Reader: I started my first job out of grad school a year ago. I got this job because my teacher ran into a company vice president and said nice things about me. The VP then granted me an informational interview and referred me for the position. Though I don’t know this VP well, by reputation, he is a kind and intelligent man who tries to take care of subordinates.
My boss won’t listen to me. Should I go above his head?
Unfortunately, the job is not what I thought it would be. Nothing unethical or illegal — just mismanagement and dysfunction.
My boss discourages me from using my advanced technical degree, although my role ostensibly requires it. I have suggested multiple ways I could use my degree to assist team goals, but my boss believes these activities are not useful. Many of my co-workers are frustrated. We’ve had a lot of resignations. I’ve heard normal tenure in this position is two to three years. I’m planning to walk the moment I hit the two-year mark.
My father, a longtime corporate denizen, has suggested I give the company a chance to address my concerns. He thinks I should explain to my boss that I want to make a career at this company and ask what I could do to “earn” better assignments. He said I should follow up with my boss and his boss together, working all the way up to the VP if necessary. He indicated this would be a more respectful and constructive course of action than quitting out of the blue.
I have no idea whether my boss’s boss and the VP think the things I want to do are useful. (I have had no one-on-one contact with the VP since being hired.) I’m not sure I would want to stay here even if I got assignments I liked better.
This is a small industry, and I don’t want to burn bridges — especially with the kind VP. What do you think I should do?
Karla: Your dad may well have more years of corporate experience than both of us put together. For someone like him, talking to the folks in charge would probably be an effective course of action leading to helpful change. And I’m sure that, as your father, he can’t imagine how anyone wouldn’t take you seriously.
But I think his years of experience may be blinding him to the reality of how new hires with big ideas and fancy book-learning are perceived in the workplace.
Some jobs will never become growth opportunities no matter how hard you try to stretch their boundaries. Maybe your boss is fine with replacing the person doing your job every two to three years. Maybe he’s unimpressed by your technical education. Maybe your priorities — getting to apply the skills you went to school for — simply don’t align with his need to have this job done. And if management hasn’t tried to find out the reasons for all the resignations, odds are they don’t want to know.
You have pleaded your case, and your boss has rendered his verdict and seems unwilling to hear appeals. Leapfrogging over him to petition his boss, and then escalating all the way to the VP in pursuit of the answer you want? I see so many ways that can go wrong, and so few ways it could go right.
Potential negative outcomes: You tick off your boss, gain a reputation as a ladder-jumping upstart who doesn’t want to do the job that needs doing, and possibly cause the VP who vouched for you to second-guess his judgment.
Potential positive outcome: You obtain the opportunities you want, but end up quitting anyway, leaving burned bridges in your wake.
Put that way, the choice is clear: Accept the answer you’ve gotten from your boss, keep doing your job well, and start laying the groundwork to move on gracefully. Build your connections inside and outside the company and keep an ear open for leads. When you give notice, if asked why you’re leaving, you can diplomatically explain that although you appreciate and value this opportunity you’ve received — right? For the paycheck, if nothing else? — you’re looking to do more with your degree.
This isn’t to say you should always accept “no” as a final answer. But there’s little purpose in exhausting yourself swimming against a constant stream of “no” when you can change course and go with the flow of people who see your value and are willing to make a path for you.
In that vein, it might be time to loop back to your teacher for a thank-you lunch and some brainstorming on next steps. And if you haven’t thanked the VP yet for his role in getting you this job, your one-year anniversary is the perfect excuse to send a short email reiterating your appreciation for his support. A message like that keeps the connection warm, and if he invites you to share more about how you’re doing, you can perhaps allow that you’re eager to do more. Just make sure any comments about your current job are positive — and don’t share them via email.