Why Did You Hire Me?
Issue № 259

Why Did You Hire Me?

Congratulations! You won the gig (or new role, for you internal folks). Now you’re ready to begin the roller-coaster ride of a new endeavor.

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Remembering why you were hired—and identifying whether or not you belong—is just as important as getting the gig. To sustain career and mental health, you must work within your means and know how to navigate ambiguous workplace situations. Using client and project management techniques is one part of the solution. Using your talent is the other.

One for the money#section1

Can you remember being on a project or in a professional position where someone, somewhere, didn’t raise the question: “how much are we paying for this?” The question is sometimes born of jealousy or financial responsibility, but usually not out of malice. The client and their team want their money’s worth. Do your job correctly and hopefully it won’t become a question of “Why are we paying for this?”

Money has a way of becoming an immediate barrier to your success. You need to address this and, to use gaudy corporate language, mitigate the risk. It’s important to note that there are slight differences in handling this situation if you’re a freelancer, contractor, or agency representative, as opposed to a full-time hero.

For freelancers, agency team members, and other hired guns, remember the following five tips:

  1. Set your rate and the associated deliverables up front. Get a signature that binds both you and the client to the same ground rules.
  2. Never discuss your rate with a client’s staff member. It’s none of their business what you’re paid and it’s usually more than they’re getting per hour (risk, insurance, and cost discussions set aside for now).
  3. Show up and do the job on time. Your work is usually subjective and a responsible reputation can help you influence the outcome of a design presentation, an application demo, a product review or a crucial conversation.
  4. Don’t treat your invoices with an apologetic tone. You and the client agreed to a rate and a schedule of terms. Submit the invoice and thank them for their prompt payment.
  5. Fulfill your obligation. Even if you have to bring in a resource under cover of darkness and eat the cost of the extra help, do the job you agreed to do. This will not only get you prompt payment, but will also boost your reputation.

For full-time folks, slight variations apply.

  1. Negotiate your pay up front and get it in writing. Negotiating your salary is probably the only time in your career where you can establish your worth. “Settling” for lower pay than what you need will only lead to problems for both you and the employer.
  2. Never discuss your salary with coworkers. Sharing salary information is not only inappropriate, it can lead to real trouble in the workplace.
  3. Show up and do the job on time. Your work and your work ethic will help you succeed.
  4. Just as a contractor or freelancer, you negotiated a rate and you should feel comfortable with your financial arrangement. Raises are tough to come by these days, so don’t make money your only priority.
  5. Fulfill your obligation. This is just as important, if not more so, to an internal associate as it is to a hired gun. Your long-term employment depends on whether or not you get the job done.

But what about those times where you’ve settled in, only to realize that you’re not actually doing what you were hired to do? The reality of many companies is that they badly need help but don’t always know how to manage or properly delegate. In those situations, you’ll need to use client management techniques and your talent to course-correct or make a decision.

Two for the show#section2

In the summer of 2000, I was searching for clients and bracing myself for the rest of the bubble-burst. Things were tense. Money was starting to get tight. My choices were to take a full-time management position with a large company where I was guaranteed a sense of security, or to take on two small clients that together could barely pay 85% of my mortgage.

Hello, job security#section3

The in-house training and instant brand recognition by my friends and family were rewarding, and the environment was filled with people who “bled the company colors.” I was all for it. That is, until I realized that I was not doing what I was hired to do. Over a very short period my role devolved to directing traffic and my sense of empowerment (a word used as freely in corporations as “strategy,” with even less meaning) evaporated.

I had two options: approach the management behemoth and demand I be given the responsibility and the freedom to do what I was hired to do, or put on a smile and wait it out.

I did both.

I approached management and asked them to work with me on achieving balance between good and evil. And while I didn’t get as much freedom as I thought I deserved, I learned a great deal about corporate culture and being humble. I could have quit the job and walked away, knowing full well that I’d be eating some combination of frosted cereal and peanut butter on toast. I could have easily created bedlam and embarrassed both the boss and myself.

Instead, I chose to apply my favorite project management techniques.

Take an inventory#section4

Take a complete inventory of what the team is working on and compare it to the initial scope of work. This is useful for any project and should be done each and every time you provide a status report. If you notice you’re off schedule or off course, correct it. Notify your client or management and ensure that you have your data points before you arrive at the table to discuss the correction.

Create a project journal#section5

Take fifteen minutes to list six to ten observations from each day’s action in a journal or project diary to keep track of progress and things to address when people aren’t in the heat of the moment. During your “lessons learned” meeting, use selected entries to point out what went well and how the team can be more efficient working with vendors and other departments.

Prove yourself#section6

Like it or not, you’re the one who stands to gain or lose the most if you decide to stick with your job. Prove you have what it takes to do the job. And while there are certainly no guarantees, that proof will serve you tremendously in that crucial conversation with upper management on how you expect to change things moving forward.

Three to get ready#section7

How can you possibly prepare for something you weren’t hired to do? How do you navigate meetings and work with your staff? How do you get the most out of the situation without damaging your career? Your talent got you this far, so how about using it to your advantage?

Information is power#section8

As a professional, you have a certain amount of power because you know what it takes to do your job. And, even if you’re not doing exactly the job you thought you’d be doing, use the knowledge and experience in your cerebral back pocket to influence your situation. Be prepared when that meeting comes. Here are some tips to help you prepare for a meeting, whether it’s for a client presentation, your staff meeting, or your crucial conversation with upper management:

  • Take the meeting seriously, even if you believe it’s likely to be a total waste of time. Take the time to review the agenda (if you’re lucky enough to have one) or speak to the meeting host ahead of time about expected outcomes.
  • Include yourself. If you attend the meeting, do your best to enhance the environment with your expertise without taking over the meeting. If your item didn’t make the agenda, approach the subject carefully with the chairperson during the meeting and ask them to include it if possible.
  • Know your facts. You are responsible for gathering, verifying, and presenting your information. To successfully support your vision, make sure you can convey your ideas credibly.

Preparation is key to any professional success. You may not be able to change someone’s mind about a specific topic, but you can at least counter an argument with valid data and realistic feedback.

Four to go#section9

All right. You’re pretty sure you’ve done all you can about your situation, but something isn’t right. You may feel it’s just not getting any better.

Is it time to leave? Is it “giving up” if you take an early exit?  Will you be able to find something else that will give you both the financial and creative environment you need? Does it matter?

When you enter a contract or statement of work with a client, you should assume it’s a mutual agreement. If things don’t follow the letter of the contract and you let it happen without saying anything, you risk appearing as though you accept it.

Making the decision to stay or leave a secure environment isn’t fun. Weigh the options carefully. Don’t be spontaneous. And, just as you would prepare for a presentation or business development opportunity, prepare to accept your situation or make changes.

Many people start careers doing things they don’t necessarily feel are within their job description. It takes maturity and patience to consider whether the work you’re doing will benefit or damage your career. It takes maturity and patience to have that crucial conversation with upper management if necessary. It’s easy to feel that you’re wasting your time and should be working towards a pay raise and increased stature. But that’s what makes people successful—a drive to something better.

The bottom line is this: you are responsible for your own happiness, but you should always be aware of the cost. If you feel you will be able to perform to new levels and maintain a sense of peace in your career, then by all means explore, but please remember that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It shouldn’t be a question of “Why did you hire me?” but “When will we get to work together again?”

25 Reader Comments

  1. Wow, what a great read. Not only does this article apply to our community, but it applies to anyone with a job.

    Every one of the techniques mentioned is a great way to evaluate where you are, what you’re doing and if a job is right for you.

    In my opinion it’s always better to leave a job a year early than a year late. You’ll have less stress, won’t be rushing into another job, and you’ll be more apt to leave on good terms.

    As much as most people hate changing jobs, it’s usually a fact of life; and when it’s time, it’s time. Constantly evaluating your situation will give you assurance that you’re where you want to be, but will also throw up red flags when you’re not where you want to be.

    Thanks for writing, Keith.

    my2cents

  2. I was surprised not to see one of the more obvious responses to finding yourself acting outside your job description: change the environment you are in until you are doing what you want to be doing.

    Organisations are just groups of people – they can be analysed and influenced over time, just as other groups of people can be. If you find that you’re working with inadequate authority, become a recognised expert within your group, and eventually the formal authority will follow (or not – sometimes it’s more useful to be the informal team leader than to be the boss.) If you are working with inadequate tools, change the organisational culture until your preferred tools and philosophies win out.

    Of course, such organisational change from within takes exactly the same skills that it takes to manage the change of any client. You must document, plan, organise and lead, often with considerable patience. It will take every ounce of your project and time management skills to succeed, because internal culture and distractions can easily sidetrack you. But in the end, internal reform can be much more rewarding than client work, in part because you will know that you’ve created an environment that will be, with luck, more humane, organised, fun, task-driven (insert your goal here) than the one you found yourself in. Such a change will help lots of other people accomplish their goals as well, even if they’re not as motivated as you are to change things.

  3. I have to say that at least in the case of the full time employee I completely disagree with the idea that you shouldn’t discuss your salary with your coworkers. There are tactful and tactless ways to bring it up, but having that data helps to prevent employers from making unfair hiring practices, lets younger employees understand what they’re worth, and in general keeps things honest.

    I’ve always felt the “don’t talk about your salary” line was one propagated by employers to keep employees from organizing, and still don’t see any reason why that data should be private.

  4. Brendan:

    You are on target. The internal change can happen if you start in your “circle of influence” and are effective as a manager (whether that be time, project or creative). Even when behemoth organizations aren’t ready to accept what they’ve done to an employee or contractor, it’s extremely rewarding to positively affect the environment; especially if it helps you do your job.

    Anders:

    I speak only for myself when I say this, but I have so many bad experiences as a staff manager that when the discussion of salary comes up it gives me the willies (no offense intended to anyone named Willie).

    When I was a young employee, I probably felt as you did regarding how powerful it can be to have knowledge about the financial environment. As I went on in years, I realized that it actually hurts negotiations and can actually cause a manager to focus on something negative (“this person just wants more money…”) rather than a positive (“this person is tremendous and probably deserves an increase”).

    Just my take.

  5. Don’t forget that when you get hired the employer has usually conducted an extensive search and decided to hire YOU. Use this position to your advantage. Establish yourself early as the internal “expert” and coworkers will continue to think of you that way well after the honeymoon phase is over.

    Make sure you don’t stop there. Keep learning and pushing new ideas forward from the start. Once people expect this behavior it won’t come as a surprise when you come to them with your opinion or suggestions.

  6. I can imagine it was a tough decision to either stay working in a position that in the first instant did not felt good. But in every situation it matters what you make of it. And as you said; the experience of working with a company is valuable because it helps you understand how companies work and the mechanics that influence decision making.

  7. This is a topic that raises strong feelings for me. Although I’ve had some wonderful jobs and managers where I felt I was getting paid fairly, I’ve also had the opposite. The last case was where I and the other female designer discovered that we were making considerably less than our male counterparts. Not surprisingly, shortly afterwards all the females at that company left except for a lone accountant who is currently pursuing other job leads.

    This leads me to thinking, would I have been happier if I had not known? I can honestly say no, because management was terrible to begin with and I wouldn’t have remained in a job I didn’t like regardless of pay. It just irks me that we were paid less. But at the end of the day, I think that current employees have much more freedom to switch jobs than previous generations and if someone thinks that they’re underpaid or unappreciated they have the opportunity to go somewhere else.

  8. I have been a manager for over 20 years and I couldn’t agree more with what Keith had to say in this piece. Too often do situations surrounding conflict between job description and actual tasks happen where no one (even a manager) can fix it. The employee or contractor should be aware of their surroundings and adjust to it.

    On salary, it’s always been a hot topic and I think that while there may be times when sharing a salary with a coworker seems beneficial, it almost always ends up creating problems. It’s personal data. Share it if you want, but it certainly isn’t wise to openly discuss it.

  9. Thanks for a great article. This addresses quite accurately a current situation I have with a client. This has proven to be a worthwhile read.

  10. The flip-side of not doing what you were hired to do is the opportunity to grow and expand your skill set. Being an expert in one area is great, but being versatile gives you the upper hand. Showing willingness to take on new responsibilities outside your comfort zone is invaluable. Versatility is key in a competitive job market.

  11. Good point, John. Well-taken. I should have probably taken that side of the argument deeper. It’s necessary for any level of experience to continually grow and explore new things. I believe the alternative to constant learning is called retirement.

  12. I agree that salary should not be discussed among coworkers unless you are really confident that you can handle it tactfully. And no matter what, it should not be part of salary negotiation. The information can be utilized to set salary expectations though.

  13. As for the discussions of pay between full-time employees, whether or not to do it depends to a very large degree on the culture of the organization and of the surrounding society. While it’s probably seen as a bad thing in the US (one would expect that given the general competitive culture) or in the UK (where something else is behind it, I believe) it’s quite different in a place like Denmark. Coming from the latter place and working in the UK now I had the chance to experience that.

    From a personal viewpoint I’d have to say that advising against discussing salaries is wrong. You should advise to be wise about it instead. It’s also rather interesting that you’re only judging this thing from the managers perspective. Sure you’ll have negative experiences from the viewpoint, but did you stop to think that maybe there were other problems behind this? As an example, if you pay two people different salaries for the same job, don’t you think one of them might start getting a little negative if they find out? Your solution to this – make sure they don’t share the information – is not very intelligent. On the contrary, people tend to be very understanding once they know that a) they’re being treated fairly and b) they have all the info regarding the situation.

    Regards
    Fake

  14. The subject of salary seems to be a hot one, and I’d like to clarify a few things.

    I approached this topic from a manager’s perspective, but it would be silly to think that I’m only aware of that singular view. I think discussing your personal information should be handled with delicacy and tact. (Thanks, abhi G).

    Fake: Your quote about that being an unintelligent solution isn’t true. The majority of your negotiating power in salary situations is having information that the director or hiring manager doesn’t. How would you fare if you were to walk into a freelance opportunity and immediately state that you make “100 whatevers” per hour? What if they would have paid more?

    As to your other comment about two people making different salaries for the same job, there are many, many reasons for that to occur in the first place (lack or existence of a specialized degree, extra training, years of experience, etc…). Yes. I do think that they’d be upset. Hence my argument.

    People are very understanding when you communicate; regardless of the information – good or bad. It’s up to the manager to explain to you why a situation is happening. If they’re not honest or upfront, then you’ve got many more issues than just “Why does Sally make more than Jane?”.

    My advice to not share salary information is a general rule that I believe applies to at least 90% of the situations out there. If you disagree, fantastic. I like seeing both sides of the argument and I appreciate the comments.

  15. I’ll start by saying what I should have stated earlier: nice and interesting article, it was a good read. Thanks.

    Quote:
    The majority of your negotiating power in salary situations is having information that the director or hiring manager doesn’t. How would you fare if you were to walk into a freelance opportunity and immediately state that you make “100 whatevers”? per hour? What if they would have paid more?

    Your point was about sharing information between coworkers, not about holding your tongue when you’re in a job-interview. Unless I read you wrong.

    Quote:
    People are very understanding when you communicate; regardless of the information — good or bad. It’s up to the manager to explain to you why a situation is happening. If they’re not honest or upfront, then you’ve got many more issues than just “Why does Sally make more than Jane?”?.

    That is exactly my point. In the situation of two coworkers being paid differently for the same job, you’re arguing it’s better to avoid the situation by having a corporate culture of “don’t share salary information”. I’m saying let people know why they’re being treated differently instead of trying to hide it. After all, you’re implicitly arguing that there’s a good reason for the difference in treatment so why assume that the workers cannot see the reasoning?

    I would say that maybe your rule of thumb applies in the US 90% of the time but it certainly doesn’t everywhere. Which is not saying that you’re wrong, just that corporate culture accounts for a lot.

    Regards
    Fake

  16. bq. Your point was about sharing information between coworkers, not about holding your tongue when you’re in a job-interview. Unless I read you wrong.

    You read it right. After I pressed submit I realized that I should have put “this is just an example of sharing or not sharing information”. Thank you for addressing it.

    bq. I would say that maybe your rule of thumb applies in the US 90% of the time but it certainly doesn’t everywhere. Which is not saying that you’re wrong, just that corporate culture accounts for a lot.

    Sure thing. I spent two years working internationally in both Amsterdam and London and while you are completely correct that corporate culture should dictate the situation, I can only speak from both my experience and my training. Comments from people like yourself help fulfill the obligation to paint the entire picture.

    Cheers.

  17. This a fantastic argument to follow and I hope other managers can both relate and understand how this subject (and honesty in general?) can help or hurt a situation.

  18. Nice article Keith.

    Further to what John K wrote… it’s not only versatility but also learning new skills which may result in a promotion (and larger increase) further down the line. Be careful not to overlook opportunities.

    For example you may have expressed an interest to your employer that you’d like to learn project management skills. If your employer supports you in this they may take a variety of strategies, perhaps getting you to be the client contact while the lead PM is on vacation, maybe even giving you a small internal project – better yet, you may be asked to lead a larger project of your own.

    As John writes, showing willingness is invaluable. So if given these opportunities be careful not to ‘bite the hand that feeds’ by demanding a review straight away (or, as I have seen happen, refusing to take on the seemingly less glamorous tasks like being asked to manage the client liaison while the PM is on vacation). It’s easy to forget that often employers are taking a risk in giving people opportunities to learn more skills.

  19. Thanks for yet another great article. This article was especially useful to me as I’m starting my freelance career and I am also trying to land an in-house position. It’s valuable advice for both worlds.

  20. I liked Pepi Ronalds’ comment:

    bq. It’s easy to forget that often employers are taking a risk in giving people opportunities to learn more skills.

    Well said, especially as they won’t know immediately how you’ll handle it.

    I think it’s also important to take stock of where you want to go with your career. Looking to the future is important and, while adding to your expertise is always a good thing, looking toward the "mountain" while treading the path.

  21. I can relate to this article completely. I asked this question ” Why was I hired?” on the 3rd day of my new job! (This is a brand company boasting to be one of the top in its industry.) The option to quit at that time was quite a risk since I moved to new city for the job and its a BIG brand!..the only option was to stick around, and
    1> talk to the management and HR about the problems I preempted / foresaw,
    2> try to educate the existing team about the new practices that were followed in the industry which will eventually help them in their business.
    3> take it as a learning experience, be open minded to accept their reasoning behind their way of working
    4> and lastly, improve my patience and tolerance levels

    For 6 months, I did all of the above to stay on and get adjusted. But nothing really worked :(. Whenever I spoke of standards, I was ridiculed, whenever I asked for a process, I was given shocked looks, Web 2.0 became a graphic design trend but nobody knew what it actually was, quality checks is a term not heard of here. There was a little loss of millions, but thats ok in the beginning as its a investment period. In short I was in a BIG mess, stuck in a job I didn’t want to be a part of.

    Things are different when you in the hierarchy lower than the middle management. And its worse when there are no meetings, no team alloted (though designation talks about it)and no senior to report to (hes always very busy! to hear you out). You cant bring in the change you want so easily, as you have to tackle people below you as well as the levels above you. There are very few people like you here and there, which you identify over the period of time.

    Its then you realize, that before bringing in the change you want for the company’s betterment, you need to change yourself. Become one of them, abandon your thoughts and principles. Follow their methodology, in spite of knowing thats its wrong. Then start slow bringing in small changes. Get a course on EQ done. Sharpen your soft skills. You would see changes in a small way..but there is no guarantee that over the time there would be a drastic one.

    Till then be patient and wait for the skies to clear. Thats the mantra shared by the HR head too:)

    Apart from this I’m also keeping my eyes open for a good job that gives work satisfaction and the good money to run my house. The only things that keep me off from putting in my papers right away (that thought comes almost every alternate day!)is the money and the hope that someday things might change a little more.:)

  22. Hi, Priti:

    You describe a situation that happens to many, many people and is the underlying impetus for my piece. People make decisions based on either the perception or reality of a job that they feel fits both their financial and career goals only to find out that the world they know is about to be rocked hard by slow or uninformed practices.

    To increase the severity of the situation, you add in that you’ve moved to a new city and are now in a new life; not an easy situation.

    The good news is that if you’ve kept your nose clean and have “anything” to point to for work as a reference, the name of the “BIG” brand should help you.

    Good luck!

  23. The single most important issue when starting a new job (whether internal or freelance) might be establishing expectations up front. A list of granular bullet points isn’t necessary, but a few clearly-defined milestones can avoid the minefield of unmet expectations for both parties.

    As for the topic of pay, if it’s handled with humility and propriety, why the big secret. It’s a mind game prospective employers play with job candidates and then we perpetuate once employed. Handled properly by a savvy employer it could be used to great effect in establishing and directly reinforcing my other point: expectations.

    All else being equal, if Person A makes more than Person B, shouldn’t it be based on a transparent set of standards for skills, experience, and performance rather something as arbitrary as negotiating skills?

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