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  • June 13, 2013

Hey Hoy!

#001: Don't keep your manager in the dark

Before I published a few posts and contributed to a podcast or two offering lo-fi career advice, I never got emails from strangers asking me for my opinion about their particular career dilemmas. Decorative Illustration Now I am receiving them with enough frequency that we might be onto something. So indulge me as we launch the first installment of “Hey, Hoy!” my (hopefully) semi-regular career advice column.

The theme for this week? Don’t keep your manager in the dark. They’re there to help you. Let them.

Question: “I have what a lot of people would consider a good job. I make good money, and I have a great commute. However, work is slow (despite there being no shortage of funds) and I don’t have to do much work. I could be here forever if I wanted, but I feel I’m wasting my time and talent and don’t even have the opportunity to produce enough new work to update my portfolio. What should I do?”

I’ve had jobs like that. It’s amazing how slow an hour can actually be, isn’t it? You really notice that when you’re working out, at the DMV, or stuck in a boring job.

If you’re just going through the motions, you should consider the potential damage you might be doing to your marketability. Contrary to popular belief, your extended tenure with an organization doesn’t always imply that you’re focused and don’t like to job hop. If you’ve been coasting for years with little to show for it, the next person to interview you will have little to grab onto. You’re safer cutting your losses and moving to greener pastures rather than putting yourself in a position where you have to respond “ummm” when an interviewer asks what you’ve done for the past three years. You can’t fake that stuff. I wouldn’t want to hire someone who even appeared to be lazy, whether or not they actually were. All it takes are a few probing questions to learn the truth.

And then there’s the fact that a tram could hit any one of us tomorrow, and it’s lights out. It would suck to have that happen after spending the majority of your time checking Facebook and taking two hours to finish a meat sandwich because you can.

My advice: bring it up to your manager(s) pronto. Be transparent. Tell them that you’re there to contribute, and you’re feeling unfulfilled. If I’m the manager, I’d love to know you felt that way, and I’d take immediate steps to fix it. I worked at restaurants where if you chatted with someone for 5 minutes, the manager would bark out, “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean!” If you’re not doing billable work, there’s always something internal that needs doing, which could lead to fulfillment you weren’t anticipating.

Question: “I feel I am being undervalued compared to my colleagues. It’s hard to keep a good attitude when my salary is half that of my equally talented peers (and far below the average for my position), and my views and opinions are shot down. What should I do?”

The first thing I’m wondering is if you have access to regular performance reviews? If not, you should. We offer formal 360 peer reviews on an annual basis, and more frequent informal check-ins throughout the year, so there’s a barometer for how someone is doing with respect to our expectations. A formal review will help determine whether your feelings are at odds or in sync with the perceptions of your coworkers and/or manager(s).

I’m assuming you’re using salary surveys to determine your value? A List Apart publishes one, as does AIGA/Aquent. These are great benchmarks, but when it comes down to individual situations, results vary widely.

If you feel you’re underpaid and your ideas are discounted, again, that warrants a discussion with your manager. If you feel your manager is one of the people shooting down your ideas, involve your manager’s manager in the discussion too. But don’t bypass your manager in the process. That won’t help. Involve anyone you feel you need to, and don’t be shy. You have nothing to lose.

Also, keep in mind there are two sides to any story. I’m not implying your feelings aren’t justified or accurate, but your colleagues might have a very different perception of the situation. You may feel your opinions are shot down, but others may feel your opinions are misinformed. The only way to expose that is to discuss it. I have asked my colleagues to give me a peer review in the past. As the boss, it was easy to assume I was doing everything right. Hardly. I took a humbling look in the mirror after that (that reminds me, I’m overdue for another one of those.)

If you have a career-related dilemma you’d like feedback about, feel free to email me at [email protected]. I’d be happy to offer my thoughts.

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