transcript of “My New Job Isn’t What I Signed Up For”

This is a transcription of the Ask a Manager podcast episode “My New Job Isn’t What I Signed Up For.”

Alison: Taking a new job is always something of a gamble. Something can sound great in the interview process, but then once you start, turn out not to be at all what you thought it was going to be. And sometimes it can be hard to sort through whether it’s just a rocky transition and it’ll get better, or whether it’s the wrong fit. And if it is the wrong fit, it can be tough to know what to do about it, especially if you’re trying to build a stable work history. That is the situation that my guest today finds herself in. Hi and welcome to the show.

Guest: Hi, thanks for having me.

Alison: So you started a new job about a month or so ago, which came with a pay raise and a better title and was supposed to be work that was more in line with your Master’s degree. The position that you took used to be held by one person, but it was split into two, so they hired you and one other person to do that work. But what you’ve been finding is that most of the work that you’ve been assigned was handled by an intern before you started and it’s not the work that you talked about during the hiring process and that you thought you were coming on board to do. And you’re trying to figure out, is this just growing pains from a new job or is this not the right fit? Am I getting that right, and is there anything else that you want to add to that?

Guest: Yeah, I think that’s about right. You have the gist of it. Yeah, those are the basic details.

Alison: Now, when you say that most of what you’re doing now is work that used to be done by an intern, was it the intern job that was split into two between you and your new coworker? Or was the job that was split into two a different, higher-level job?

Guest: The job that was split into two was a different higher-level position, and in the transition period between this other person leaving and then the two of us coming on, there was an intern that did the majority of the work. And when the other person was employed there, at that point they also had an intern that helped with that work as well. And that work is consuming my everyday work life now so I can’t really focus on the other responsibilities that were listed in the job description during the interview.

Alison: And the other person who was hired at the same time as you — from what you can see, are they doing the work that you thought you would be doing?

Guest: Some responsibilities yes, but not everything. There was one project in particular that I was really interested in through the interview process and I’ve brought it up a lot as having had experience in it from my previous position. They were really excited about it, but when I came on it turned out that that project was not in my wheelhouse at all. It was somebody else’s responsibility now.

Alison: And is that somebody else the other person who was hired or a completely different person?

Guest: Yeah, it’s the person that was hired.

Alison: Okay. And the stuff that you have been doing, how far off is it from the work that you thought you were coming in to do? Is it pretty different?

Guest: I would say that I had some idea that this would be part of the position. I just didn’t realize that it would take up so much of my time. I was coming into it on the understanding that this might be maybe 25 percent of my responsibilities, but it’s really more like 80, 85 percent of my responsibilities right now.

Alison: Has anyone acknowledged the situation to you? Has anyone said anything like, “Oh, this is just until you get ramped up,” or “Someone was unexpectedly hit by a bus and out for two months, so we’re having you pinch hit for them until they’re back,” or any other kind of acknowledgement that this is different than what you talked about during the hiring process?

Guest: Yeah, recently my boss has come up to me and said in a few instances, “I know that this is a really big part of your time right now and we’re hoping to transition that work in some way.” There has been some talk of bringing on an intern again to help with that work as well. There has been some acknowledgment that this is, you know, a lot of work. It’s taking up a lot of your time, and we want you to do some of those other responsibilities.

Alison: Oh, okay. So that’s really promising, actually, that they see what’s happening and they’re not okay with it. And when you’ve had those conversations, have you gotten a sense of, is that off in some hypothetical distant future or is that within the next couple of weeks?

Guest: You know, it’s really hard to tell. When I first wrote to you, this wasn’t part of the conversation at all yet, it just sort of appeared: “Oh, this is what you’re doing now, these are your responsibilities.” But as time has gone on, there have been more glimmers of hope that this might be changing and this is not actually supposed to be the status quo. But it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s actually something that could happen, my responsibilities might change.

Alison: And is your sense that your boss… let me ask that a different way. When you have talked to your boss about this, how have you handled that side of the conversation? Have you tried to give the impression that you feel some urgency around getting this settled, or have you tried to be really accommodating?

Guest: I’ve tried to be really accommodating, especially because it’s my first month and I’m trying to make a good impression and not trying to make them feel like I’m burdened by a position that I just started, but I have expressed that it is a lot and some help would be really appreciated.

Alison: And when did you and your boss last talk about it, how long has it been since that last conversation?

Guest: Maybe about a week ago.

Alison: Okay. That’s interesting. When I first had your letter before we talked today, and before I knew that there were these glimmers of hope on the horizon, I was prepared to tell you there’s a few different things that could be going on here. Since you’re a month in, maybe they’re easing you into the job just way too slowly — because sometimes employers will do that because they think it’s easier on the person. Sometimes they do it because they are being pulled in too many different directions and they haven’t been able to carve out time to train you yet or just start delegating work to you, because delegating work to a brand new person actually takes some time in order to set them up to do it well. Or that it could be that there actually wasn’t enough work to split that job into two and so they were filling up your time with this other work. Or worst case scenario — and I no longer think that it sounds like this, fortunately — but the worst case scenario I had in my head before we talked was that it could be that whoever hired you had done a really bad job of figuring out what your role would be and conveying it to you in an accurate way. Or that it was accurate at the time, but something changed since then and no one had talked to you about it.

Guest: Yeah. I think part of the issue as well is, splitting the role into two was sort of a new decision for the organization. And I think through the interview process they were still trying to figure out what work would be delegated to what person. I think that process is still continuing now in some way, but they’re still trying to decide what I’m supposed to be doing as opposed to what my colleague is doing.

Alison: Yeah. Well, I like that your boss has acknowledged it to you and you’re not just doing this completely different job than you were hired for and no one is talking about it. It’s good that it’s been acknowledged. It’s good that it sounds like at some point it’s going to change. I would like it a lot better if they were giving you a clearer timeline so that you knew, does that mean two more weeks of this or does this mean six months of it? I think that the thing to do might be to talk to your boss and try to get a clear understanding of that.

It also may be, it’s great to try to be accommodating when you’re in a new job. That’s totally understandable. You don’t want to seem like you’re difficult right off the bat. But it could be that your boss is thinking, “Oh, well she’s completely fine with this, so I can take my time and I can deal with other priorities and when I get around to dealing with this, I’ll deal with it, but if it is months away, then so be it.” And so it might be that you need to be a little bit more upfront about where you are on all of this so that it doesn’t sit for six months.

Guest: Right. Okay.

Alison: I think, if you just talked to her about it a week ago, I might give it another week just to see, is there any movement on it? Does anyone bring it up again? If not, and it’s a full two weeks since the two of you last talked about it, then it’s completely reasonable to talk to her and try to pin it down and to say, “Hey, I know we talked about this being something that you’re working on figuring out. Do you have a timeline in mind for when that’s likely to happen?” And then see what she says, but if she’s at all vague or if she says anything that makes you think, okay, this is not going to be taken care of in the next month, it’s pretty reasonable at that point to say, “I want to be transparent with you. I’m completely happy to help out in a pinch, glad to do it, but I want to be transparent that I accepted this job because I was really excited about the responsibilities that we talked about in the hiring process, and that is the stuff that I want to spend my time on professionally. So I’m hoping that we can nail down a timeline for making that transition.”

Guest: Okay, great. I don’t think we’ve had a conversation about the exact responsibilities yet, so I think it might be actually really nice to sit down and talk about how things are going and my expectations and their expectations and come to an understanding of what my responsibilities will entail in the future and if there are certain steps that are being taken to alleviate the work that I didn’t anticipate to be doing so much of.

Alison: Yes, absolutely. And it sounds like she does realize how much of your time that intern work is taking up, but if you at all get the sense that she doesn’t, be really, really clear about that — because if it’s taking up 80 percent of your time and she thinks it’s taking up 30 percent, that’s a huge difference. So try to put a numerical value on it if you can, if you’re getting the sense that she doesn’t realize.

Guest: Okay. Yeah. No, that sounds great.

Alison: Do you want to talk about what to do if you can’t seem to pin down a timeline and this is going on and on?

Guest: Yeah, that would be awesome.

Alison: Okay, so let’s say you have that conversation and she tells you, “Oh yeah, it’s in progress and it should just be a few weeks,” and then a few weeks go by and there’s just no sign of a change, and you maybe check in again and say that you’re just trying to figure out where she’s at with it and you’re getting the sense it’s not happening anytime soon. Or when you talk to her initially she says, “You know what? Realistically it’s going to be six months before we actually bring on an intern to help with this work.” If it is something like any of those scenarios, it really is okay to say again… Did you mention in your email to me that you had two offers and you accepted this one and turned down another one?

Guest: Yeah, that’s right.

Alison: So you could even say that if you’re comfortable with it. You could say, “I want to be really up-front with you. I accepted this job and turned down a different offer because I was so excited about the work that we talked about in the interview, and it really is important to me to be spending my time on that and I want to get a sense from you of how likely that really is in the next few months, or whether it really is going to stay like it is right now.”

Because you’re trying to get her to do two things: to be honest with you first of all, to be really forthright, but also to do the thinking that she should have done quite a while ago frankly, or at least to do it in front of you, of thinking through, “Okay, what actually needs to happen to take care of this? And realistically when is that likely to be, or is it likely to be?”

So you have that conversation. Let’s say you continue to think, “Ooh, this is not changing anytime soon.” I think at that point you would need to decide, knowing that it’s going to be like this for a while, do you want to stay or not? And I know that you mentioned in your letter to me that you’re concerned about leaving over this and you’re worried that it could be hard to find another job because you were job searching for three months before this job came along, but I think you also said this was one of three different jobs where you got to the final round and you got this offer and another offer.

Guest: Right.

Alison: And that’s actually pretty good for three months of job searching.

Guest: Oh, okay! (Laughs)

Alison: Three months is not a terribly long search. It certainly feels like it when you’re in the middle of it, but relatively speaking, that’s not a crazy long time to be searching. And you got two offers out of it, so I would not take that at all as a sign that you’re trapped where you are.

Guest: Okay, great. That’s positive.

Alison: Yes, absolutely. Now you also said you were worried that if you did decide to leave this job over this, that it would be bad for your resume because you were at your last job for two years, and the one before for that for a year and a half, and you really want to show longer term stays, right?

Guest: Yeah, that’s right.

Alison: I think the thing to know here is that actually, this is going to sound counterintuitive, but leaving this job pretty quickly would actually be fine because if you left it quickly enough you could just leave it off your resume. Now, if you stay for a year and leave, like let’s say you are patient and nothing changes and now you’ve been there a year and you’re like, “Oh crap, I really do have to leave over this.” That is actually harder because you wouldn’t generally leave a whole year off of your resume, but if you’re just there for a few months, you can leave it off and it would be like it never happened.

Guest: Okay. I guess my concern with that would be that my previous positions were, I guess you could say they were more sort of customer service oriented or more assistant admin oriented and I’m looking to take my career in a different direction, higher level authority in some ways. And this is a position that gives me that, I hope, once we have these conversations with my boss. And I guess my concern is if I leave quickly and I leave it off my resume, I’m not really showing the sort of growth that this job might show.

Alison: Yeah. I think you would be job searching from the same point that you were when you were job searching a couple months ago, the job search that led you to this job. And that job search did get you a job that was supposed to, at least, have more of the responsibility that you’re looking for. So you would just be kind of erasing the last month or so and continuing the job search that you were already in.

Are you worried that you’d be doing it from a point of unemployment, whereas last time you were job searching while you already had a job?

Guest: Yeah, that would be part of the concern.

Alison: I think there’s two different ways to handle that. You could put this job on your resume even though you’ve only been there a few months, which normally I don’t recommend. When you’ve only been in a job a short time, you don’t generally have the kind of accomplishments to list that would be a plus for your resume, and the short length will raise these questions about why are you looking to leave already. So in general, I tell people who have already left a job after only a few months, just leave it off entirely. But in your case, it might be if you’re job searching while you’re still there, it might be that you put it on your resume and that you’re just very up-front about the fact that they had had someone leave who had been doing a lot of this other sort of work and it ended up getting transferred over to you and they’ve been really clear that they’ve been trying to change that, but it doesn’t look like there’s a timeline for that and so you’re looking for something that’s more like what you thought you were signing up for. And that happens. You’re not going to be judged for that.

The other thing is, you said in your letter that you just got your Master’s — and a lot of people reset their careers when they get a new degree, so if you wanted to just leave it off your resume while you looked around, it also wouldn’t be that weird that you might have a couple of months after graduating where you didn’t have anything listed. I mean, frankly, even if that weren’t the case, a gap of a couple of months is not really a big deal, but having just finished school, that makes it even more normal.

Guest: Oh, okay. I hadn’t thought of it that way, actually.

Alison: Yeah. So you could say, “I was working in these customer service jobs while I was in school, but now that I have the degree I’m looking for work doing XYZ.”

Guest: Okay. Yeah.

Alison: School is actually a super helpful reset in that way sometimes.

Guest: Yeah. I think I’ve been just so concerned about the potential gap that I haven’t even been been thinking about the school factor. Of course people who have finished and graduated, they’re going to be looking at their career field and that might take a little while to sort of break into, but that’s off my radar because I’ve been so nervous about any gaps in the resume.

Alison: Yeah, and also don’t get too worried about the gap because to the extent that it will be an issue at all — and it really might not be an issue at all, but to the extent that it is, it’s only going to be an issue this job search. Because as soon as you get the next job, you stay there for a while, and the next time you’re job searching, no one is going to be like, “Oh, what’s this two-month gap from a few years ago?” When people talk about having gaps on your resume being a problem, they’re not talking about gaps of a few months. They’re talking about big solid gaps where you were out of the workforce for a year or more, and maybe you were in jail during that time or something like that.

Guest: Oh, okay. I see (laughs). And you know, maybe this won’t be a problem at all because once I have this conversation with my supervisor, you know, things might change.

Alison: Yeah, that’s the hope, right? The hope is that you won’t even have to deal with a job search because you will talk to your boss and it will go well. But do have in the back of your head that if it doesn’t, here’s a different path that you could use and it would probably be completely fine.

Guest: Okay. Yeah, that’s a lot more positive than I expected.

Alison: It’s more positive than I expected actually, before we talked (laughs), because I didn’t have the information about the more recent conversations you’ve had with your boss. But those are really promising and I think it really does sound like the immediate task for you now, after you give it another week, is to just be a little bit more forthright with your manager that you’re feeling some urgency around this. You want to be accommodating, of course. You want to be a helpful person who’s easy to work with. But you also want to advocate for yourself and you took this job thinking it was going to be X and it’s been Y. You’re willing to help out, but not indefinitely.

Guest: Yeah, and I will say that during the interview process I did actually have a salary negotiation that went well. So that was also a first for me.

Alison: Oh good. Congratulations to you for doing that. So did you get more than what they originally offered?

Guest: Yes.

Alison: Excellent. I like hearing that.

Guest: Yeah I know, and I did use the tips that you have on your blog.

Alison: Oh good! I’m so glad. What was the most useful to you?

Guest: The most useful to me was just giving a number and then not saying anything else.

Alison: Just shutting up.

Guest: Yeah, just shutting up, no big explanation, I just gave a number, like “How about this?” And they went back and it’s just like, “Okay, how about this instead?” And it was still higher than what was initially given. So that was good.

Alison: Good. I’m so glad you did it. And yeah, people get nervous and they start talking more and filling in the silence and then they undercut themselves. So good for you for just saying it and being quiet.

Guest: Yeah. Yeah, it was great.

Alison: Were you surprised at how easy it ended up being?

Guest: I was absolutely surprised. I could not believe it, almost.

Alison: I think people build it up in their head to be this big conversation where you have to build this whole case for a raise, and maybe you have to come in with some slides showing your worth, and it’s so much easier than that. It can be one sentence.

Guest: That was exactly the expectation that I had before reading some of the tips that you have written about. But yeah, that’s all it was. It was one sentence in an email and then I just said thanks, and then they got back to me and it was fine.

Alison: Yay. I love hearing that. Good. I’m glad other people are hearing that too, because the more that we can demystify that process and get people more money, the better.

Guest: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Alison: Well, do you feel like you are set on next steps? Is there anything else that would be helpful for us to talk about?

Guest: I think I feel pretty good about it. I feel good about, you know, checking in with my boss in a week and asking about next steps. And if that doesn’t work, being really transparent about what my needs are for the position and what my expectations are and things like that. So that was really good. And then I also feel really positive that if it doesn’t work out, I do have options going forward. I don’t feel like a potential gap will just totally destroy my work history or something like that.

Alison: Good. Yeah. I think the thing about having gaps in your resume, the message has gotten out there that sometimes gaps can be a problem but it’s been completely misinterpreted and it’s scared the crap out of people about gaps that no reasonable interviewer is actually going to care about. There needs to be some sort of public service campaign explaining to people that a couple of months is not going to be a big deal.

Guest: Yeah, for sure.

Alison: Well, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Guest: Yeah, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

Alison: Before we end today’s show, I have an update from a previous guest. Do you remember the guest from a few weeks ago whose boss was a horrible jerk to her? One of the interesting things about the situation was that the boss only seemed to be being a jerk to the caller — as far as she could see, the boss was pretty nice to everyone else. And one thing we talked about was that she could consider talking to her coworkers to see if she could get any insight into what might be going on. Well, she did that and she sent me an update about what she found out. Here is the email that she sent to me, I’m just going to read it.

“Hi Alison. I wanted to give you an update on my boss. It turns out that everyone in my department hates her, but no one has directly come out and said it. My nice peer who is also managed by her, this guy on the sister team that used to be managed by her, and this lady on the sister team. She literally made the guy on the other team cry last year and he contemplated quitting in his first month. Additionally, I found out that a guy who was in my role before me worked at my company for two years and then quit two months after she was hired. There are rumors that he filed an HR complaint against her. Literally, they all call her a snake, devoid of any genuine kindness, who is only nice when her boss is around. What I thought was a friendship between my coworker and my boss is actually just self preservation on my coworker’s part. The worst thing is they told me that it’s only going to get worse and they’ve been right. She is just getting weirder and weirder as time goes on. For example, in our one-on-one the other day, she made me tell her all the ways that I think she is deficient as a manager. Obviously I had to really water it down. So I’m looking at other options now. I must say it does feel good to know that I’m not alone though. My peers stressed that she does this to everyone.”

So there is an update and not a great one, but I’m sure it is a relief for the caller to know for sure that this boss is just a jerk and it’s not something specific to her.

That’s our show for today. Thanks for listening to the Ask a Manager podcast. If you’d like to come on the show to talk through your own question, email it to – or you can leave a recording of your question by calling 855-426-9675. You can get more Ask a Manager at, or in my book Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work. The Ask a Manager show is a partnership with How Stuff Works and is produced by Paul Dechant. If you liked what you heard, please take a minute to subscribe, rate, and review the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Play. I’m Alison Green and I’ll be back next week with another one of your questions.