Did I Take the Wrong Job?

Expectations on starting a new planning job are high — for the new employee and for their supervisor. Of course, employees and supervisors perceive things differently, but the more they understand each other's perspectives, the better the transition.

This post is written for newly hired planners who are wondering, “Did I take the right job?”

The Supervisor’s View

It can be difficult to obtain approval for job searches. If it is a new position, the supervisor may have used political capital to overcome turf issues or budget limitations. In some organizations, it is a battle just to refill a vacated position. As well, there may have been disagreements over who to hire or salary negotiations.

While the supervisor may view the day the new hire starts as completing the job search, this is the very time the new hire expects attention, inspiration, and training.

Another aspect of the supervisor’s view is allocating work. Transitions are not always orderly. Before the new hire arrived, who did the work that is assigned to them? Did the supervisor carry it as an extra load or was it temporarily assigned to another staff member?

Is that person happy to be relieved of it or unwilling to let it go? If a new position, did others in the organization want that work?

These issues may be hard to discern but they can help the new hire understand organizational dynamics.

The supervisor hopes that the new hire will quickly climb the learning curve, clear up the “to do” list, and stay a long time. Of course, proper orientation and training is key to keeping staff, but short-term crises may get in the way. And the prospect of the new hire leaving after a few months worries supervisors; this worry could make the supervisor reluctant to invest their time in the new hire.

Are the New Hire’s Expectations Reasonable?

New employees deserve a reasonable level of orientation, supervisor access for questions, work decisions that are legal and ethical, and a supportive, collegial environment. Sometimes all those are present, but other times not.

The question for the new hire is to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable expectations.

For example, adjustments are required when changing organizations — moving from a small informal organization to a larger compartmentalized one, or from a public agency to consulting. In these instances, the new hire must learn about the norms of the new organization in deciding how to calibrate their expectations.

The new hire’s expectation of influence is another consideration. They may anticipate being invited to key policy meetings right off the bat. Sometimes that happens, but supervisors might want them to focus on clearing a backlog of mundane technical tasks.

The new hire may have to “earn” influence by taking care of routine tasks and then show their broader policy insight. This may take time.

What to Do When You Realize the Job Isn’t a Good Fit

Let’s say a new hire has given the job and the organization a fair chance and has determined that it is a poor fit. What then?

I counsel a degree of patience. A resume with short job tenures can raise questions for future employers. The caveat to this advice, of course, is that you should not tolerate workplace harassment, abuse, or illegality. Rather, I am talking about being unfulfilled or unhappy.

If the new hire stays on in an unsatisfying job for a while, things could change. Their experience might get better after learning about the processes, culture, and people. Supervisors might see something in the new hire that they did not initially. An opportunity may present itself.

Let’s assume that things don’t change for the better.

New hires who intend to leave but stay for now can strategize to learn the most from the organization while they are there. If they have too many assignments at once, they can learn how to negotiate with the supervisor and improve their project management skills. If their supervisor is overwhelmed, they can propose a system to keep track of projects. If a consulting firm gives them repetitive tasks, they can learn the proposal side of the business.

There are also proactive responses to a poor workplace dynamic. For example, if there is a feeling of isolation because most staff wear earbuds at work, the new hire can try to organize an activity out of the office. If the workplace culture seems dysfunctional, the new hire can outsmart it by pretending to be a "visiting scholar" in the field of workplace anthropology. Observing the roles people play, the new hire can experiment by adopting different roles, as if in a play.

Joining organizations and quickly finding one’s grounding is an important part of long-term career success.

If you are a new hire, consider these tips in understanding this process. That way you can give your new job a fair shake and be on strong ground if you later decide to leave.

Read previous installments of this blog series, "A Guide for the Idealist," here. This blog series is amplified in Richard Willson's book, A Guide for the Idealist: How to Launch and Navigate Your Planning Career. The book includes perspectives, tools, advice, and personal anecdotes. It is available now at Routledge, Amazon, and most retailers.

Top image: Getty Images photo.


About the Author

Richard Willson, FAICP

Richard Willson, FAICP, is a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Cal Poly Pomona. He has also served as department chair, interim dean, and independent planning consultant. Willson's research addresses planning practice and parking policy. His book, A Guide to the Idealist: How to Launch and Navigate Your Planning Career, amplifies the themes in this blog series. Willson is also the author of Parking Reform Made Easy (Island Press, 2013) and Parking Management for Smart Growth (2015). Willson holds a PhD in urban planning from the University of California, Los Angeles, a Master of Planning from the University of Southern California, and a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo.


January 8, 2019

By Richard Willson, FAICP