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‘My New Boss Treats Me Like His Assistant. I’m Not.’

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Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Dear Boss,

I am on the receiving end of a bait and switch job offer. I was hired to be a project manager and am now effectively an administrative assistant. 

The job I interviewed for was listed as a project manager at a very large company. The job description clearly outlined expectations of a project manager and seemed to perfectly align with my background.

During the initial phone screen, the recruiter asked about my experiences as a project manager, but he also asked about my experience with calendar management and planning off-sites. Since I had worked at large companies before, I knew the challenges of scheduling meetings with numerous stakeholders and executives and figured this is what he meant. I explained that I had done that work in those contexts before. The recruiter said that 10% of the role would be those responsibilities and “light admin” work, such as submitting expenses. A little concerned, I tried to clarify, and he assured me the admin work was minor. He also mentioned that the role was open because the person who previously had the role, “Melissa,” had moved to another team but was still with the company and very happy.

Subsequent interviews focused on my project management experience so I wasn’t too worried.

However, once I started the job, in my first meeting with my boss, “Kevin,” he outlined his expectations of the role and said 75% of the role would be to support projects he assigned me to and 15% to support other team member’s projects, with the remaining 10% admin work. Then he began assigning me administrative work like submitting his expenses, scheduling meetings for him, booking conference rooms, booking hotel rooms, and ordering catering. 

Cut to four months into this job and I am now a full-blown admin with absolutely no project management work. I am treated by Kevin and the team as an admin. I’m invited to meetings just to take notes. If I attempt to participate in any way (as I was used to doing as an actual project manager), I’m dismissed or cut down. Kevin messages me to do extremely trivial things that he is fully capable of doing himself. I set up meetings for him and then he promptly changes his mind. When I booked a conference room that didn’t have enough seats, he ordered me to go grab chairs for the others. He asks me to grab pastries and book catering, order him lunch, book hotels – all assistant stuff. He also announced at our most recent team meeting that he had hired a person with a project management background to help with projects so I’m suspecting that he truly has no intention of me taking on the role I was hired for.

Last week I met with Melissa and explained what was happening. She nodded knowingly and said that Kevin came from a company where he had an EA who did everything for him. Since our company doesn’t allow EAs at his level, he uses the project manager role to fill that function. 

I asked her why the job description was for a project manager – why not just hire someone with an executive assistant background? She explained that HR is involved in reviewing the job descriptions, screening candidates, and interviewing them to prevent this from happening. My boss is just blatantly circumventing this by forcing the person in this role to be an EA and it was why she left the team to join a different one. 

Do I have any recourse here? Or do I just have to quit since this isn’t the role I signed up for

I worry about leaving early. I have a few short stints on my resume and it’s not ideal to add another one, but I don’t know that I can stay even six months with this treatment. Do I hold out and try to transfer internally? Is there any way I can alert HR to what’s actually happening? Or do they know, and just don’t care?

Oh my goodness, alert HR!

In some bait-and-switch situations, HR might not be able to act. Often, they would grant the manager wide latitude to define the job however they need, and while they might be sympathetic that the position isn’t what you anticipated, there wouldn’t be much they could or would do about it.

But that doesn’t sound like your situation. Based on the intel from your predecessor, your boss is deliberately hiding his actions from HR because he knows they wouldn’t allow it. That’s good news for you (to whatever extent we can find good news in this hot mess).

So talk to HR. Lay out what you were told about the job when you were hired, and what work Kevin has assigned to you since then. Tell them what was shared with you – that Kevin purports to be hiring a project manager to sneak it by HR, then forces those hires to act as executive assistants, without telling the new employee until they’re already on the job. Ask HR if they can intervene.

However, before you do this, it’s worth going back to Melissa to ask why she didn’t take that approach herself. I’m guessing she simply saw a cleaner escape route (the internal transfer) and so took that instead. But if the answer is something like “HR is really ineffective and it would have made my life worse,” that’s information you’d want to know.

Now, here’s the bad news: Even if HR does intervene and tells Kevin he can’t turn project managers into his personal admin support – and even if they follow up to make sure he’s complying and that he’s not retaliating against you – this still might not be a great team to stay on. If Kevin resents you for blowing the whistle on his secret-assistant scam, you’re unlikely to be able to thrive in the job. Even if he doesn’t openly retaliate, there’s likely to be tension in the relationship, and that has the power to significantly affect your day-to-day quality of life in the job – as well as limit what professional support and opportunities you get. Maybe he won’t do that, but you’d want to be prepared for the possibility and have your eyes wide open for signs of it.

One option is to include that concern when you talk to HR and ask about transfer possibilities. Even if your company normally wants people to stay in a role for X amount of time before they’re eligible to transfer, they might make an exception in a situation like this – and could see it as an easy way to fix some of the mess Kevin has created.

Alternately, you can just quit. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude that while Kevin deserves to be exposed to HR, it’s more hassle and drama than you want to take on. You’re right that multiple short stints aren’t ideal, but they don’t doom you – and you have a very understandable explanation for this one: “They hired me as a project manager, but it turned out the job was really admin support.”

Ultimately, the less time this bait-and-switch accounts for on your resume, the better off you’ll be.

Find even more career advice from Alison Green on her website, Ask a Manager. Got a question for her? Email askaboss@nymag.com (and read our submission terms here.)

‘My New Boss Treats Me Like His Assistant. I’m Not.’