Your Career Q&A: Coming Back from a Bad Job Choice

By Martin Yate April 17, 2018
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Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.      

I sit here still in shock that I quit my job today, after only being there for two and a half months. I left a job that I had for 17 years to go to this job and even took a pay cut to be closer to home. The environment was not healthy, so I decided to leave.
I have never done this before in my life and I am scared that I will not find anything else. I don't want to go back to my old company. What should I tell hiring managers or recruiters who ask why I left this job so soon? It really wasn't a good environment. 

Most of us make wrong-headed moves at some point in our career (I've made some doozies). When this happens and you realize that you chose the employer from hell, it's important to remain calm and not make rash decisions that can negatively impact your career.

First things first, though. Here's some advice that can be worth tens of thousands of dollars to you: don't quit a job until you have the next one. You will always find a new job more easily when you already have one, and you won't experience the awful money worries that start when the paychecks stop. It's better to be miserable half the day and eat properly than to be miserable all day because you are unemployed and worried about your grocery bill. 

Don't Rush Strategic Career Moves

Once you are in the working world, what you make of the opportunities there is up to you. Your decisions impact your professional destiny, so they should be made with the same objectivity a company would use to make judgments that affect revenue flow.

In this instance, particularly because of the pay cut, I feel that the opportunity to be close to loved ones may have led you to accept the first job offer that came along. This means you just changed jobs rather than making a carefully considered, strategic career move. 

Making a big change always takes much longer than you imagine, and throwing in a relocation further complicates matters. In hindsight, you know that you should have taken more time and made more effort to find the right opportunity, even if it did mean suffering in your job a while longer. We learn more from our mistakes than from our successes, so the good news is that the hindsight you gain from experiences like this give you better foresight to avoid problems in the future. 

Take Responsibility, Take Action

You have taken responsibility for the misstep, but you're concerned you'll struggle to get another job. Don't worry; it's going to be all right. Any recruiter looking at your resume will quickly surmise what happened, so it shouldn't stop you from getting interviews—assuming your resume is written to perform in today's talent acquisition environment.

However, you will be asked about your reason for leaving. Don't ramble in your response to this question. Work out beforehand the points you need to make, and state your answer in less than a minute. If your answer isn't succinct, or you ramble, the hiring manager may start to see a big red flag being waved. Try this:

"After 17 years with one employer, I wanted to move home to be closer to friends and family. I had no experience with changing jobs and jumped at the first offer that came along. It was the wrong one, and I felt the most effective solution would be to dedicate myself full-time to finding the right opportunity." It's truthful, succinct, believable and acceptable.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.  

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