‘Not What I Signed Up For’: Why 85% of Workers Have Felt Employers Fooled Them

Kevin Malone of The Office, feeling confused about his job description, acts as receptionist.
Kevin Malone of The Office, feeling confused about his job description, acts as receptionist. | NBC

Few things are more infuriating than being tricked. The feeling you’ve been coaxed into a snafu or played an unwitting part in some sort of ruse is enough to raise the blood pressure of the most zen yoga teacher. But it happens. And sometimes, it happens at work — such as when you accept a job, end up working for a bit, and slowly come to the realization you aren’t doing what you signed up for.
It’s as if your employer has played the old bait-and-switch on you. You might be angry. Or maybe you’re just struggling with the unanticipated duties you’re now performing. The question is this: How did this happen, why did it happen, and what can you do to remedy the situation?
The good news is you’re not alone. A lot of people evidently feel this way to a varying degree. It might not be that you’re doing a completely different job from what you signed up for. Maybe the pay is different. Or the hours aren’t as promised. It could be a number of things, but the end result is the same: You’re frustrated. The results of a recent poll from job search site Monster showed 85% of respondents answered “yes” when asked whether they had felt a job description fooled them.
To get to the bottom of things, we talked to Monster career expert Vicki Salemi. A recruiter and an author of books covering career strategy, Salemi told The Cheat Sheet job descriptions are tricky, and job seekers might want to cut employers a little slack.
But first things first: How can it be that 85% of workers feel duped by job descriptions?

The poll

The Monster poll asking, "Have you ever felt like you were fooled by a job description?" 85% of people said yes. 15% said no.
The Monster poll asks whether a job description has tricked workers. | Monster

This is the Monster poll that acted as our catalyst. It shows 85% of people have felt “fooled by a job description.” According to Salemi, the main issue here — feeling “fooled” — mostly centers on the job duties, rather than the salary or expectations. She recommends you save the job description even after you’re hired. “It can help you write your resume,” she said. “It has everything outlined about your job.”
Also, you can bring it to your boss if you feel like you’re not doing the job for which you were hired. “Wait a minute. Is this really the job? Is this what I interviewed for? Because I don’t remember talking about this,” Salemi said, recounting what many job seekers might have thought when they replied “yes” to the poll question.
Next: It’s not always intentional.

It’s not intentional …

Man in suit points to himself
A businessman professes his innocence. | iStock.com/lisafx

Here’s the important thing to remember: Most employers aren’t purposefully misleading applicants. The fact is jobs evolve, Salemi said. Things change, and corresponding responsibilities change, too. So if you’re feeling upset about how you’re spending your time at work, recognize it wasn’t part of some nefarious scheme to get you to do busywork.
“I don’t really see the purpose of duping someone,” Salemi said. She added that employers and recruiters want you to stick around, and if you get fed up and quit, it costs them more in the long run to find and train new people.

… Except when it is

businessperson holding fingers crossed behind his back
A businessperson is telling a lie. | iStock.com/stevanovicigor

OK, there are a couple of exceptions. Although most employers aren’t trying to trick anybody — and instead are merely trying to patch their teams together and make their businesses work — there are cases in which an “employer” might put up a misleading job description. You’ve probably run into them. They typically involve some sort of pyramid scheme or sketchy sales contrivance.
Use common sense. If you see a posting that promises big payouts, few hours, and other too-good-to-be-true perks? It’s probably a bust.

Roles change …

A man stuck with filing duty
A man is stuck with filing duty. | iStock.com/Pixfly

One thing Salemi brought up is because roles change with time, an employer or recruiter might be using dated material. “They may have used an older job description, just to get the job up and running,” she said. “But really, the procedures have changed.”
Salemi was quick to add, yet again, this was probably not done with any malicious ambitions. “It probably wasn’t intentional,” she said. “Again, I don’t see what benefit they’d get from that. They don’t want you to leave or be upset or confused. They want to make it a smooth transition for you to be a top performer.”

… And people change

Employees hug
Employees comfort each other. | Cate Gillon/Getty Images

People change. And personnel change, too. Another way in which job seekers find themselves in an awkward situation is where they accept a job with the understanding they’d be working for a specific person — one they met during the hiring process. Problems arise, however, when those people are reassigned or move on, and you find yourself with a manager you didn’t anticipate.
“I’ve seen this from job seekers: They really like the boss they interviewed with. When they start, they find the boss is now in a different department,” Salemi said. So remember this might happen.

Job descriptions aren’t easy to create

two people at computers with pen and paper
A meeting takes place to create some accurate job descriptions. | pixabay

Flip the roles for a second. Imagine you’re the one creating the job description. You’re trying to encapsulate a position and make it as attractive as possible in order to attract talented people. It’s tough, and because it’s tough, sometimes mistakes are made or a misunderstanding is construed.
“A lot of employers may think its fluid, or a jumping-off point for conversation not realizing that you, as a job seeker, are looking at every single word, and that’s why you applied and why you’re interviewing,” Salemi said.
Next: How to handle it.

How to handle it

A man cries instead of stepping up
A man cries instead of stepping up. | iStock.com/Otmar Winterleitner

Say you find yourself in a position in which you’re unhappy. The job you have isn’t the one you signed up for. You’re angry. What should you do about it? According to Salemi, you should calm down, and think things through. Step lightly, and approach your manager with care.
She suggests looking at your current job’s description (which you hopefully saved) and checking job search sites, such as Monster, for similar gigs. Write down the differences you’re noticing, and bring your concerns to your boss’ attention.
There’s no guarantee your boss will give a hoot, but Salemi said it should start with a conversation. “Have your ducks lined up in a row before you talk to your boss,” she said.
Next: The red flags you need to watch out for.

Watch out for red flags during a job search

Fraying red flag
Red flags can tell you whether the position might change. | iStock.com

If you’re still in the job-search phase, there are things you can look out for to avoid taking a job in which you’ll be unhappy. You won’t truly know if you’ve been intentionally or unintentionally duped by a description until after you’re in the thick of it, of course. But Salemi said there are things to watch for.
Salemi said to look for keywords or phrases, such as “subject to change” or “the culture here is constantly flowing, and you need to be, too.” These vague descriptors can tip you off that the role’s duties aren’t set in stone. You can dig into the details during the interview, so don’t be afraid to ask questions if you apply and have a face-to-face meeting.

The key: Handle it with grace

Elaine sits at a desk with a cigar
Elaine from Seinfeld handles a career transition with “grace.” | NBC

The main takeaway? Roll with the punches. Consider your changing roles as a chance to learn something new or to showcase your flexibility. Of course, if you’re unhappy and your manager’s response to your concerns is “tough,” it’s probably a sign you should be moving on. It can be frustrating, but sometimes we’re just not a good fit for specific positions or companies. But don’t burn your bridges, and bow out with grace.