What happens when the new job turns out to be different than what you expected? Should you stay or should you go? Boyden Managing Partner, Wendy Wilsker, shares how to make the difficult decision to leave a new job and how to present it to future employers.

By Wendy Wilsker
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I have found that most people have one “oops” on their resume – a job that they are in for a short period of time – 12 months or less. The reasons are many, but typically land in one of three categories:

  1. The person who hired them left.
  2. The job they thought they were taking turned out to be different than their expectations. 
  3. The organization is about to be sold or merged or is in a state of complete chaos.

Whatever the reasons, it can feel isolating or like you have failed, and maybe it seems that “oops” will haunt you for the rest of your life.

Today, I find myself in conversations with more professionals than ever who find themselves in that “oops” situation.  The combination of the pandemic and racial reckoning currently impacting workplaces across the U.S. has resulted in people leaving their jobs and taking new ones, perhaps that they wouldn’t have otherwise. 

I used to work with a human resources manager who would often say, “slow to hire, quick to fire”. Her premise was that you know pretty quickly if a new employee is going to work out or not. I would say the same is true on the opposite side.

So, what do you do when your new job doesn’t feel quite right? 

Working in the non-profit sector makes these questions even harder to answer when we feel so aligned with mission and impact. I recently spoke with an esteemed colleague who shared that her current job was “unbearable”. The culture was one that she can’t align herself with and the organization is tightly managed by its CEO and the Board. And while she feels guilty leaving, she acknowledges the toll this new job is taking on her mental health.

Candidates also ask me what to say to a future employer on why they left a job so quickly. And while it may sound trite, my answer is always, “honesty is the best policy”. Prepare to answer the question professionally and candidly.  Share why you took the job, the impact you hoped to have, and identify the challenges and why you feel your only choice is to leave.

I recently interviewed a woman of color who shared that she left her former employer because the day-to-day culture of the organization did not align with their DEI statement.  She volunteered to participate on DEI Committees and spoke with the HR Manager and the CEO, and ultimately felt that her input was not acknowledged or desired. The workplace had become too toxic for her well-being, and she felt she had no choice but to leave and accept a new job. Unfortunately, her new position didn’t turn out to be what she had expected.  Her role and responsibilities did not align with what she was told during the interview process.

In each of these examples, I have recommended to candidates to lead with their past successes, to share the impact they have made in prior jobs, to determine and explain what they are looking for in culture, tasks, and responsibilities in their next workplace, and take full ownership of the reasons they accepted the job and the reason it’s not the right fit. Lastly, share with confidence what you have learned and what you bring to the organization today. Chances are the next job will be the right one!

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