How do I recover from being micromanaged and avoid getting fired?
January 18, 2017 3:51 AM   Subscribe

I have recently begun a new position. It is not going well so far and reminds me very much of my most recent position, in which I was fired after only 4 weeks. I am terrified of being fired again and need pointers for how to best prove myself in my first weeks.

So! I started a job in late September. In the first week of November I was fired. Things seemed pretty wobbly from the beginning; my first week was on a company retreat so all forms of on-boarding went out the window even though they were on the schedule. But I chalked it up to newbie probs and was totally blindsided by their decision to let me go, especially because the hiring process was very thorough. As some background: Over the course of about a month we exchanged 25 emails, performed 5 interviews, multiple writing exercises, and one big project that was judged by a panel of 5 people. Also multiple references were checked. The fact that they said I didn't have the skills they needed for the job (the reason for my termination) was a complete shock based on that process.

During my brief time there, I was told multiple times, "Don't worry! You've got 'IT' and everything else can be taught!". I didn't catch on until later that they meant, "We will not teach you. You'll have to go figure it out on your own." Generally I am decent at figuring things out on my own, but I guess I do like to be shown/told how to do something the first time if that information is available. This job was tech support and they offered literally 0 training on the application. Actually the project stage of the interview was giving a presentation on using their software without any training, so based on their hiring me it looked like I had the right skill-set. What I failed to grasp was that every single step of the process would be the same--no training, teach yourself, best of luck.

I blame myself a LOT for being fired. I feel like maybe I have some undiagnosed learning disorder or something, because things went so badly. I cried every day I worked there and nothing made sense, and when I asked for help and told my boss the things I'd tried, he'd say, "Dig in!". When I would say I was REALLY stumped and did need some guidance, he would still not help. Despite that, he would say things on Slack about how great I was and how I "Just got it, right out of the gate." So again, the firing was a super surprise.

ANYWAY it is now and I have a new job that I'm excited about. However, I'm really scared that I will end up canned again, really rapidly. Reasons being:

1. Another person started in the same role but a week before I did. I have more experience in this field and even in this specific task, but since she started first, she is now training me. It feels like she already has quite the leg up on me due to her FIVE DAY lead. She also works in the home office with the boss, but I am in a satellite office out of state. We are the only 3 people on our team. I don't feel like we're competing or anything, I just worry that the disparity between the two of us and the proximity to the manager will make her stand out more and be the go-to for new tasks. She is already delegating things to me!

2. My first day should have been Monday in the home office and lots of on-boarding things were planned, but my flight was canceled. When I arrived Wednesday, it was the day of a big all-hands meeting and company lunch so there was no on-boarding. I'm back home now and still haven't been trained on the application. That in itself is fine, I totally get that I should be responsible for my own training now and I think I am up to speed on the application, but I still feel a bit at a disadvantage because a one-on-one walkthrough of the application WAS originally on my first day schedule.

3. I'm back home now and forgot my laptop charger in the other city. I feel like a big idiot for this. Because the weather at home is so awful, the charger that has been overnighted to me has not arrived yet. I tried to have IT set up VPN access on my personal computer but they were unable to. Because of this, the work I can do at home is limited but I do indeed need to be at home because the whole city is shut down and no one is in this office.

4. When I have asked my manager questions like, "In a case like n would you do Thing X or Thing Y?" and he has said, "There won't be answers to lots of these." To be fair, the task does involve a lot of gray area but as I said I have done this job before at a different company and the X & Y solutions I offered were both viable answers! The impression I get is that there are not a lot of processes/procedures, and I apparently operate much better with guidelines. Reviewing my job history, it seems that the vast majority of my jobs involved being micromanaged. My new manager appears to be much more hands-off, and I'm afraid I don't know how to be a free dog. I need a leash. :(

So far the best I can come up with is to learn to be more proactive. I plan on meeting with or at least emailing my manager to say something like, "I am familiar with these tools that we use. Can you let me know if I am missing any?" just to be sure I have been given all the relevant programs that I'll be needing. However after that I'm stumped! I have been in the professional world for (oh god) 17 years now, but I have been fired from about 5 jobs. It's clear the problem is me.

For the record, I have also NOT been fired from lots of jobs, too. The job I left before this was super great and I kicked ass at it, and this job should be practically identical in theory. Also I hate to say things that make it sound like I'm not proactive because I am really NOT a lazy person at work and I take my job seriously.

Anyway my questions are:

1) Were you micromanaged and then given freedom? How did you deal?
2) Have you had to train yourself? How did you do it?
3) Have you been hired at the same time as someone else who had an advantage over you? How did you kick ass and stand out?
4) Have you been fired and traumatized by it? How did you recover?
5) Are you a manager? What would you like to see from a new hire?

Anonymous because this is a lot of detail about my professional life and my profile is very much linked to me.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
"2) Have you had to train yourself? How did you do it?"

In response to number 2, I have to do this all the time, in all my jobs. Sure, some corporate spiel about getting onboard, and showing of where the coffee machine and toilets are, but beyond that, it's all on me. I ask other people for advice, but a lot of it is just throwing things and seeing what sticks. Google helps. Tinkering with software helps. Help manuals. Observing my colleagues.

I have to said though, I am a professional and paid accordingly (very well for my self-sufficiency). If I were paid less, I would expect a lot more hand-holding (i.e. any tasks requiring self-training would be above my pay grade).
posted by moiraine at 4:08 AM on January 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

3. Stand out by being friendly and helpful and not taking up too much of your boss's time. Work just as hard at relationship building as you do at your actual job. Try to figure out the stuff that's a pain to your boss that you could help with. Pitch in where you can and don't think anything is beneath you.

As for your colleague, you say you know it isn't a competition but you have kind of described it as one. Try to change your view on this because if you don't it's likely your colleague will pick up on this vibe. Tell your colleague you really appreciate the help and advice. If you're getting work delegated to you, though, make sure your boss knows about it. You need to make sure you get credit for your own work.

4. Not fired but bullied in a job. It took a huge toll on me and affected my relationships negatively at my next job, too. This type of trauma is real and you shouldn't beat yourself up about it. Your last job wasn't a good fit but the one before it was. That's not your fault, it's just a fact.

5. I would like a new hire to not push for black and white answers if none exist. I'd like the new hire to trust their judgment on small things and not expect me to have all the answers if I didn't. I'd like to not have to worry if I ask the new hire to type up minutes or schedule a meeting that they'll say it isn't in their job description. I'd like a new hire to get on well with the rest of the team and not create drama unnecessarily.
posted by hazyjane at 5:15 AM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

A company that fires you after a month is broken. They spent a lot of time and effort to screw up. Even if you weren't a great fit, they couldn't really know that after that short a time. I'm sorry that happened to you.

3) I think you're worrying about your coworker too much. The greatest likelihood is that the company hired 2 people because they need 2(+) people for the work.

5) Ask questions (but make sure to remember the answers, ie. write down answers so you don't ask the same thing more than needed).
posted by jclarkin at 5:16 AM on January 18, 2017 [16 favorites]

I am a manager of technical people. IANYM (at least, I don't think so. :-) )

Short answers to your questions and then an observation about what I think is happening:

1) I have been micromanaged before, but because I think I came out of the womb irritable about excessive supervision, all I felt when I got out from under it was "now I can get some work done."

2) Every. frickin. time. I've generally been in the position where I had to write the checklist. Lest this make me sound like a genius; it did not always go well.

3) Similar situation: I was involved in a "reboot" of a company where I myself recommended to the owner that we hire someone that I thought would be highly capable in an area where I am weak. What we instead found was that they were a bit of a con artist and their greatest gift was undermining others whom they saw as threats (me, in this case).

My advice on that: everyone rides their own race. If you can get over this rough start, you will develop a strong area where the other is weaker. Or that person will move on and you'll then be the person who is senior to the others. Or you will both advance, and the other will always be 5 days senior to you, but you're both ahead of where you are now. It doesn't matter. If, as was my case, that other person were to prove to be a BSer who didn't add value, the best thing you can do is not get involved in their drama.

4) Yes, but I felt more traumatized by the years I was in a job, DIDN'T get fired, and got micro-managed. In both cases, I had to remind myself very consciously when I was in the next gig that I was NOT in that old situation. Look for contrasts. Tell yourself "I failed in the last job because ____; I'll succeed here because _______"

5) My answer to this question is my jumping off point for the advice I really want to give you in response to this question. Hope it doesn't sound harsh. But I've had people on the staff I manage who sound a bit like you, and here's what I always try to say:

Take ownership.

Your job is to recognize and solve problems. Your problem right now is to get your equipment and processes stood up so that you can be productive for the company. I'd have gone to a local store and gotten a charger if possible; if that's not possible, then work on WHATEVER you can without it - reading prior support tickets to learn common problems with whatever your supporting, for example.

I think you're reading your coworker as a competitor and you need to be developing them as an asset. If you've found yourself getting tasks delegated to you, AND that is appropriate for them to be doing, do the best damn job on those delegated tasks that you can. At the same time, you need to be reaching parity with them (5 days is basically nothing), and developing a relationship with your supervisor where you are understood as an independent thinker and problem solver.

A good company is supportive and nurturing of its talent. But the job of the company is NOT to support and nurture its talent; it's to use that talent to accomplish its ends. Whether you succeed or fail is based (in a good company) on how well you help them accomplish that.

I would be cautious about how you frame a request to your manager to make sure you have everything you need. I'd keep it super casual and related back to your missing some of the onboarding due to weather. I would make it an email, and in that email I would take the time to list whatever software you're supposed to have. Is this a request you could direct to tech support instead of your manager?
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:21 AM on January 18, 2017 [16 favorites]

Answering here with a working knowledge of the IT industry.

Q1 & 2. In the past, I was "managed" with the expectation of creating my own effective solutions. It basically came down to learning how to work through problems and communicate solutions with my superiors and my subordinates. Essentially, creating a solid plan or solution and being able to support my decisions. Initially, a bit of trial and error, but once I learned the fundamentals, it became easier. I was then given freedom to work more independently.

Did I like it? No!! But it forced me into becoming a better manager in the long run, which proved valuable in later management positions.

Q3. I am assuming you are peers, why are you being tasked by this person? Or is this a teamwork type of situation? Address this issue sooner than later. The way you stand out is by constant and clear communication with you manager on your specific assigned roles and tasks. Five day lead thing is not a problem in the grand scheme. That can be easily out worked in a snap. Being geo-separated is easily worked around too, these days.

Q4. Being fired in November after all that process of hiring, doesn't add up. You have another job with a different company now, so focus on it.

Q5. One of my primary expectations from a new hire has always been having initiative(proactive, as you mentioned). You mentioned being micromanaged in the past and its not so much the case now. A new set of management can be a challenge in getting used to. It all goes back to communication. Your manager's response to you question appears to be "work it out for yourself". In essence, you are the a 'process-owner' and the manager is more of an 'overseer'. You've been given the freedom to independently problem solve.
posted by mountainblue at 6:45 AM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

All the advice to take ownership is great. But I would recommend asking your manager to confirm when they really want to be involved. They may have preferences, there may be a 'sensitive' issue or 'politics' or whatever that can cause the answer to vary from topic to topic - for some things it could be only if you really can't deal, for others as soon as x is involved in an email trail to always for topic y.

And yes, clarify workflow within the team and make yourself visible as specialist/go to person for a topic.

And go on Amazone and get a charger for your home, for the office and one for your laptop bag. You should not find yourself in this situation.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:04 AM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

The other person who started a week before you is your go-to person for in-the-weeds hand-holding. Her being in the home office is an advantage you can't change, so you might as well embrace it.
posted by headnsouth at 7:16 AM on January 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Man, all I have to say is, that last job was not you. Christ - FIVE interviews, and a project, and multiple writing exercises - that's an insane amount of interviewing, especially for an IT job. And then you asked your boss for help, he refused to help you, and the whole time he was talking about how great you were until you were unceremoniously let go after a month with no warning at all and no clue that anything was wrong? That place is completely fucking toxic and I bet they churn through employees like one of those chicken-pulping machines. Please do not blame yourself for that. You were treated horribly by them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:29 AM on January 18, 2017 [16 favorites]

observation about hiring processes: there is a happy medium between a company setting up an auto-reply that goes "When can you start?!?" to every resume they get on the one hand, and 15 interviews with a lie detector test and a stool sample on the other. I myself make candidates go through 2-3 interviews with multiple people on my team to: a)do an initial screening to avoid wasting our more technical manager's time and b) give ourselves the best chance to avoid screening out someone just because one of us was grumpy that day. But if we don't have some idea after that, it's probably simpler just to take that as a sign and move on to another candidate.

But when a screening/hiring process gets really complicated, that's because some manager adds a step every time they think they've hired a bad'n. There's a lot of consultants, gimmicks, and bells and whistles in HR-land these days - seems like we'd rather do anything rather than talk to people and trust our intuition...

TL;DR: complex hiring processes often signal a company that, in showbiz_liz's colorful phrase, indeed do churn through employees like one of those chicken-pulping machines.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:36 AM on January 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

That last workplace sucked, and as such please consider your firing a fluke and a blessing.

You're really lucky-- you have someone to show you the ropes this time, so it won't turn out like last time. Take advantage of all the help the person who got there before you offers-- she trains you, not your boss. Don't ask your boss anything your counterpart can answer. As a manager, I don't do much direct training of employees-- in fact, I wouldn't know how to do certain tasks so I would have someone at your level show you. Who cares if she is currently the superstar? Absorb all her superstar knowledge and then become a star at some other aspect.

I was once micromanaged and I doubted every little thing I did and needed too much feedback and guidance and I was paralyzed by perfectionism and fear of judgment. Turned out I wasn't a dog who needs a short leash-- once I was given freedom by a new boss, I succeeded so hard I became the boss. You'll learn to trust yourself with a bit more experience.
posted by kapers at 10:43 AM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

To answer question 5: if there is no clear procedure in place, no concrete answer, I probably hired you to create the procedure and make the decision. It's okay to fail or be wrong-- use your experience and judgment .

I hate to be the one to focus on this part of your question, but can you tell us a bit more about why you've been fired 5 times over 17 years? Any commonalities? To me that does seem like a lot-- but industries vary widely on this so I don't know what's normal in yours.
posted by kapers at 10:53 AM on January 18, 2017

That last place must have money to burn because they sure wasted a lot of time (which is money) choosing you, only to get just a month out of you. And once they had you, it would have been a hell of a lot cheaper showing you what they wanted instead of having to do that process all over again. Unless it was a "this person is so irritating I can't stand for them to be in my office" situation, they're idiots.

The best thing you can do, really, and your last place proves it isn't idiot-proof, is to ask "how am I doing" a lot. And mean it. Like specifically, is there anything I need to do better? Don't wait for them to get the guts to tell you (or be too cowardly to bring it up until it's too late).
posted by ctmf at 5:59 PM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

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