Q. “I thought I did all my homework before taking this job – but everything has changed! I’m working 12-hour days to complete assignments they ‘forgot’ to tell me about. My customer list includes all the problems nobody else wants. What can I do? And what questions should I ask when I look for my next job?”
A. This question has come up a lot recently. Some suggestions:
(1) Before taking any action, try to find out what’s going on just by observing, listening and noticing your environment.
(2) Test the waters. If you feel comfortable, say something neutral like, “Based on our interview, I anticipated working on X and Y. I am happy to be working on Q and Z — new challenges!”
Then listen for the response.
Frankly, many managers walk around in a half-dazed state. They don’t even realize they changed your assignment.
Others will go into denial: “Change? Nothing’s changed! What are you talking about?”
Or a puzzled, “Yeah – I thought you’d really enjoy Q and Z – I did you a favor.”
Or (very rarely) “Yes – Hal had a heart attack and we had to switch everybody around.” “We just lost our biggest account and we’re all scrambling.”
(3) Explore opportunities elsewhere in the organization.
Maybe your department had a vacancy for a good reason: an impossible boss or ridiculous mission. Once you’re in the door, it’s often (but not always) easier to transfer than to get hired as an outsider.
Once you’ve concluded, “There’s no hope,” prepare to do even more homework for your next job. There’s no foolproof way to research an organization and anyone can be caught by surprise.
But you should be able to meet with at least 3 or 4 future coworkers, including some recent hires. Observe their work areas, body language and attitude.
And you can ask them some tough questions (worded more tactfully, of course):
“What was your biggest surprise about working for this company?” “What’s the best and worst part about working here?” “What changes have you observed in the last few months?” “What’s the average length of time most people have worked here?”
And although I avoid pollyanna-ish cheer, people tell me they do find silver linings. After serving a stint in the nightmare department, they find a welcome elsewhere. They discover hidden talents, pick up new skills and/or become more marketable.
It happens. Surprise works both ways.