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Careers - Q&A

QI am in my mid 20s and on my third job since graduate school. I've worked primarily in the nonprofit world, usually in communications. I am more or less on my desired career path. However, I always seem to have problems with my supervisors. My first supervisor was a micromanager and notorious for running people out of his department. It made me lose confidence in my decisionmaking, which hurt me with my second supervisor. My second boss ended up being an absentee supervisor and was increasingly dismissive of me until I left. My current supervisor is very patient but is overbooked and subsequently cancels appointments with me and is generally unresponsive. At first, I thought I was just having bad luck, but I wonder if I'm doing something wrong. I volunteer for tasks and complete assignments on time. I am responsive to constructive criticism, flexible and described as "enthusiastic" or "positive." I've met or exceeded goals. Lately, I've been asking my supervisor if I can help with her tasks, which seems to be helping our working relationship, but I worry that it will evolve into me doing all the grunt work. My supervisors think I'm not as experienced as I should be, though I've always been honest during the interview process. I feel like I've either been left on my own or smothered. What gives? How can I tell if it's me or "them"? How can I fix this if it is me?

AIf you are on your third such unsatisfying supervisory relationship, it is wise to ask yourself whether you could be contributing to the pattern. I am not sure, however, that you are primarily to blame for the dysfunction you are experiencing. It sounds like you have well-developed ideas regarding what you could be doing better. You recognize that reporting to a temperamental micromanager in your first job may have led you to lose confidence in your ability to execute. Your theory is borne out by the fact that supervisors have questioned your experience. Judging from your self-assessment and your communication style, you could thrive under a laissez-faire manager if you believed in your ability.

When you have been called "inexperienced," your supervisor probably means that you don't project the wherewithal of a mature professional. The antidote is to challenge yourself to take calculated risks. When your supervisor gives you an assignment, assumeyou are eminently qualified to complete it. As you step outside of your comfort zone and act with increasing autonomy, you will rebuild your self-confidence and decisiveness. As a result, you will derive greater satisfaction from your work, be regarded more respectfully and your supervisor's unresponsiveness will seem less important.

Lily Garcia, special to the Washington Post