In Over Your Head? Adjusting to a New Job

In my work, I come in contact with many people in new jobs. They’ve recently joined a company, have moved into a new department or have been promoted. And often, the initial reaction these people have to their new situation is, “Wow…I’m in over my head,” followed by a bit of panic.

So, how did it happen and why? And perhaps more importantly, how can you quickly adjust to this new job and it’s responsibilities?

It Might Be Your Fault

Yes, it’s true. You might have gotten yourself into this position. How?

Perhaps you overstated your experience and skills. You were interviewing for the position and were asked about a certain skill needed for the position. While you might have some experience, it didn’t exactly match with what was required so you inflated your background a bit. It happens…a lot. The problem is that once you get the job, you are expected to know what you said you knew. But you’ll worry about that later, right? Well, later is now.

Another scenario, which many won’t admit is their situation, is that you didn’t get along with some of your peers, Instead of letting you go, management moved you into another position, one which you are not as qualified to do. But for them, problem solved!

And finally, maybe you just asked for a new position so many times, they finally relented! Persistence can be a valuable trait, especially as you are advancing your career. But if you don’t fully understand the new position’s responsibilities, well, that’s how you got “in over your head.” You wanted to get promoted without really knowing what the new job was.

It Might Be Their Fault

Creating a balanced team that excels in all the right areas is a constant challenge management teams face. And sometimes, they have to sacrifice one thing in favor of another. And that means putting the wrong person in a position. Why?

One reason is time. So often I have managers say something like, “She wasn’t right for the position but, we need someone in there. I don’t have time to interview a lot of candidates. She’ll do for now.” And so you get promoted into a position that probably isn’t right for you now, or maybe even ever.

Another scenario is that the management team isn’t sure if you are ready for the new position so they “throw you to the wolves” to see how you’ll do. You’ll either grow or wither away. They think this “trial by fire” practice will inform them of your abilities but really it just puts pressure on you which can lead to less-than-stellar results.

Another reason, and you’ll like this one better than the other two, is that you have become so valuable that they don’t want to lose you! Sounds good, right? Well remember, we’re talking about you winding up in over your head so, the outcome isn’t good. But in this scenario, they value the contacts you’ve make, the relationships you have and the institutional knowledge you possess, fearing that you might take all of that to a competitor. “Promote him so we don’t lose him,” is the attitude. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?

Steps to Adjust to the New Job

For whatever reason you wind up in this position, you need to do something about it. You can’t stay stuck like this forever. My advice? Follow these steps so that you take control of the situation and become comfortable your new job’s responsibilities.


Quickly, you need to find out what is important to the stakeholders around you. They include your management team, your peers, your directs and your customers. The best way to do that is meet with them and…listen. Find out what is motivating their careers, their decisions and what aspects of their positions worry them the most. Understanding this, you can relate to them in a way that shows you understand them and are there to provide help.

Get Into the Field

Don’t manage from behind your desk. Get out there! Experience what your team experiences and see how they operate. Observe, at first, without giving advice. And make sure you have a role in meetings with clients that isn’t the lead but still provides value, helping to ensure your directs know you are there as part of the team and are worthy of your position.

Systematize Your Management

Nothing will make you feel in over your head more than just winging it! And your team will have little or no confidence in you if that’s how you operate. Create a system for feedback, check-ins, formal evaluations and business development status updates. Also, create a method for how you are going to report results up to your management team so that there are no surprises. Which leads me to…

Vetting the Pipeline

Remember when I said that one way you got in over your head was overstating your experience? Well, your team will do that too, especially when giving updates on projects and potential new business. If you’ve done the steps above, you should now have an atmosphere of trust so your team is honest with you. Now you need to vet the pipeline and get to the heart of the matter with each employee and their work. You need a realistic picture so that you can project what results your team will, and will not, achieve. What you don’t want is to report false progress only to have projects or deals fall through when they weren’t real in the first place.

It’s not a comfortable situation when you feel less qualified for a new position. But, you can quickly get more comfortable by following these steps.

Let me know how it goes! -SG