“That’s not my job.”

There are two things you should never say at work. Okay, there are a LOT of things you should never say at work, but two of them make my skin crawl when I hear them:

“I can’t help you with that.”

“That’s not my job.”

Newsflash: It’s never okay to say either of those two statements when someone is asking you for help. That’s called career suicide.

It may be a pain, but throughout your career, you’re going to be asked to do things that aren’t in your job description, are beyond your realm of expertise or  just plain not in your jurisdiction.  Add to that these sad but true facts:

  • You may be truly unable to help even if you wanted to.
  • You may have been told not to help, period, and to shunt the request off to another department.
  • You may be sick and tired of being asked about things you just can’t do or don’t know how to do or don’t want to know how to do.
  • You may hate that part of your job with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns.

But whatever you do, don’t say you can’t help. Negatives and the people who deliver them are unfortunately remembered far longer than positives, and this goes for anything from getting a review to hearing a piece of news. Just think about the last time you dwelled on the one thing that went wrong in a day among all the good things that happened.

So instead of brushing off someone’s request for help, try this out instead:

If you can’t help, but know who can:

“I know exactly where you need to go to find that out. Let me take you there/email the person for you/give you their contact information.”

If you honestly have no clue:

“Let me ask my boss who the best person is to ask for your question. I want to make sure I give you the right information. I will get back to you just as soon as I find out.”

If you’re supposed to know but don’t:

“This is a little new to me, so let me check with my boss about it first to make sure I’m telling you the right thing.”

Note: If it’s been more than a couple months and you still don’t know how to answer a question you should, you need to seek out those answers yourself. Be proactive and schedule yourself for training. Keep digging until you find out who can help YOU.

If it’s part of your job description and you’ve just been avoiding it:

Find out what you’re supposed to know before your boss finds out that you don’t.

Remember: There are plenty of people out there who will be happy never to say “It’s not my job.”

What do YOU say when people ask for help?

(T-shirt pic found here, but I think Zazzle.com has it too. Miss I Dunno from iStock.)

4 thoughts on ““That’s not my job.”

    • Now that we’ve chatted a bit more (on BrazenCareerist.com, for those who aren’t over there), I see exactly where you’re coming from! You had a very good way to get the point across without leaving a bad impression.

      Unfortunately, I tend to hear the “not my job” bandied about when it really does fall within someone’s realm of expertise, whether or not they’re willing to step up and own it.


  1. Pingback: More Things You Should Never Say At Work « Career. Environment. Food. Stuff.

  2. Pingback: One More Thing You Should Never Say At Work « Career. Environment. Food. Stuff.

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