How to Cope When Your Boss Has Less Experience Than You

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on April 27, 2016

People get promoted for all sorts of reasons, not all of which have to do with their skills, qualifications or seniority. So if you suspect that your boss has less experience than you, you may be right.

Working under a less-experienced manager can be incredibly demoralizing, especially if your manager is an energetic, young upstart fresh out of school. So what do you do? Raise a ruckus, complain to your coworkers, or simply keep your head down? And how do you get what you need to further your own career, when you're not sure that your boss can teach you anything?

Here's how to make the most of this frustrating situation.

1. Don't Get Mad

You may never know why your manager was promoted despite their inexperience - and honestly, the reasons are not important. One person's gain is not equivalent to another person's loss - it is highly unlikely that your chances of future success will be canceled out by your boss's achievements. So, think twice before complaining about the situation. If higher-ups sense that you are badmouthing their choices, it's going to reflect badly on you. Plus, you risk creating friction between yourself and your manager, making it harder for you to build a productive workplace relationship.

2. Find Something to Respect

You may have more technical experience than your boss, but even less-qualified managers bring something to the table. Are they great at negotiating, or can they sweet talk clients like a politician? Are they cool in a crisis, a creative genius, a motivational guru? If you shift your focus away from your boss's experience, you may be surprised by the qualities they do possess. There are very few people who you can't learn something from, so try not to write off your boss completely.

3. Focus on Your Own Strengths

Everyone has a role within their enterprise. As the voice of experience, your job is to solve problems, guide those less able than you, and deliver consistent results. Your boss's job is to be the brilliant hot shot who may or may not stumble when top-level responsibility comes their way. Focus on your own strengths and use your wisdom to do what's best for your career.

4. Make Your Boss Look Good

So you've been around the block a few times. Does your boss know this? If not, step up to the plate and give them the opportunity to learn from your experience. Offering to bring your boss up to speed when they are struggling with a task or an idea shows that you are a key team player, and can be relied upon to make everyone's jobs easier in the long run.

5. But Don't Become Their Surrogate

There's a difference between helping out a rookie boss and taking the fall for their lack of experience. Covering up his or her gaffes sets a dangerous precedent. You may end up doing your boss's job as well as your own, or you may become your boss's surrogate for fixing up their messes. This can be damaging to your career and the organization, especially if your boss's ineptitude becomes intertwined with your own performance.

The bottom line is, focus on doing your own job well. Help where you can, deliver what is asked of you, and keep your cool. Taking a collaborative, rather than combative, approach can help you focus on the positives of having a less experienced boss - things such as dynamism, fresh ideas and new perspectives - and reinforce your own esteemed position in the workplace.

Have you ever had a boss who was less experienced than you? How did you handle the situation? Let us know in the comments!

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a B2B tech copywriter and the editorial director here at Truity. When she’s not writing to a deadline, she’s geeking out about personality psychology and conspiracy theories. Jayne is a true ambivert, barely an INTJ, and an Enneagram One. She lives with her husband and daughters in the UK. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Guest (not verified) says...

My Boss Bad experiences has always turned out the worst for me. While I have been doing what you have advised in the article, by cooperating and doing my best, the boss has, with out my knowledge nor consent, never revealed to senior management that I was the positive effect. Instead, they have hidden the truth and profited from my work ethic, and even worse blamed me for any related errors. Twisting the truth and claiming I have been the problem, thus having me removed from the business. One time this happened while I was on a months holiday. I was a star performer, exceeding targets consistently over the previous 10 months, but my boss of 3 months, twisted the truth and I returned from 6 weeks leave to be dismissed on my first day back.
So my advice is watch your back, as a bad boss has power over you, and they will use it to their own advantage.

Trudy5 (not verified) says...

Entirely agree. Same here. My boss took all the my success to his advantage. Twisted all and I, who did all the work became invisible.

Roderick Wright (not verified) says...

I agree 100%. Especially if your "boss" thinks that you could usurphis position because he is not doing a very good job at it himself.

Bob Rockstar (not verified) says...

your boss of 3 months twisted the truth when you left for a 6 week vacation?!? what top performer takes a month and a half almost two months off? none that i know of but heck maybe i want your old job. 

Nancy1980 (not verified) says...

I passed on the promotion to manager because i was new to the organization and felt i couldnt handle the role.......a new manager was hired and he is a "fake it till you make it" person.  Passes work onto me that he was asked about, wants to sit back and delegate, cant make decisions on the spot, misses simple things with processes, knowledge gaps. Oh and learn. Advice to you all....take any and all promotions, you will eventually figure it out, in my case, i am quitting asap. This is a dead end job now, he aint leaving ever.

Lainy (not verified) says...

I am here because I came home frustrated agsin. My boss knows less than me. And rather than work with me, my successes are downplayed and my mistakes magnified. Failure in processes that aren't mine are blame on me...behind my back. So I can't defend myself. I have trusted friend in the top management team and he has to be constantly defending me against the lies. I have never been so demotivated in my life!!!

My boss is now insisting that a part of my job function is to double check things that he has direct responsibilities for!  I don't know what to do.

Matthew Stamp (not verified) says...

I was new to a position but with previous management experience. I was an assistant to the manager the manager himself didn't know his job brilliantly and took a disliking to me when I won the manager of the year in store. After this he then started to point out petty little errors when other people were making major mistakes and he didn't take issue with them. After 6 months of doing what this article had described I had had enough and challenged the manager. I had collected a catalogue of evidence of his mistakes/ incompetence. I let him know if had enough of his pettiness and nit picking and advised him it stops now or I'll take it further and I have my own evidence to back up I was doing my job and parts of his whilst he was failing himself. After this it ended and we got along ok for the remainder of the time he was in the business. Stick up for yourself if playing it nice does not cut it. Unfortunatelt some people only back down when you stand up to them 

Don't worry about it (not verified) says...

So it seems from just a few comments that this article is bs and you should watch your back if you have some kid as a manager. Ok then. 

Mimi Me (not verified) says...

My boss has sooo much less experience than me in the industry and in years.  I am 20 years older than her with 20 years more of experience   I have multiple designations.  She does not.  I have chaired and chair multiple industry committees.  She has not.  She admitted to having to take a licensee exam 4 times in order to pass.  This inspired me to take the same exam that I easily passed the first time.  I have a plethora of accolades.  She does not.  I manage 2 offices and was told that if I was promoted, they would need to replace me with 2.  They have me over a barrel with a non-compete where I can't leave and take a position in the same field within 50 miles of either of my current offices.  I'm screwed!  

Seibernaut (not verified) says...

"...can't leave and take a position in the same field within 50 miles of either of my current offices."

Is it even legal to have this clause in your contract to start with? You might wish to check your domestic no-compete/restraint of trade clauses to understand your employment rights.

Veronica Farris (not verified) says...

I was not promoted within out team and a new outside person was brought in to lead our team. They have way less experience than me but will tow the company line without making waves to make the business better like I would. 

San (not verified) says...

I apply for internal manager position in my dept, I know everyone as we all work together, I'm 59, been doing Case management over 14 yr and nursing 30+ yr. Recruiter ask what salary in looking for told her the figure, right away, she No we don't pay that, only can give $700 to $1,000. ARE they KIDDING me!!  Low and behold , CM only 5 yr doing job got the position ,ONLY gave position based on money they can give internal employees. Anyway, my coworker is now my manager I my 36. So she asked me, let me pick YOUR brain, since everyone is remote, I'm trying to think of ways to engage our team she said she's still learning her new role!!,WHAT A JOKE! When she and 3 other younger ladies got manager position, the DIRECTOR of our dept put in email said. Conragulation, they bring " STRONG LEADERSHIP, CREATIVITY, and STRATEGIC PLANNING. 

Anyway, I said I think of anything right now!!

Each manager has a subgroup of 13 employees each.

It's all about age and money, yet they preach inclusive diversity and no discrimination, It's all lies!

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