I had already planned to chat about my current job and my ennui related to it, and interestingly enough, a few articles showed up on my Facebook feed. The first was from The Oatmeal about being unhappy. That lead to a WSJ article about the same thing, in prose format. I’m not someone who would be described as a happy person. I have resting bitch face (it keeps you pretty!) and a general pessimistic outlook on life. The one thing that I am is driven. I have a desire to be good at what I do and I am motivated by the recognition that I am good at what I do. The problem is that I get bored easily, and I hate being bored. So when I’m bored at work, I confuse that for being unhappy. Of course, when you are unhappy, you have to look for the things that will make you happy. Something new, something different – a new challenge. Those are the things that I look for, because I’m not bored if I have to figure out new things. And if I’m not bored, I’m not unhappy.
I want to preface this by saying that I truly like my current company.* A previous manager had told me that I didn’t really need my MBA at my company, as they tend to promote based on performance over resume. She later told me that I should go back to school if I had desires outside my current career path. In 2012, I decided to get my MBA when a massive shake-up happened. I didn’t know what the shake up meant for my company, I was afraid of the change and I went back to school to make myself a better candidate in case I needed to find a new job in the future. The program I attended was an Executive MBA program, so my classmates were all working professionals as well. I specifically choose my program because the focus was general in nature but pulled students from fields other than mine. When planning for an open-ended future, a bit of cross networking is a great thing.
What I found during the following two years I spent on the program is that my company does a great many things right. Their HR practices are pretty great and their benefits outweigh most other companies that employed my classmates. It turned out the massive shake-up was great for the company and I also found out that I really enjoy learning new things. After I got my MBA, B convinced me to go ahead and get my PMP certification while I was still in “study mode.” This didn’t come out of nowhere (if you’ve looked into getting your PMP, you will know that there are minimum experience qualifications) and my company paid for the boot camp and the exam fees (but not the membership or supplemental study guide). So, with all these additional acronyms behind my name, I was ready for new challenges. Then, nothing happened. My company entered negotiations to merge with another very large company, and most things have been frozen for the last year.
I have been with my current company for 13 years. The first 5 were consumer sales (in a call center) and the last 8 have been various roles in consumer and small business marketing. I have been doing a variation of the same thing for the last 2 years, and I am excruciatingly bored. I have a lot of legacy knowledge of the organization, and my last manager told me that some of her peers are loath to let me leave. It’s true that your boss shapes your view of a company, and that manager was amazing. She kept me fueled with various small projects to feed my soul while I did the boring job in the background. One of them was the trip to Boston I previously wrote about. Sadly, shortly after this trip, that manager moved to a different role, and I was left in limbo. Due to policies about minimum employee numbers, I currently report to one person and “dotted line” report to another. This means my functional manager and HR manager are separate people. While this is common in the project management world, it’s the first time I’m dealing with it and I don’t like it.
I haven’t done any serious job hunting in the past decade. I have always kept jobs matching my qualifications set to send me emails, just to remain up to date on whats going on in the market and help inform my internal job expectations and negotiations. One of the things keeping me from pulling the trigger on a new house was the lack of jobs fitting my skills in my area. Most of the jobs I qualify for without an industry change are in cities I don’t want to live in, and most of the jobs with a change are in bigger cities. In the last few months, more and more Project Manager jobs have been opening up in my city. They aren’t all the time, but I felt comfortable enough to pull the trigger on a new house, knowing that if I did have to look for work, it would only be a few months till a decent job became available. I wouldn’t be able to work from home or have my amazing amount of vacation, but I wont be left without options.
Since my bout of ennui got severe enough to consider giving up those benefits, I actually applied to a few jobs that I thought I qualified for (and maybe one or two that were dreams – I could do them, but I didn’t look qualified on paper). I got a few responses back, too! The first was for a company that is an adjacent field to my own, but does not have a great reputation. I told myself that it would be a great way to dust off the jitters and brush up on my interviewing skills, without the pressure of a job I was anxious about. My first interview was with HR, and it was more of a expectations setting for the job than an interview. Basically, they had crammed two jobs into one (I was literally told this) and set the salary at 1.5 times the rate for two people. During the interview, the HR person found a serious error on my resume (OMG, I was so embarrassed!), and since the job required attention to detail, I thought I had blown it. I was selected for a 2nd interview, surprisingly. I’m not gonna lie – the 35% pay raise was tempting, but research further into the company showed me that they had recently sent notices to their low and no margin customers to find new service or face penalty rates. If they treat customers like this, how do they treat employees?
I canceled that 2nd interview. They seemed a bit resigned to that outcome, and maybe even expected it. During the days in between those interviews, I got a response from another company, though. I have a few SCAdians in town that work for this company and it’s a pure Project Manager role. Its in a different field, but the IT organization at that company (very similar to a pure Project Manager job I would get at my current company, actually). Sadly, it would be about a 15% pay cut for me (even if I factor in the better benefits offered). Before I could be scheduled for an interview, I had to fill out some paperwork. This wasn’t ordinary paperwork; though, it was an interview on paper. Questions like, “What would your day one, week one, etc plans be?” and “How would you describe your level of involvement?” and “Are you a Trusted Adviser? Please give examples.” Normally I would be thrilled with this, as I express myself much better in writing than in person. With a deadline of a week, including the Labor Day holiday, I wasn’t excited about this red tape. I let the deadline pass.
I used this opportunity to set up separate meetings with both my managers to discuss career goals, as well. This is always a trial for me, since the culture of my company is separated by organizations. All of our official career plans talk about skills you have and the skills you need to develop, but most managers instead talk about what organization you want to work for. I am not as married to the org that I work for, rather I look at new things I can learn. I’ve learned to couch career discussions through both lenses in order to get my needs met, but it takes much longer when my HR manager isnt as involved with my day-to-day work (and communication needs). Overall, it was a good career meeting with her. We both realized this was a big miss for us and made goals to correct, along with some ideas about future roles and development. I had a similar conversation with my faux manager and she played the role of mentor for me.
Going through my interview prep made me realize that I have a lot of opportunity in my current work, even if it’s boring as hell. My current manager fiasco is something that I would have to learn to deal with in a great deal of pure PM jobs in other companies, so it may actually be easier to do so in a familiar environment. Both of these things will be talking points later in interview processes about short term pain for long term gain. My current salary isn’t bad enough to leave a good company for a bad company with a higher salary. My current job isn’t bad enough to take a lower salary in order to get a shiny new challenge. Being a rational adult sucks sometimes.
*Yes, I am being somewhat ambiguous about said company. While I like the company and will talk about it IRL, I don’t like the random message from strangers trying to get a job there. So, I’m not mentioning it by name, and I’m trying to obscure the details of the company unless you follow business news closely.