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Bait and Switch Jobs

Dear Evil HR Lady,

After two years of unemployment, desperate job hunting and massive amount of resumes sent, I was finally HIRED! And now I am miserable. The job is in my career field but it's a linear move which can be seen as over-experienced issue (not an over-qualified issue). My daily work consists of administrative assisting for an Associate Director which was not included in the job description, as well as working as the Scholarship Coordinator.

After a week on this job, I am bogged down by the immense disorganization in tracking scholarships and donations. The student/recipient money tracking borders on fraudulence. After a recent staff meeting, I realized why my initial suggestions/ideas on improving the system and promoting the program were not encouraged. In the staff organization chart, my position is next to the interns and secretaries. After ten years in the Non-Profit profit, I honestly feel like I was hired on a lie. I was under the impression I would have far more autonomy and not be a paper pusher. My frustration is starting to reflect in my attitude and my performance which is uncharacteristic to my personality.

After finally recovering from a terrible job market, I want to be grateful for this position. But the non-creative, clerical workload, topped with the outright dishonesty in the job description has left me in tears on a daily basis and already planning an exit strategy.

Any suggestions or words of advice on how to proceed with this delicate issue?

Yes.  You've been there ONE WEEK.  Most people aren't even aware of where all the bathrooms are in one week.  It often takes several weeks, if not months, for job duties to shake out. In fact, it's doubtful that they intentionally gave you a dishonest job description.  I'm not saying that bait and switch never happens, it's just that they had no reason to lie.  There were undoubtedly qualified candidates who would have accepted the job based on an accurate description.  Here's what likely happened:

  • Previous incumbent resigns. She gives the standard two week notice.
  • Her duties are handed out. Two weeks is never enough time to replace someone, so there will be a vacancy.
  • People grab up the "good" tasks and try to avoid the "bad" ones.
  • Boss posts a poorly written job description based on what the incumbent was doing. It's pretty honest, although poorly written.  Almost all job descriptions are poorly written.  They are filled with fluffy  text like "attention to detail," "work in partnership with diverse teams," and "strong communication skills."  And, unless it was written by the previous occupant of the job, only the "visible" tasks will show up.  The thousands of things that were done, but weren't public, won't be mentioned.
  • Recruitment occurs. They review resumes, interview and make a hiring decision.
  • You are hired. You interviewed and accepted the job based on the written job description,
  • Your first day of work. Everyone is thrilled.  Now they can "hand back" the tasks they got when the previous person quit.
  • Everyone hands over the tasks they like the least and keep the ones they like the most. People can do this subconsciously as well as consciously.
  • The boss has forgotten what the previous person did verses what other people did. So, when staff that she knows and trusts say, "Oh, this person is responsible for blah, blah, blah," she says, "okay."
  • You feel cheated and lied to.

So, what do you do now?  You can't quit.  It's too soon and you've been out of work too long.  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Talk with your boss. "It was my understanding that my duties would be A, B, and C, but instead it seems like I'm doing D, E, and F.  Can you clarify what you expect of me?
  2. Realize you don't know what you are doing. People are rejecting your ideas because, a. they don't like change and b., you're new and incompetent.  Please don't take that last reason personally.  You're incompetent regarding how things operate around there.  You can't just waltz in and change everything without understanding why they are doing it in the first place.  Give yourself some time to learn how things operate and then suggest changes.  Your suggestions will be better if you understand what's going on.
  3. Stop waiting for consensus on everything. After your boss has clarified your responsibilities, don't go around trying to form a coalition before acting, just act.  Do what you need to do in your area of responsibility.  (This does not mean you just do whatever you want in every area.  But, if you have sole responsibility for A, and you need to make changes, make them.) If you need sign offs on things, write it up and present it confidently, as "I am going to do this, please sign," not, "Gee, what do you think I should do here?"  Trust me, people will speak up if they object.
  4. Automate the clerical. If things are truly a disaster, it's likely that the clerical part is a disaster.  So, you've got responsibilities for that now.  Fix it.  Many things can be automated and organized to be more efficient.  Stop looking at the clerical work as a boring burden.  Instead, look at it as a challenge to be fixed.
  5. Be cheerful. It's hard to be the new person.  If you walk around with a "they tricked me with their rotten job description!" chip on your shoulder, you're more likely to end up fired rather than fixing the problem.  Jump in.  Work hard.  Help out.
  6. Know your limits. If you think the things that "border on fraudulent" really are fraudulent, report it and change it.
  7. Stop worrying about the org chart. You're next to admins and interns.  Who cares?  In my last corporate job, I was an individual contributor.  My boss had 3 direct reports:  Me, my job share partner, and the department administrative assistant.  Who cares if you're on the same line as an intern?  It means you have the same boss. 

After all of this, my main counsel is to take a deep breath.  After being out of the workforce for 2 years, it takes some time to get used to again.  Keep an open dialogue with your boss.  And congratulations on the new position.

For further reading:

Have a workplace dilemma?  Send your questions to

Photo by jasonippolito, Flickr cc 2.0

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