Dear Megan: Contractual Uncertainty

Dear Megan, My husband and I just moved to the West Coast from NYC. Our main reason for moving was that we can afford to invest in a nice home in our new West Coast spot. My husband has a good job in which he telecommutes, so that made the move a lot easier financially than other moves that I have experienced. I was doing a lot of job interviews, networking, and trying to take the job search slow when I first arrived. I received some decent offers and job prospects. However, I was fairly certain that I wanted to move from working as an office manager for private medical practices, to working as part of a management team in a larger hospital environment. There is a lot more infrastructure and work/life balance to protect people who work in larger organizations, and I wanted to at least give that a try. It is a bit harder to get a position in a hospital at my level, as these companies like to promote from within. I had a few interviews in which internal candidates were chosen over me in final round interviews.

I answered a LinkedIn ad from a job placement agency that promised administrative work in a hospital and everything fell into place rather quickly. The main pitfall was that this type of staffing agency requires an employee to be a contractor at the hospital for several months with no benefits, no paid leave, etc. Basically, I would be an employee of the staffing agency. I decided to take the risk with the understanding that I was looking for a permanent position beyond this "three month trial period." I am excited to take a step forward in my career as I have a lot of good experience from my time in NYC. I felt proud after the interview, because I am finally in a place in my career where I can communicate about my expectations directly.

Now I am a little over a month into my "contract." I have discovered that the project I am helping to administer will be complete at about 4 months from my start date. This was not communicated to me during the hiring process despite the clarity coming from me. Many people will be laid off at the end of the project, most of them contractors who came into the project with this end date in mind. I have talked to my boss, with whom I seem to have an excellent rapport, about my desire to become a full-time employee of the hospital. He has told me that he is looking for something permanent for me, that he wants to keep good people like me, but that he can't make any promises. I want to be agreeable, and continue to develop the positive working relationships I have here, but I cannot help but feel a little deceived. I am not sure how much I should “just relax.” Also, I am not sure how to follow up with my boss, as it has been a couple weeks since he said that he was looking for something permanent for me. Things do move at a slower pace in larger organizations, and on the West Coast in general.

What should my next step be? Have I made a terrible mistake?

Sincerely, Impatient Admin

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantDear Impatient Admin,

First, welcome to the West Coast! I've done a few cross-country moves myself and know how topsy-turvy the world can get in a big transition like the one you're in.

When I moved to Boston years ago, I connected with a staffing agency as well - they're often the easiest, fastest way to get plugged into some sort of job when you're brand new to a place. Some of them are slimy and will tell you anything to get you placed, and some are not slimy.

I'm not sure if you were intentionally deceived, but I do know how tenuous it can feel not to know if you'll be transitioning from a contract role into a permanent one. You feel like you can't fully invest in the place, it might feel like "real employees" look at you funny, and unless you wanted something temporary, it can just feel sort of icky all around.

I don't think you made a mistake, though. It sounds like you gave all of your options a fair shot, and this was the one that seemed to be working, so of course you'd take it! Working as a contract employee is a great way - sometimes the only way - to get into a big organization from the outside. I think you made the right choice.

That choice, however, has landed you in an unpredictable spot, and most of us aren't comfortable there. When we feel destabilized or unsure of our future in a place, we tend to withhold information, or create busyness, or compete with our peers because we believe that opportunities are scarce. I'm not sure if this is exactly what you believe, but it's my guess from your letter. It sounds like you have a sense that you have to fight your way into a permanent position there, which is a sense too often fostered by organizations that think competition + scarcity = high performance.

From where I sit, I see three next steps that you could take. These are the things that I believe are going to open the way for you at this organization - if it's the right thing for you. 

That's a big caveat.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIn your letter, you don't mention whether this is an organization you really love or want to stay in, and I totally get that - when I've been in the midst of a job search in a new city, I just wanted a job, and when things feel scarce, we de-prioritize this question: is this the right fit for me at this time?

I'd encourage you to answer that for yourself first. Pretend like you've got lots of other options (which really, you do). If this organization was just one of those options, would you definitely want to be there, or are you just fighting for a permanent spot because you feel like that's what you have to do?

If this is a place you know you want to stay in, then my three suggested steps are:

  • Focus on creating real value
  • Foster meaningful connections
  • Ground yourself

Focus on creating real value: If you can focus most of your energy on doing an awesome job and creating real value for the place (and not by withholding information and making yourself seem "indispensable"), you will not only feel like you've been the best contributor you can be, but you will lift up others around you. That makes you attractive and desirable to your boss, but more importantly, it fosters a strong sense of integrity and strength within you.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

Foster meaningful connections: If there's anyone in the organization who interests you, I'd encourage you to foster meaningful connections with them. Find out from them what it's like to work there. Express your interest in staying in an honest, curious way. They may be able to advocate for you when the time comes, but more importantly, these people will be your peers if you stay in the industry, so it's in your interest to develop some long-term relationships with them while you can.

Ground yourself: Finally, there's work to be done outside of work. In tumultuous times like the one you're in, it's so important for you to feel grounded. Do what makes you feel secure, safe, and like you do have other options. Maybe that's going for walks, or journaling, or calling old friends from home. Maybe it's applying for other jobs that appeal to you just to feel like you have eggs in multiple baskets. Jobs and organizations come and go, but you and your gifts are permanent. If you can focus on creating some stability within yourself outside of work, then each step you take in your career will be from a place of self-worth, not desperation.

I would encourage you to follow up with your boss whenever it feels like the right time and when you feel like you're coming from that place of grounded self-worth. Meet him halfway and offer some ideas for where your gifts could fit in the organization. If you see ways that you could contribute, mention those. Try to make it easy for him to plug you in.

I know this is a scary time in your career, Impatient Admin, but don't limit the possibilities available to you out of fear. You are clearly capable of making something work, and if this contract fizzles out, then you'll find another role, or another contract (maybe with a different staffing agency) that works better for you.

Transitions are always tough, but they can be done with ease and grace, and I hope this response has helped you cultivate even more of that in your life.

Trust yourself and the path you're on. You've totally got this.



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