Working question
July 30, 2008 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Work question. I recently transitioned from temp to perm, as a Mktg. Admin Assistant, and am confused as to what I should be doing, not so much duty-wise, but as a proactive employee. Long-winded details inside

Basically, my duties were doing incoming customer service call work setting up conference appointments, and basic filing, outgoing calls, and general office work regarding these conferences.

Last week, I was informed my gig was up as they cut back by about 85% the conferences, and had made my peace with that and was interviewing elsewhere (they gave me a week's notice). However, on my last day, they suddenly offered me a full-time position/raise which I accepted, and here I sit 2 days in to the perm position, pretty much doing nothing. I have no idea why they offered me a full-time position, as there's obviously not enough work right now, but that's really not for me to figure out, I'm just trying to make the best of a weird situation.

I hate doing nothing and wanted to ask some advice. A few of the job leads I put out there are coming back now, but as I think the company I work for paid a big chunk of change to buy out my temp contract, leaving so soon isn't an option for me. (I'm in recovery, and my sponsor, therapist and sober network have already advised me against this).

My background is NOT marketing. I did 10 years of Macintosh IT and this is a "recovery" job, so I know very little besides what common sense dictates about this.

Two things: For MeFites with Mktg experience, are there any books or free net resources you can recommend regarding this topic to help out a novice? I have no idea about specifics, but I guess anything to do with slogans, direct mailings, and web site mktg might help. (It's a financial company, if that helps, NOT warm and fuzzy)

2ndly for any MeFites with Managerial experience: Is it too weird or dangerous to my job security to let them know I have NOTHING to do? My coworkers/direct supervisors kinda know this, but I'm not sure if the bigwigs who hired me do, and these people dictate who does what as far as projects go (and not that they would necessarily assign me anything what with my zero mktg exp.)
I was thinking about e-mailing one of them and asking THEM if they could recommend any reading or something that helped them out, but I'm not sure if that's a good idea. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Debaser626 to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Be eager. Ask your manager and those on your team how you can be of assistance. If you do not have a regular team meeting, schedule some one-on-one with your manager to explore ways you can grow/stay stimulated/contribute. But - very important! - don't say that you don't have anything to do: just position your requests as opportunities to contribute.

You may want to revisit your job description to (a) make sure you're fulfilling the official day-to-day duties of the position, and (b) find new duties to incorporate into your day-to-day activities. You can also take initiative in finding things that need to be done around the office like updating databases, organizing the media library, ensuring the team has everything it needs. However, when it comes to filing and databases, etc., you should probably clear it with your manager before taking action - sometimes the best intentions can lead to havoc.

There are many niche marketing resources for various industries, and there likely are for your company's industry. For some general information, check out the B2B Magazine; Brandweek; any book by Seth Godin; Harvard Business Essentials: Marketer's Toolkit; Your Marketing Sucks by Mark Stevens; Punk Marketing by Richard Laermer & Mark Simmons; MarketingProfs; the WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association); the American Marketing Association (and your local chapter).
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 10:04 AM on July 30, 2008

At your level, which is "entry staff", it should not be your responsibility to determine what you should be doing while you're on the clock. It is your immediate supervisor's responsibility to assign things for you to do. If you're bored, let your supervisor know that you'd like some more things to do. If he/she tells you that they have nothing right now, leave it at that. Right now, to some degree, they're paying you as much for your availability as your generated work.

However, if you find things that no one else is getting done, but should be done, you can probably "take the initiative", and start working on it.

I will also buck the trend a little, and say that if (and only if) the job starts getting really uncomfortable for you or you see signs that you'll be getting cut anyway, you can change jobs and not feel too bad about it.

Above all, don't feel like you are doing or have done anything wrong. If they came to you with an unsolicited offer to stay, then they're on the hook to justify that decision economically - not you. You don't have to prove that they "made the right choice".
posted by Citrus at 10:19 AM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

At your level, which is "entry staff", it should not be your responsibility to determine what you should be doing while you're on the clock

yes. The whole "proactive" thing is total bullshit promoted by piss-poor managers. it's a way to blame the employee for the manager's failure to do his job.

Depending on the situation, pointing out that you have nothing to do can get a little hairy, b/c you're pretty much pointing out their managerial incompetence and creating a problem for them: keeping you busy. Maybe you can find some interesting project going on and volunteer to help with it, without framing it as "I'm so bored I've been surfing the net all day?"

In the worst case scenarios (and they do exist) where I was given no work, but I would get in trouble if I was caught not working, I developed a few strategies:

1) Never quite finish anything. Once I was given any project, no matter how small, i would do about 98% of it. then when someone asked for an update, I would say I was "just finishing up," even if enough time had elapsed for me to finish it 17 times by then.

2) Not being at my desk. I made an odd discovery: people will get angry for sitting idly at your desk. But hardly anyone gets angry at someone going to the kitchen, the bathroom, taking a short walk outside, whatever. I would be up and moving around- not for a long period of time, but constantly throughout the day. Does it make sense? No. Does it work? yes. This is the office world.

posted by drjimmy11 at 10:34 AM on July 30, 2008

Yea, you should ask for things to do. Asking me for work shows initiative. For the people I supervise who are also entry-level types, I don't expect them to find things to do. Around here, we kid about it because after some time, the new person is swamped, and they never ask that question again.
posted by cabingirl at 11:50 AM on July 30, 2008

I was in a similar situation once - was hired for a job that apparently took the previous employee all day to do, but I was a fast worker and had many boring, idle hours spent trying to look busy. (By the way, my responsibilities were similar those you described.) I finally approached my supervisor and asked if there was anything I could help her with, since I'd finished my assigned tasks. She seemed surprised that I'd asked (I guess no one else ever did that; they spent their down time away from their desk in the designated smoking area), but she gratefully started allowing me to help her with her overflowing inbox. After a few months my supervisor's boss complimented her on suddenly being up-to-date with all her paperwork (debit memos, inventory, receiving reports, production reports, etc.) and she (to her credit) told him that I had been helping her. I got a promotion and a raise out of the deal, along with a LOT more work.

So, anyway, I would advise you to ask your supervisor if there's anything in addition to your assigned duties that you can do, because you really hate being not busy. Present yourself as an eager beaver, team player type of employee.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:32 PM on July 30, 2008

The rule of thumb that I developed as I swapped over from being a worker bee to being a manager is this:

"Make your manager's job easier"

It is just that simple. If your manager is super-stacked and can't come up for air, don't burden them with needing to keep you on task all the time. If you think there are time-consuming things that you believe you are capable of, offer to do them. If you make a mistake, learn from it and try never to repeat it. If you ask a question, understand the answer, and try not to ask it again.

The more independent you become, the more valuable you are to the powers that be. If the work that you are doing is of high enough quality, you will get more responsibility and are likely to get more interesting work. If you go in to a day with the "make your manager's job easier" mindset, you will be surprised how effective the guideline is at prioritization, tasking, and decision-making.

Additionally, if you have this mindset, and are good at doing what you do, you will earn a lot of job security. At the end of the day, you manager will want you around a great deal. You become the person they rant and rave about at meetings, and if your manager is a decent person, rewards will come with that.

Communicate effectively, represent them well, do what needs doing, and good things will come to you. If you do this for a while and you feel like you are either being taken advantage of or being scapegoated then have a talk with your manager about it (they will likely know to dial it back, and I can assure you that they will know how indispensable you have become).

If you truly have nothing left to do, make sure that everything you do is perfect. If your task is A, B, and C, ask briefly if E and F might also be useful. Allow yourself to go above and beyond and the powers that be will be more focused on the exemplary level of your work than the amount of time it took you to produce it (if in fact you are not being asked to do much).

Be easy to manage, as independent as you are comfortable with, and produce high-quality work.

Lastly, the people that hired you might know that there is a lot of work on the way (and your peers might not). If that is the case, they probably understand that you are going to sit on your hands a bit before the deluge arrives.

Good luck, you'll do fine!
posted by milqman at 12:39 PM on July 30, 2008

No opinion on asking/not asking for work. Up to you.

On the temp to perm thing - most temp agencies don't get paid that lump sum until you've been at the place for a specified amount of time (3 or 6 months seem to be standard). It's like a guarantee that they won't hire you, send out several thousand dollars, and have you quit two weeks later. Jus in case you really don't like it there and something comes up that you would really like, I'd look into whether these guys are going to be out cash if you jump ship before their payment comes due. That way you'll ~know~.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 3:38 PM on July 30, 2008

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