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Is it time to quit my job?

In the October 6, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader seems to have landed in the wrong place — and wants out.

Question

I accepted what seemed to be a great job. Nine weeks later, the smoke and mirrors are gone and I see that I’m working for a possessive CEO who won’t trust people enough to let them do their jobs. My direct boss has such dramatic mood swings that I don’t know if the day will be a good or bad one. I now understand why the company’s turnover rate is 80%. Almost everyone has been here less than a year.

I want to leave, but I don’t know how to handle it. I can’t leave this job off my resume, but I don’t know how it might hurt me to be looking again so soon. What’s your advice?

Nick’s Reply

During your interviews, did you meet with any of the people you would be working with, as opposed to just the bosses? That’s one way to avoid surprises from a new job.

mickey-mouse-operationIt’s very important to get to know other members of the team, and to use your meetings to find out the truth about what it’s like to work in a place. But that’s advice for next time. (See “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?”, pp. 13-15, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention.)

I’d give this at least six months, and during that time I’d start a low-level job search. Kick it into higher gear if things continue to deteriorate.

Sometimes it takes a while to establish one’s credibility with management, and to develop a position that projects a bit of power. As this situation develops, and as you are also creating back-up job opportunities, you may find yourself ready to push back at the CEO and your boss, to see whether they take you seriously. If you can gain concessions, you may find reasons to stay. If you can’t, well, then you’ll be well positioned to make a move out the door. (See Parting Company: How to leave your job.)

Don’t worry about explaining this short stay. Just tell the truth. Keep it brief and to the point. Don’t complain, don’t explain. (See How should I quit this job?) In today’s rough-and-tumble business world people know that some companies aren’t great to work for. Not everyone will be surprised you left this company so soon, if that’s what happens.

It’s not unusual to get disillusioned about a new job. Give this a chance, because your position may improve with a little time. But don’t tolerate an ongoing miserable situation, either — accept the challenge of finding a job that’s right for you. Just step carefully next time! (See How can I find the truth about a company?)

Is it your fault that a job isn’t working out? Or did you make a mistake? It’s up to you to fix it, either way. How would you advise this reader?

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17 Comments
  1. I’ve had this experience after accepting a job – it was a bit of bait and switch coupled with bad onboarding. However, I decided to give it a minimum of 1 year.

    After 6 months, I definitely realized the job and company were not a good fit for me. As Nick suggests, I began a low key job search. After about 14 months total, another promising career opportunity began to materialize. All in all, I spent 18 months in the ‘bad fit’ job, but it was tolerable because I knew I was making and executing plans for an exit.

    Sometimes, even after a good amount of due diligence, a ‘bad fit’ job will bait you in. It happens. The key is to remind yourself that you are not “stuck”. But you will be stuck, if you don’t take action to move on to a better opportunity! You live and learn and minimize the chances (with Nick’s advice) of bad fit jobs happening again.

  2. Start looking for a new job now. I doubt it will get better. You mention two things that got my attention that perhaps Nick has not experienced in the workplace: mood swings and micromanaging. The mood swings will not get better, I have worked with many people who felt it was okay to say or do any negative thing they feel to their employees on whatever mood they woke up with that day. The boss who micromanages will learn to trust you a little more with time but will never change his or her true personality to relax and let you have autonomy. You might Google narcissism and see if it fits the two people you describe. If so, at least you know what you are dealing with.

  3. Nick, I disagree with your comments about staying in the job. The person has been there for 9 weeks and has discovered some disturbing behaviours. The company has 80% turn over.

    I think this person should quit. When they look for the next job, just mention that the turn over is 80% and there were systemic problems in upper management.

  4. Generally as a rule of thumb I agree with Nick, you owe yourself to give it a shot…and you’re getting paid. Because if you pay attention, all jobs even ugly shit jobs offer you some experience, something to learn, even if it’s “what not to do”

    Starting a discreet job search is definitely important because I also agree there’s no sign of good experience in the wind. Other then once working for an alcoholic who could flip attitude after a long lunch, I can’t relate. But my son worked for a mood swinger..for quite some time…and managed to take away some useful knowhow. Curse you out like a trooper one minute, then in an hour or so “Hey let’s do lunch” as if nothing happened.

    As a recruiter I’ve seen some bait and switch stuff, but what was more common, particularly with in house transfers or promos with related promises was workaholics who promised growth via delegating interesting career growth work, but never doing so. Just couldn’t let go.

    But we’re not there living what this person’s going through. If it’s as insane as it sounds and quitting seems necessary, I think an acceptable reason (a real one I’ve gotten) is you could see the job was not as advertised, it wasn’t a cultural fit, and it’s best you leave now before you’re in the middle of a project and a departure would cause your employer a problem. That’s a professional exit.

    And Nick’s already mentioned the next step and what to say if you give it a shot for 6 months or so.

    Waiting around for someone in the company (the CEO) to have that epiphany…”We have discovered the enemy and it are us” may not be worth it.

  5. If not that insane, I’d take Nick’s advice; hang in there, learn what you can and get back into the market. If you’ve been out only 9 weeks it’s easy to cover. If I were you, I would put this job on the resume as contract/consulting which would give you a stronger rationale for looking for FTE.

    Quite frankly, it’s going to be short term anyway if there’s 80% turnover (you don’t work for ZocDoc, do you?) so your odds of making it to the 6 month-12 month threshold are not that great anyway.

  6. @Nick: Have employers gotten more crazy, more often than in the past? Just when one thinks it can’t get any worse . . .
    I have seen much of this behavior discussed on this blog but over 30 years.

  7. Marilyn, I have to concur–that business behavior is completely broken. On the outside there are all these rules; on the inside, it’s like management is in a state of high-functioning autism where employees are figures in a landscape to downright toxicity.(No insult meant to those who live and manage it every day–in this environment it is sheer torture for them) Human factors are not even understood anymore. I attribute it to the rise of ADD/ADHD and personality disorders in the general population, but that they’ve come to populate (and not get booted) from businesses.

    We older types look upon this with dismay, but overall we have to get over it. There’s no recourse other than to detach. I pity young people with decent natures–who do they have as a role model? Mark Zuckerberg, for heaven’s sake.

  8. The writer didn’t mention whether he or she had been in previous jobs a long time. If one has been in several jobs for five years each, say, and then one job a few months, it is clear that it is them, not you. I’d mention 80% turnover, and not say anything about broken management – the new hiring manager can figure that out easily.
    I’d definitely stay while looking though. If it does get better the writer can end the search easily enough. But a beaten down employee is not a good job hunter.

  9. @Kathy: “perhaps Nick has not experienced in the workplace: mood swings and micromanaging.”

    Whew – more than once. Both. For a while you rationalize it. Then you tell yourself you need to learn to work with difficult managers. Then you get depressed yourself and it affects your work and the rest of your life. Then you remember the advice my mentor gave me many, many years before I was able to truly understand it: NEVER WORK WITH JERKS.

    @Lucille: It’s a judgement call about how much time to give it. I don’t disagree with your advice.

    @marilyn: I don’t think any of this is new. It’s been going on forever.

  10. Regarding Dee’s comment about ADD/ADHD, allow me to clarify. ADD/ADHD is often misunderstood. It is a condition (not a disorder)that exhibits a number of symptoms most notably difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. There is no “rise” in ADD/ADHD but rather it is now more recognized. In no way is the behavior exhibited in the question a result of ADD/ADHD. I know this as I was diagnosed at age 50.

  11. Nick’s advise is solid. I am almost 10 months into a new job that was totally oversold by the CEO. What enticed me was the company’s reputation and commitment to excellence. I’m staying as long as I see myself making a difference for customers and employees. Yes there are jerks and bozos to deal with but most companies have those. My pledge is to model excellence, make a difference to those I can both internally and externally and tough out the downside. If nothing else, I’ll build grit for the next endeavor.

  12. Where I work, we had someone quit who was only 6 months into the job. The job asked for far more qualifications than needed. As a result, the person hired had too little to do and was not challenged by the work.

    Much like Paul’s experience, the job was oversold by the hiring manager. They wanted someone with a masters when they only need someone with a year or two of college and some work experience.

    I wonder how many job descriptions are fluff–wordy descriptions, asking for more qualifications and years of years of experience that are not really needed to do the job. My suspicion is there are quite a few.

  13. @ Richard, I did not mean to disparage. You are aware, coping with it and I know it is tough. You likely have been compensating for it for years, and I hope you are doing well.

    However I have had three bosses, two of whom were CEOs, who were rampant ADDs (two of whom self-admitted, but it didn’t seem to matter) AND with what I recognized were other personality disorders attached. One was clearly manic-depressive who’d ‘go away’ for weeks and in his manic phases would spend money, rave and see things on whiteboards which weren’t there. Another was a highly manipulative likely borderline who’d conveniently forget what you said to him and make passes at his most attractive female staff, which he’d also conveniently forget. The last just drove everyone else crazy with his egomania and firings du jour, including me.

    My brother and I have had a lot of talks about this in business–he is a board-certified psychiatrist and a lot of his patients see this behavior in their bosses. It’s a tree with many branches, as he put it.

    I learned the hard way that running marketing, where you need to trust your VP or CEO to keep his/her word, not forget what you said, defend your area and generally stick by you, doesn’t mix with this combination.

    Jerks come in many varieties–from those who don’t keep their word to alcoholics to straight up borderlines whose favorite sport is to destroy their subordinates’ lives and careers. (I’ve survived both) Our example for today sounds more garden variety than anything. What he’s doing can be endured–or if it’s bad, our reader should leave sooner rather than later (nine weeks is nothing, and you can leave it off your resume ).

    One final point of clarification–in corporations, management CONTROL of people with personality disorders or if they won’t comply, including them out or organizing them into areas where they can use their talents and do the least damage, rarely happens. These people don’t get fired anymore. And by their lingering, they wind up running the show and making everyone else miserable.

  14. @Dee: Thanks for your constructive insights. I feel many have become much more intent on damaging others than just being jerks.

  15. I love reading the comments on this blog! You guys [M and F] are great!

  16. Nick’s advice is solid and good. While what the LW in this week’s q&a described is nutty, it doesn’t see that over the top. On the other hand, I’m not there and can’t see what he sees. It sounds dysfunctional, but so many workplaces are dysfunctional these days. Life is too short. I think he should start looking for another job immediately. If he finds something else, then he can just leave this job off his résumé so he doesn’t have to answer any questions about it. If he is asked, he can keep it neutral–the job is not what I was promised, it is a poor fit for me, etc. without going into details.

    80% turnover says it all, and anyone else looking at that shouldn’t even have to ask any questions. Res Ipsa Loquitor.

    I, too, have experienced bosses with severe mood swings (to the point that I thought they were on drugs/bipolar or were pyschopaths) and in my last job I had a micromanager (to quote one of my students who had even more experience with the type than I did “a clipboard-pushing, micro-managing control freak”–summed it up perfectly) from hell. I stuck with the job because I knew that she had a contract that wasn’t going to be renewed but those years were hell. I learned to perform all kinds of contortions just to work around her, to get my job done with both hands tied behind my back (she deliberately did things to make it harder for me to do my job, not easier). Been there, done that. If I am in that position again, I wouldn’t wait to learn things, or hope that it will get better. It will get worse, so I think LW should bail while the water is up to his ankles instead of waiting for it to reach his waist.

  17. Did you sign a non-compete? That could be a game-changer. If not, I’d start looking for something else. The people you work for/with will not change because they don’t think there is anything wrong with them. It’s called Narcissism and it’s everywhere. I always wonder how they got their jobs.

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