I never seem to end up with the job that I apply for.
When I was coming off my tenure as a professional fighter/martial arts instructor, I tried to get back into IT, rather unsuccessfully. I heard a lot of the, “but you haven’t done technical work in X years” line. So, I figured I could at least do tech support (I seriously needed to pay the bills). I applied for a job doing tech support work for a company that provides Apple’s technical support services. (What? You didn’t think those people you talked to when you called Apple (AAPL) tech support actually worked for Apple, did you?)
Anyway, the recruiter took one look at my resume and deemed me qualified but then said, “It’s going to be a long drive from where you live to our job site. I have another, similar position that’s much closer to where you live, but working on a contract for one of the big four cell phone carriers. Would you like that instead?”
Easier commute and the same pay? Sure. I’m game. Except the job wasn’t exactly tech support either — it was mostly consumer billing with some very minimal tier zero troubleshooting. But, that’s not where I wound up either. I made it through six weeks of training before someone said, “We’ve got a better idea for you.”
I got shunted off to a retention arm of the project that was both more technical and more demanding — and paid better. I lasted there for a whole three months before I moved again, this time to the company’s internal support help desk. I stopped talking to customers and spent most of my days helping other agents help customers.
But that didn’t last long. It really wasn’t the best fit for me and management seemed to know it. I made it maybe four months in that spot before they moved me into management and gave me a team that straddled tech support, retention and sales.
All of this because I applied to do tech support for Apple products. (If you’ve read my answers about Apple products, this is even more amusing.)
So what the heck does that feel like?
- Every day is audition. You get the feeling very quickly that the spot you’re in isn’t where you fit, but you have to be good at it if you’re going to move elsewhere. That means mastering skills you never thought you’d need, because if you can’t do the job you have, you’re never going to get anything else.
- I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days (and weeks) of asking repeatedly: “Was this a good idea?” or “Should I just look at moving on?” After all, I didn’t see how this was helping me get back into IT (it did, eventually), so I really wondered if I was just setting myself up for worse things down the line by staying.
- Frightening after every hop. With any new task, there’s a voice in the back of your brain saying, “Can I do this?” This wasn’t what I trained for, it sure as hell wasn’t what I went to school for, and I wondered if taking each step was just putting me into a position where I’d fail and get fired.
- Oh crap, I did screw up. Is this the end of the line? New people in new positions make mistakes. That’s part of accumulating experience. Several times in the first few days/weeks of a new position, I would worry that the mistake I knew I’d made (and now needed help to fix) would be my undoing. Fortunately, more experienced managers than I were excellent mentors as I got my feet under me.
One thing I learned that helped, more than anything else, was to never be afraid to ask for help. Just because you get promoted doesn’t mean that the powers above think you have all the answers. Get help from your new peers, ask questions and find solid ground. Over time, you’ll ask far fewer questions, but if you don’t speak up and instead flounder trying to make it up as you go along, nothing positive comes of that.
This question originally appeared on Quora: What is it like to be hired for a position that you didn’t directly apply for?
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