Returned to my old team in a new role but it's going badly. What's next?
January 15, 2017 6:23 PM   Subscribe

I joined a temp agency in January 2016 and was given a six week-long assignment at a foreign consulate. Six weeks turned into six months following several extensions. I left in July on great terms and in October, my former manager offered me a new assignment from November to April, covering some of a departing colleague's responsibilities. Unfortunately, things just aren't going as well as they did the first time. How should I discuss my concerns? I'm not even sure if I should stick it out until April...

During my first assignment, I managed the Marketing team's collateral and graphic design needs. At the time, the team had two freelance designers who created visuals for all of the country's posts in the United States. My job was to keep track of all of the displays and swag we use at events, make sure everything is "on brand" and up-to-date, and assign and manage the projects given to the freelancers. (These were things like brochures, banners, printed and HTML invitations)

I have a fine arts background and also know HTML/CSS, so part of the reason I thrived was that I was often able to help with a lot of the design projects. This significantly reduced turn-around time since I could handle simple projects on my own or do fast tweaks to drafts that the freelancers returned. I enjoyed this work a lot even though I don't know very much about graphic design. My boss hadn't expected me to contribute in this capacity and I think it saved the team a lot of time and money.

I ended up in marketing "by accident". From after I graduated from college in 2008 to 2014, I was a curator's assistant at at art museum. Seeing no opportunities for growth at the museum, and few opportunities in general (especially for someone without a Master's or Phd and no real interest in pursuing either), I applied for an Office Manager position at a tech company, hoping that I'd at least make more money than I did at the museum. Following my interviews, they decided I might be a "great fit for marketing" and asked if I'd like to interview for an entry-level marketing role. I had doubts but gave it a shot, having nothing to lose and trusting that they saw some genuine potential. I was given the job. I tried my damnedest but for many reasons -- including my lack of experience -- it was a disastrous fit and I was fired within five months.

I joined a temp agency immediately afterward, hoping to try some new experiences in different environments without a lot of commitment if a job turned out to be a bad fit. I told the rep at the agency that I had one condition: NO MARKETING. Naturally, the first job he brought to my attention was a marketing position. He encouraged me to give it some consideration because it looked interesting and at any rate, it was only six weeks long. That's how I ended up at the consulate.

After I left the consulate six months later, they hired a full-time graphic designer. So my old role is no longer needed. In the meantime, I covered my friend's maternity leave as an executive assistant. I don't like being an executive assistant, but I did well and also left this job on good terms.

I returned to the consulate on their payroll, not through the temp agency. My new role at the consulate is only three days a week instead of five (which I'm happy about) and also at a 50% pay increase which more than makes up for the shorter hours. The colleague who resigned was a Content Manager. I gather stuff for the Consul General to write and tweet about and operate as an admin and purchaser for all of the various software platforms we rely on. There's also a lot of general admin type work. Sometimes I slip back into my old role when the designer is out of the office, but otherwise it's not anything like my old job.

I'm really not grokking it and things don't seem to be going well. I've had a few deadlines creep up on me due to my own inefficiency and also because my colleagues tend not to cooperate in a timely manner, either. My manager seems inundated with her work and that can sometimes slow me down, too. I'm not entirely sure if the workload is appropriate for part-time. I don't enjoy the admin aspects of the job, but that's what most of my work experience is oriented around. And ultimately, I'm really not sure if really "get" marketing and don't see much of a future for myself in this field.

I thought my initial difficulties would subside as I got settled in. I didn't think I'd be so challenged and dissatisfied. I didn't realize how much of my previous satisfaction had to do with how much I enjoyed working on the design projects. I had been very happy this past year and I'm not delighted by the return of the Sunday Night Scaries.

I have a meeting on Tuesday with the manager to go over a new responsibility she'd like to hand over to me. I don't get a lot of time to speak with her since she's been so busy, so I'd like to ask her if she and I can have a general touch-base and take that opportunity to talk to her about my concerns. I could ask her for another meeting down the line if it's not a good idea to tack this on and potentially blindside her.

I like my team a lot and would like to make this work, if it's possible. If my manager has valuable suggestions for how I can improve, I'd definitely take them to heart and try my best. Nevertheless, I feel that I'm trying hard as it is, and I know from my experience at the tech company that it's entirely possible to try my best and still have things turn out poorly. I also learned that this doesn't necessarily result in the world ending and my life being a complete disaster. I hate the idea of leaving the team hanging and trying to find a replacement -- but my life is probably too short to do stuff that sucks, if I can help it.

Since I did well in the past, I feel like I could perhaps talk (somewhat?) openly about my concerns or even leave without completely souring the relationship. The manager is a nice person and I would hope that she'd understand that even if this new role turns out to be a bad fit, I'm probably not a complete putz.

So what would y'all do if you were in my shoes? Of course, I would know best about my relationship with the manager and our overall comfort level, but I'd be grateful for your thoughts. Is bringing up the possibility of leaving early a bad idea in general? Should I try to stick it out until April no matter what? What sort of jobs might I consider trying next? What other skills might I try leveling-up in during the meantime? Any suggestions that could provide some food for thought would be terrific.

Also: if everything at the consulate should go to hell, I likely won't be left starving: I also have a freelance job doing events and community management type things for a hardware hacking/DIY website. I like electronics but don't have a lot of chops -- perhaps in another life, I would have studied that instead of art. But alas, I have to work with what I've got! I don't make enough from this other job to live off of indefinitely, but it's enough to cover most of my basic needs (like health insurance) for a little while. I'm also pretty good at drawing (selfie) but if I had any clue about how to make money off of that, I would not have needed to write this Ask. :)
posted by aerofuturist dance to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The only thing I can tell you for sure is do not tack this generalized discomfort onto another meeting. Also, I can't see what is actionable for your manager within your complainants as presented, other than look for a replacement and eventually fire you.

It's 3 days per week, learn to do your job better. Identify what needs improving and do that. I do think it's worth examining if your workload is too much for 3 days per week, but I would take a few weeks of improving my personal performance before exploring this possibility.
posted by jbenben at 6:51 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

The only thing you say about actual poor performance is that you've missed a couple of deadlines. It sounds like it's a very busy and stressful environment given that your manager is so overwhelmed and other employees don't communicate well. I'm not sure how much of your question is about actual poor performance on your part or just lack of enjoyment and interest, especially compared to your last gig there. But if your manager wants to give you *more* responsibility, it seems that she must like your work. So basically, I'm not sure if you're really that bad at your job, or just anxious that you might be bad at your job.

It sounds like you really loved the graphic design work, so maybe look for a position that would allow you to move in that direction, and in the meantime build some more skills in that area. For now, unless there's a specific area where you need to improve where it would make sense to ask for your manager's feedback, I'm not sure what you would talk to her about, unless you want to take her temperature on how things are going.

Sunday night dread is no fun ... I hope you find some good answers.

(New jobs are in my experience just really hard, and I always doubt the crap out of myself for the first several months. Especially when I'm not getting much feedback from my manager, and it sounds like you aren't. Then one day I wake up and realize that I no longer feel that I'm completely suck at my job).
posted by bunderful at 7:09 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

since it's only three months i'd say stick it out and learn what you can. non-challenging work doesn't teach us a whole lot so maybe embrace the challenge as best you can? having a hard end-of-job date is mentally great because it confirms that you're not stuck there forever and will have to eventually do something else. sticking it also out means they will think of you in the future should another (even possibly permanent) position open for which you'd be better suited.

you're only working three days a week which means you have two days a week to look for a job/interview. if do you end up finding a better job before april no one will be mad at you since this is a part-time, time-limited position.
posted by noloveforned at 7:14 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

If I were you I'd take advantage of the part time hours for the next 3 months to get started on what you want to do next. If you like graphic design but you're not into marketing, visual design might be just the thing? (What is visual design? if you're not familiar with that term) I would use this time to research which direction you want to go, take some online courses, and interview interview interview. I know life is short but health insurance is important too!

If you stick it out until you get your next gig, you'll be well-suited to go into an interview saying your last position ended (or is ending) and while you've learned a lot about content management you're excited to get back into your true passion, which is ____. It's always better to have something good to say about your last job rather than "I hated it so much I walked out without anything new lined up".
posted by bleep at 8:11 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also there are temp agencies that place people in skilled positions like visual design - that is how I got started in the field of UX and how I would recommend it to you too.
posted by bleep at 8:13 PM on January 15, 2017

What exactly would be the content of the conversation you want to have with your manager? I'm having a hard time figuring out what your concerns are, which means your manager will likely be frustrated by the same thing.

In general, talking with a manager goes much better if you do the work of figuring out exactly what you want first, then asking them for help with it. So in this case, I would say something at the end of your other conversation like "Hey, I just wanted to check in -- I've been in this role for X months and want to make sure you feel comfortable giving me feedback on my performance. I really want to do my best and want to know if there's any way I can improve." All true, based on what you said. You may or may not finish that full conversation at that point in time.

Your manager will probably say a few things back to you, and at some point you can tack on, "Great, thanks. In particular, I was concerned about missing the deadline for project XYZ and wanted to ask if you had any thoughts on how I could've handled that better."

Be wary of sounding like you're debating or not listening to feedback once she starts giving it to you. To avoid this while still getting clarification, you could say something explicit like "Okay, great. I definitely want to improve at this - I just want to ask a few clarifying questions to make sure I totally understand what you're saying."

I'm recommending this conversation because I think you need to figure out more concrete stuff about work: what does this type of job really consist of? what do I like or dislike? what am I good at and where do I need to improve? Cobble enough of these facts together and eventually you'll know what you want and be able to effectively work towards it. Good luck!
posted by hyperion at 10:47 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

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