The Devil You Know
August 2, 2018 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Help me wrap my head around a serious (potential) career change. Details, pros and cons inside.

I have been with my current company for over 2 years now. I pretty much carved out this position and made it what it is today. I have asked to take on many different things and have been given more to fill out my days, but the last time I was given anything new was in July 2017 despite my recent requests. I've mastered most tasks I've taken on and in the end, I'm bored.

I feel as though my career is stagnating, screeching to a deafening halt. I have trouble getting up in the morning and I dread the end of Sundays. I find myself pushing through the absolute bare minimum at work, watching the clock, waiting until I can actually get out of here and live again.

Before this job, I was a Production Planner elsewhere. I was moving up in my career until I was laid off. I had to start over here in my current company, being somewhat of an admin/planner type of role. The problem is, over the course of two years, I figured that since this was a growing division of an established company, I would have moved a bit more. I have taken on planning, customer service, some purchasing, logistics, accounting, inventory, and more.

I get COL raises. My boss had said that he wanted to change my title and get me more money. He said I should think it over and he would get back to me. He never did. I let it go. My boss tried handing me more work earlier this year in the event of promoting his son; more information to track in a spreadsheet that our internal system already tracks. I told him this is repetitive work and unnecessary. I also let him know that it seems he wants to keep giving me the things nobody else wants to do and I am ready to advance and move on from that. I let him know a few times that I don't feel that I'm being professionally developed and that I would like to condense my role into one main objective instead of juggling many things (I did not ask for everything I do, i.e. logistics). He said he thinks I'm good at that and he knows that's where my talent lies.

I also have a problem with being treated like I'm just a woman in a man's world. I have to answer the door when we are all in meetings (which is degrading to be the only woman and have to get up to answer a doorbell when the men are more than capable of sharing the burden — it's usually for them anyway). For sales meetings, everyone leaves their trash in the conference room for me to clean up. My boss used to scream at me regularly and not at anyone else. He found out that I was going to quit and he stopped. I'm passed over for learning opportunities. I wanted to learn programming and my boss chose someone else for that...a man. I even told my boss I was planning on returning to school for programming. He didn't seem phased. I'm talked over in meetings; nobody ever really considers my opinions. So, I changed my major over to healthcare management and quietly planned my escape.

By the way, I don't mean to sound like I'm a difficult worker. I always typically say yes and do what I can to help, but sometimes this small stuff is maddening to me, especially without knowing the direction of my career here.

I feel unappreciated, passed over and minimized. I'm not sure why that is, but I get glowing reviews and I used to work really, really hard. My job was my life. The benefits are stellar and might be the best ones I see during my career lifespan, so leaving is quite difficult, but not something I'm unwilling to do in order to progress my career. There is also a serious case of nepotism here, where my boss hired a few of his friends and his son works here as well. One of his friends absolutely should not work here as he makes so many mistakes, the company probably spends more trying to fix the issues than the projects are actually worth.

And so the story goes, a friend of a friend who works in healthcare knows that I'm back in school for healthcare management. She works in corporate healthcare — a field I would struggle to get into. She suggested I apply and she would be my manager. It would be a career setback for me...I would be an assistant. However, they are growing rapidly and they want someone who will strive to take on more work and they will advance the person. I jumped through hoops and interviews and more hoops and now, I wait for the answer.

I don't think I'm going to get an offer, but I could be wrong. In the event that I am wrong, I'm trying to consider the different directions my career could go in. What I am most afraid of is the job won't work out for me or for the company and will lead to my termination. I've been unemployed before, lost everything, and it was a total nightmare I wish to never repeat. However, little risk, little reward.

I hadn't considered this a huge deal before, I mean, I knew I was bored with my current role and that I'm not really going anywhere. My boss blows hot air in my face and nothing materializes. Yet, in my interview, I saw the writing on the wall on my resume: this is the longest I've gone without a promotion and I am stagnating in my career. I haven't added anything to it since last July. The interviewer said something along the lines of, "in this role, there is no stagnation," and she looked down at my pathetic progress on a piece of paper.

Here's the main problem with the new job: it will pay less and it is hourly. I see the downsides of this in the immediate future, but will my hard work truly be rewarded? In a year, will I be so much further along that I ever could be with my current company? Can I leave these excellent benefits that have become a personal prison? Because the new company probably won't be able to match this; I'm aware of that. I don't know if I can quite accept it.

I guess I just wanted to toss this out there, see if anyone has been in my shoes before after a stretch of serious unemployment where it changed your life and how you view taking risks currently. Also, this is a total career change if it happens. Is it as scary as it sounds?
posted by AlexandriaParis to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think every job has an endpoint where it just doesn't work for you and/or the company anymore. You probably got to that point a year ago. So I wouldn't worry about it or take it personally or hold a grudge against the company you work for now. It's just time to move on.

Now, having said that, you shouldn't consider the job that you applied for as your only option. If you get an offer and it's something that you can work with and you want to take the chance, go for it. But in the meantime, work on your resume and start sending out lots of applications and get a job that you're really excited about. (And a year without a promotion or addition of duties doesn't seem weird or bad at all to me so don't let that hold you back).
posted by dawkins_7 at 10:39 AM on August 2, 2018 [8 favorites]

The rule of thumb for job seeking is to run to something, not away from something.

What that means is: does the new job excite you? Is it something you would genuinely like to do? If you liked your current job OK, would this still appeal more? Or are you just so done with your current job that you feel that anything will be an improvement?

Sometimes we do the latter. I've done it; I'm not judging. But if you never run to a job, only away, you're never really choosing something great, only something less bad. And that way lies constant mediocrity and boredom*.

If your answer is that you're running to the job, great. If you're really just running away from your current role, I'd advise you to stay and do some soul and job searching to find something you can be excited about.

(* Ask me how I know. I have not always taken my own advice and I regret it.)
posted by widdershins at 11:29 AM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Not to threadsit, but I didn't make this clear: I am looking for another position elsewhere. I have been looking since January with no such luck, even after revising my resume. I am also pretty gun shy about hopping companies because of being unemployed before, but I don't believe I should live in fear and sell myself short.

Also, the field of healthcare management is vast and brutal to break into with no healthcare experience. Even though the new position will be a step back, it has excellent potential to propel me forward. Essentially, although I'm not excited about being an assistant now, I might have something to be really excited about later. And it will make my career change so much easier if I go this route, rather than trying to do this alone.

I just don't know if it's the best decision to make.
posted by AlexandriaParis at 11:43 AM on August 2, 2018

widdershins has good advice about running to something and not from something. The healthcare related position sounds like it has a lot going for it.

Whenever a potential employer makes broad statements about your future at a company ("move up as fast as you want", "sky's the limit", etc.) ask to meet and talk to someone in the company who has advanced in the way you are being told that you can. It is very much in the employer's interest to do this for you.

If there are people you can talk to (and often there are) those conversations can be a useful data point.
posted by John Borrowman at 11:49 AM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm in a very similar situation right now. I'm going back to school for a 2-year certification to change my career from my dead-end job after 20 years in a professional field. I'm hopeful that maybe halfway though the program I can find work in the field that I'm moving toward while I finish my studies. Go for it!
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 11:50 AM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a woman in a male-dominated company who has been very unhappy with my situation for quite some time despite receiving good pay, benefits, and other positive aspects of my job that I don't believe I can easily replicate in a new position. I understand both the very real cost of staying and the cost of leaving (i.e. giving up good pay and benefits) and have spent a lot of time thinking about how to best move on to something better. I also enjoy working, and definitely enjoy a sense of financial security, and have experienced the pain of an extended period of unemployment, career setbacks, and uncertainty about where my future was headed. I recognize a lot of what you're describing.

That said, the first half of your post struck me as describing your job as unpleasant and problematic, but likely tolerable with room for some improvement until you can find something better.

The red flag for me is the nepotism. That is a clear warning sign that the management has a preference and tolerance for certain (what I deem dysfunctional) values and practices over a more merit-based system where the best ideas and individuals are rewarded for bringing their best selves and pushing for positive change. The more unqualified friends and family members the management brings on, the more entrenched the importance of protecting those individuals and their way of doing business becomes. You don't want any part of that, and I agree you want to figure out a way to move on to a place that values you as soon as you can. But, unless the situation were really bad, I would not take just any new job. Lots of jobs are not great. You want to know you're moving into something definitively better in the areas that you care about most, whichever those qualities may be for you.

I second the above comment - it doesn't sound like you're limited to an either/or choice beyond keeping your current job as-is, or giving up good pay and benefits for a company that may promote you and may eventually pay you want you want.

In the meantime, while you're working on finding something better, here are some tips for surviving your current job. With regards to the conversation about a raise and a new title at your current company, it's equally, if not more so, your responsibility to make sure that conversation happens. When it comes to change that will positively effect your future, always, always make it your priority to see those changes through, and don't ever wait around for the benevolence of someone else to do it for you, even if they said they would. It's often harder for woman to internalize this message, but it's so worth it.

As for answering the door and cleaning up messes, is anyone explicitly telling you to do these things? If not, stop doing those things, even if there's some implicit or subtle expectation. I trust it's not in your job description and not what you were hired for. If you haven't been explicitly told it's your responsibility, there should be little consequence for not doing something you aren't being told to do. They may assume you'll do it because you keep doing it. So, stop. Behave as all the other men do (well, avoid negative behaviors, and you should always clean up after your own messes), behave with the expectation of equal treatment for yourself, and others are more likely to follow suit.

If there are consequences for not doing these things, or there is some kind of explicit expression that you need to be cleaning up after messes, answering the door, et cetera, find a way to question it or challenge it with grace. If BossMan says "AlexandraParis, the meeting room is a mess after our last meeting", instead of throwing a fit, trying playing dumb but cooperative. As in, don't acknowledge an implied request to do extra work (you can't do what you haven't been asked) but come out looking like a team player looking to solve a problem together (hard to fault a team player). Ask questions like "Yes, I noticed. Should we get more trash can so it's easier for everyone to put away their garbage?" or things like that. They key is to provide solutions (so you are helping) never volunteer to do any extra work (set appropriate boundaries), and signal the proper values (the problem is not the fault of AlexandriaParis, so likewise the solution needs to be an external one).

If it's worse and BossMan outright asks you to do something you don't want to do or otherwise think is stupid, there are ways to respond and get out of it without making your boss look bad. It goes something like this:

BM: I want you to take on //an entirely new set of responsibilities that does not pertain to your responsibilities or skillset and would be a complete distraction for an otherwise well-run, functioning organization//! I want this done ASAP!
1. That's very interesting! (other non-committal platitude)
2. Let me make sure I understand/I have a few questions (I want to do this right, I want to be supportive of your goals and vision, let's break down how to best accomplish that).
3. I'm currently tasked with //important, relevant things that actually move the needle and reinforce my worth//, specifically //Deliverable X// needs to be done by //Very Urgent Timeframe// in order to accomplish //Obvious Important Goal// that //Super Important Person// has requested.
4. I think it's a good idea to wrap up //Relevant, Time-Sensitive Work// and come back to //BossMan's Thoughtless Request// at a later time or find another temporary solution for now, unless you think I should re-prioritize?

I find that often works, and then continuing to delay and question, with a few cycles of polite but firm "that seems less urgent, but maybe there's something I'm missing? I'll go along with what you decide". Given enough time, the formerly critical request usually gets dropped. Or, you end up doing the stupid thing for now and increase your resolve that you're getting out of there as fast as you responsibly can.

I have taken a job that was a step (or three) down in position because I believed it would be a stepping stone that would better position me for the career path I ultimately wanted to be on. And it worked out for me in that one situation so I'm not against taking a step down in position or pay on principle. But, making that move really needs to be strategic. If a new position is lower prestige but may get you the access and experience needed to move forward in the direction you want, that's something for you to assess and decide. Just be careful of being lured into a low-paying job you are overqualified for without real opportunities for growth. It's not unheard of for a company to do that sort of thing, so you need to assess what's really going on and what future opportunities are likely in store.

Yes, people are jerks, work can be boring and demeaning and you want to get the heck out there and find better opportunities where you feel valued. A company can even be dysfunctional and, at times, mildly abusive or toxic. Unless the job is truly toxic, my advice (and what I'm doing) is to maintain your good pay and benefits so you can continue building your financial buffer because that's worth something real that you can take with you, and do the hard work of finding a better opportunity and don't settle for a job you don't feel good about. In the meantime, ask for that raise your boss already mentioned to you.

One more piece of advice: find allies, people who will look out for you at work, and people outside of work who will encourage and support you in finding something better for yourself. We all need allies, it can feel impossible otherwise.

Clearly, I think about this topic a lot and have strong feelings about good people positioning themselves to advocate for their own interests in less than ideal situations. You will get through this and work your way into something better!
posted by anonymous donut at 12:46 PM on August 2, 2018 [10 favorites]

Talk to the career office at your school about whether the job you’re considering is appropriate for someone at your point in the program. They may have different ideas for you, or they may say this is a great foot in the door.
posted by lakeroon at 12:48 PM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Go through the archives at Ask A Manager. She has excellent advice for handling problematic situations such as yours and for job seeking (specific advice for resumes, interviews, etc.).

Good luck!
posted by purplesludge at 10:56 AM on August 5, 2018

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