emulate them – but it can be good to do some thinking about how/why some people are particularly effective, and if there are things they do that adapt well to your personality and work style, then those can be good to consider.

      Also, work on building your proficiency with the tools of your job. If you use spreadsheets, are there things in Excel you can learn that will be helpful? (Spoiler: The answer to this is almost always “Yes.”) (Pro tip: If you are wanting to try something with an important spreadsheet, save a copy to experiment with BEFORE you do anything with the actual spreadsheet! That way, if you mess up, it’s just on the copy you saved to mess around with, anyway, so no real harm done. But before you do that, make sure you’re not running afoul of any policies about data, etc.!)

      1. Whats In A Name*

        PS: 15 years in and I still save the original spreadsheet in all cases before manipulating any data! I’ve been burned once or twice

        1. JessaB*

          Spreadsheets, word processing documents, whatever. If you’re going to mess in it do two things – save the original ASAP and save the work copy immediately with another name so if you accidentally control-s save it doesn’t overwrite your original whatever. (can you tell I’ve done this at least once?)

    2. Gandalf the Nude*

      OP, you’re probably still used to a student’s pace. In school, you start out with, say, Calc 1, and after a semester you get to move onto the more interesting Calc 2, then Calc 3, eventually hitting the big time with Modern Algebra, Differential Equations, all in these easily digestible semester chunks. You’re constantly moving on to new, more interesting work just by virtue of having completed the easier work that preceded it. But that’s not the pace in the business world. It can’t be. You can’t go from HR Assistant 101 to HR Rep 210 to Director of HR 440 in a couple of semesters like you did in school. Otherwise, what are you doing with the next five decades?

      Also, school gets you used to this idea that it’s enough to show that you can do something instead of requiring you to actually do it. You only have to pass a couple of tests before you move onto the better stuff. But that does nothing to show you can do the thing consistently, over and over, taking into account new variables and handling those with good judgment. That’s work. And that takes a lot longer to establish before you can move on.

      1. Clever Name*

        This is so key. One thing I found tough about the working world is you just don’t get the same amount and frequency of feedback that you get in school. In school, you’re constantly reassured (or not) that you are doing well in the form of getting good grades. In the workplace, it’s typical to get next to no feedback if you are doing well. It can be very frustrating. Good management provides more consistent feedback, but many places only give feedback during an annual formal performance review.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yes, one of the things that was difficult for me in my first job out of college–that I think is difficult for a lot of people–was the fact that I was going to be doing basically the same thing day in and day out. I mean, not entirely the same thing, but–well, for example, my first job was tech support. It was not at all a bad job (my company was really good at making sure that support techs had sufficient resources, and they held a hard line on requiring customers to be civil to us), but honestly, 90% of support calls are pretty much the same. Ten percent or less were interesting problems to solve; most of them were walking people through basically the same checks, since most people screw up their computers in basically the same ways.

        In school, once you did something one way, you moved on to something else. You were generally not expected to do the same problem set over and over, or write the same paper about the Hundred Years War or As You Like It over and over, but at work… like I said, 90% of the time it was basically the same thing. Which felt both baffling and deeply boring at first.

        It took some time to get used to the idea that ‘moving up’ (into an escalation position, say, where the ‘interesting’ problems were more frequent, or what have you) wasn’t going to happen until I’d done a lot of the ‘same-y’ work. But even more important was realizing that just because the work was the same didn’t mean I couldn’t challenge myself. I could find more efficient ways to solve their problems, I could work on my telephone manner in the hopes of leaving more people smiling after the call, I could document the common procedures so that everyone was working more efficiently. The difference was that I had to challenge myself to do it–I wasn’t going to be able to say “okay, I’ve mastered the Oops I Deleted The Install Folder What Now? call, so now I can move on to something else.” The nature of the job was improvement in place, not constant forward motion.

        (And it did pay off for me; I got my first tech writing job based on internal documentation I produced while doing phone support. But it took a couple of years, and self-challenge, to get there.)

      3. Original Poster*

        Original Poster here.

        Very good point — dealing with the ambiguity makes self-improvement a little more difficult. My supervisor reminded me that not everything is attained from a text book.

        “…show you can do the thing consistently, over and over, taking into account new variables and handling those with good judgment. That’s work. And that takes a lot longer to establish before you can move on.”

        Well said.

        1. JessaB*

          And you can always take some cheap extension courses to get more experience (if you do basic Excel, find a local adult ed that teaches medium Excel, etc.) Also if your work gives you access to online courses, make use of them. If there are learning tools, expand your horizons if you have down time. Talk to your manager and ask “Hey we have those courses, what are the best ones for me to go through when there’s down time?” They can maybe point you to the best ones for you to learn cool stuff and help yourself advance.

        2. sstabeler*

          That’s a pretty good supervisor you have there- he explained why you need a lot more time in your current position, not just said “you haven’t got the experience yet”

  5. Temperance*

    What not to do: try and poach all the more important/interesting work while ignoring the mundane administrative tasks that you’ve been given.

    I regularly say that women shouldn’t take on administrative tasks or party planning/office mom type stuff, but if that’s your job, do it, and do it very well. That’s how you get noticed, while making it clear when it comes up that you want to take on more challenging and interesting tasks. If your boss wants to keep you in the pink ghetto, it will be very obvious to you. 6 months is not enough time to worry, though.

        1. S*

          I read it as male too, because the OP says “My question comes from the perspective of a newly college graduate, beginning HIS career…”

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Heh. I sometimes switch out genders (not mine, but the other players in a story) when I’ve written in… juuuuuust in case they are here and recognize themselves.

            2. Original Poster*

              Hello all,

              OP here. I am male — originally used my fiance’s email address– I am sure that is confusing to our Ask a Manager. (Sorry, Alison)

              It is easy to assume HR might be a female’s career, as many HR professionals are female. (gender stereotype anyone? )

              1. Temperance*

                I actually assume all LWs are female, following the site’s convention. Knowing that you are a dude, I’m going to amend my advice to remind you that administrative tasks are not below your station, and showing that you’re happy to pitch in and do what’s needed will get you far. (Not saying that YOU think this way, but it’s something I’ve seen in some male former coworkers and summer interns.)

                1. EddieSherbert*

                  I was going to agree – it’s just the site’s way to go with “she” when we don’t know. We’re not necessarily stereotyping!

                2. Chinook*

                  “I’m going to amend my advice to remind you that administrative tasks are not below your station, and showing that you’re happy to pitch in and do what’s needed will get you far. (Not saying that YOU think this way, but it’s something I’ve seen in some male former coworkers and summer interns.)”

                  My female boss only hires female engineering co-op students (other managers are 50/50) and I have had to remind them that they are given these type of administrative tasks because they are students, not because they are female. And, if they are open to the feedback, I then tell them what they can learn from these admin tasks and point out that the department’s admin assistant seems to know so much despite her lack of university degree because she has spent 10 years doing these same tasks and has paid attention to the content of what she is doing.

        2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          I think because we are used to men being more vocal about being dissatisfied with entry-level work, which is bonkers. Overachievers come in both genders.

        3. Jax*

          The first line says “My question comes from the perspective of a newly college graduate, beginning his career as an HR assistant with no experience.” which is probably why we are assuming OP is male.

      1. Original Poster*

        Hello all,

        OP here. I am male — originally used my fiance’s email address– I am sure that is confusing to our Ask a Manager.

        It is easy to assume HR might be a female’s career, as many HR professionals are female. (gender stereotype anyone? )

        Thank you for the feedback. It is very helpful and insightful.

    1. Caledonia*

      Also, if you can’t do the smaller stuff well like admin, why would they give you the more important work? As well as, knowing the small details informs and improves your own practice going forward and getting more responsibility, when the times comes.

      1. Aurion*

        Yup, this. I hesitate to use admin as the example because I think being a good admin is hard (and frankly I only do a tolerable but not great job at it, whereas I’m much better at my current job), but in general, if your boss can’t see you excelling at lower-level or “easier” work, they will have little reason to give you the more interesting and often more difficult “hard” work. It’s not without exceptions because sometimes people just gel with one type of work more than the other, but it’s a good guideline to go by.

        OP, kick ass at your current low level job. Ask for feedback about how the higher-ups feel about your questions (they may like the ambition, they may think it’s annoying–you don’t know, so ask). But you are paying your dues right now, and if you do a good job of it, better work will come.

      2. Chinook*

        I have a real life example in the next door office (if she is reading this – hi!). She started off compiling reports, cleaning up a spreadsheet and basically doing whatever grunt work she was assigned. Because she did such a good job, she was not only hired on for another co-op term, she is now responsible for writing up the standard and procedure for what she is doing and the present it to out boss for approval. If she hadn’t shown a good eye for detail, the ability to recognize and speak up when she didn’t understand something or the willingness to do the mind-numbingly boring aspect of her earlier tasks, I can guarantee that that task would have been given to someone like me to do. She has literally become a subject matter expert because she did the boring stuff and will now have accomplishments from a co-op term that she can keep on her resume long after she graduates with her degree.

        Not every co-op student who goes here will be lucky enough to be able to do something like this (because part of it is due to timing), but not every co-op student who has gone through here would have been trusted with the opportunity to do it either.

    2. 123456789101112 do do do*

      Yes!! Our intern this summer was visibly dissatisfied with the tasks she was assigned. We happily taught her about everything we do, answered all of her questions, took her to the high-level meetings so she could understand more about the agency and the decision-making process. But when she was asked to do a few low-level tasks that all of us do on a regular basis, she bristled, procrastinated, and did them so poorly that they had to be re-done when she left. She is now She Who Must Not Be Named, all because she couldn’t do the basics well. Focus on getting your foundation set up right, and then your career can start on solid ground.

      1. Temperance*

        My terrible summer intern was similar. He wanted to do “interesting research and writing assignments”, which is so not even close to what we do on a regular basis.

      2. Charlie*

        I’ve been here too – it wasn’t an intern, though, it was an older career-changer who seemed to think that because he’d gotten lots of experience doing Field Teapot Studies he was entitled to jump right into Teapot Analysis, and got verbally and visibly irritated when that involved the kind of boring scut work he was actually qualified to do.

        1. bohtie*

          As a librarian, I have run into this SO MUCH – my field has a lot of former teachers in it (for example) who do not understand why they aren’t immediately given free reign to run the library by themselves, because their education background makes them better than my 10+ years of experience doing the actual work they’re being expected to.

      3. Venus Supreme*

        I had many interns at OldJob who felt that they deserved more than “grunt work” and who were also, funny enough, not doing their basic tasks correctly. I work in arts admin and I had an intern find me on social media to send me a message how she felt “trapped” because “art was happening on the other side of the walls while [she] stamped envelopes.” She ended up leaving in the middle of her day in a fit of rage because she couldn’t handle ” the office culture” anymore. (On the bright side, we’ve had stellar interns come through our doors who moved on to more exciting, and more fulfilling internships/jobs after their time with OldJob was done.)

        When I was interning, I attended a seminar where one professional in my field said, “All that data entry you do? It’s incredibly important. We senior-levels wouldn’t be able to do half of our job without the basic tasks the interns execute every day.” She placed an importance on what we interns called “b*tch work” and that completely changed my perspective on what an intern’s role is in the overall company. Perhaps OP can apply that viewpoint to his assistant duties?

      4. VolunteercoordinatorinNOVA*

        I’ve had this happen multiple times and it’s so frustrating. One of the best lessons I learned when I was intereting is that someone always has to do the unexciting/crappy task (especially in non-profits). If it’s not me, than its someone else so sometimes when you’re the person on the bottom, you get the less exciting things. Everyone has been there and can appreciate when you just do it and without complaint/angst about it.

      5. Original Poster*

        Original Poster here.

        Ouch! Harry Potter references are alright, but not that one. Humbled. Thank you for your input.

      6. 2 Cents*

        We’ve had a a handful of interns in the last two years who have acted this way: really gung-ho in the beginning, then upset when they’re not doing the “big stuff” when they don’t even have the basics down yet. If they would just do a fantastic (or even good) job on the little stuff we give, then we’d feel more confident doing the big stuff. But if I ask you to pull numbers from one program and enter it into a Word doc — and it’s ALL wrong every time — then you’re not getting anything else!

  6. Moonsaults*

    I like the fire inside but remind you to keep it burning at the right level or you will burn through all your energy too quickly. You have to keep learning and doing those junior tasks for much longer, that’s how you really solidify yourself with a company. You do not climb a ladder by skipping rungs just because you’re eager and find the bottom rungs so easy and you’re ready to get to the bigger meatier stuff up top. You are probably missing a lot of the things you learn from those smaller tasks.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This is a good point–and I’ve heard people say stuff like “I don’t like this; I could leave to find more interesting work.” Changing jobs before you’ve mastered those smaller rungs will just put you right back at the bottom of the ladder.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      Furthermore, a lot of people seem to forget that companies don’t hire you to give you skills. They hire you to do a job they need done. If that job is close to what you want to do, that’s great, but their primary goal and responsibility isn’t to give you your dream career. They don’t owe you immediate advancement. If they need supplies ordered, and it is your job to order supplies, you are expected to be doing a great job of ordering supplies, not searching for ways to do bigger and better things while leaving the supplies in the dust. If you can achieve bigger and better WHILE ordering supplies, please absolutely do that, but mostly they need you to order supplies. That goes double if the people in jobs above you are doing their jobs well. You are not expected to be trying to steal their jobs. You are expected to be doing YOUR job.

      Do a good job at what they’re asking you to do, and eventually you can move up. But your focus should be doing a good job at what they’re asking you to do.

      1. MillersSpring*

        Amen to being great at whatever you are asked to do. I once had an intern who was getting to draft clients’ social media posts, attend some client meetings, draft portions of important presentations and other material. Then we asked him to order lunch for a client meeting. Not sure if he thought it was beneath him, but it was screwed up royally. And it was tough to trust him again without a lot of double-checking.

        You have to shine consistently at basic tasks before you’ll be trusted with anything more complex. And this will be true someday when you are promoted; they may ease you into new tasks before letting you work on them independently.

    3. Original Poster*

      Original Poster here.

      Your post reminds me that I struggle a bit with my pride. I think feeling important and being important are two very different things, and I thank you for your input to help me in regards to my self-development.

      1. Chinook*

        OP, you sound like you are honestly accepting our advice here and I congratulate you. Humble pie is not at all appetizing and the human psyche wants to run hard and fast after the first taste. But, the minute your realize where your weakness is, then you can work on it becoming your strength.

        Remember that this is a distinct difference between being humble and being humbled – one of them is your choice and their is power in that, the other is not. Choosing to do the humble but necessary tasks will make The Smart Powers That Be realize they can trust you with more flashy ones because they know that you understand the value of a job getting done versus being known for doing it. And, in all honesty, which would you prefer – to be called from your humble task to do something flashy or pulled from the flashy task because they either found someone more qualified or they saw you are going to fail?

    4. Mockingjay*

      I like the fire inside but remind you to keep it burning at the right level or you will burn through all your energy too quickly.

      This! You will be in the workforce for the next 20-30 years. You got time!

  7. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    This letter feels like the healthy, thoughtful version of one we’ve seen before. I don’t remember enough about it to track it down in the archives, but I seem to remember a letter from someone in a similar situation — entry-level, felt like he could do so much more, but with an arrogant, dismissive tone. This letter writer seems to want the same thing, but with the humility to understand that she needs more experience to do what she wants to do, and — I hope! — to take Alison’s advice. I love it.

  8. Marche*

    OP, it’s great that you have such passion and drive, it really is! I hope you’ll keep that, because as Alison says, you are still very new to the work force. Keep doing an awesome job and more responsibility will come in time. It won’t come fast, but it will come eventually.

    1. MV*

      Agree with this – pay your dues as almost everyone else has had to do. But your enthusiasm and drive will get you far….when the time is right. But right now, its too early. We’ve all stuffed our fair share of envelopes :)

  9. fposte*

    OP, here’s something I’m not seeing you consider in your post. You don’t mention feeling like you don’t have enough work to do, so assuming there’s enough to keep you busy during a 40-hour week now, who will handle the work you’re doing if you get taken off of it to do something else? Is it somebody who costs the institution less than you or more than you, or would they even need to hire somebody else?

    1. Turtle Candle*

      This is a really good point. Some years back we had a new hire who was a self-proclaimed “ideas guy,” who wanted to take on challenging new projects and innovate and so on. Problem was, the whole team had a full workload–so what he kept, I think unintentionally, trying to do was to push as much of his “boring work” off on senior members of the team as he could so he could have time for the interesting stuff. (There was an added unfortunateness to this dynamic because he was the one guy on a team of women.)

      I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t deliberately trying to make other people do more of the grunt work so he could take their cool projects; he really did see his value as “innovator” and “ideas man.” But since we all had full slate of work, that was how his attempts kept coming across, and it was not great for his reputation with the rest of the team.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I think junior/entry level people don’t always realize that these decisions are financial–that it’s not that the senior person is too snobbish to clean the microwave or carry packages, it’s that it costs the company three times as much when she does it.

        1. AMG*

          Yes! My computer was dead last week and we have a project behind schedule. I offered to go sort teapots, label teapot shelves, etc, to help out. I was told no, that my boss would find something and that we do not use silver forks to dig holes. We use shovels. The only time in my life I have been called a silver fork, and I was happy about it.

      2. MillersSpring*

        Oh yes, have seen this multiple times–the guy who has tons of ideas, always for other departments. Often wrongly assuming that his idea is brand new. Usually has no clue about the bandwidth, priorities and budget that go into deciding which ideas are pursued. Gets peeved when his ideas are rejected. Complains to managers that his brilliant ideas aren’t appreciated. Usually 5-10 years younger than the people he’s approaching with his ideas. Ugh.

  10. persimmon*

    If you use good judgment, I don’t think it’s too early to express interest getting some exposure to specific projects that would normally be above your paygrade. The key is to be specific: don’t say you want higher-level work in general, say “Wow, Sexy Project looks really interesting. Let me know if you could ever use some extra help on it.” And then a) be prepared to take this on in addition to your other work, not instead, and b) know that you’ll have a pretty minor role, it’s more about getting to see what Sexy Project is like. Perhaps you could offer to proofread, collate, organize, etc. materials for Sexy Project–this gives good exposure while also often being pretty useful (though may make more sense in some fields than others). If you use that kind of opportunity to learn more about Sexy Project, other tasks may pop out as being ones that would be appropriate for your role. I think it is great (and in some workplaces necessary) for entry-level employees to advocate for themselves to get more advanced work–but you have to watch out for opportunities where you have a realistic way to make yourself useful in doing so, given the big-picture needs of your organization and your role.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      I was headed to recommending the same thing here. Show interest in a very nonchalant but very specific way. That way you look willing to learn and grow (which your letter sounds like you are) as opposed to just being interested in getting a bigger title/paycheck without putting in your time.

  11. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    Oh, OP, do I ever feel you. But this is good advice. Follow it.

    Also: look up your local SHRM (or similar) chapter. Get involved. A lot of local chapters of professional orgs are really pinched for volunteers because those who are at the mid-career and up levels have far too much on their plates (personally and professionally) to devote much time. An extra set of eager hands will be welcome, and you will make lots of great local contacts in the meantime. PLUS you can also look into resources for getting your PHR or SHRM-CP when you are ready (and hopefully by then the profession will have a better idea as to which certification is the “better” one!), which will also help you with advancement down the road.

    If your company has the funds to spare, they may even pay for your membership. (Don’t count on that, though.) They will at the very least likely be supportive of your involvement.

    1. hayling*

      Yes! You can get a ton of training through SHRM. There’s also other organizations–our Office Manager/de facto HR Manager does a lot of online training. Maybe ask your boss if it’s ok for you to spend an hour a week watching a webinar or doing other training?

    2. Jadelyn*

      You can also get your aPHR pretty much right away while you wait for your eligibility mark for either the PHR or SHRM-CP (and for the aforementioned cert wars to get settled, lol) – HRCI created the new cert, I think because they realized they were going to lose a big chunk of early-career HR people to the SHRM-CP because of HRCI’s insistence on years of “exempt-level professional HR role” experience versus SHRM’s requirement of “HR duties”, so they rolled out the aPHR to try to recapture that segment before everyone went to the SHRM-CP, which is intended for just-starting-out/early-career HR professionals. I got mine earlier this year. There’s no study materials specifically for the aPHR yet, but if you buy a study guide for the PHR and just go through that it should get you what you need to know for the aPHR.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        ” because of HRCI’s insistence on years of “exempt-level professional HR role.”
        The IPMA-CP does this, too (the public sector version), and I’ve never understood it. What if, for example, you are doing professional level work but are non-exempt? Especially now with the new salary thresholds! My first 4 1/2 years in the field I was technically non-exempt in that my salary grade was deemed overtime eligible. (Put against a duties test, I could likely have been exempt, but that was my workplace’s setup.)

        1. Kate The Little Teapot*

          I am not in this field but exempt is a completely whack criterion. I mean, what about if you do HR for multiple small companies? Then obviously you’re not going to be exempt. Do they work in the real world that we work in today?!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I have no idea if I’m right, but I would assume they don’t care whether your company treats you as non-exempt as long as the role itself would meet the duties test for exemption. It’s a way of saying “you need to be working at a relatively senior level with independent decision-making.”

        2. Jadelyn*

          THANK you. It drives me nuts. Being exempt isn’t – or shouldn’t be – a status marker, which is absolutely what HRCI is using it as. There’s nothing in the FLSA *requiring* that any position be exempt regardless of duties – you could theoretically pay your CEO hourly if you wanted to. It’s just not usually an efficient use of resources to do so. So if an org chooses to pay hourly, why does that make the experience the person has in that role less “valuable” for certification purposes?

          Like, I feel like SHRM has been more than a little passive-aggressive and pissy about how they handled the split, plenty of mud-slinging going on, but at least they’re willing to recognize the value of the actual HR *work* being performed, not just the title and salary. I absolutely plan to sit for the SHRM-CP next spring once I finish my degree, since I’ll have been *doing HR* for 3 years by then…even if it’s not *real HR* by HRCI’s standards.

    3. Whats In A Name*

      So I used to be a member of a local HR Professional group (not SHRM) when I was just out of college and had a very tiny amount of discretionary funds. My company would pay the dues but not for the lunches/networking events. A few times I volunteers to announce/introduce the guest speaker and got into the event free as a result. U learned a lot that way. But I also made some great connections who helped coach me through some tough situations and even helped me when I ended up getting laid off.

    4. AnonEMoose*

      As someone who spends a lot of my non-work time on a volunteer gig, I want to say a couple of things about volunteering. First, even in a volunteer group, be prepared to spend some time doing “grunt” work at first. There are a couple of reasons for this. Partly, they will likely want you to demonstrate that you are not only capable, but reliable.

      A competent, reliable volunteer is worth his/her weight in gold. And if that person is also a decent human who is easy to work with? They will LOVE you. But you need to be willing to take on the boring stuff for a bit at first, to demonstrate that you are these things.

      Also, this kind of task is a great way to get a feel for the organization. Do you like the people running it, do you like what they do? If you demonstrate skill and reliability, then, when they are looking for someone to help with something more interesting, they’re very likely to think of you. But don’t be afraid to speak up and say “I’d love to help with X” when the opportunity arises.

      Basically, if you take on a volunteer job, treat it as a job in terms of how you conduct yourself. Do what you say you will, to the best of your ability. Communicate. Treat people with respect and courtesy. Because that volunteer gig can not only be a great way to learn stuff, it can be a networking opportunity as well. And you never know who you will run into when.

      1. Chinook*

        Also, remember that even volunteer groups have standards and procedures (even if unwritten) and a history that you have to take into account when you are in charge. This is part of the reason why you need to be willing to do the grunt work – to learn how it works and why things are done. That is not to say that things may not need to change, but you need to know the structure that exists and what it is built on before you can start shaking the foundations otherwise you run the risk of destroying everything, good and bad, with movements that, from the outside, look like they are the right ones.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Yes – this is huge! Remember that people often do volunteer work because they are passionate about it. Sometimes that means that they take feedback and suggestions rather personally. On the flip side, if you make a suggestion and they say “we tried that and it didn’t work because X” – listen. You do need to understand the “how we do things” before you try changing them.

  12. NW Mossy*

    I remember feeling this way sometimes during the early part of my career, and I used a few different strategies to cope.
    In the spirit of doing things well, I threw myself headfirst into a grunt-work task (a huge backlog of scanning/metadata entry) that had been sitting idle for many months prior to my hire, and even got approval to work overtime to get it done. It was definitely boring work, but had the advantage of being something where I could see the measurable progress of a big stack of papers ready for the shredder at the end of each day.

    Another tactic I chose was to look at peers just slightly further along the curve and try to learn a bit about how they spent their days. This is one of the scenarios where sitting in a cube farm is a big advantage, because you can simply passively absorb some of that by hearing conversations going on around you. I ended up sitting next to a guy just a couple years older than me who took me under his wing a bit, and he was a big support for me in those first couple years out of school. We’re still in touch today, and every once in a while when I’m frustrated with another person, I remember what he said after hanging up the phone with a particularly trying client: “If she had kids, I’d swear in front of them.” It’s been over a decade and that still makes me laugh.

  13. Rebecca (HR newbie too)*

    As someone in HR who has been in HR for only about 2 years (prior to this I started in lean right after grad school), I thought I would share my perspective. Do not underestimate what you can learn by doing well at your work right now. One of the things I have been given positive feedback around is that I am one of those people that “gets things done”. I have worked with other junior people and other people with more experience, and what I consistently see is that the people who try to avoid the “grunt work” don’t seem to get the really cool projects. And the reason for that is there is always and will always be an element of grunt work no matter what level you become. So, the trick is to always find value and think about what you learn. A big part of HR is actually doing project management really well, which you can practice on the tasks you are currently doing. I feel very fortunate to have been able to work on some major company wide projects (at a fortune 100 company) and I attribute that to saying yes and doing anything I can with a good attitude. Good luck with your job, and as my mom always reminds me… Enjoy the journey.

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      This, this, this. OP, you’ll be surprised, once you get a reputation for getting stuff done well, how much more interesting work finds its way to you without you even asking.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Agreed. That’s how I’ve managed to move up pretty quickly in my career versus people around my same age and with more experience than me – I’m good at doing the stuff no one else seems to want to be bothered with. Sometimes it’s grunt work, but other times it’s also an angry client or a file that’s going to require hours of investigation to close.

    2. Original Poster*


      “what I consistently see is that the people who try to avoid the “grunt work” don’t seem to get the really cool projects. ”

      Great point! This is very helpful, thank you.


      1. MillersSpring*

        OP, you also should listen intently and seek moments when you can make a comment that is insightful. Say your department is planning an employee survey or rolling out new software: maybe you could point out, “Isn’t that Easter weekend?” Or, “Will we need to plan for extra training?” Your more senior coworkers will gradually begin to respect and value you.

    3. designbot*

      Yes! Take every project or task as an opportunity. It may not be the opportunity you originally imagined, but each one lets you learn something, meet and work with more different people, see how something gets done, and that will all be valuable to you someday. Don’t set your sights so high that you’re overlooking what’s in front of you, because you’ll likely need that knowledge someday. The people who fancy themselves “ideas guys” tend to not have followthrough because they didn’t pay attention to the nuts and bolts of things.

      1. AMG*

        You can teach people a lot of things, but teaching them to have fire, work ethic, and a conscientious approach are generally not among them. Work hard, be diligent, and you will find that those opportunities will come your way.

    4. Kate*

      I managed a team a few years back that had one member who was constantly asking me “how did you get to the level you are at?” and was baffled that my answer was always “Doing the daily filings as well as I possibly could and making sure I understood why the grunt work I was doing was important”. It’s hard to hear as a junior person, but honestly the daily grind and finding the 100+ ways anything can and will go wrong and need to be problem-solved prepared me to be a manager and then a senior manager.

      The little tasks that annoyed me and I HATED as a junior teapot painter ended up giving me the very skills I needed to be super valuable to my current employer and ensured I got this position above others that may have looked better on paper. I actually (unknowingly!) solved one problem in my interview for them on where to find documentation when I was commiserating that the teapot regulators were so bad about making information easy to find.

      So I’d say keep it slow and steady, but make sure you understand the “why” of the grunt work. Knowing why things are done one way and not another helps to find efficiencies as well as helps your decision making in the future when you can say “while it looks time consuming to do it this way, if we do it the other way the teapot explodes in the kiln…”

  14. gnarlington*

    Agree with Alison’s response here, OP. Take it from someone two years into the workforce, but really only a little bit over a year in his job. Though that might be frustrating to hear, framing it like this has really helped me: If you want to be catapulted into the next level, you have to hit goals that will translate and be really good at your current job. So let the frustration and the desire to be catapulted energize you in this role.

  15. AdAgencyChick*

    Alison is so, so right.

    I have two recent grads on my team (I’m their grand-boss). One of them approaches her job with a solid understanding of the fact that she is new, not just to the company, but to the industry and to the working world, and she approaches the low-level tasks we give her with diligence. She asks questions of her direct supervisor to learn more about the industry, but is careful to do so at appropriate times (i.e., during 1:1s with her manager, not bugging him or me when we’re clearly busy with other tasks) and from a place of “I want to learn more about how this industry works,” not “when are you going to let me do all the things?”

    The other thinks nothing of interrupting me when I’m working on something more important than what it is he wants an answer to, and phrases his questions as “when can I do that cool thing instead of this boring thing?”

    Guess which one I’m going to promote when the time comes?

    1. Busytrap*

      Exactly.We had a similar scenario (for a moment, I thought this could have been written a few months ago by a coworker here!), but we actually let our “second recent grad” go recently for refusing to do the grunt work and always looking for the cool thing instead of the boring thing. She annoyed the hell out of our director despite multiple coaching attempts, and it finally got to be too much of a distraction. The first grad we recently promoted, and she is doing the cool stuff now. :)

      To be clear, OP, I don’t think “second recent grad” will be you, given that you seem to be taking this feedback really well! Just something to keep in mind.

  16. AshleyH*

    I’m in HR – my first job out of college felt a lot more like the office manager than a true HR Generalist (which is what my title was). I planned parties, I ordered and refilled copy paper and toner, I made the coffee, etc. Over time (I was there for almost five years before I had to relocate) I got more and more responsibility. That let me transition into a role when I moved to an HR roll where I was responsible for recruiting/hiring for three departments, all new employee on-boarding and orientation, and overseeing our college recruitment and internship program. I’ve since relocated again (trailing spouses, UNITE!) and now (seven years after I graduated) do recruiting for a different company and oversee the recruiting/hiring efforts for almost 40 locations.

    No one becomes CEO overnight :)

    1. Whats In A Name*

      Yes! This was my first HR job as well. I did phone & 1st round interviews but spent the majority of my time on the employee relations (parties/dress code enforcement) and office management (answer phones, deal with crappy landlord) duties for a few years.

      My first BIG HR-related project what when I was asked to serve on a committee handling a very sensitive legal issue because of my attention to detail and organizational skills that I used on all the “other” duties assigned. I left that company 7 years ago but still use a lot of the skills I used there in the day-to-day and they have gotten me much further than the HR-specific tasks did.

      Just do what you do and do it well!

  17. Edith*

    An entry-level job isn’t a trainee position for a director’s job. It’s a way for you to learn the workflows and workplace norms of office life in general and your field in particular. These are important formative years, and you don’t want to rush it and risk being the assistant director who has no idea what her underlings are doing, how, and why.

    Six months is a really short amount of time on the job. I know you feel like you’ve got a handle on the entire department, but you’re still a wee babe career-wise. You have plenty of time.

    1. BPT*

      “An entry-level job isn’t a trainee position for a director’s job.”

      This is such a good point. I think people coming from recently being students or interns are still in the mindset of, “I’m doing this for my benefit.” Students take classes where the main goal is to get a diploma (which will help you get a job). It’s for their own benefit. Similarly, internships usually are created to give interns a chance to learn and a well-rounded experience. At my firm, we use our (paid) interns to cover important things, which gives them writing experience, but we also encourage them to find briefings in DC they’d like to attend, go to Congressional hearings when things are slow, attend client meetings when feasible, etc. It’s much more about what THEY can get out of it (and rightfully so). They don’t do the scheduling/event planning/email list-generating that our staff assistant does, even though he outranks them.

      Once you’re employed, though, it’s about what you can do for the company. They didn’t make up this job to give you experience and to allow you to move up – they created the job because they need those specific tasks done.

      That being said, a good company will obviously try to give you experience and help you along your career path at the appropriate times – but not at the expense of your current position.

  18. Recruit-o-rama*

    Be an amazing assistant, this is how you are recognized and eventually given more work and get promoted. Being an assistant is such a huge valuable part of the “machine” that is HR (or any department). In my company, I have a senior enough title that I often delegate some tasks to HR Generalists or HR Clerks so I can focus on some of my more project based work. Most of these professionals are awesome and I am so grateful for all the work they do. Some of them are resentful or prematurely ambitious and I don’t give them any extra work because it’s extra work for me to manage them. I am also in the position to recommend internal candidates for higher level positions as they open up and you can bet your bottom dollar that the amazing generalist and clerks are the one I move forward in the process.

    In the meantime, look to SHRM to gain some extra knowledge, skills and certifications because you will learn so much and the certs are a huge highlight on a resume.

    And from one HR pro to another, thank you for everything you do; the tasks seem small, but they are important and necessary.

  19. Original Poster*

    Hello everyone,

    Original Poster here. Both the article and contributing comments have been both very humbling and extremely helpful. Unfortunately and fortunately, I’ve been given the heart of a dreamer. Therefore, it is hard for me to *always* see how the smaller things will benefit me in the longer run.

    As for the term “catapult”, I use that term in the way that my entry level HR job has given me more insight as to what my next career move is. I don’t see this job as an ends to a mean, rather my supervisor has been transparent from the beginning: there is no room for growth, and she hopes I do move on after 2 years to the next step in my HR career. And no, I do not think I will become a director any time soon (lol).

    Doing the smaller things really well makes sense. Even if I might have known the answer already, the reinforcement I am receiving is very much a form of affirmation and guidance that I need. And because of that, I am thankful to hear from experienced business men and women who are willing to take a small amount of time to give me feedback.

    More to come, I hope!


    1. Cranky Pants*

      To reiterate what everyone else has said, do the basics, do them well and to them without complaint of the tasks not being meaty enough. Grunt work is your job at this point in your career. Do offer to assist others in slightly higher positions than you but be prepared to get their grunt work. Be helpful but not pushy – especially to those that are slightly ahead of you because they were once you and have paid their dues. Thinking you’ll be able to catapult your way over them will not win you any friends, favors or respect. You work will do that, if and when it is deserved.

      1. Chinook*

        “Do offer to assist others in slightly higher positions than you but be prepared to get their grunt work. ”

        Keep in mind that doing the grunt work for those in higher positions can get you in meetings/events that you wouldn’t normally have access to (though you need to be invited, you can never demand). Every powerful person has at least one or two people walking behind them, hauling their paperwork, taking notes and hearing the exact same conversations. Those “grunts” may not have a say in coming up with the recipe, but they are learning first hand how the sausage is made.

        1. Chinook*

          I want to add that my experience on how being a grunt can get you in the room partially comes from being a Catholic altar server. By definition, you work as a servant to the priest during the mass. Those of us who learned the details and did the boring stuff (including the prep work before and after), were the ones who were then invited to help when the local bishop came to town once a year. Those who showed up late and did the bear minimum were not trusted when perfection is required. As a result of doing this grunt work, I can count in this rural Alberta girl’s list of acquaintances a cardinal of the church as well as a couple of bishops (and spent enough time with them to tell you which ones are down to earth humble guys, like the one who became a cardinal, and which ones were the snobbish political climbers who are still stuck here).

          As I tell the newer altar servers coming up, while what we may do may seem inconsequential and boring (at times we are like living furniture), but how we perform those tasks is very much a sign of our character. Anyone can hold a towel – not everyone can do it well, at the right time or without feeling humiliated for doing something menial but required in order for someone else to do their job well.

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      It’s great to have dreams and ambitions. Just don’t let them interfere with your realities!

      Despite your dreamer’s heart, and its impatience, I think you are showing a good attitude and instincts here.

    3. Aurion*

      Your attitude is better than mine was at your age, OP (I mean, I understood the general sentiment but had difficulties putting it into practice). That attitude and a good work ethic will take you very, very far. Good luck!

    4. self employed*

      Being a dreamer is not a liability unless you let it be an excuse to get discontent. Dream big, but realize that you have to take one step at a time towards that dream. This is one step.

      Additionally, consider that keeping your dream in view will help motivate you when things are mundane or boring or seem thankless. You’ll be able to remember your “why” and keep moving forward with a positive attitude.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yes to all of this.

        You sound like a good employee, OP. Just learn to channel your positive energy into the work you’re currently assigned and you’ll be golden.

      2. LBK*

        Agreed. It almost sounds to me that the OP is more of a daydreamer than a dreamer. Don’t let thinking about the distance between where you are now and where you want to be distract you – let it motivate you. Take that dream and turn it into something concrete by making a realistic plan about what you need to do to get there.

        That may mean acknowledging some frustrating realities like the fact that it’s going to take years and you’ll have to do a lot of boring work before you can do the more exciting work. But better to face that now, accept that you might not always enjoy the steps along the way and use your dream to keep yourself focused.

    5. Barney Barnaby*

      OP, glad you wrote in and read the comments!

      If you have a reasonably good manager, the (counterintuitive) key to getting plum assignments is a willingness to execute the boring stuff well. First, it showcases your skills; it also shows that you’re a team player. Everyone who has been in the workplace for a while has a horror story about someone who refused to do their (boring) work and hoisted it on colleagues; hogged the fun, sexy projects; or make their employees’ lives miserable by actively squelching their talent and taking credit for their work.

      If your career has thus far been mercifully free of such antics, you are underestimating the importance of showing that you’re not “that person.”

      1. LBK*

        100% agreed. If you establish that you’ll never turn down any task, you’ll start getting offered the exciting ones along with the boring ones. Plus, I’ve found that the tasks where you really learn are the boring ones; doing those tends to make you more qualified to do the exciting tasks and also makes them easier to do.

    6. H.C.*

      Glad to hear about this follow-up. Based on this comment, it seems even more important for you to do the smaller stuff well, since you would want a good reference from your supervisor (who expects you to move on anyways) when you job-hunting for a higher level HR position in 2 years.

      I agree with others with volunteering, joining professional societies, etc. Also, if you are caught up on your current work assignments and have a good rapport with your supervisor, you can ask if she can act as a mentor of sorts. This can mean bringing you to meetings to observe, shadowing her for part of the day, recurring one-on-ones to talk about professional development, etc. But note that she has every right to say ‘no’ & you shouldn’t take it personally (she can simply be too busy to have a mentee/shadow.)

    7. Naomi*

      It’s OK if you don’t immediately see how the smaller tasks will benefit you in the long run. That’s part of being an entry-level employee–you don’t always know why things are important, or which things will turn out in the long term to be useful to know. Do your current job to the best of your ability, and trust that in a few years you’ll have the experience and hindsight to see how doing a lower-level job prepared you for the next step. Good luck!

    8. ala*

      I am someone that really needs a sense of purpose and some ‘big picture meaning’ to what I’m working on. The trick is to figure out how to recognize the bigger purpose to every mundane task.
      Reflect on every person whose job will be made possible or easier by the accuracy and care that you are taking in the task. Think about how the data you are entering moves through the company and is useful for important decisions. Enjoy the fact that you are handling something so your senior colleagues can focus on their jobs better. Learn the preferences of individual colleagues and try to customize for them where possible. Take pride in your improvement and learning.

      (Don’t expect thanks on every little thing. Small tasks are often proved done well in not being noticed because they work so seamlessly. Take your own satisfaction in the task done well.)

    9. LCL*

      You are fortunate that you have a great supervisor. A lot of supervisors will eat up entry level people. They will promise them advancement if they could just do everything right, but the job itself can’t and won’t lead to advancement and they won’t tell you this.
      So treasure this professional relationship, and don’t be afraid to ask her for advice.

    10. MillersSpring*

      “…I’ve been given the heart of a dreamer.”

      This observation is quite youthful. Please don’t think mistakenly that few people are dreamers or that you are cosmically mismatched for grunt work. Like most, your career will probably be a hopscotch or a steady rise. I’m grateful today for all of the roles that brought me to my current level of experience. If I’d been given my dream job 20 years ago, I would’ve been way out of my depth. Slow and steady wins the race.

  20. Jwal*

    At the one year mark if you’re wondering about suggestions then don’t seem pushy, then is shadowing a thing you could do (such as sitting in on meetings or something)? It’s not asking to be able to do the work itself, but it would be an opportunity to be sort-of involved and get a better picture of things. This will depend on what exactly your firm/HR department does of course.

  21. AnonMurphy*

    I agree with Alison’s advice.

    Something else to keep in mind, AS you are going about your doing-everything-really-well day, is to have conversations about where you see yourself in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, with your boss. It’s okay to be ambitious. Just also be realistic.

    I know it’s hard – I’m 35 and just now starting to reach the ‘heights’ I aspired to 10 years ago. Pay your dues and good things will come. Hard but true.

  22. pomme de terre*

    Three thoughts:

    1. It’s tough for junior people to get senior assignments, and that’s doubly true in HR which should place a higher value on confidentiality than most departments. You have to earn that level of trust, and most new grads just do not have the experience and judgment required unless they are some kind of savant.

    2. Find the larger lessons in the low-level tasks. Party organizing is a micro chore, but thinking about the end goal of those events (employee morale? winning new business? internal communications?) will help you to do the task better and understand the organization and the profession in a macro sense.

    3. If you are really feeling frustrated, look for a leadership position in your community or hobby world. I learned a LOT from managing volunteers at a local arts org.

    1. Jadelyn*

      #2 is big, actually – I find it a lot more interesting to organize employee events when I keep in mind the context of the strategic end goal behind it – better engagement and stronger bonds between employee and employer – and I can also bring suggestions of my own to the details of planning based on the things I research and read on my own time about employee morale and how to increase engagement, for example. Even filing and such is less worse if you look at it within the context of record retention laws and best practices.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I was coming to say something like #2 as well. Yes, if you think about your day as “well today I made photocopies, answered the phone and filed paperwork, tomorrow I’m going to do more of the same, ugh” – that is definitely a way to kill your own morale. But if have an idea as to where the work you are doing fits into the big picture – making photocopies for the corporate recruitment and strategy team meeting, taking phone calls that relate to hiring our next COO, checking over paperwork to make sure i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed so we are know we are compliant with EEOC laws and could find the relevant paperwork if we were ever audited, etc.

      Honestly, a lot of people’s “elevator speech” about what they do sounds far more interesting than the nuts and bolts individual tasks they do. For instance, this week I’m working on a project to compare where new exiting product X falls compared to its competitors in the field, I’m working on a quality systems improvement project to make sure my team is all up to speed on the newest test methods, and I’m working on a strategic project for the Executive Board that could save $X and cut our response time in half. Sounds exciting, right? But what that really means:
      -Spreadsheets, spreadsheets, crap tons of spreadsheets
      -Laying a bunch of documents out side by side and going through them line by line with highlighters and red pens finding the differences, and then summarizing my highlights.
      -Making boring phone calls where I sit on hold for 20 minutes to finally say “can I get a quote on X, Y, Z?” and then follow up a week later when they quoted me X, Y and W not Z to continue the game of phone tag.

      My first list sounds exciting and interesting. My second list of my actual tasks could be mind-numbingly awful to people who hate doing those actual tasks or who don’t see the big picture. OP, try to see the big picture and maybe your mundane tasks won’t seem so terrible.

      My other suggestion is to play “what-if” with your tasks and responsibilities. What if you didn’t do you assigned tasks (or did them badly)? What could be the consequences (for the company, not just for you, which would probably be that you would be fired)? If you don’t file those TPS reports accurately, could the company be in deep water during a compliance audit? If you didn’t run report XYZ, could there be a payroll error that no one catches until months later? If you don’t file forms ABC properly, could that mean that one of your employees would go to use their health insurance only to find out that they aren’t actually covered because of the improper paperwork and create a ton of paperwork headache for your department and that employee? Sometimes jobs where everything runs smoothly can seem really boring – but trust me when I say that “boring but functional and effective” is 1000 times better than “exciting but stressful and exhausting because you’re constantly putting out fires created by not doing something right in the first place”.

  23. VolunteercoordinatorinNOVA*

    I think it’s important to remember that knowing how to do the less exciting, smaller tasks and being able to execute them well will serve you well later in your career. Some of the best managers I’ve had understood the complexities within these simple tasks and could better shine a light on them and how they fit into the bigger picture. Sometimes doing too many projects or jumping from task to task doesn’t work in your favor as it’s hard to truly grasp and manage too many tasks, no matter how small.

    I think offering to help on projects you’re interested could be a way to learn more about the things that you’re interested in but know that it may be copying or stuffing envelopes or whatever and that’s OK. I once had an intern who wanted to help on projects but when I would give her task to do that wasn’t super exciting like making info packets, she would always act offended that I wasn’t letting her run the project. She could have learned more about the project but because she was obviously unhappy about the task I gave her, I wouldn’t give her more to do on that project.

  24. Xarcady*

    Doing all the boring work now pays off later. A good boss knows how to do nearly everything in their department, knows how long it takes, knows the problems that can arise even while doing the most simple tasks. A good boss will also pitch in on the boring-but-necessary stuff when there’s a time crunch and it absolutely has to get done.

    Even something like party organizing–you are learning about how to estimate the number of people attending, finding a suitable space, reserving that space, getting the right AV equipment there, working with caterers, organizing set up and clean up, how to invite people, which people to invite–all sorts of things that will carry over to organizing much larger, different events in the years to come.

    In the meantime, you can continue your education by reading HR blogs and journals, by learning more about your company (many large companies have a company history out there somewhere), and learning more about the industry your company is in.

    One other thing is to volunteer. There’s a new skill/database someone in the department needs to learn? Volunteer. Really boring task no one wants to do? Volunteer. Even if you are not chosen, people remember those who are willing to help out. And consider volunteering for any company committees that you are interested in. That would allow you to meet more people from outside your department, and learn more about the company, which can’t hurt.

  25. Lily in NYC*

    What you are doing is called “paying your dues”. And you need to do it. We don’t promote entry level people unless they do their own job well. Make sure you keep doing the grunt work without complaint if you are going to ask for more responsibility. When we hire someone who immediately starts asking for higher level work, it’s a big red flag. The good thing is that HR assistants are usually promoted within the department if they do well (at least that’s how it’s been at all of my jobs). My advice: keep doing a good job, do the grunt work willingly, and show your bosses that you give them peace of mind (as in, they don’t have to check up on you because you have gained their trust). Then, ask for a check-in after a couple of more months, tell them you love the work and what you do and ask what you need to do to continue growing in your role and to eventually grow out of it.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I forgot to write that you seem like you have a good attitude about this, so I have a feeling things will work out well if you keep it up!

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, I remember my buddies graduating from college and all paying their dues—making photocopies, fetching coffee, doing data entry, etc. Most of them are now directors, doctors, law partners, school administrators, editors (not editorial assistants), or in other “higher-up” positions. They didn’t get to those positions in six months, nor did they expect to.

      Not saying you have to walk uphill both ways in the snow with bare feet, but six months definitely doesn’t take you out of grunt work into HR director–level responsibility.

  26. Jessesgirl72*

    I hope the OP knows that he is totally not alone in this. That’s probably the #1 complaint I’ve heard from college hires. Good Job, OP, on recognizing that you might be coming off on annoying and already know that you need to be content with your current status. Absolutely the #1 complaint I’ve heard about college hires from their managers is their impatience to get to the “exciting” stuff by people who are still struggling with the basic boring stuff. Oh, the Happy Hour stories I’ve heard!

    When that year or so is up, and you are looking to talk about taking on more responsibilities, the only thing I will add to the good advice you’ve already gotten is to not set your sights on what your Supervisor is doing. Assuming your HR department isn’t just the two of you, look to the most junior person above you to see what they are doing as whose tasks you can reasonably be assigned to help with. Learn all you can about the position just above your own. If you’re too concerned about the top, you’ll miss things along the way.

  27. Elle*

    OP, as a fellow HR practitioner for the past 20 odd years, I have some recommendations for some things you can do outside your position to build up your knowledge. Consider looking into certification either through SHRM or HRCI, both are accepted in the field, and will help boost your credibility in the field. Also look into joining your local SHRM chapter, as well as the national chapter. National SHRM puts out a great monthly magazine that will help keep you updated on trends and legal issues. There are also some seminars you can go to through organizations like National Seminars, etc. I’ve seen one that’s geared specifically towards people who are new to HR, that covers a lot of the basics that you will need to know. Lastly, consider volunteering in your area – for example, I do mock interviewing at a high school. All of these efforts will all increase your knowledge base and show your commitment to the field.

    In the meantime, Alison is spot on. Do the job you have for a couple of years and do it well – the higher positions will come over time, as you earn them. As other commenters have mentioned, it’s a climb up the ladder, not a catapult. Plus, it would be impossible to apply the necessary judgment it takes in higher HR positions without putting in the time in the lower positions first. Good luck to you!

  28. Not an IT Guy*

    Six months in is very understandable as to why additional responsibilities aren’t being handed out. But what happens if several years pass and nothing changes? At what point do you become concerned about your career?

    1. NW Mossy*

      I’d be concerned about an expectation that additional responsibilities are something handed out, because that’s a passive approach. If you want to move forward in your career, you have to show up for it in the sense that you’re making the right receptive-to-new-tasks noises. Sometimes that’s explicitly saying “I want to do X”, sometimes it’s “I’ve got slack in my schedule this week, need help with Y?”, and sometimes it’s “I see that no one’s taken Z yet, I’m game.” If you’re quietly standing on the side waiting for someone to notice you and give you things, it can be a long enough wait that you’ll soon start to wish that you’d brought a magazine.

      When I’m delegating to my team, the people who come to mind first are those who’ve previously expressed interest in doing something similar to the thing I’m looking to delegate. Their experience level, current workload, and development goals are also factors, but I generally won’t delegate something to someone who’s never expressed interest in doing it if I’ve got other options who have.

      1. Not an IT Guy*

        Sounds like you’ve never told anyone on your team who wants to do X, Y, or Z to “stop showing so much enthusiasm”, or “shut up and know your place”, or “we don’t give stuff like that to people who are slow”. It’s been my experience that management is not to be questioned when it comes to your professional development.

        1. NW Mossy*

          You’re right – I haven’t said those things, because in addition to being bad management they’re also pretty hateful things to say to another person. I was approaching your question from the perspective of working with generally reasonable and non-hateful management, and I’m sorry your experience up to this point has been otherwise.

    2. Christian Troy*

      I was going to leave a similar comment. I get where the advice is coming from but I have also seen entry level means vastly different things at different places. At one company, entry level HR assistant is sorting resumes and contacting candidates and doing phone screens. It sounds like the bulk of the job the OP is doing is administrative, so how will they get the HR experience in the long run to qualify for promotions or other jobs?

      1. MillersSpring*

        You get experience for promotions or other jobs by shining at the work you’re given, even if it’s administrative. You learn and glean tidbits from the basics. Then you can earn and ask for small projects with a bit more responsibility and perform exceptionally at those.

        When you’re straight out of college, you may be trusted only with very basic tasks that allow others to see your work ethic, trustworthiness, dedication, aptitude, attention to detail and enthusiasm. As your boss sees what you can handle well, then he/she will entrust you with more advanced tasks. (Or if they don’t offer, you can ask about tasks and projects that interest you. Offer assistance to coworkers on your team whose work fascinates you.) This steady approach is how you build experience.

    3. Moonsaults*

      The OP has noted above that he has been told there’s no room for growth in the company, so he very well may never really be given anything more challenging.

      Most offices want X amount of experience to go along with a degree. So you can look around to see how much experience that is in the region. Say it’s 2-3 years experience. So OP should buckle down and do the absolute best, learning as much as possible and then once that golden amount of experience is achieved, you jump ship.

      Sometimes it’s not feasible to stay within one single company your entire career. Thankfully with his goal to be in the higher rungs of HR, every company out there needs some kind of HR experience. There should be a lot of opportunities to find once the basics are mastered and has something to market himself with.

      My response to most things is “get what you can out of the place and move on when it no longer is a benefit to you.” It’s the key to never feel trapped in a job but to realize the somewhat standardized expectations.

  29. boop the first*

    The moment you decide you don’t want bigger responsibilities for work-life balance reasons, that’s when they’ll throw everything at you.

  30. Clever Name*

    There are ways to learn more about the work you’d like to be doing while still adding value in a junior-level role. And keep in mind, you are there to do tasks for your employer, and they pay you to do those tasks. Volunteer to attend meetings to take minutes, and then take really good minutes. You’ll learn a lot just be being in those meetings and listening. Don’t expect to contribute anything (unless asked) at this stage. Even filing stuff can be a learning experience if you glance at the types of documents your department generates and what their system is. If your workplace is the type that has committees for different things, volunteer to be on those. Plenty of lower-level tasks can be a learning opportunity if you pay attention rather than wishing you were doing higher-level stuff. If you are known as someone who does their job well AND goes above and beyond by volunteering for other things, you will become trusted to do higher-level stuff more quickly than if you just put in your hours. Most of all, don’t give off an attitude of “I’m too good for my job”. With that kind of attitude, at best you can hope to stay in your same position, but in some companies, they will find a way to transition you out.

    1. KellyK*

      I definitely second the meeting minutes. It can be an annoying task that people don’t like to do, so it’s a good way to show you’re willing to do grunt work. It’s also a really good way to learn a lot about what’s going on with a given project, how things tend to run in your workplace, and all kinds of useful things. And it’s great practice for good note-taking, summarizing, and writing skills.

  31. DVZ*

    While a great job and a great boss may enable you to learn the ins and outs of your industry, the fundamental purpose of you being there is to do THAT specific job – not to ‘learn your trade’. Learning your trade is the cumulative effect of doing lots of jobs (and the specific requirements of each one) very well, over time.

    I also would emphasize that you cannot reverse the clock and hand back responsibility if you decide you aren’t ready for it. Of course, you could switch jobs and move into a lower responsibility role, but generally the idea (for those who want to ‘climb the ladder’) is that you keep progressing.

    You will be working for the majority for your life, so while there is something to be said for grabbing life by the horns, you really don’t want to end up with a workload that you aren’t ready for. Your career is too long, and life is too short, to end up lumbered with work you aren’t capable of delivering because you skipped the foundational aspects. I once took a promotion that genuinely stretched my capability – it all worked out in the end, but in the first few weeks I felt like I genuinely grieved my old role and really missed the lower levels of responsibility. I also learned a valuable lesson, which was that knowing you have a safety net (a supervisor, manager, etc.), even if you don’t rely on them often, can sometimes give you false illusions about your own decision-making capabilities.

    Doing something once, or twice, or even three times, doesn’t mean you have nailed it. I now supervise two younger employees who seem to think that because they have encountered something once or twice, it means they are ‘done’ learning it. But, when faced with that same task under slightly different circumstances, they have no idea what to do because they haven’t had enough exposure and practice. And you can’t speed that up – you can’t create repetition and experience where it hasn’t occurred.

  32. NK*

    You’ve received some good advice here. I wholeheartedly agree with the advice to work hard and do a great job at what you do.

    A little related anecdote: at my company, there is a mid-level role that is pretty prestigious and high profile. There’s only one person in the role at any given time, and people tend to stay in it for about 2 years max. So whenever it opens up, people are jumping all over each other to be considered for it. Those same people are the ones who are often in a position to help out the person in this role, and a lot of that work is total grunt work. Most of them think they’re too good for it. When that position opens up and the departing person gives their input about who should be hired (which carries a lot of weight), it’s the people who were helpful and thought no work was beneath them who are most strongly considered. So being that person can really pay off.

  33. Evan*

    One note: it sounds like OP works in a small HR shop if he’s entry level and reports to the head of the department. In that case, he’s probably not going to find lots of room for promotion over time. (I’ve worked for people before where, if I wanted to advance, they would have to leave. Nothing wrong with that.)

    If that’s the case, OP should probably consider building his career by moving to another organization in a more senior role once he has learned all he has and grown all he can at his current employer.

  34. CanadianKat*

    OP, if your organization is highly structured, at your annual (or semi-annual, whatever it is) review, your manager will probably ask you something like where do you see yourself in 3-5 years. That question will allow you to express your commitment to staying with this company and interest in learning more complex tasks. Start by summarizing what tasks you’ve learned / become proficient at, ask how you can learn more about the functionings of the company and whether your manager can let you assist in the more complex projects. Just be sure that you tone is not conveying that you think your job is not important, and not demanding that you be given more interesting work. You’re just informing her of your enthusiasm, so that if a project comes up, she might involve you in it. (It’s often hard to add a new person in the middle of a project, – too much explaining.)

  35. Amber Rose*

    Work goals are long term goals. Set your sights two or three years ahead, find some important things you can work on in the meantime and move forward steadily.

    (Hilarious side note: my phone suggested I follow “work on in the” with “fetal position.” If your job leaves you curled on the floor, get out!)

  36. LQ*

    I think that something you can work on is seeing how the smaller pieces fit together to form the bigger piece, this sounds like something that would benefit you personally and professionally. It is great to aim high and dream big. But you have to know what the steps are to get there. One of those steps really is digging into the dirt and learning all the things you can about that, and then scrape off another level of dirt and work more on it.

    You say it is always hard for you to see how smaller things will benefit you in the long run, but that is something you can work at and learn. Accept that it is a thing you can grow on, and then working on growing there. It will help you tremendously. Especially if you want to advance.

  37. Government Worker*

    Take this time while you’re doing low-level tasks to observe. See what you can learn about the formal and informal social and power structures in your organization. Get a feel for the rhythms of the organization – if you’ve been there 6 months, you haven’t even been there through a full budget cycle, annual reviews, the company’s busy and slow periods, the annual gala, a successful and a failed product launch, or whatever is the case at your company. Watch who gets promoted, who’s been in the same job forever, and what differentiates them. If you’re in meetings (volunteer to sit in and take notes/minutes on important meetings!), think about the content and structure of the meeting – what the topic was, who ran it, whether there was an agenda and how it stayed on time, whether some participants’ behaviors derailed from the topic at hand, etc. What decisions were reached, and whose input was critical to those decisions? What did you think about those topics, before and after you heard others discuss them, and what shifted your view?

  38. Caroline*

    Agree. You progress in your career because you develop a history of good work, not because you have ambition or intelligence or desire or dreams. It takes time to develop this history, so don’t start gunning prematurely for anything because of your feelings. The time to ask for more responsibility is when you have concrete evidence to point to that shows you’ve earned it. Concrete evidence can be completed projects, positive contribution to a team effort, and excellent feedback from your supervisors. Dreams and aspirations really don’t count except in the capacity that they inspire you to do excellent work in the moment.

    The last time I asked for a promotion, I used my boss’s own words about my work to make my case. “Boss, you’ve noted that I excelled at X, Y, and Z tasks beyond the level of junior teapot polisher. I think that is evidence that I am ready for the responsibilities at the level of senior teapot polisher.” I don’t think I would have been taken seriously before I was able to put out the argument in this way– “I really want more responsibility because I have dreams of being a senior teapot polisher” really isn’t going to get you anywhere.

  39. Snarky*

    You are, in fact, doing something big. By taking care of the the tasks you do, you are permitting your director the ability to focus on doing her job to the best of her ability. You are part of a team and they need you to do your job. It may not be a role you’ll be in forever, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable to those it serves.

    You should also consider that someday, when you are further along in your career, you’re likely to hire someone in a role like yours. What will you want from that person? How will you want them to perform their job? Do you want them to be hyper-focused on what’s in it for them or do you want them to focus on performing to the best of their ability the tasks that role has been assigned?

    My guess if you follow the advice you were given and you focus on becoming someone seen as trustworthy and dependable, you’ll open plenty of doors.

  40. Jubilance*

    I’m going to disagree with Alison here slightly. OP, not sure the size of your company, but it’s been my experience in large companies that there are a lot of resources for new grads in entry-level roles, to express their interest in a career path and get mentors, stuff like that. If you have those opportunities at your disposal, use them!

    In my own career I was able to do that and it helped me immensely. In my first “real” job, I was the first new hire in my dept in about 20yrs. I was really eager to learn and take on as much as I could, and I made that known to my manager. He helped me find a mentor, and also allowed me to take on projects that were above my pay grade, to get experience. Of course, I was also killing it with my normal duties before I took on these extra projects, and these projects began after I’d been there a year and was able to demonstrate a track record of success. Once you’ve done that, I think it’s fine to say “Manager, I’m really interested in learning more about HR – is there a mentor you suggest? Are there smaller projects I can take on to continue to learn? Are there organizations you think I should join, or publications that I should be reading regularly to keep up with the field?”

  41. Another HRPro*

    OP: The best advice I can give you is to tackle every part of your work like it is the meat. This work may not seem important to you, but it is so treat it that way. Also spend this time learning as much as you can. Read every HR policy or procedure your organization has. Read your benefits summary plan descriptions. Learn about the HR discipline by reading HR blogs, books, magazines, etc. Learn about your organization’s business and structure. If you are a public company, read your earnings releases, annual reports and analyst briefings. Study the various jobs throughout the company by reading job descriptions. Spend some time with a peer in Finance, in Sales, etc. Get to know the people, not just HR people. Start developing your own opinions about your business. When projects come up, volunteer to help in any way (even if is party planning or ordering supplies) because even tangential exposure is valuable.

    With just six months of experience you are not owed more exciting work. You need to prove yourself. Your Director is allocating work the best way they see fit. Over time you may be able to show that you are capable of doing more. But this takes time and a lot of proving yourself.

    Good luck.

  42. Punkin*

    Echoing others – do all the mundane stuff well & enthusiastically. After all, you may be the one training the next new hire as you move up & obtain new responsibilities. Nothing says “got their stuff together” like an upper level person that knows what is required of a lower level person and CAN DO IT!

    IMPORTANT: While you are doing the mundane tasks, make yourself a student of office relationships & politics. Watch how people/offices/teams interact and develop strategies to work professionally with all types of personalities. That is something that will serve you well & is not taught in school. Learn to listen well before you speak. It will save you a lot of pain in the future.

    Good luck – nice to see such enthusiasm!

    1. TootsNYC*

      also, as you’re doing the mundane stuff, think about how that mundane stuff links to other people. What will they do with it when you hand it off? How does it empower the business (or not)? How could it be improved, streamlined, enriched (don’t implement these, just hypothesize them and observe to see if time proves you right)?

      Watch, watch, watch!

  43. Anon 2*

    I’m very glad this letter got posted. I think this is a pretty common issue among new grads in the work force. At least I remember when I started working 20 years ago, how I thought that my career would move more quicky, and how I would get more responsibility at a much quicker pace.

    I was inpatient, and I found that I struggled for the first 5 years of working because I couldn’t understand why no one saw that I was capable of more than just grunt work. Once I got over that things got much easier in general.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      Ditto. 15 years in and it took me until I was at year 10 to realize its a longer process that anticipated. I mean, I had the intellectual “work hard for the money” and had a great work ethic but I had many WTF happy hours in those first 5-7 years with other friends in the same boat.

  44. Interviewer*

    Others have not highlighted this, so I will also tell you that it takes being a confidential person. If your HR Director notices that you gossip with others in the office, you will never get more than the routine or mundane admin work you currently handle. You are a part of the company, but in HR, what you know and what you have access to is highly sensitive. Things like personnel files, medical leaves, evaluations, compensation, disciplinary actions, layoffs – all of that knowledge can be a burden for the wrong person. Right now your HR Director is getting to know you. It takes time to earn trust and access. Six months is not nearly long enough. Prove yourself to be trustworthy, as well as capable, and those projects may be forthcoming.

    Good luck!

    1. Punkin*

      Really great points! Telling our HR anything is akin to putting it on a billboard out front. Hard to trust them.

  45. Erin*

    (Disclaimer: admittedly skimmed this because I’m in a hurry, sorry if I missed something crucial.)

    I’m 31 and have been in entry level jobs since graduation, only getting one in my actual field six months ago. It’s depressing, but, welcome to the real world!

    I second Alison’s advice at looking at specific paths that other people have gotten to get to where they are in your field. Did they take additional training or get their masters or anything like that?

    Also, broaden your network and see what you can do outside work. Get involved with nonprofit groups, volunteer, freelance if that’s applicable, stuff like that. When a great position opens up, someone might just keep you in mind.

  46. NutellaNutterson*

    Trimming the fat is a vital job, though. And something you want done with great attention to detail!

    I think that you can leverage your dreamer’s heart into this work by thinking in terms of “why” for each step you’re taking. The smallest piece really can have a major impact, and being curious about the entire workflow can help you find the meaning in the mundane work.

    It’s interesting that you’re at 6 months in and writing about this feeling, because (I’d guess) you’re finally out of the initial overwhelm of working full time. That’s great! But don’t interpret calm as boredom – you can’t sustain the energy required over a whole career!

    I like that your boss has been up front about the 2 year expectation. And that’s a great amount of time to learn to handle annual projects – you should have the chance to improve the second time.

    My pro-tip on that: if there’s something you learn the first time around, make a note of it immediately, revise the next year’s documents if you can. Don’t count on remembering next year! Add calendar notes to yourself for next year, especially if something is time sensitive or has details that are easy to overlook. i.e. On May 30th add “Present budget to Levinia so HR can order the fruitcakes by June 25th, remember to request half with no pecans for Humphrey.”

    1. Emily K*

      Yes to the calendar reminders! I put all my due dates and reminders for recurring tasks in my Outlook calendar so they pop up and remind me. I actually have written instructions for all of my recurring tasks, and I keep them in the description of the calendar event. So if anything ever happened to me, someone could keep all my tasks going just by viewing my calendar!

  47. Charlotte*

    I’d recommend volunteering for a local SHRM chapter’s board or getting involved in committees at work. This has been a great way to work on something strategic for me. Good luck!

  48. Kate The Little Teapot*

    I know that HR is a field with a certification that can be valuable. Is that something you can pursue on the side so that you show your managers you are devoted to the field and also earn a credential?

    Also, are there opportunities to refine skills related to your field as a volunteer?

    Also, I would suggest you build up a great reservoir of stress management techniques now. Because when you finally get that promotion, you won’t have time to start a yoga practice or whatever and you will need it!

    1. Kate The Little Teapot*

      Also, I just saw that your supervisor said there is no room for growth – given that, can you ask her “besides coming to work and doing my best, what would you suggest I do to get hired in future as Senior Teapot HR Coordinator instead of Teapot HR Coordinator? and what advice do you have about networking to get into the next role?”

      Furthermore, you can also practice interview skills/cover letters and set up informational interviews and go to networking events, given that you know you will need to be on the market.

        1. MillersSpring*

          That’s why it’s important to ask during the interview process about the career path for the role. The OP may be mistaken about the “room for growth” because they may be able to give a “promotion in place” with a better title and more responsibilities. “Room for growth” doesn’t have to mean that you get your boss’ job.

  49. Balancing Act*


    I started on my team as the administrative assistant. Eight years later, I am running it – thanks in large part to following advice similar to AAM’s and the lovely commenters. It works.

    Funny enough though, now that I have the headaches of a director all I want to be is an admin!

  50. Original Poster*

    Original Poster here.

    All great responses still. Thank you to those responding, I am reading all comments, and am considering all the advice as I have read every post thus far. Humility is great. Painful, but great!

    I wish I could reply to every post on here, but I am trying to expertly do the tasks I was given this Monday (truthful statement, though maybe implied with a little humor!)

    Alison, I appreciate your continual input in addition to your post.


    1. Harmonic Penguin*

      OP, I’m so glad you’ve asked this question and are taking the great advice provided here to heart. As a Manager in an entirely different industry, I’ve trained and mentored many people up through the ranks. The people I helped out, promoted and encouraged were always the people who did their own jobs really well, asked important questions when they weren’t sure, learnt from their mistakes and participated in the culture of the organisation.

      When grunt work gets done well, and Management doesn’t have to worry about it, or double check it, it builds trust. And it shows us that you can be given higher level work and it won’t become a problem we have to deal with later. Building your skills, and building trust with your coworkers/managers is the first part. Initiative is the second. I will hire people with initiative over people who sit around and wait to be told what to do every time. But it comes with the caveat that initiative doesn’t mean working out an entirely new way to do something without ever checking in. It means pre-empting needs and putting elements in place to make things go smoothly.

      Once you have a really good handle on your own job, you’ll find ways to contribute to other projects that are helpful and productive, and those are the things that will get you noticed, and help you move up to the more interesting and cool parts of the job.

      Recently, one of my assistants came to me and told me he wants to shadow me and learn what I do so he can move up. This is at six months into the job. One problem is that he isn’t doing his own job well, and I’ve had to pull him to the side several times to inform him of issues that need to be taken care of. It actually annoyed me that he would have the chutzpah to think he’s ready for more, when he hasn’t proven he can do the grunt work well, or be a good team player to make our department run smoothly. He also doesn’t improve when informed of an issue and what he needs to do to be better. Even if he had been doing a great job, six months in is far too soon for me to consider moving him up. It’s still very early days, and at six months you’re still learning all the elements of a job.

      His peers in other departments are also doing similar things, and amongst this group of recent graduates there seems to be an idea of entitlement – that they should be given promotions and that their managers should expend time and energy helping them move up, when there hasn’t been any give from their side at all.

      Reciprocity is so important in the workplace. At school, you do the work, you get good grades, but you rarely have to think about how you could help to improve the class, assist in making the Professor’s workload easier, or contribute to the culture of the school in order to make it better.

      I moved up very quickly through the ranks in several industries, and I did it by working hard, doing the work well, using my initiative in a smart, productive way and working towards making contributions that made our work easier / kept it running smoothly. The fact that you’ve asked the question here, and will take advice to heart is a great first step. Never stop being willing to learn from others. By listening and becoming the employee your Director will want to eventually trust with higher level work, training, and his/her time and energy, you’ll find your way in your chosen career. Good Luck!

  51. lfi*

    OP, I started my career in admin work.. in 2011 I started doing some HR duties, and in 2012 I finally got into the HR world. I recently got promoted to something that feels like its going to be the thing that really propels me forward.

    I took the PHR/SHRM test. I studied hard. I read SHRM and my regional HR website when I had downtime, and digested information on company intranets. I asked other HR coworkers (when they had time) to walk me through what they were doing and why. I networked, always opted to sit and learn, and never lost my hunger to keep developing.

    Keep going – you will get there. There will be days that you will plow through what feels like meaningless piles of paper, make copies, and wonder why your company does the things they do. Heck, there are still days that I don’t get brought in to things. But.. I am grateful for all the grunt work, the seemingly dumb items and tasks because somehow they all brought me to here.

  52. Jill*

    If the OP”s work leaves the OP with lots of downtime, I would suggest seeking out whatever professional development you can. Does your department get HR related magazines or publications? Read them. Could you get away with bringing reading material or doing online reading? If so, self-teach yourself a deeper dive into your field’s topics. You probably covered the basics of HR related laws, for example. But are you an expert? Teach yourself.

    Do you have an opportunity to go to training in your work place for things not directly tied to your department, but that could help get you those bonus skills – like can you take an internal training on a new software program? How “expert” are you on the actual mission of your company? Do you know what other departments in your organization do? If not, take an interest. All of these things will help your managers see that you are serious about growing with this company and taking on new responsibilities.

    1. Marisol*

      This is great advice.

      I was going to suggest the OP make sure not to pester the managers with questions, but to do research on his own and then use your research to ask informed questions. Seems like my comment fits nicely with Jill’s.

    2. Koko*

      Yes, ask around for a couple of good blogs or podcasts you should follow. If you start with a few you’ll eventually grow your list organically as all the thought leaders reference each other’s work. I have an endless stack of whitepapers and blogs I could/should read and hours upon hours of podcasts and webinars I could/should get to…but I have to pick and choose given my limited time.

  53. TootsNYC*

    Moonsaults wrote: “I like the fire inside but remind you to keep it burning at the right level or you will burn through all your energy too quickly.”

    This is a good time to send a substantial part of that energy to your personal life. Set the balance now. Be ambitious at home, too.

  54. Raquel*

    I totally agree with this advice. I’d also like to add that before you even consider asking for more responsibilities, really make sure that you have mastered all of the tasks you have right now, and that you are performing them superbly. If you haven’t mastered what you got, it comes off as a little clueless to start asking for more difficult and advanced tasks.

    Here’s what has happened several times: we would hire a Junior Teapot Assistant to assist. Because one Senior Teapots Analyst used to be a Junior Teapot Assistant, after about six months to a year, without fail, the Junior Teapot Assistant would ask if they could be promoted, either to a Junior Teapot Analyst position (or even ask to fill a Senior Teapot Analyst role!)

    So here’s the thing: yes, someone had been promoted into that role. But they had been there for three years before ever getting a promotion, and the only reason the promotion was made available was because they had already been taking on Teapot Analyst duties in addition to their normal assistant work, and had been excelling at both. The people asking for promotions after only six months or a year were nowhere close to excellent performance. (in fact, some blamed their poor performance on the work not being interesting–which sounds kind of not great, because if that low level work is not done well, it makes it really hard for the seniors in the position to be efficient in their higher level tasks).

    It wasn’t that it harmed them in getting potential future promotions, but it looked really naïve.

    Also, if you feel like you’re not getting the experience you need, how about taking up hobbies outside of work that might help with your career? I’m not even in HR, but I listen to several HR podcasts because I like to learn about interview tips, efficient business administration, and effective training. (Manager Tools is my favorite for content. Hope it’s ok for me to give that rec here!). Not to mention, reading this blog religiously will probably help you learn a lot!

  55. nunqzk*

    OP, I think you are right to pay attention to whether your questions are coming across as “distracting and maybe even annoying.” Being perceived as distracting and annoying, especially by your manager, is a problem that’s worth taking seriously. But if you keep an ear out, you may find people who are happy to answer your big-picture questions.
    I’m a natural chatterer, and I try to group all of my most rote tasks into large blocks of time each week. During those blocks, I’m happy to talk about our field with anybody who stops by. I’m not senior enough to be able to influence anybody’s career track, but I have enough experience to have some insight into “the bigger goings-on.”
    That’s one of the reasons I really agree with what Alison has written before about letting mentoring relationships develop naturally, instead of formally. It’s easier to get all the different kinds of help you want if you’re not holding out for one mentor who’s a good source of everything.

    1. Marisol*

      Good point. Some people are natural teachers; other people get bent out of shape about that sort of thing. You must be really nice to work with!

  56. Argh!*

    In college you do a complete reboot 2 or 3 times per year, jumping into new subjects, getting to know new people, and moving up from 100 to 400 level courses in four years. By the fourth year you’re a big shot in your department, compared to the freshmen.

    Now you’re starting over as the work world equivalent of a freshman and you don’t get to reboot for a much longer stretch of time. Some people never get that reboot and do the same work for years (those people usually choose that, though).

    Instead of learning facts for a test or writing a term paper, you’re developing the qualities that it takes to get along in the work world, including patience and living with the reality that not everything is within your control. You’ll get there.

  57. anon attorney*

    I’m in a different field, but the #1 attribute I look for in a junior attorney is execution – if I give you task X will you see it through to completion without being reminded? Attribute #2 is the ability to know when one needs help and to ask for it in a way that acknowledges my priorities. Both of these attributes require self management and an ability to read the situational cues around you. But ultimately, however intellectually high flying you are as a junior attorney, if you cannot file the routine motion on time and correctly/research the question I asked rather than the one you found more interesting, I’m not going to be impressed. By asking the question and acknowledging the feedback, you are demonstrating the ability to learn and adjust to the priorities of the workplace. Get the boring stuff done 100% correctly, on time and with enthusiasm, and the sexy stuff will start to come your way. Good luck!

    1. Argh!*

      I have supervised a really bright person who seems to have been content throughout life with being told how bright he is. It was a long haul to get him to see that output matters and merely being the smartest person on the team (his opinion, not mine) was not enough. Even with a lot of coaching, reminders, and after-the-fact discussions of how disappointing it is that he missed yet another deadline, he still can’t be counted on. There may be some kind of learning disability there, but if you are self-satisfied because you’re ‘smart,’ there’s not much motivation to work on it with a professional. A supervisor can only do so much. He was ambitious when I was his supervisor, frustrated, and unhappy, but as far as I know, is still stuck in a low level job due to his unreliability.

  58. Planner Lady*

    Ah, OP, I was you in my first professional level job. Unlike you, I’d worked my way up without a degree, and once I moved away from a customer facing role within my company, I kind of expected that I’d be in like Flynn, working on all the fancy projects and doing the high level stuff.

    In the academic world, everyone has a chance to be a high performer and receive accolades – you do your relevant work and you’re rewarded if you do spectacularly well. In the work universe, you don’t get the opportunity to be a high flyer until you’ve proved yourself first. I chafed at the bit of doing low level administrative work, just like you are doing now. Over time I built up my business nous, building contacts within the company, understanding the work, the company culture and building my own professional profile. I’ve now got experience in a variety of areas that I can take to other employers, and am now considered one of the best performers in my team.

    If you find yourself being a bit bored by the simple stuff, take some time to do some professional development. Read up on current best practices, keep your ear to the ground and start building up your contacts within the company (if it’s a large company) because a well maintained network can do wonders for your career, long after you’ve moved on.

    1. krysb*

      I had an employee for a few minutes who was a roommate to someone in another department. He applied with hopes that he would be in my department for six months, then move over to other department so he could work from home more. He told me this to my face the first night he worked with me (I was his boss). Unfortunately, his roommate didn’t discuss the reasoning behind his quick move over to the other department (a. he’s pretty brilliant, and b. it happened at the time that department exploded with work and required a lot of new employees in a short time span). It’s one thing to come in with ambitions and career goals. It’s another thing to act like you’re too good to work in my department doing the tasks I need you to perform.

  59. Kit*

    Speaking as a butcher… what else would you be planning to do with that prime rib? Trimming the fat is pretty much the beginning and end of cutting a prime rib. You could tie it, but I usually don’t bother. If you want a butchery metaphor, I might suggest a sirloin tip. If you don’t know what you’re doing with one of those it just looks like a big meat wad.

    Sorry, my field is just so rarely relevant to these questions. It still isn’t, but I’ll gather my tangents while I may.

  60. Entry Level - Expanded Duties*

    I’m in a bit of a different situation, because my first boss at this job ensured that we had an interesting side project to work on. I agree with everyone else – ensure you excel at everything you do, and if you make a mistake, own up to it. If you do get something above what you normally do, even if not much, try to excel at that too.

    After almost 2 years at my company, 8 months of those as a temp, my Grandboss was relocated to a different plant, so I decided to have a conversation with him about the future of our part of the company, and how I fit into it, where I wanted to be in the 5 years. That propelled me into being asked to relocate to a struggling plant to try to help them out, with the same title, however duties that expanded on what I was working on, on the side already. It puts me in an interesting position. I was just told the other day that the reason the people in my role are a bit weird around me is that they are jealous about my side projects, however each of them have a reason they aren’t given them right now, whether it is attitude, job performance, or what have you. They also run out the door when their “shift” is up, even though we are salary, but complain about the amount of work, when I spend some extra time here to ensure the side projects are still completed while getting the usual work done.

    Even the small things can get noticed by the right people, even if you don’t see it right away. Doing the internal audits other people at your role don’t want to do but are necessary duties, if you do them well, can eventually have you creating and implementing new ones, which then help your company greatly when an external audit comes.

  61. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

    As the others have said, don’t knock your entry-level position. Use this position to sharpen your skills and to learn all you can about your department and the company. Learn who is who. If you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, tell the person that you’d be more than happy to find out (this way, you learn, too). Do your current job well and the right people will notice you. And soon you’ll most likely be asked to take on more projects that could eventually lead to a promotion.

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