Misleading Job Descriptions
Dealing With the Unexpected Reality of a New Role
Alix stared at her screen. Another spreadsheet. She was growing tired of seeing them, but this was what her new job seemed to consist of: reports, processes and administrative duties. She sighed.
Alix knew that her strengths lay in managing clients – in communicating face-to-face and solving problems. Those were the skills that she had expected to be using – and that her interviewers had assured her she would be using – when she was offered the role of client relationship manager. Form-filling was low down on her list of responsibilities.
Many people face a similar unhappy situation, finding themselves in jobs that aren't what they thought they would be. Forty percent of those who left jobs in 2017 did so because they didn't like what they were doing. And, for many more, the opportunity to use their existing skills was the key attraction of a new role.
In this article, we explore what you can do when the job that you do falls short of the role that you accepted.
Is the Job Description Misleading?
If you end up with too many tasks that have little bearing on the role you signed up for, you'll likely feel disappointed and angry. You may think that you've been "hoodwinked" or misled.
But, before you march up to your manager to complain, or even quit, take a deep breath and look at your situation calmly and objectively. Avoid any "knee-jerk" reactions that would damage your chances of resolving the issue amicably and positively.
It's unlikely that your organization misled you deliberately. Chances are, misunderstandings or poor communication are to blame. There may be a number of innocent reasons why your role doesn't match your job description.
For example, you could be in a new role with a new job description that's a "best estimate" of what the role entails. Also, the role, the team, or the organization may be going through change, and the job description hasn't yet been updated. Or, if you are working for a small organization, the culture and understanding might be that everybody pitches in, whatever their official role or title.
Also, be honest with yourself and examine whether it's your understanding of the job description that was inaccurate, rather than the job description itself.
What to Do If Your Job Description Is Incorrect
Whatever the reason, if you're in a job you didn't expect it can be incredibly trusting and dispiriting – but it needn't be a deal-breaker. With the right approach, it might be something you can resolve with your manager. Let's look at how you can make the most of the situation, and even turn it to your advantage.
Set Yourself a "Cooling Off" Period
If you're in the early days of a new job, and you suspect that it is not what you signed up for, give yourself a "cooling off" period before you make any decisions. On average, it takes people about 90 days to be effective in a new role. That should be long enough for you to decide whether things really aren't working out.
Chances are, you may be working an agreed probationary period. You can use this time to raise any concerns you may have, in any scheduled meetings or feedback sessions with your manager or HR department.
But the important thing is to allow yourself time to reconcile your expectations of the job with the reality. Give yourself a chance to learn the role, to make the most of it, and to find opportunities to steer it in a more fulfilling direction – perhaps by volunteering for special projects or cross-skilling opportunities. Your role may be disappointing now, but it could still work out well in the long run.
Check the Facts and Be Prepared
If you're still unhappy with the way your role is going after your cooling off period, it's time to have a conversation with your manager.
Prepare your points carefully beforehand. You'll need to show clearly how what you do differs from what you expected to be doing.
Start by taking a good look at your job description. This should be a "two-way" document. As well as describing what your organization expects from you, you can also use it to develop and safeguard your role.
For example, if your job description is used for appraisals or performance reviews, and there are goals or objectives that you did not achieve because you were working on other tasks, you could be in trouble.
Similarly, if something goes wrong because you've been sidelined from your official responsibilities, you'll appear negligent (even if it was at the insistence of your manager). You can protect yourself from this if it's on record that you spoke up and raised your concerns.
Work through the job description and highlight anything that you currently don't get the chance to do. And, make a list of tasks and activities that you are doing, but which don't appear in the document.
If you have a formal development plan, check that, too. A task that you think of as dull and repetitive might be one that your organization sees as essential groundwork.
For example, a long spell of entering data into a system might be useful preparation for a role that will gradually become more varied and challenging.
In most cases, a job description – unlike a contract of employment – is not a legally binding document. You can be asked to take on other duties, if these are reasonable. However, if what you are doing really doesn't match your expectations, and you believe that your employer deliberately misled you, seek legal advice.
Next, talk to other people who've performed the same role as you, and ask how it developed for them. This can clear up any misunderstandings if you're in an unfamilar organizational culture, or if you're working with a manager who has a particular way of doing things.
How to Approach Your Manager About Your Job Description
Your next step is to plan your approach and make your case to your manager.
Start with a polite and informal request for a meeting. A simple message along the lines of, "I've been here for three months, and the job isn't quite what I was expecting. Could we meet to discuss this?" should be fine.
Who you speak to will depend on your organization. In most cases, your line manager is the first person to ask. But, if you feel that he doesn't take the problem seriously, you may need to talk to your Human Resources team.
Draw on your job description, and explain the discrepancies between it and what you actually do that you identified earlier. Emphasize that you're not being difficult or fussy, but you want to avoid any of the potential pitfalls we describe, above.
If you have skills and experience that are being under-utilized, highlight them, and emphasize the business benefits that your team would see if you were given the opportunity to use them.
You'll put yourself in the best position if you can offer some constructive ideas for resolving the situation. If you don't have a formal induction or training plan, for example, you could suggest one that aligns you more closely with the role that you expected, and which allows you to build some more compelling responsibilities into your role.
If your manager shows little willingness to adjust your role, try to keep an open mind. There may be benefits that you can enjoy at the company – the culture, or opportunities for personal development, for example.
You could also seek an internal transfer to a more satisfying role within the organization. But, if this isn't an option, the best solution might be for you to look for other opportunities elsewhere. Be sure not to take this decision lightly. Equally, take care of yourself and put your health, values and happiness first.
However, if you've performed well in the role so far, your manager will likely want to retain your talent, and will be understanding and receptive to your ideas. If you can work together to salvage the situation by redesigning your role and job description to be closer to your expectations, it could be a "win-win" for you both.
Many people find themselves in roles that don't deliver what their job descriptions appear to promise.
If this happens to you, try to stay calm. Give yourself a cooling off period in which you decide whether you can shape the role to your needs and wishes, or if you need to ask your manager for change.
If you decide to approach your manager, prepare your talking points by checking your job description and speaking to others in similar roles.
Make your case firmly, but be tactful and suggest a mutually acceptable solution. If your manager is sympathetic and supportive, try to collaborate on recrafting your role and job description. But you may need to consider other opportunities as a last resort.
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