I’ve been told that I am not good at my job. At what point is it smart to think about changing careers?

I have been working for 4 years in my field – with now my 4th company. In the past 6 months – I have been putting in 120% effort in my job (60 hours a week average). At the same time – my boss keeps telling me that he is frustrated with my performance. I was promoted to a higher position when I started with this company – and my boss isn’t shy in telling me that he thinks that I am not at that higher level that I was promoted to

At my previous companies, I had bad reviews – well in hindsight cause I didn’t know what I was doing, and was didnt take work as seriously as I should have- but as you can see for someone who has worked in this field for four years now – and has been working hard in the last 6 months – that has becoming increasingly frustrating to work hard and get negative feedback.

At what point do you decide, and how do you decide whether this is not the correct field for you. Or do you just keep trying harder and hoping you get better?

Also, I’m getting fed up (but have remained quiet) with my boss saying he thinks I am not at the level that I was promoted to. The decision to promote me was from the owner of the company – higher than my bosses position. How do I tell him to shut it – politically?


Answer by Scott Koon:

It sounds like you are in a very difficult situation and that you have some very difficult decisions ahead of you.

Hopefully, you won’t mind if I start with a little constructive feedback.  Your question seemed to indicate that you believe you are doing well because of the number of hours you are putting in, while your supervisor isn’t happy because of a lack of results.  The bottom line is that unless your time is billable, the number of hours you work is never a good way to measure how you are doing.  If you are working on the wrong things, or not producing expected results, none of your time will be viewed as valuable to the organization. This could become a huge death spiral with you putting in more hours to please your boss who still doesn’t see any improvement and keeps providing the same feedback… and on, and on, and on.

With that in mind, I’d like you to consider your issue from a different angle…  The way you’ve described the situation paints your boss as a “villain” and you as a “victim”.  It may be true that your boss is a complete jerk.  However, allowing yourself to be victimized puts you at a disadvantage and ultimately narrows your options to fight or flee.

So what are your options?  As I see it you should have at least three.  1) You could put up with the current situation.  2) You could try to change the situation.  3) You could quit/leave.

As you’ve stated, the situation is becoming unbearable.  So, let’s agree not to pursue the first option.

How could you change the situation?  My recommendation would be to try to change the way you view your boss.  You’ve described him as being very critical.  Do you know why is your boss acting this way?  It sounds like you assume he doesn’t like you and is therefore trying to make your life miserable.  Does your boss really not like you, or is he trying to help–however misguided that help might be?

Either way, if you are really interested in staying with your current employer my suggestion is to try to make your boss a partner rather than an adversary.  Consider sitting down with him and asking for his help.  Dig into what skills or experience he feels you are lacking.  Find out what resources are available for you to get them.  Ask how your boss can help. Finally, ask yourself if you are willing to work like crazy to make those improvements.  If your boss isn’t willing to have these conversations, or you aren’t willing to make the changes, then it is definitely time to leave his team.

If your boss is a complete jerk, it can be very tempting to tell him off.  However, I cannot think of a way for you to tell your boss to “shut it” that will not have severe consequences.  As your supervisor, it is his job to review your work to ensure you are meeting the company’s expectations.  If he sees room for improvement and doesn’t offer you feedback, he is not doing his job.  And, whether you like it or not, he has a lot of control over your future at the company.  If you tell him off, you might feel better for a short while.  Unfortunately, in the long run, it will make your work-life harder rather than easier.   If you are at the point where you need to say something rash, a better solution would be to look for work somewhere else.  This could be on another team within the same company or outside of your current company.  Whatever you think will work best.

Something that may help explain your boss’ position is that people are hired for potential but are retained, paid, and promoted for results.  This is true for everyone.  So, if the owner of the company gave you a certain title, that means he or she expects a certain level of productivity from you.  To be a good employee, you need to understand what that means and find a way to meet that level of productivity.  To be a great employee–worthy of promotion and raises–you need to consistently exceed that level of expectation.   To me, this means everyone should always be looking for ways to increase their value to their customers and their employer.  And, that value needs to be measurable using the metrics your organization uses and understands.  If you are doing that, the rest will often take care of itself.

I hope this has been at least a little helpful.  Good luck.

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2 Responses to I’ve been told that I am not good at my job. At what point is it smart to think about changing careers?

  1. Lucy says:

    Ugh I so feel for you, how did it turn out, did you quit in the end?

    I kind of have the exact same problem: I have worked for a company for 2.5 years, I was told I was an under performer so I left. Now I have a new role and after 2 months I quit today (the job is not for me at all, I still can’t get anything done without my colleague’s help).
    I now have been interviewed for a very different role and will be told today if I get the job or not. But I am panicking I will yet again underperform.. how on earth do I get out of this horrendous spiral? The fear, stress and anxiety is eating me alive!

    • Scott Koon says:

      Lucy, so sorry to hear about your struggles and worries. I don’t have many answers for you, but I do have some questions.

      You say you quit today after 2 months because you weren’t getting anything done without your colleague’s help. My question is… How different was this new job? If it was significantly different, two months isn’t very long at all. I once had a job where on the first day they told me I wouldn’t be working independently for at least a year. When you change jobs, unless this is a low-skill job, your employers expect there will be a learning period.

      Second question. What is your plan? Have you thought about what you would like to do? What skills do you have that you can comfortably do? And, where is the overlap between the two? Knowing your strengths and having a realistic plan is a good start at interrupting your spiral.

      So, now my suggestion. If you are struggling with these questions, I’d recommend working with a career coach. Workers, just like atheletes, can suffer from performance slumps. Just like atheletes, workers need someone whose opinion and observations they can trust. Athletic coaches use tools an motivational techniques to help their players work through the situation. A career coach can do the same thing.

      If you cannot find a coach a friend or family member may be able do the same thing, but both of you must be careful. This friend or family member must be able to tell you the unvarnished truth, and you must be able to accept that feedback willingly and constructively. We often turn to friends for comfort so it can be very difficult to hear them give criticism. Similarly, friends can find it hard to deliver tough messages–they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

      Regardless of the outcome of your new job, I’d recommend reaching out to someone and asking for help.

      I wish you the best of luck. If you’d like to continue the conversation, write another comment and we can figure a way to connect.

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