my new job is all admin work — and I didn’t sign up for this

A reader writes:

I started my new job about two months ago after graduating with a Master’s from an ivy league school. This is not the first full-time or office-environment job I’ve had, so I have a fairly good idea of what to expect from certain roles, but this one is throwing me for a loop.

When I first interviewed with this company, I was told by both HR and my current boss that this was to be a project manager position that held a certain amount of responsibility, including event planning and grant management.

However, since beginning this job, I have received a lot of work that resembles an assistant’s duties: scheduling conference calls, ordering supplies, drafting/editing correspondence for my boss, etc. These were not included in the job description or described in my interviews.

I am worried that going forward, much of my work will consist of these tasks as opposed to projects with larger responsibility. So far, about 70-80% of my day is spent on admin work.

We have a large company conference coming up, which I am helping to coordinate (and is actually part of my job description) and some grant competitions ending this summer. After this, I wonder what my position will look like. I have clarified what my duties are through weekly meetings with my boss, but these admin duties are never discussed and are simply sent over to me at will.

I do like this company and the benefits I receive, but I am starting to feel a bit restless here. How long should I wait before I reevaluate continuing with this job? I know it’s still early, but how long is too long to be in a position you are not fulfilled in?

Oh my goodness, talk to your boss!

It’s definitely true that many if not most jobs involve some amount of admin work. It’s not uncommon to have to do your own admin work, and maybe some admin work for any programs you’re in charge of. (And really, I wouldn’t necessarily put writing and editing for your boss in the “admin” category at all, depending on what exactly that correspondence looks like.) But there’s a difference between doing your own admin work and doing it for other people — it’s the difference between scheduling a conference call that you’ll be part of, and scheduling one that you’re not participating in.

Until I got to the part of your letter where you said you were spending 70–80 percent of your time on admin work, I was ready to ask whether you were simply underestimating how much admin work is normal in many jobs. But 70–80 percent is a different story. That’s basically being an assistant with some project work on the side.

So you should definitely talk to your boss and figure out what’s going on.

There are a few possibilities that could explain what’s happening. First, since you’re only two months in, it’s possible that you have a boss who’s easing you into your main job very slowly, filling most of your time with “easier” admin work, and she doesn’t realize that you’re itching to get going. Some managers do that, and you may have to nudge her to get you started on what you came onboard to do. Or, it’s possible that this is just a temporary plan because of that upcoming conference you’re coordinating, and she doesn’t want to load you up with other big projects until the conference is behind you. If that’s the case, your boss should have told you that, of course, but she wouldn’t be the first manager to drop the ball on communicating. It’s also possible that she doesn’t realize how much admin work you’re doing. If most of the assistant work is assigned to you by other people and not by her, there could be a miscommunication on your team about what your role is, and that’s something your boss could clear up if you make sure she’s aware of it.

Those are all of the potentially good scenarios. The potential bad one, of course, is that this might in fact be the job. Your boss might have done a terrible job of conveying the role during the hiring process. Or she might genuinely think the job is mainly project management, and she’s vastly underestimating how much of it is actually admin work. Or, she might have a really weird definition of “project management.” You might be able to get more insight into this by thinking back to how the work was discussed in your interview. Did you discuss specific job responsibilities in detail and how much of the role each task would account for? If you did — and if what you’re doing now clearly doesn’t line up with that conversation — it puts you in a somewhat stronger spot when you raise the issue. But even if you didn’t discuss it back then, you can still bring it up now — and you need to, really.

Sit down with your boss and say something like this: “I wanted to talk to you about my role. Since I started, I’ve been spending about 70–80 percent of my time on admin work, like X, Y, and Z. From our conversations during the hiring process, I had expected the job to center more around project management — things like A, B, and C. I’m not sure if the job has been a little different than we discussed because I’m new and still learning, or because of the upcoming conference, or whether you’d expect the role to stay like this for the foreseeable future. Can you give me your sense of how much admin work and how much project management work I should expect going forward?

When you say this, make sure you stress that 70–80 percent part. That’s really key — and takes your situation from, “Well, everyone has boring parts of their jobs” to “Whoa, that’s not the job you signed up for.” If she seems to be glossing over that part, follow up with language like, “To be clear, I know every job has some admin work associated with it. In this case, my concern is that I’m spending 70–80 percent of my time on it every day.”

Then listen to what she says. She might tell you the assistant work is temporary and things are about to change. She might be shocked to hear this is even happening at all. Or she might tell you that this is indeed the job, and she’s surprised that you thought otherwise. Whatever her answer is, your goal with this meeting is to get really clear on how she sees your role, and whether or not anything is likely to change in the near future.

If you realize from your meeting that this is the job, at that point you’ll have to decide whether it’s a job you want to stay in. You can pitch changing your duties a bit to your boss by saying something like, “Would you be open to me taking on work like A and B? That’s what I’d expected the job to center around, and what I thought I came onboard to do.” And who knows — she may be amenable to that. But if not, it’s reasonable for you to start looking for other jobs. When you do, you can be straightforward with interviewers about why you’re leaving — e.g., “I was brought on to do project management, but the position ended up being primarily an assistant role instead.”

But do talk to your boss as soon as you can. That should give you a much better sense of what you can and can’t expect, and it will help you figure out whether this position is the right step in your career or not.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 176 comments… read them below }

  1. EA*

    So there is a weird thing in my industry about the position ‘project manager’ that might be contributing.

    I use to be an EA, and a lot of high level EA considered themselves or lobbied to be called a project manager. This is because they took on some project work, and because event planning is often in an EAs job description. Some people also didn’t know the difference, give that both roles include follow- up and a bit of hearding cats.

    I think the main thing is what AAM alluded to, are you included in the calls or meetings you set up? Is there a real admin who should be scheduling them? Or is it just you and higher level people?

    1. Chicken Situation*

      In my job, a lot of people were given vanity titles a long time ago. Their actual titles in the HR system match what they do, but the titles that are used in e-mail signatures, public documentation, etc., are inflated. I wonder if in this case, the project manager title was a bit of a vanity title given to the last person in the role.

      1. Clare*

        In many organizations it is also the only way to give a good employee a raise. HR demands that the position be “reclassified” as a different job title and grade so that there is not as much pay disparity between employees with the same job title.

      2. OP*

        I definitely think the PM title is a bit inflated in my case. I’m still trying to figure out the split between real PM work and admin work because I have both duties concurrently.

        1. Project Manager anon*

          I will say, as someone who has done PM work for a long time, that a lot of it can be admin related. There is a lot of scheduling calls or drafting correspondence for other people.

          PM roles vary a lot by industry and company. Some are very hand-on building a product or working on projects, some are very admin focused, and some are more sales/account manager focused. My current role has actual project based work for three to four months of the year and the rest of the year is a lot of admin work. But I’ve rarely had a PM job that is entirely focused on only projects. There’s usually always at least 40% scheduling calls and meetings or communicating with other people.

          1. It's Pronounced Bruce*

            Totally true, but the administrative work you do as a PM is usually actually related to projects. You’re not just scheduling all your boss’s meetings, you’re scheduling meetings for your projects. And you might be contacting a lot of people on behalf of a lot of other people, but again, it’s for a specific purpose in your role as the person bringing everyone together for the project. That’s the big line of demarcation.

        2. AnnaBananna*

          Honestly it sounds like you’re a project coordinator with an inflated title. The boss probably thought that the title was a selling point (maybe he was told by his last EA that it was a project management role, and the boss just rolled with it), not realizing how demoralizing an actual project manager would feel in that role. It would drive me bananas, personally. I would start doing a review online for PM roles and compare them to your current role as well as your hired PD and set up a non 1X1 meeting (meaning an ad hoc) to discuss the incongruency of the PD and title. Don’t let boss ignore it. And start taking diligent notes on a time management tool about what you’er doing.

          Also: update!

        3. It's Pronounced Bruce*

          Hard to know whether it’s meant to be a PM job where they’re laying extra admin work on you because it’s convenient and the work looks the same to them, or if it’s really an admin job where they wanted to rope in a PM because they think a career PM will make a better admin. I’ve seen both things happen, usually without the employer being super honest with the candidate about the role up front. Especially in the latter case.

          I’ve interviewed for what were ostensibly PM openings where, when pressed, management admitted that you only occasionally dabble in any project work and were mostly providing general department support. Once I had to be very pointed for several rounds of questions before one of the interviewers admitted that was the case, and they went on to say that the role would actually be intentionally excluded from any project planning or presentations, which the managers wanted to do themselves and then hand off the actually-make-it-happen to the supposed PM behind the scenes. It reminded me of that article about the new women’s work: All the stuff that has to be done, that makes everything work, but which gets no credit or glory. And you better believe that if I hadn’t pressed them on these points (entirely because I’ve seen the pitfall before) they would have absolutely let me go through the whole hiring process thinking it was a full-fledged project management gig like any other.

          1. Khlovia*

            Grrr. I hope you stood up immediately and exited, saying, “I thought I was interviewing for a project manager job, since that’s what I’m qualified for. Sorry you wasted my time.”

      3. Positive Reframer*

        It could also be vanity inflation to find a candidate. The department next to me had a terrible time trying to find a department admin, went through many temps and very few applicants. They had to hybridize the role so that they could call it something different and hopefully attract more candidates that would be competent to do the work but were scared off by “admin.”

        1. SavannahMiranda*

          Out of curiosity, what did they ultimately call the hybrid role?

          Asked by someone who must exercise caution in my career when examining roles to interview for, and who has to defend myself from the hybrid roles.

          1. rldk*

            My old job was very much an admin role and was transformed in “Coordinator” after I left. Which is a fairly popular buzzword that I saw a lot in my job search.
            (Not that even an amped up title will fix the ToxicManager there, but they can hope *eyeroll*)

            1. Anon Job Seeker*

              Quite topical actually. Alison, I don’t know if you will see this, or if anyone else will have a good answer. How do you tackle “Hybrid Roles” on resumes? I have one and am unsure if I should list them as concurrent roles at the same company like: Office Manager/Grant Writer (July 2013 to July 2015). Or if I should list them completely separately? Basically I was hired as a Grant Writer but they didn’t have enough work for me to only do grant writing so they made a hybrid of the two jobs. 70% of the year I did mostly office management, but then during go time for grant writing I was solely dedicated to that aspect of the job. I don’t want to lie and say I only did Grant Writing, even though that is the focus of my field. But I’m not thrilled about filling up my resume with all the accomplishments I achieved as an office manager since it was more out of necessity at the time. Any ideas?

          2. Julia*

            Seconding this question, and also, how did the people they “tricked” into that role react in the long run? Did they stay?

    2. smoke tree*

      I’m always a bit unclear about where “project management” ends and “managing projects” begins. In my job, I’m responsible for getting books ready to be printed–so I’ll coordinate with the editors, with the author, the designer and the printer, review the edits and design mockups and check over all of the changes that go through, resolve any issues that come up, and generally just make sure the project goes forward. Ultimately some of the decisions have to be kicked up to management, but I have a fair amount of authority and have to make a lot of the day-to-day decisions for the books I’m assigned to. Would that be considered project management or not?

      1. AnnaBananna*

        To me a project manager works directly with high level stakeholders – a coordinator wouldn’t, they’d just execute some of the less high level tasks.

  2. always in email jail*

    In an organization I frequently work with, the grant funding that funds the organization actually prohibits hiring administrative staff. So a significant portion of a project manager’s job is facilitating meetings… meaning they book the room/conference line, ensure it’s set up correctly, pull together and print the sign-in/agenda/read-aheads, set out the bottled water, etc. They’re usually doing this for a couple of meetings a week. However, usually once they get familiar with the meeting logistics, it really doesn’t take up as much of their time as it did in the beginning. If these are meetings for projects you’re managing, it seems reasonable to me that you’re expected to handle the meeting logistics.
    However, if you’re doing all of this for meetings that other project managers are facilitating… I would definitely raise that with your boss.

    1. always in email jail*

      I’d also like to add that organizing a well-run meeting is actually a very valuable professional skill, so I wouldn’t dismiss the experience you’re getting. Even if you have an admin of your own in the future, you’ll need to know what to ask them for/what you expect of them, so having done it yourself will help with that. I undervalued by abilities in this area until I saw that there really are professionals (including project managers) out there who cannot organize a meeting to save their life. It really affects how project stakeholders view you and the project. It certainly isn’t unreasonable for a supervisor to make sure you have meeting basics down before turning you loose.
      In either case, it does sound like that aspect of the job wasn’t communicated to you clearly in the job description, so it’s not unreasonable that you would be displeased.

      1. neverjaunty*

        But when those extra skills are the majority of your job, you’re not getting valuable experience in your actual job.

        1. always in email jail*

          I see your point, but I think the ability to organize or direct the organization of a well-run meeting is an essential part of a PM’s job. In my field/region, if stakeholders show up for a meeting and you have messed up the room reservation/don’t have materials available/seem disorganized, they probably won’t show up for future meetings. In organizations with admins this task is obviously delegated, but the PM still has to be able to give instructions to the admin.
          I think timeline is important here. If it’s within the first two months on the job, I think there’s still hope that the role will transition (though it’s definitely still worth asking a manager about so that you have an idea of how soon that may occur). I’m also operating on the assumption that, at the very least, the PM is participating in or attending these meetings, which may be incorrect.

      2. AnnaBananna*

        ” organizing a well-run meeting is actually a very valuable professional skill” Eh, but what you described was simply setting up a meeting. A monkey can learn to set up Power Point slides, know what I mean? FACILITATING meetings, however, yes that is an excellent skill.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      The grant funding that funds the organization actually prohibits hiring administrative staff.

      Wow. What’s the reasoning? I always thought of good admins as worth their weight in gold, and the office is so glad to have them handling all the practical day-to-day details so people can focus on The Mission. I know a lot of museums wind up putting some sort of requirement for donations that you can’t say it’s all for the sexy sexy art and salaries, and nothing can be spent on climate controlling the art and heating the curator’s office and illuminating both of them with electric lights and renting a building in which to put them.

      1. always in email jail*

        I’m not sure what the reasoning is. It’s federal funding, so who knows. I completely agree, a good admin is invaluable, and it kind of pains me as a taxpayer to see these very well-paid PMs making 100 copies of a powerpoint before a meeting.

          1. Emily K*

            I imagine email jail is referring to the format you can print out that has two slides per page along with space for taking notes.

            1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

              Oh, I see. To make notes makes sense. I suppose I’m spoiled – we get e-copies of most slide decks. Printing is actively discouraged in our office – we’re nearly fully paperless. The idea of printing even 100 copies of a single sheet makes my budget brain twitch (the printers actively tell users how much their print job is costing the company).

              1. Fuzzy Pickles*

                In this case they’re sort of using it correctly. But I have run into literal paper copies of ppts… without notes… because *everything* was written on the slide and people couldn’t read it on the projector because it was too small font. 200+ slides. So… that horror happens.

          2. always in email jail*

            It was just an example. It could be agendas, sign-ins, documents that will be reviewed, whatever. But yes I was referring to the handouts that have 6 slides per page that I commonly receive in meetings/trainings

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh, that’s weird. Normally federal grants allow a certain % to go to grant administration, which often covers administrative support. It does not, however, take care of admin project support, which is frequently excluded.

          1. always in email jail*

            I believe it’s exactly the distinction you’re making. It is my understanding that they use the management & administration/indirect to pay the accountant to puts in the grant reimbursements, handles payroll for the PMs, etc. but are not allowed to pay someone to take care of admin project support as you’ve mentioned

          2. DogTrainer*

            Typically, administrative staff are covered under indirect costs, as admins support multiple projects. As such, you typically would not budget for an admin directly, but you would budget for the program manager directly because their time can be tracked/allocated easily to that one grant.

      2. Clare*

        Not sure about other places but in universities that rely on federal grants the funding agencies consider admin staff to be paid for by indirect costs (so the university or department has to cover their salaries). Of course the university and departments are trying to keep their own budgets low so there can often be a tug of war between a faculty member who wants to hire an admin and needs the department to approve & fund the salary, vs. the department head who doesn’t want to pay for it.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          My unit is completely grant funded/no institutional support. This means that as a data analyst I am also responsible for my director’s project support, as well as my own projects. Sucks, but whaddaya gonna do?

      3. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        Speaking as a funder, it’s way more common than it should be in grants. In some sectors it’s pretty much the rule. The idea is that the funder’s money should go to direct services, not be “wasted” on overhead. Organizations are supposed to have other resources for that. That’s the theory. In practice of course when all your funders share the same philosophy and so do your donors it works as horribly as you’d expect.
        Of course we funding organizations often have the same expectations made of us. I’ve been an EA in the past, a project manager, an event planner, and a grant manager. (Though not all at once thankfully.) In every coordinator position I’ve been expected to do my own admin because we couldn’t afford admin support.
        The key is: it was my OWN admin for my projects, events, grants. When I drafted correspondence for my boss it was because it involved program knowledge that I had.
        If that’s the case for OP I can see where it would lead to a misunderstanding. The office culture and expectations can be really different at shops that can afford admin staff versus those that can’t.
        But I’m guessing OP would have mentioned if this seemed to be an office-wide issue. And anyway it’s legit to decide that kind of office culture isn’t sustainable for you.

      4. Le Sigh*

        There are grant funders that are/were very focused on direct outcomes and don’t want to fund anything not specifically project related–overhead and admin work were dirty words. So no back-end operations, no rent, no admin work, none of that–they only want to fund the “real work” that has “impact.” Which is frustrating because while you don’t want overhead to be a huge percentage of the costs (and it shouldn’t be excessive), someone still has to pay to keep the lights on to do the work that has all of that impact everyone wants. It’s great if I can get all the direct project support money in the world, but it’s worth nothing if I can’t pay people on time or keep the power on!

        Fortunately that seems to be changing a bit, but it’s a really frustrating dynamic.

      5. AdAgencyChick*

        This is happening in ad agencies, too, although it is the most junior account executives rather than project managers who are being asked to pick up admin work.

        To the bean counters it looks great, because they can just pile extra hours onto the account staff rather than hiring another admin, and admins are typically considered overhead whereas the account team bills their hours to the client whether they’re performing their primary job function or the admin work.

        Of course the staffers asked to pick up admin work don’t love this system, but it’s much easier to quantify the savings of admin salaries than it is the costs of junior account staffers quitting because they don’t want to do the work.

      6. SeluciaMD*

        A lot of this kind of thing is from fall-out where several high-profile national non-profits and charities were putting significant money into what would often be classified as “administrative overhead” and less into direct services or programs – many times due to massive financial mismanagement or fraud/theft committed by a high ranking official inside the organization (think of the United Way scandal in the 90’s). Instead of just coming up with better cost-control measures or audit controls in place the outcome was often “we’ll only pay for PROGRAMS we won’t pay for administration/overhead.” Completely overlooking (or ignoring) the fact that it is very hard to have programs, run programs, track programs and report on programs without administrative staff and operational support. So many funders think that “other” organizations should cover that without giving any thought to who or what that “other” could even be.

        I work in human services and we face this ALL THE TIME with our grants. We are 100% grant funded but are part of local government so have virtually no ability to fundraise unrestricted dollars. There are almost no grants offered that cover administration and/or overhead, or that even has a reasonable amount of those things as part of the allowable cost structure. During the recession we were operating so lean on overhead that we literally “charged” people in reams of paper if they wanted to use our conference room because we often didn’t have much money for office supplies. Thank goodness we aren’t in that place anymore!

        But yeah, reclassifying or renaming positions to align with funding or grant requirements is very much a thing. A stupid thing that shouldn’t be necessary, but there you go.

  3. Angela Ziegler*

    Something like this happened to me. What was supposed to involve a wide range of duties ended up being 90% one particular type of task, as given directly by my only co-worker who was also my boss. They just ignored the entire list of other duties in my job description, even the ones I was more experienced and qualified for. I waited for a while for the reasons listed above- maybe it’s temporary? Maybe this is time-sensitive? I politely asked for more responsibility and said I was very interested in being more involved in company projects.

    But it turned out my boss was really, really bad at her job, and thought by keeping me out of any significant projects it would make him look better. I ended up talking to HR about it- how my position was pigeon-holed into basic intern work. It turned out they were trying to replace him for months before I arrived and he knew his job was on the line. In hindsight, it was very clear why he actively kept me out of the loop for anything other than his basic tasks. Fortunately he was later fired, the department was much better for it, and I finally had the job I applied for!

    1. TardyTardis*

      The last year I worked at ExJob, I was supposed to do special reports because I can do analysis just fine (although I had trouble meeting deadlines on quarterly reports when being slammed with around a thousand invoices a day, so of course the reports were given to someone else, and I was left with aforementioned vouchers). But I hummed and smiled anyway, since I knew I was taking early retirement.

  4. Cookie Page*

    These sites really are getting obnoxious with their cookie-page redirects… I feel like saying no out of pure spite.

  5. Doug Judy*

    Something similar happened to me. I applied for a data analyst position. When I started they started giving me data entry work, saying that this was critical right now because they fired the former data entry person. It was a terrible fit personality wise, and I had several discussions with my boss about being unfulfilled. We tried for a bit to find something else for me but the data entry was essential. Eventually they laid me off because they realized they could hire someone for half my salary to do the same thing. So I was laid off with severance.

    1. Doug Judy*

      ETA, they decided to farm out the analysis piece to accounting, not have a dedicated department analyst.

  6. user41268*

    It’s funny because I’m in exactly the same position… And sending out my CVs like crazy.

    Conversations with my bosses didn’t bring anything.

    I know you are not to blame for it and I don’t want to whine but I do find it frustrating that something like that can happen. I mean, I gave up my previous very good job for this. I find it really frustrating that companies can totally misrepresent jobs to get good people and I, as an employee, should stay at least a year or two years because otherwise, I’m a job hopper.

    1. CR*

      Very well said. I also left my last job for a job where I’m the admin even though I’m not supposed to be. I’ve lasted 6 months and hopefully I’ll have a new job before a year.

    2. Not Today Satan*

      I’m sorry that happened to you. And I agree, it’s messed up that employers tend to think the hiring risk is all on them and none on the applicant when in reality it’s the opposite. It’s way easier to get rid of a bad hire than to get rid of a bad job and find a new one. But they’re allowed to check references and we’re not. =\ (officially, at least. I know about asking around but I usually don’t know people wherever I’m interviewing.)

      1. SavannahMiranda*

        Wouldn’t that be amazing. If employers had to provide a list of references. Candidates could call and ask questions about wage practices, culture, annual review processes, grievance processes and reward metrics. I’d love it. As long as the opinions received were real and not adulterated.

        1. SavannahMiranda*

          ETA: I know glassdoor exists and other websites, and it’s possible to work your network to get this kind of information. But the playing field would feel very different if it was standard etiquette for employers to offer a sheet of references of their own.

    3. Queen of Cans and Jars*

      It’s just nuts that this happens so often! I have to hope it’s not a deliberate strategy to get someone to fill a position that folks may not want. Someone who’s hired for a job that’s not what they interviewed for is not going to work out, and then you’ve wasted time and money on someone who moves on to a job they actually want.

    4. Olivia*

      Sigh. Same here. I have gotten some interviews already, which is great – I just don’t want to clock so much time here that it looks like I’ve checked out of my previous career track. Ugh. What a mess…

    5. Been There, Done That*

      I’m in the same position so it’s helpful to read about other people’s experiences. I’ve been kicking myself for being a dupe when in fact my job was way misrepresented. That’s bad enough, but it’s also a very toxic environment full of angry, holier-than-thou people. I stayed for a number of reasons, mainly because of a huge personal responsibility that a job search would have disrupted. Now that’s 95% put to bed, the other 5% can weather a job change. But it dovetails with Alison’s recent post about getting out of a toxic environment or else it will become normal to you. I’ve gotten so used to the horrible place and doing something I hate it’s hard to get in gear to get out.

    6. DJ Roomba*

      Did you leave the misrepresented role off your resume? Though I don’t know how long you were in it – but in OP’s case of 2 months, would you leave it off? I ask because I interviewed someone last week for a full time corporate position who has worked 3 months elsewhere in a similar FT corp position and now wants to leave …he graduated in May 2017 and got his first job about a year later.

      To me, jumping ship after only 3 months, in your first role, is a HUGE red flag. I told him he’d be better served by not including it on his resume. Opinions?

      1. Been There, Done That*

        I’ve been w/ the co. about 10 years and in this role more than 4. I’d follow the conventional advice of leaving off any job I’d held less than 6 months. I can honestly present the significant responsibilities of my job even though 60%-90% of my time is spent doing lower-rung tasks I thought I’d left behind years ago. I saw the problems literally day one. At the time I hoped to relocate eventually to our headquarters so gritted my teeth and planned to stick it out for a year or two. Co. changes that made me rethink relocating, although I would rather to stay if I could get a better position. But in the meantime, Big Personal Responsibility came up, and that’s been my top priority in life, with the job a means of financing it.

  7. drpuma*

    Speaking as an overeducated person who gets hired based on my work experience more than my credentials: OP, I know you mention you have had full-time office jobs before, but it may still be helpful to do a gut check with someone you trust (from outside your program) to make sure that more-PM-less-admin work is a match for your professional experience and not only your degree.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I agree that an outside review can be helpful.
      Maybe LW presents him/herself as less of an officer and more of an infantry person. That would be good to know.
      But that doesn’t address the seeming bait and switch. If the company felt that LW was more suited to admin work than PM work, they should have discussed that. The specifics given in the interview aren’t matching the tasks given at the office.
      LW should ask about it, but ask a boss who can explain where their thinking is.

      1. OP*

        Going to an outside source is a great suggestion! I think the source of the PM/admin problem is my boss being so overloaded that a lot of admin trickles down to me and no one else on my team has the bandwith to take care of it. This will definitely be part of my discussion going forward.

        1. Qwerty*

          Is your boss overloaded due to the upcoming conference and deadlines or does it seem like he’s this way all the time? Hopefully the situation is just that there wasn’t enough time to train you on the current grant submissions and that you’ll receive more project-based work once things slow down a bit.

          In the meantime, is any of the project-based work you want to do adjacent to the admin duties you’ve been handling? If you can snag little things off the plate of your boss or coworkers, that will help move you into the project work you want and give you something to build off of when you’re able to get your boss’ attention. Plus if everyone is currently very busy, they will be grateful for the help, which will also help you in the long run.

          Your cheery attitude in the comments is wonderful! Sometimes new hires get stuck with the crud work in the beginning and it can be tough to ask for different work without sounding like the admin work is beneath you. Positive attitudes make the people around you want to help you get into the tasks you are interested.

          1. OP*

            It seems like my boss is consistently overloaded, which makes me think this won’t go away even if I ask. I do my own admin for the projects I’m directly involved in, but also additional admin for my boss and teammates. I sometimes take on small project tasks from teammates, but most projects in my department are specifically divided to avoid overloading and overlap. I guess it’s a non-profit thing.

            1. misspiggy*

              That makes me wonder whether everyone is supposed to be administratively self-supporting, but they’re foisting their admin work onto you because they hope you’re too new to know any better.

              Are there people in similar roles to you in other teams whom you could discreetly check this with?

              1. OP*

                I think I’m still too new to know anyone in a similar position here. Plus, every team here is structured differently, so it would be hard to tell.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      This is such an interesting Catch 22 about our professional culture. You have to have experience to get a job, but you can’t get a job without experience.

      1. Inspector Spacetime*

        Yuppp. You get experience through unpaid internships, and good luck to you if you can’t afford to go without a paycheck for six months.

      2. Bea*

        So true. I’ve known places *cough* who say they prefer a degree but require vast experience as well. It’s hard for newly graduated people to get hired at the level their education should put them at. They still want you to spend some time in the trenches…but then your degree gets stale and you get asked “why haven’t you had a job that utilized your education tho?”

      3. SavannahMiranda*

        This age old complaint continues to mystify me and always has. Not directed at you Detective Amy Santiago. More of a general observation that no one owes me experience. My degree does not get me 1 free token for a certain number of guaranteed professional experience credits to be given to me.

        Working temp agencies, customer service phone jobs, runner and very low level assistant tasks, including carrying coffee, is what got me experience. Working jobs that had nothing to do with my degree and which didn’t even require a degree got me experience. I read every document I was handed before I delivered it. I reviewed the contents of every binder I assembled, every file I copied, scanned, and converted to electronic records, every data entry project I keyed in on a ridiculous deadline, and the underlying sales contracts for every mind-numbing set of phone calls I was assigned, if I could get my hands on them.

        I researched the board members whose bottles of water I set out on tables even though knowing the topic of their PhD theses had no bearing on my ability to bring them cups of coffee or clean up the tissues they blew their noses into.

        I asked questions. What is the difference between a schedule and an exhibit. What are the implications of plurality versus majority voting. What are California securities and employment laws so different from other states. Why does HIPPA apply here, but it doesn’t apply there. And then I made the coffee again.

        And I did all this while underpaid or unpaid, living with roommates, unable to spay my cat even at the low-price social services veterinarian, and working without health insurance myself. Without a mom or a dad to bail me out. For much longer than it would be fair to live like that. Life is not fair. Careers are not fair. Employment is not fair. No one owes me a job, or owes me the experience necessary to get one. Even with my international honors degree and 3.75 GPA.

        Okay, rant over. I’m sorry. I know my experience does not generalize to the lives of thousands of people. Not everyone fetches the coffee, asks the questions, and eventually makes it out. Many of us do exactly the right things and never get ahead. It’s not a meritocracy. No one is guaranteed to get ahead because they did all these things and more. So believe me, I don’t have any magical thinking that just because I made it out of white collar poverty means that anyone who followed my precise actions could do the same. But the reductionist loop about needing experience to get a job to get experience is…reductionist?

        1. SavannahMiranda*

          ETA: Sorry again about the rant, and this was not a comment on OP.

          Going into a job one *knows* is making coffee, setting out bottles of water, delivering binders, and maybe if one is lucky getting permission to send out calendar reminders is very different from interviewing for and accepting a title of substance, and being assigned 70-80% work that requires no degree, let alone a Master’s degree, to perform.

          OP has every right to question what the deal is with a job they signed up for but feel bait and switched on. And to start looking, if these de facto job tasks are more real than the de jure job description.

        2. Julia*

          That’s nice for getting work experience, but what when the employer demands “relevant” experience to hire at entry level?

    3. Smithy*

      The combination of this + plus the pieces around grant management caught my eye. If the OP is within the nonprofit world this can be quite common. That lots of younger adults will get a Masters in International Relations/Development or Nonprofit Management and return to the NGO world and seen as largely entry level.

      The other thing that *might* be at play is if the OP’s boss was expecting X number of grants/donors to come and the reality has been that only X-Y have come in – there may just be less work than expected. I was once hired for a job where it was clear the expectation for institutional donor growth was far higher than what ended up happening. As a result I had far less to do, and especially far less “interesting” work.

    4. Tusk*

      depends on industry. many cases, you get hired based on credentials rather than work experience (with or without full-time work experience)

    5. user41268*

      The problem is as an admin OP won’t learn much in terms of her career goals.

      People do start at the very bottom after graduating. But the positions enable them to learn something and progress. Even as a PMO on a project (the person who in most companies is responsible for organising meetings, writing minutes, coordinating small tasks, etc.) you learn a lot about the area the project is in (e.g. IT, logistics, marketing) and about project work itself.

      But working as a personal assistant you really don’t learn much. Unless you want to work like this in the future of course. But the OP doesn’t.

    6. marmalade*

      This is a good point. Obviously, the bait and switch of what the job involves is not cool. But it may be that your previous work experience is in line with admin work rather than PM work.

  8. CR*

    This is my life right now. Other people who work with my organization even refer to me as the executive admin even though that is not my title and not what I thought I was signing up for. I’m job searching.

    1. Kat in VA*

      This is awful.

      And there’s folks like me – decidedly an executive assistant, not a PMP, doesn’t do project management – who would very much like to have the EA job and leave the project management to the PMPs!

  9. jeffry*

    Move on. I doubt this a temporary thing. In this case it sounds drastically different than the job description which is a huge red flag and not something to be corrected so soon. It would have been better if you found out before you accepted it but in this case, it doesn’t sound temporary (and at worst, even if they keep stringing you along, you won’t be learning as much)

    And its probably better to start exploring other opportunities sooner rather than latter so you don’t pigeon-hole yourself either. From personal experience and that of my friends, the longer you stay in a position like this, the more time you won’t be learning what you want to and in some industries, may slow down a move to other positions when hiring managers get the perception that you like this work.

    1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

      That it’s been two months is the key thing for me here. One month I would probably have accepted – a full accounting cycle – to get to grips with normal procedure. During this time, yes, admin-y things will help to introduce all the nuances of this particular business, annoying – but since you’re a recent grad, I’m prepared to bet it’s at best slightly above entry level. Unless you’ve gone straight in to a C-suite position, I’d expect grunt work to fill in the gaps in the industry knowledge.
      But two months? Now it’s a pattern, and becoming the “new normal”. Things aren’t likely to change at this point.

      1. Frannie*

        It makes me think this workplace doesn’t have a formal graduate program structure in place. Best to keep looking for one that does.

    2. Emily K*

      Also recommend not adding or only briefing mentioning the administrative work under this job on your resume – touting your experience doing X just makes it more likely you’ll be seen as someone who can be called on to do X if they hire you.

      I was in a similar situation years ago where half my job was administrative, but I focused all my bullet points on my achievements pertinent to the half of my job that was related to my chosen career.

  10. Project Deprived*

    I’m a Project Manager at an agency and struggling with a lot of the same. I think the risk is that PM roles vary a lot by industry, and even within industries different offices can have different expectations so responsibilities tend to morph over time. My role now is much less project-based and more of a hybrid Department Assistant/Account Manager — not really the job I was sold on. It started out as a more legit PM role, but after a few months higher ups basically started dumping any vaguely administrative task they didn’t want to handle onto my desk. I wonder how common an experience that is for PMs — I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens kind of often.

  11. jeffry*

    Move out as fast as you can. It doesn’t sound temporary and they may be stringing you along. Also depending on the industry, you may be pigeonholed into a role like this the longer you stay.

  12. John Rohan*

    In my experience, no one hires a project manager from the outside. It’s always from an internal employee who is familiar with the organization. If you were told that during the interview process, then it was either a misunderstanding, or they were deliberately misleading you.

    You may very well be a project manager at some point, but I would expect to spend a little time at the company first.

    1. Lora*

      Think it’s field-dependent – I’m in engineering and we very often hire project managers from the outside, or sometimes temporary staffing project managers. But, our projects are also very clearly defined.

      That said, OP, talk to your boss! One of the things I really like about my current boss is that he is VERY assertive about people trying to assign me admin work and telling even senior management that I will be busy doing my real job and that these tasks are more appropriate for an admin. Especially because I’m often the only woman in a male-dominated industry, it’s wonderful that he’s very sensitive to that.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      What? We hire PMs externally. If you have enough growth and not enough pipeline of internal folks ready to take on a PM role, you have to. As a PM, I regularly get contacted by headhunters for PM roles, so it’s not just us.

    3. Persimmons*

      In my observation, the more dysfunctional a company, the more likely they will hire PMs from the outside. Internal employees who already know the company also know enough to not touch the PM jobs with a ten-foot pole.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      We hire PMs externally. Sometimes we contract with them as consultants. I think this is field specific.

      But, I do think it’s likely that PM is a bit of a vanity title that doesn’t quite match OP’s expectations. In light of their other core responsibilities (event planning and grant admin), I suspect the organization thought it was hiring an overall development/communications person who could handle the admin responsibilities that were on someone else’s list.

      1. GG Two shoes*

        I was thinking it’s more of a project coordinator position, in the more non-profit sense. A project coordinator at a NPO and a program manager at a for profit are VERY different jobs but sound similar in job descriptions.

    5. user41268*

      Of course, plenty of organisations hire PMs from outside.

      What a strange statement.

    6. nd*

      We hire project managers from the outside and we also promote from within. Depends on our needs and the skills of current employees.

      One thing we never do, however, is hire a project manager with no previous related/relevant and significant work experience. Regardless of their degree. We would never hire someone right out of graduate school for a project manager position.

      1. user41268*

        It depends on the company. I used to work for organisations like yours. PM was always a person with several years of experience in project work.

        Currently, I work at an organisation that gives titles “project manager” and “manager” (“marketing manager”, “sales manager”, “HR manager”, etc.) to people straight from university. Shocking but true.

  13. ballpitwitch*

    Depending on what the industry is, it doesn’t necessarily seem uncommon that they have not been assigned a “project” after two months? They may just be waiting for a project that is appropriate for a first-time PM. Knowing how to do admin work is pretty useful… I’ve worked with a lot of PMs who were real boneheads about the admin side of things. Try not to necessarily think of it as beneath you.

    That said, if a couple more months go by without any indication you are going to be given a project to manage, then you can be alarmed.

    1. Morning Glory*

      It can be really dangerous for a young non-admin to visibly provide administrative support for other people. It will train others to think of her as an admin, and not a project manager; that is difficult to come back from. It’s probably thinking the work is beneath her, so much as fear of the very real possibility of getting trapped in admin prison.

      1. OP*

        This is actually one of my fears, especially how to get out on the other side in the future.

      2. ballpitwitch*

        *shrug* I am admin who likes it. I don’t love the stigma of it being mindless doormat work. Being a good admin takes intelligence and skill.

        1. Morning Glory*

          As a former admin, I agree! I think your dislike of the stigma and the OP’s fear are closely related, not mutually exclusive. It’s the disrespect about the position that leads to admins being underpaid, and admin roles being exceptionally difficult to get promoted out of.

          The LW never agreed to an admin role, and does not want to be an admin, but the stigma of admin roles still has the potential to damage her, professionally.

          1. ballpitwitch*

            At some of my former companies, it was not unusual for new PMs to not get their own projects for a couple of months. They may just be trying to keep her busy in the meantime – I just didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that she has been lied to about her position in some way.

            But yeah, I don’t love the tone of the letter writer at certain points, like when he/she suggests that anything they term “admin” is below them because they went to an “Ivy League” school. That stuff is still good to know if this is one of your first office jobs, IMO. Some of the things mentioned are things that a lot of PMs and even upper management do themselves.

          2. Clare*

            Yes, exactly. I was an admin who loved being an admin, but it didn’t pay enough to keep up with the cost of living in my area. Job searching was so frustrating because while *I* knew my admin experience gave me a lot of valuable skills, trying to convince others that it has value is an entirely different matter.

          3. epi*

            I agree. I used to have a job where I was supposed to be managing research projects but my boss would constantly try to load me up with admin work. In that case, I knew (because he told me and others) that he didn’t think we needed a research program at all, wanted to keep it small in part by keeping me busy with other stuff, and since he didn’t understand research he really did not get how different my work was from an admin and how inappropriate it was to give me those assignments.

            At that job I worked with a fantastic group of admins whom I highly respected and liked very much. We often needed information or help from one another for legitimate reasons, so I fully understand that their job is hard and they are great at it.

            All the same, those assignments were undermining and insulting because my boss intended them to be. I don’t think it helps anybody to pretend otherwise. I also knew, from working on both appropriate and inappropriate admin tasks in that job, that I didn’t like that sort of work and wasn’t particularly good at it.

        2. Sally*

          Morning Glory wasn’t saying otherwise, just that it’s more difficult to transition to a different role if you’re an admin. That’s a problem for people who are not satisfied with admin work, not saying that admin work isn’t satisfying or skilled (which it reaaaally is).

        3. It's Pronounced Bruce*

          Sure it does. Being a good admin is difficult, and admins are chronically disrespected in a lot of ridiculous ways.

          But that’s exactly where the problem is: Admins are chronically disrespected. Being willing to pitch in with admin work is often a sneaky trap, because once you’re seen handling admin work, folks stop trusting you to give you the other types of work you’re supposed to have. The support work multiplies and the other stuff dries up. It’s not a guarantee, but it is extremely common, to the extent that the advice to stake out a boundary here is absolutely the most prudent path.

          That blows and is extremely unfair to everyone involved, least of all admins, but it’s not something the OP can solve. Doing the admin stuff without shame isn’t going to blaze a trail into respect for people who do that kind of work, it’s still most likely to end up being something that sets them back.

      3. Bea*

        It’s not nearly as dangerous as people say it is. You can do admin work for an executive above you without everyone suddenly pitching you their paperwork.

        If one office starts acting messy towards you, that’s internal toxicity and working with morons. You climb ladders by being the person taking work off the bosses plate.

        1. Morning Glory*

          You climb ladders by taking the right work off the boss’s plate.

          Not sure if you’ve never been an admin, or if you have just been lucky, but admin prison is very very much a real thing in many workplaces.

          1. adminhell*

            Admin Prison is very real and good luck getting out of it.
            People can go on and on about being worth their weight in gold etc., but reality is, we are barely paid enough to live on and that won’t change. Ever.
            Get out if you can.

            1. Been There, Done That*

              In my firm, “admin” is a separate species. Sounds harsh, but no matter what the person is actually *doing,* they’re treated like a widget. And while my first manager here was receptive to people’s aspirations and generous with opportunities to grow and learn, the last 2 stacked on the brainless paper-shuffling and rarely even turn loose of an admin task they can do themselves if it involves serious company knowledge or a chance to demonstrate higher level skills to the top ranks.

        2. AnonInfinity*

          As an admin, I was actively doing director-level work and carrying director-level responsibilities for a very dysfunctional department (and I have about two years of bona fide management experience) – and no matter how many quantitative, holy-moly accomplishments I had on my resume, hiring managers externally and internally could not get past “but it says here that you’re an admin.” Being considered an admin doesn’t put you at the bottom of the career ladder: it makes you the person holding the ladder with very little chance to step onto the ladder.

          With the support of three somewhat powerful people at my org, I transitioned into a bona fide director-level role in the same department where I was the admin… And I still constantly combat Coworkers Who Remember Me As An Admin. “You’re good with PowerPoint, right – can you spare a few hours to put mine together?” “Admin isn’t in today – and I know you know how to do X…can you do it just this once?” “Can you pretty please look at this flyer and fix all the things I messed up?” “Part of your role is to handle Teapot Assessment, and this clerical data entry task is kind of like that if you squint, so can you take my handwritten scribbles about Teapot Placements and input them into a database?” I spend a lot of days with my door closed (*coughsometimesfakingphonecallscough*) and saying “no, my plate is full – check with your Admin.” I have a hard time trusting 90% of my coworkers to not try to pull one over on me, and I’m constantly on the defense of protecting myself from being pigeonholed and/or giving an inch so someone can take a mile. And although I love my job, and my company has done more than right by me (ultimately…), it completely sucks to be Remembered As An Admin and it’s often enough to make me wonder about job searching. A clean slate looks awfully shiny sometimes.

          Being an admin who does not want to be an admin, who did not sign up to be an admin, or who eventually promotes out of being an admin at the same org can be very “dangerous.” I’d call it treacherous. And I’d tell anyone questioning their role, perceived or real, as an admin to watch out for the pitfalls. There are many, and they are unfair.

      4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Especially if the person in question is a woman.

        I work in a progressive organization that is led by women and deeply committed to inclusion. And I’m still expected to do administrative-type things that men are never asked to do. It’s insidious.

        1. Been There, Done That*

          I’ve found that sometimes women managers are even tougher than men in this regard. They want to make that firm distinctive between Woman Executive and admin.

  14. Cari*

    Here to add my +1 to this thread. Same thing happened to me in my prior position. I was hired as the Marketing Manager, promised that I’d have a high degree of autonomy and an opportunity to make a significant impact on corporate marketing. Instead, I was scheduling meetings, coordinating shipping (!) and doing billing.

    When my boss actually said “cancel my 2 o’clock” with a straight face, I knew I had fallen for a bait-and-switch. Luckily, I was recruited back to my old job after only 5 months. During my exit interview, the HR manager was *floored* at the kinds of tasks I was doing and validated that they were not, in fact, what was expected of my position.

      1. SeluciaMD*

        +1 for the DTMTBD reference. Rock and roll Swell!

        That is one of my favorite Joanna Cassidy roles ever. I find that movie wholly under-appreciated.

    1. A username for this site*

      Ditto here, I was hired to work as a marketing person, I was asked to renegotiate the phone bill on my first day, and about two months later I was fired for not being a good admin.

      I had never been an admin, did not apply to be an admin, and did not market myself as an admin. Which I told them before I left.

  15. MLB*

    I’ve found over the last 20+ years that a job description for a specific title can vary A LOT from one place to another. If the job description that was discussed when you applied is vastly different then yes speak to your boss ASAP. I’m a PM and I don’t do any admin work that I would consider part of an EA’s job.

  16. J.E.*

    There might be some miscommunication about what’s considered a “project.” Does your boss consider any admin. task you do like a small “project?” If so, the boss could also interpret this as project management.

    1. hrsy*

      highly doubt this. at some point the boss could interpret sharpening pencils as a small “project”

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Per PMI, a project is, “It’s a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.”

      This is kind of a pet peeve of mine. Getting A Thing done doesn’t make it a project. I swapped my kids’ bedrooms and updated their furniture. It was a temporary endeavor to create a unique result, but it didn’t have a defined scope or resources. It was done when I didn’t feel like putting any more time or effort into it, and I wasn’t accountable to any budget or stakeholders. Sorry, just ranting a little. . .

      1. Pop*

        My boss has NO idea what the word “project” means. She’s also inefficient and vastly overestimates the amount of time it takes to do things, so hey, maybe mail merging a word doc with two fields and fifteen pages IS a “project” for her because it would take her all day…She regularly asks me to do “projects” that are simple tasks like emailing someone to schedule a meeting. Even with a very generous definition of the word project, these things are tasks! Agh!!

        1. Sally Sparrow*

          Do we work for the same boss? This is the best description for my boss I’ve read.

  17. Former HR*

    The other thing going on here may have been that the person you replaced wasn’t a very good Project Manager, so they took on a lot of the admin work so they would be valuable. This happened at my job with a coworker. She took on other tasks that were outside the scope of her job, because she wasn’t very good at what she was supposed to be doing. She has since left, and the person they hired to replace her is now setting clearer boundaries because he is very good at the job, and he has no interest to do the admin tasks she took on.

    1. OP*

      Funny enough, the person I replaced was my team’s superstar. It’s hard living up to that expectation, no matter how competent a worker you are.

      1. Guitar Lady*

        What sort of things was your predecessor working on? Was she a superstar because she shepherded projects well, or because she was a go to person for random admin stuff?

        1. OP*

          Most of the stories I’ve heard about her were about admin. She was the go-to person who knew everyone and how everything ran. Not much has been said about her project management skills though.

          1. arjumand*

            “Most of the stories I’ve heard about her were about admin. She was the go-to person who knew everyone and how everything ran. Not much has been said about her project management skills though.”

            I think you’ve answered your own query, here. They had an admin superstar, didn’t have much luck replacing her, and decided to bait and switch you.

            I also think it’s time to start looking for a new job, and mark this one down to experience (and as a set of warning flags to look out for – as in, who are you replacing).

      2. Inspector Spacetime*

        Did this person do a lot of admin work too? Or did she do mainly actual projects?

  18. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Before you meet with your boss to discuss the admin work versus the project management work.
    For your own clarity make up a two column lists of tasks and responsibilities that you have been assigned since starting there. Then add any other tasks or responsibilities that haven’t come up yet and sort them as well.
    This way, when you meet with your boss she can tell you the things she thinks are legitimately part of project management (or specifically, this project management position) and you will know where you stand and decide what to do from there.

  19. Cheesecake 2.0*

    Well, I work as a PM at a university and this is pretty much a description of my job. Three reasons:
    1) Assistants are expensive and we don’t have enough to cover all the admin work. 2) You have to learn the admin side before jumping into the heavy PM tasks 3) We can’t hire anyone with an “admin” job code on our federal research grants.

    If you don’t have a PMP certificate or previous experience, this may be their way of getting you used to things. Events and grant management tend to come in cycles too, so may be they are trying to keep you busy in the interim. Even our high level program manager at my department plans her own meetings, takes her own minutes, so this doesn’t seem unusual to me at all.
    Other commenters who said they are PMs, what other tasks would you consider “PM tasks” vs “admin tasks”?

    1. Smithy*

      In my first job out of grad school, I was a research assistant in a position that was a lot of grants admin. My boss once told me that he started preferring to hire those with a Masters in a different field from his disciple because he knew that way they were truly interested in research study management and not just doing the field research.

      If the OP’s unhappy a lot of these conversations are valuable but it may also help to talk to similar PM’s in the field to see what the job most often is.

    2. Never*

      Re 3): The way we get around this is by calling the “admins” something else (“Project Associate”), but we also have PMs who are actually PMs.

      1. Cheesecake 2.0*

        We do that too when possible (Research Associates) but we still don’t have enough of them. Some of our grants are infrastructure related (not R01) and take a tremendous amount of admin work to pull off.

  20. Sheila*

    Why have you not talked to your boss? There could be a genuine misunderstanding, this may be a temporary thing, who knows? I don’t understand your silence.

  21. Mimmy*

    This thread is making me twitchy because I can sort of relate to this with my current job. Different type of work, but very similar type of scenario. I interviewed with my now-current supervisor and the center director. The director had all of these ideas for the position and I jumped on applying because I thought it would really give me valuable experience.

    Turns out, I’m only doing ONE of the many things he mentioned. In fact, NOBODY is doing anything he mentioned. According to my supervisor, his ideas were not realistic, which apparently isn’t uncommon with him. The position was newly created, and they acknowledged that they were still working out the details. I get that, but I really think they should’ve communicated to me when I first started what was ultimately decided the position would entail and explained why it wouldn’t be how the director had envisioned it. Had I known it would just be the one thing, I likely would not have applied.

  22. McWhadden*

    Honestly, project managers at every place I have worked have been Admin Assistants with a few more duties. I’m not saying that makes it the norm or the same everywhere. But it may be ingrained in the position at that place.

  23. J.*

    For what it’s worth, I would also focus on the disconnect between what you expected and what you are experiencing and leave the part about attending an Ivy League school out of it, since it has nothing at all to do with the situation.

    1. MP*

      I disagree – graduating with a masters from an Ivy League school is an important part of this. It makes the disconnect between what the letter writer thought the job would be and what it turned out to be more jarring. I think most people would agree that an Ivy League masters graduate would not be likely to apply for an admin assistant role or generally be very professionally fulfilled by that job.

      1. McWhadden*

        Strongly disagree. It will put off the managers. And absolutely no one in the working world cares where you went to school.

        1. earl*

          Removed. Please stop posting with multiple user IDs on the same post. That’s sock puppetry. Thanks. – Alison

          1. McWhadden*

            Unless it’s education it usually matters in getting the foot in the door. But once in your work is the only thing anyone evaluates or wants to discuss.

        2. Sally*

          I agree it will put off the managers – I disagree that no one in the working world cares where you went to school. That’s really field dependent. Law for instance is an extremely elitist field.

            1. Sally*

              Cool, I’m in law too. It can definitely vary. I’m specifically referring to corporate/big firms which literally will have quotas for hiring from different schools (40 from T14 school, 2 from local school).

            2. always in email jail*

              I’m in government, so there’s a scoring system. It is not weighted based on where a degree is from. A graduate degree is a graduate degree (assuming it’s from a properly-accredited school)

        3. NaoNao*

          I don’t think it’s about the perception of the “working world”, it’s about what the OP was “sold” spending an insane amount of time and money and blood sweat and tears to achieve in her Ivy League school. The implicit promise of such schools is that the degree is in fact worth more than the “paper it’s printed on”, that their vast network of well to do alumni, and their expensive, top of the line career centers and other resources, give one a leg up in the working world.

          It seems like she’s saying “I worked super hard and paid through the nose to get a certain kind of education and prospects and admin work is not it.” Not that we pleebs need to get out of her way and allow her to rule.

      2. Sally*

        What you’re saying is true for OP, but is not going to come off well for a discussion with her boss. It’s going to come off like OP is saying graduating from an Ivy League school is “above” an admin assistant position. The real issue is that she was hired for a Project Manager position, which is a different position than an admin assistant. That really should be the focus. Otherwise the conversation will get derailed.

  24. Anonymous Poster*

    Something very similar happened to me. I was hired for a job that seemed to combine public relations with marketing, both areas I had worked in before. The title was “outreach specialist” – which seemed appropriate for someone a few years out of college. I found that it meant I was expected to answer phones, back up the receptionist, and assist with mailings, in addition to performing trouble-shooting for customers. I was also assigned special projects which could have been handled by a secretary. When I approached my boss, she told me to quit if I didn’t like it. The HR person who initially interviewed me was shocked, but apparently her hands were tied. I stayed and learned what I could, but happily was able to leave in about 18 months. “Other duties as assigned” in the position description is often a hint of misuse of employees, it seems.

  25. the_scientist*

    So, I don’t know what field the OP is in, but I think this is something that happens a lot in the health sciences/social sciences/other research fields that aren’t laboratory-based.

    When I finished grad school with an M.Sc in Epidemiology, I was hired by a small research group located at a prestigious research hospital. The research group’s work was very closely related to the work I’d done for my master’s so it was a great fit. Unfortunately, it was a small, grant-funded research team with an overworked principal investigator who was not strong in people management, and for whom the hospital refused funding for a full-time admin.

    As a result, even though I was ostensibly hired to do data analysis and research, at least 75% of my time was spent on administrative work much like the OP describes- scheduling meetings, drafting agendas, providing materials, coordinating in-person meetings (including the catering), taking meeting minutes, etc. I don’t disagree that these administrative skills are valuable, and honestly, I don’t begrudge having to set up my own meetings now. I also don’t think it’s unreasonable for an entry-level role in a grant-funded operation to involve a certain amount of admin work, just because money is often tight, and there may not be funding for a dedicated admin person.

    HOWEVER, there are a number of things wrong with this situation. First, I didn’t slog my way through grad school (and presumably the OP didn’t either) to spend 75% of my time on this type of work. Admin work is valuable, but it’s also time-consuming and can be incredibly tedious, and it takes time away from the type of work that can move the OP’s career forward; substantive project work is ALSO time-consuming, and you can’t do it well, prove yourself to be a strong employee, and grow your skill set if you are only able to dedicate 1/4 of your time to it. Second, as I said, OP is not going to have adequate time to engage in challenging work; which is what is going to really build her professional reputation and skill set for future jobs.

    Third, once you have established yourself as the admin person, it’s impossible to change that perception of you. I was once on a conference call with 12 scientific leaders, when one of our project leads introduced me as the admin assistant for the project. That was very much NOT my role; like I said, I was hired to do research work, but what was I going to do? I couldn’t correct him in the moment, over the phone.

    Needless to say, I had to look for a new job and I successfully found one that is a much better match for my goals and my skillset. I do still have to schedule my own meetings and prep my own meeting materials, but it’s maybe 10% of my job, which is a much better fit.

    1. joseph*

      this is spot on. Its not what you were hired for and its going to make your education look like a waste when its not what you want to do. plus youll get labeled in that particular role

    2. OP*

      Thanks so much for sharing your story! Everything you said is spot on. For my own projects, I don’t trust anyone else to do admin, but the additional admin work was not originally discussed with me.

      1. the_scientist*

        I will also add that I am now a PMI-certified Project Management Professional, but 1) that’s not actually my job title and 2) getting my PMP designation was something that I thought about for a long time before actually taking the plunge and doing it. I am very good at PM work and I don’t dislike it, but in my heart, I’m still an epidemiologist and I have no intention of moving into 100% project management positions any time soon. I’m concerned that your organization is mis-using the title “project manager.” It could be unintentional, but it might not be- maybe they aren’t being realistic about what they really need.

      2. Been There, Done That*

        I’m going to cast this line and see what anyone else thinks–

        Recently I saw a file copy of a letter one of the admin supports in our office actually sent out. Some of the poorest, most unclear writing I’ve ever seen, and she even got her title wrong. She has a little college, but no degree. Back in the day a solid high school diploma would have been an entrée into administrative work, but now I’m wondering if employers want degreed admins because presumably they can write clear paragraphs, add and subtract, etc., but degreed people want higher-rung jobs, so employers misrepresent jobs to get candidates?

    3. Mimmy*

      How would you screen for that in a job interview? Do you just hope that what you’re told in an interview is what your job will turn out to be?

      1. the_scientist*

        I don’t think there’s a foolproof way to screen for it, unfortunately. An employer who wants to mislead an interviewee is going to figure out a way to do it. However, there are a few questions I always ask that I think are decent at teasing out the realities of any given job.

        First, I always ask for a percentage breakdown of how much time the person will spend on each of the main job responsibilities per the job description. If they are really pumping up a particular aspect of the job as desirable, but then say that only 20% of your time will be spent on that one thing, it may be a sign of a disconnect.

        Another thing I ask about for grant-funded roles is whether the role will be expected to support any other projects. This is a good clue as to how potentially strapped the team is, and if you are expected to support projects that you aren’t working on it’s almost certainly going to be in an administrative capacity.

        1. It's Pronounced Bruce*

          Yeah, this is how I’ve sniffed it out in the past. Ask very specific questions about how much your time will be spent on what kind of work, and who you’re expected to support with that work.

          Get real specific with their answers to those questions, too. Usually their “we’re really looking for a teapot enforcer” lines break entirely down after just a couple of detail questions about how much teapot enforcing you’ll do in an average day/week, who sees that, who gives you teapot enforcement tasks, etc. Then suddenly it’s “well this is primarily a sugar bowl role but we want you to also have sharp teapot enforcer skills, your actual teapot enforcer work will be minimal.” Uh-huh.

    4. epi*

      All of this. I am also an MS Epi but was in this situation before I went back to school. (I’m a PhD student now so my jobs are what they are :P)

      There can be a lot of admin work in research project management, legitimately. There are staffing and funding factors that are outside your control, and also many administrative tasks that require just enough subject area or project knowledge that it doesn’t make sense to hand them off to a generalist. The line gets especially blurry in fields with a really strong practical component. For example, I work on a program evaluation right now but since the evaluation plan was made before I got here most of the work is just implementing the plan. It’s admin tasks with a research justification.

      Also, for research jobs I often see descriptions that put the most stringent technical/educational requirements up front even though they will rarely be used. Seemingly everyone in a “research specialist” job needs to know how to analyze data but when I look at the ones I know, the amount of time they spend doing that varies widely. I think these jobs put skills not everyone has front and center, underestimating the administrative load or wrongly thinking that aptitude and willingness to do admin can be assumed.

      It’s hard to say whether bringing education into the OP’s talk with their boss is appropriate or not. It really depends on the degree and the industry. However if they do want to bring it up, I would do so the way you have here and focus on the content of the degree. If the OP qualifies as a specialist in something their employer does, who could reasonably expect to be more of an individual contributor, that is worth bringing up. It isn’t a good use of resources to use their time this way in that case. I understand the salience of the Ivy thing but too many people will find it alienating, in a discussion where the OP already has to take some risk of being seen as not wanting to pay their dues.

  26. Volunteer Enforcer*

    OP, I understand where you are coming from. However, IMO as an admin you are a sort of mini project manager. I know it is nowhere near the responsibility or seniority level, but there can be similarities.

    1. OP*

      Definitely true! I don’t mind the admin work, for my own projects or for my team, but I wish it had been brought up during the interview and in the original job posting.

  27. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I’m actually kind of shocked about the crossover between PM and Admin in some of the industries.

    PM’s in my world (software and operations) are miles apart from Admins in responsibility. No wonder everyone is confused. It’s like calling a dentist a veterinarian and wondering why your cat has really good teeth, but is otherwise really unhealthy!

    OP, I don’t have too much to add except I would start with talking to your boss and if you don’t see immediate plans for change then get out.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Oh, there’s tons of cross-over in my industry. We’re in federal contracting, with very clearly defined labor categories and duties for administrative assistants, project analysts, technical writers, and project managers on each contract. In reality, whoever is perceived to be organized and can open a file on a computer is nabbed for admin work. This practice stems from the contract bid; admins aren’t often staffed because there isn’t much profit in the GSA labor rate – admins are hourly and the other positions are professional exempt. (I firmly believe admins should be paid a lot more, but the government sets the rates.)

      So companies bid PAs and PMs, and upon contract award, assign the unknowing employee a lot of “miscellaneous duties” that have nothing to do with the work described in the interview.

      Current job briefly tried this with me. I got out of it because I used one of Alison’s scripts: “Boss, does it make sense for someone at my level to be doing these tasks?” Had I been less senior, though, I would still be stuck with it.

  28. I'll say it*

    It’s super interesting to see everyone’s varying understanding of what a project manager does. I’m a project manager, have been for 20 years. I’ll introduce another wrinkle into this: in my 20 years, I have seen and experienced a lot more FEMALE project managers being asked to do admin work that is definitely not in the job description for a PM. Akin to taking meeting notes. Don’t even get me started.

  29. 2 Years until Retirement*

    Once upon a time….We had an admin here who thought she was good enough to be a project manager. She was convinced her admin responsibilities were adequate background to be a project manager. She was very put out when our General Manager did not assign her the project of “building a new research centre” and gave it to an engineer instead!

  30. AnotherSarah*

    This happened to me, a long time ago–a job that was supposed to be about 50% admin and 50% creative projects/writing-intensive work ended up being about 90% admin. I quit after a year and helped hire my replacement. Turns out the org was closing its doors, no one told me (I do think my boss told the new person), and that’s why the creative part dried up–there was no creation going on at all!

  31. lnelson1218*

    I have worked as an admin and was lousy at it. As a result when I see a really good one, I know that he/she is worth their weight in gold.
    To a certain degree I think many manager should work as an admin at some point so they can appreciate the job. No it isn’t rocket science, but there is a lot of little details that need to be worked out for things/an office/meetings to run smoothly. Example, a VP wanted to hold a full day worth of meetings. No problem. Wants it to start before 7am and have it catered. Well, none of the local places deliver before 7/7:30am. That’s the reality. Also wanted everyone to be in “this” hotel. Well, I am in a city that is also a major tourist attraction and there are three huge conferences going on that week, you will be lucky if you find 20 rooms never mind 20 rooms in the same hotel within walking distance to the office two weeks before your desired date.
    So while the really good ones make it look easy, sometimes it really isn’t.
    As I do work in HR, there is a lot of admin in my job and I am not the boss who has a Coordinator who can do some of the more administrative work. But I don’t feel like an admin in that sense.

  32. Jenna*

    OP, I applaud you for being so gracious in the comment section. I can empathize because a few times I’ve received advice along the lines of “start as an admin and work your way up.” I, like you, already had a few years of work experience prior to graduate school, and I find that kind of advice to be wildly outdated. It’s really annoying for people to behave as if I think I’m too good for the work. That’s not it at all–it’s just not the work I’ve chosen, and it’s not the most appropriate next step according to my work experience and education. Moreover, I have never heard of anyone suggesting that my male colleagues begin in an admin-type role, and I’ve never heard of upper management asking them to order food or schedule conference rooms, rather they’re directed toward a mid-level role with room to grow.

    1. AnonInfinity*

      Yes, this. Admin work and the expectation to “work your way up” (I’ll get to that…) is absolutely gendered. For example, where I work, if a female colleague isn’t in a meeting, it is exceedingly rare for anyone but the meeting chair to take minutes. If a female colleague attends the meeting, like clockwork, the woman is asked to take minutes (or, if two or more women attend, the chair says, “Sarah or Sally, would one of you take minutes? Oh, hey, Adam, Mario, and Jason – good to see you here.” It is absolutely ridiculous, and, if you point it out, even the nice, reasonable people are like, “Oh, yeah, I guess I never noticed that before. I hate taking minutes! LOL!”

      And, in my experience and in the experiences of admins I talk to, it is almost impossible to get out of admin work once you’re in it. If you spend five years being a “worth your weight in gold” admin, you can expect to start from rock bottom if you get lucky enough to land a non-admin role at a different company. If you suck at admin work, you’re fired – so much for that foot in the door. And if you stay at your company and promote a little bit up, you spend years being pigeonholed as admin-adjacent.

      The only winning move is to not play.

      1. Julia*

        This to both of you. There’s nothing wrong with being an admin (other than the pay in a lot of cases), but if it’s not what you wanted to do or what you went to school for (and spend lots of time and money studying), then it’s just not for you.

        And yeah, once an admin, always an admin is really hard to beat. I quit my previous admin job, got a master’s, and am still being offered mostly admin jobs despite my experience in other fields and my ability to use three languages at business level. Of course the pay they usually offer is abysmal as well.

      2. Been There, Done That*

        And being “worth your weight in gold” doesn’t mean you’ll actually get that gold you’re worth in your actual paycheck.

  33. Happy Pirate*

    Has anyone brought up the possible gender issue going on here? Is it another case of letting the new girl take on the admin roles?

  34. Trisha*

    I can understand the frustration of them not outlining these duties when discussing the role. I also think a lot of roles come with Admin duties as part and that’s not often recognized because it’s just “normal” in your organization. My government department does not support admin staff for managers (only Directors). So I’m a manager that does my own admin work (everything from setting up my own calls and meetings, to entering details of contracts, to ordering pens). And it’s not unusual for my boss to ask me to set up a call/meeting on her behalf (especially if we’re talking about a project/issue – she’ll ask one of the managers to put together the group, taking care of scheduling, etc.) because we’re more easily able to co-ordinate players. If I pushed back on these tasks, it would be a performance issues – the addition of the Admin work to my Manager duties (15 direct reports; workload planning, etc.) is just a given in my organization. It might be in yours as well.

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