I landed my dream job but I don't think I'm cut for it. What should I do?
February 7, 2007 7:53 PM   Subscribe

I landed my dream job but I don't think I'm cut for it. What should I do?

I landed my dream job two months ago and have been working there since then. I was overwhelmed with the amount of things to learn and the fast paced nature of the job but I stuck through it knowing well enough that the initial period of learning would be tough. Now I'm starting to feel that I'm not ready for this yet and that I might not be cut out for this job. Another guy in the team had started roughly the same time as me and is doing quite well due to his competitive nature. I'm a noncompetitive kind of person and is having a rough time standing out. Not to mention that I'm in a disadvantaged position because I sit in a different area from my team because they could not accomodate an extra desk there. So he gets to work close to the action and is surrounded by resources while I often feel alienated and out of the loop with whats going on. This is my first real job and I am really in need of some advice. Maybe I've jumped into the pool before learning how to swim first.
posted by willy_dilly to Work & Money (28 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it might be helpful if you include information on what the job actually is. But, if this is your first real job, then yes, it's overwhelming at first. You get used to it, almost invariably.
posted by cellphone at 8:00 PM on February 7, 2007

2 months is nothing. Most people feel lost at a new job at least that long, especially if it's their first. Stick it out at least six months, or better yet, a year. It'll look really bad if you held your first job only two months!
posted by kindall at 8:01 PM on February 7, 2007

I just started in a new position myself, so I kinda know what you're going through.

I think you'd feel a lot better if you'd be able to sit near your teammates. Even though they say they can't accomodate an extra desk, talk to your boss, and see if there's SOME they could accomodate an additional desk. Move someone from another department to a different area or some such, or move your entire team to a different area, etc. I don't know how your office is laid out, so YMMV. Make sure you explain your feelings of alienation, and that it's hard for you to work without being near the same resources the rest of your team has.

Good luck!
posted by Verdandi at 8:01 PM on February 7, 2007

"Act as if ye have faith and faith shall be given to you. Put it another way, fake it till you make it."
posted by sdrawkcab at 8:03 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do not panic. Everyone learns at a different pace. Two months is too soon to tell. You do need to grab the bull by the horns and come up with a plan. Typically, I would have suggested a 90 day plan from your first day. Have goals to accomplish. I would now set 60 day goals. I would press to be integrated into the seating somehow. Continue to bring it up with your boss. In the least, it will show a willingness and desire to get into the mix. Since I do not know your job or firm, I cannot suggest specific goals. I would set 5 things you want to accomplish in the next 60 days and spend your time pushing for it. Every night, review introspectively what you did and how you moved closer to your goal(s). On Sunday night, lay out a weekly plan.

There is nothing wrong with finding out that your dream job is not what you thought it would be or you are not up to it. There is something wrong with not making a complete and total effort to find out. If you can look yourself in the mirror after another 60 days knowing you gave it your all, then you will have no regrets later in life that it was a missed or blown opportunity. Failure at your first job is not necessarily a bod thing. It can even be a good thing. Beter to learn now than 10 years from now a bitter person.

I would not talk to my boss yet. It will be a sign of weakness. Others will suggest it. Think long and hard before you approach her. It would depend on the corporate culture. I have seen some very non competitive people thrive in VERY competitive environments such as trading.

Get your seat moved. Come up with goals and a plan. Either succeeded or go down swinging. Do not slink away without trying. Just my $0.02
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:04 PM on February 7, 2007

I went through a very similar situation three years ago. It took about a year before I stopped (frequently) feeling this exact way, but I'm still at the same job.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:05 PM on February 7, 2007

Starting at a new job is usually pretty panic-inducing. I felt inadequate at my present job for several months (and maybe I was a bit), but I talked to my boss about it, and he gave me some advice and basically told me I was doing okay and to relax a bit. The other thing to keep in mind is that they did hire you, so that means something.

Also, your boss said they couldn't accommodate another desk, but they might not have really tried that hard, thinking it wouldn't be a big deal. If you tell him you think it's affecting your performance or whatever, he (or she!, sorry ladies) will probably find a way to work something out.

And seconding fake it till you make it.
posted by !Jim at 8:17 PM on February 7, 2007

give it 6 months to a year to get the kinks out. I am an experienced designer and web designer, It will take me 6 months to feel comfortable in a new office. I couldn't imagine how long it will take to feel like i an in charge at a new career! But I'll bet it's longer than 2 months :)
posted by joelf at 8:18 PM on February 7, 2007

Agreed that giving some more info on what you do would be helpful.
However, if it is you dream drop, stick with it if it still is! I graduated with a biochemistry degree and ended up working IT. I didn't know much about my current field, but damn have I learned a LOT.
Two things I've learned which relate to most jobs:
1) Not only have I already learned a lot about IT, but there will always be more to learn and challenged to overcomes. I'm sure the same is true for you. Even the most prepared people can find new challenged to overcome.
2) Being in IT, which I didn't know much about, I had to quickly learn how to produce results now. When the network went down, the teachers don't give a shit why. All that matters is it's up. I don't know your age, but I always had time to prepare for difficult situations. I knew of a test on x and y days. Not now. Sticking with the job, though extremely stressful at first and still to an extent, has taught me to perform under conditions where the reality is I'm in wayyy over head. At the same time, results were expected and I somehow produce every time (knock on wood). I don't say that to pimp myself, but it sounds like you have the same opportunity. Maybe you are in over your head. Maybe you should have learned more about your field before you went in. So frickin' what?! You have the chance to both learn on the spot AND learn how to adapt in a pressurized environment. This can give you the tools to cope in adverse situations you'll surely encounter in the future.
posted by jmd82 at 8:19 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Give it more time. It isn't clear whether you are having real performance problems with doing your job or are just feeling anxious, but either way 2 months isn't long enough to judge your ability and compatibility - it sounds like you are just having normal self doubt considering you are in your first professional job and clearly it is a challenging one. I've felt this way many times in my academic and professional career and I've always come through okay.

Bring your concerns about proximity and being out of the loop with your team up with a supervisor. This is a legitimate concern and maybe some creative thinking can generate solutions for keeping you more engaged and making sure you have access to resources.

You would do well to try not to compare yourself to this coworker or measure yourself by what you perceive to be his accomplishments. There's no benefit in this. Many people excel in business through being competitive but it is not the only way, and it is certainly not always to the benefit of getting the job done. I've never viewed myself as being in a competition on the job and I've done fine. Finding ways to promote yourself is an ongoing challenge in any job. Cliche as it is, focus on doing the best you can and look for appropriate opportunities to communicate your accomplishments. Pay particular attention to measurable impacts.

Statistics say almost everyone will change careers many times over our lifetimes. As hard as it can be on you while you're dealing with it, job struggles rarely have a lasting impact. Probably the most important thing you can learn right now is how to take things in stride and deal with challenges on your own terms.
posted by nanojath at 8:23 PM on February 7, 2007

No matter how you feel, keep doing your work. Ask questions- try to get back into the loop. If it's an e-mail thing, see if you can get copied on important stuff. If it's the desk thing, ask your boss if you can be moved near the team. Do every project you are assigned- don't drop the ball because you feel helpless. Work harder, work smarter. Figure out who your allies are. Don't assume that the Other Guy is doing better than you because he's louder, and furthermore, stop comparing yourself to other people. You have to do your best, not his best.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:24 PM on February 7, 2007 [4 favorites]

Do you have regular performance reviews? In my company, once you start you have a 60 day review, and then a yearly review on your anniversary. It's a good time to get constructive criticism and input on how your manager & other coworkers think you're doing.

I do not think there is weakness in asking for feedback from your boss. It shows initiative and a desire to improve - and those are very admirable qualities in an employee.

It definitely does depend on how you say it though.

You might be feeling:
"OMFG I am over my head and I don't know what I'm doing and can you please check all my work for me because I think I might be doing everything all wrong?!"

but what you should say is:
"Hi [insert boss name], since I have been here about 2 months, I was hoping we could sit down and go over some of my work - I'm interested in seeing how well I'm meeting my expectations or if there is any area where you think I could use some improvement."

It is also not a bad thing to let your boss know that you feel out of the loop sitting far away. Do you have a weekly status meeting? If not, maybe you can ask your boss if you can schedule a time each week to touch base and go over what you're working on and any other important things. See if you can work together to find a way to keep you in the loop, if sitting closer can't be arranged.

2 months is not that long a time though, and if you haven't been called out on anything, try not to worry so much. Your first job out of school is always a little terrifying at first. I think I was at my job for more than 6 months before I really felt like I knew what I was doing. And after training people who had joined my department after me, I know that this is more common than you think. Relax a little - your company most likely spent a lot of resources on hiring you and getting you started. They are more likely to want to provide you with the training, feedback, and help you need than to hire someone else. So figure out what it is you need, and get it. And that starts with honest feedback from your boss.
posted by tastybrains at 8:34 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

tasty gives good advice on asking your boss on what you can do. It also should encourage him/her to work more directly with you on their own considering you're further away from the group.
Of course, if you don't have a boss to bring issues like this up with, that's a whole other issue.
posted by jmd82 at 8:39 PM on February 7, 2007

You know how you feel, you know how this other person appears. You don't know how he really feels (no matter what he does or doesn't say). Even if you did, it wouldn't be relevant. This is your dream job, and, as other's have said, you haven't been at it that long.

Definitely do make it clear that you would like to be physically closer to the team.
posted by Good Brain at 9:06 PM on February 7, 2007

If there isn't one already, setup an Instant Messaging server, Jabber or IRC or etc. Get your group members to join and get used to chatting.

I would have never believed it, but even though my work group was email based, and it took a bit of work to get them on an IM server, once they did the change was unbelievable. People across the hall, people across campus, people *way* down the street, people out of town attending boring conferences, everybody is hanging out in an IM chatroom. It's like they are in the same room that I am in.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:46 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

With respect to getting you're seating changed, try the suggestion above about letting someone in charge know that you could do a better job being near the team and resources. If it just can't be done, can you suggest that they let you and the other new person switch places every week or month, to give you both access? (At one job I had three of us took turns using a private office and the shared 2-desk office.)
posted by PY at 10:06 PM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

You mentioned that the other person who started at about the same time is doing well at the job "because of his competitive nature." Two months is too short to judge that guy, too. It's possible that he's just gregarious and enthusiastic, and that your coworkers (naturally) respond positively to that about him. Learn by watching if you can, because good interpersonal political skills will help you throughout your career(s). Whatever you do, don't shrink away from him and the rest of your colleagues because you think you can't compete. You got hired, so you have your place on the team just like everyone else.

Specific advice is tough to give without knowing more about where you work (Wall Street? Advertising? Nursery? Hospital?), since different work cultures reward different behavior, but generally just keep your chin up and focus on absorbing the skills you need to become more comfortable with your job.

If it's really your dream job, then you must stick it out! Don't bail just because you're having self-doubt. We have all been there... that's the only way you learn what you're capable of.
posted by dammitjim at 10:34 PM on February 7, 2007

Excellent advice above, especially about seeking constructive criticism. To this I add only that you should set aside the thoughts about quitting and and not being "cut for it" and just focus on your work. There's nothing like a lack of confidence to create a spiral of self-sabotage. Shrug off the things you do wrong (remind yourself that you're learning and you'll do better next time) and celebrate the things you do well. Re-evaluate the situation in six months or so, but until then just focus on learning your job and being patient with yourself.

As others have said, everyone goes through what you're experiencing when they start out-- you just have to push through. Good luck!
posted by chickletworks at 12:33 AM on February 8, 2007

I changed careers when I was 41 and went from a having-my-own-office-and-secretary to being one in a crowd, in cubeland.

Even with my years of working experience and a fair amount of confidence in my abilities, I had all the same feelings you describe - other people who joined at the same time as me seemed to be doing much better, I had to sit in the midst of a different team because they couldn't find a desk in my team, a loss of confidence in my abilities, wondering if I had made a mistake, wondering if they would think they'd made a mistake in hiring me ...

Stick it out. Give yourself time to get used to your new environment. I am so glad I didn't act out of fear and insecurity and jump ship back to the old and familiar.

What I would suggest is that you ask when (not if) you will be able to be seated with the rest of your team. This is a reasonable expectation on your part. If the answer is negative, ask if there could be a rotation of desks so everyone gets to sit 'outside' for a while.

The bottom line is, you are new. If you were doing a bad job, they would tell you. It's usually obvious within a very short period of time, a couple of weeks, if someone is the complete wrong fit for the job. Your employers will be aware that this is your first job and that you need to learn how to do it.

You're out of your comfort zone, this is all new stuff. For all you know, the other new guy might well be wondering how you manage to exude such quiet calm when he doesn't know how to tone it down.
posted by essexjan at 2:10 AM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

It is fairly common for even very successful people to have inner doubt and sometimes feel that they are in over their head. Thoughts like "all these people have no idea that I really don't belong here; that I have no idea what I am doing". Without knowing details of your situation I do not know if this may apply to you. Rest assured that self-doubt is a very human feeling but does not mean that you really are unqualified/in over your head/failing in some way. If you really are doing badly, I would hope your boss will let you know; the suggestions to ask him for feed back are good. If this really is your dream job, don't give up so soon without a good reason.

On the other hand, many people do get a job they really want and find it doesn't work out, so if it turns out you really aren't right for the job, be willing to make a graceful exit, chalk it up to experience, and move on. The tone of your letter sounds like it is more self-doubt than actual inability to do the work, though.
posted by TedW at 5:47 AM on February 8, 2007

All excellent advice so far, and I'll nth the request for specific information about what you do.

I felt the same way when I got my first real job. One thing I learned quickly was to always have a notepad with me (especially when meeting with the boss or executives if I had to ask *one* question and wound up getting more information than I was ready for). Take copious notes, even if you think it's overdoing it. Little things you think you can remember, such as who to send expense reports to, who's the guy in charge of purchasing and his chain of command, etc, all add up and can mentally overwhelm you if you've never been in an office environment before. It might even help you to write out processes and workflow. That way you can just refer to your notes and spend more of your mental energy on the actual work at hand.

Good luck and hang in there. It'll get easier.
posted by Atom12 at 6:42 AM on February 8, 2007

I'll nth the suggestion to give it more time. In my first real job it took me way longer than 2 months to get comfortable and to stop feeling like I was a complete idiot every day (like, um, 9 months. At which point I got promoted and the cycle started all over!). This is your dream job - stick with it!
posted by marginaliana at 7:15 AM on February 8, 2007

willydilly, if you included details about what your job entailed, you would probably get back much more specific advice. Anyway, the first two months no one knows what going on in a job.

The best thing for you to do in this situation is try and make a confidant at work. Invite someone to lunch. You can talk about the job, etc.
posted by xammerboy at 7:25 AM on February 8, 2007

What does "I don't think I'm cut out for it" mean?

Do you feel you're lacking in specific knowledge of your field? If so, can you educate yourself further? Can you ask your boss if there is training available? (Don't say, "I don't know how to do X," but say, "I'd really like to learn more about X, and I see there is a seminar about X on the 28th. I feel it would be beneficial to my performance to attend this."

If the problem is not knowledge, perhaps it's organization. Do you have trouble managing the amount of work? Do you get overwhelmed? There are many resources online to help you get organized and more efficient. Check out Lifehacker, for one.

Also, nthing the point that 2 months is much too short of a timeframe in which to judge your abilities. Walk into your job knowing that you can do it well, and then put everything in place to make that happen. Read inspirational stories about guys with no legs who climb Everest, or somesuch. It's a matter of desire, not ability.
posted by desjardins at 7:49 AM on February 8, 2007

I've been at my current job for a year and a half, and I still get that panicked, in-over-my-head feeling on a pretty regular basis. I was having many of the same doubts as you a few months ago, and my boss noticed that I wasn't my "usual cheerful self" and asked what was going on. When I told her I felt stressed because I didn't know what I was doing, she (a) told me that the feeling is normal, and more importantly, (b) ran through a laundry list of skills that I didn't have when I started that I do have now. It's true, I don't know everything about my job yet, but she gave me the perspective to see how far I've come. In addition to other people's advice above to set learning goals for yourself, make sure you notice and congratulate yourself for all the little things you have picked up.

Here's one other tidbit that I needed to be reminded of when I got scared at my first job (the one before this one): your bosses knew it was your first job when they hired you. They didn't hire you for your 10 years of experience and expertise in this line of work, they hired you because your education and background indicated that you could learn the job. So don't get overwhelmed with a feeling of, "What if they find out I'm clueless?" They already know you're clueless. It's ok, as long as you're becoming less clueless as time goes on.
posted by vytae at 7:55 AM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

2 months is way too soon to be thinking that you're not up to the job. 6 months is a much better time to review that.

And remember, employers don't tend to hire people who can do it all already - they'll get bored and be out the door quickly! Especially with "first jobbers" they're looking for potential, the right attitude, and a willingness and ability to learn. And if it's your dream job, you've probably got all that and then some.

Seating arrangements - talk to your boss about it. The IM idea is great too. But also try and engage on a social level - maybe suggest a regular team lunch or post-work drinks - it will make you feel more a part of the team which will help.

But also, make the most of being in a different part of the office - find out what the people around you do, look for links between your team and theirs and use the opportunity to get a "bigger picture" view of the company as a whole and how your team's work fits into that. This is something that most first jobbers don't have the ability to see or understand, but it will serve you in good stead.

More generally - what is it exactly that you think you're not up to scratch on? Figure that out, and work with your boss to improve those things. Feeling overwhelmed by managing your workload? Loads of stuff on the internet to help you improve. Struggling with technical aspects of your job? Ask for training, or make a deliberate effort to learn more about those areas. Not confident about tacking a new project? Sit down with your boss at the start to ensure you understand what is expected, and build regular "checkpoints" into the plan. Acknowledge and tell your boss about your successes - everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but as well as looking at what you need to improve, you need to figure out what you're innately good at and what you bring to the team.

And please don't compare yourself to others - slow but consistent progression is much better than a high profile start that peters out over time. I recently joined a new company managing an equally new team, most of whom were first jobbers. 12 months on, the guy who made the best impression on everyone turns out to be all-style-no-substance, and the guy I was most concerned about initially has suprised everyone by improving consistently and has created a real niche for himself and I now consider him indispensible. If I'd been stupid enough to make judgments at 2 months in, I'd have made the wrong decision.

Don't underestimate yourself, and give yourself time to settle in. But you need to work at it too. Good luck!
posted by finding.perdita at 1:25 PM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I echo everyone else's sentiments. And I think it is really important to join in with everyone at lunch or after work drinks, if your group tends to do that sort of thing. There's a lot of bonding that happens outside of work hours that helps build relationships and confidence on the job.

Also, is there anyone in the group that you can talk to privately, or observe? Maybe if there is someone who comes in really early, or stays really late, you can use that quiet time to ask them some questions or help you go over something. And if they really really cannot move your desk to be closer to the rest of your team, make an effort to be there as often as you can. Instead of e-mailing them a question or response, physically go over there, so they don't forget about you.

As long as you want to do a good job, and are dedicated - you can't really be doing as bad a job as you think. Hang in there. Don't obsess about doing a good job or a bad job - just learn as much as you can.
posted by eggplantia5 at 7:05 PM on February 8, 2007

find a mentor. work out where you want to go next in the company, and befriend a mentor who is already there. question them, develop a relationship with them. networking is important, and you need to work on relationships early to maintain growth
posted by edtut at 1:56 AM on February 10, 2007

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