Question

I just started a new job that might be the wrong job. My new employer lured me away from a very good job at a very good company, and moved me to a new city. I have been at the new job for one month and am beginning to see a not-so-pretty picture of what my job actually entails, compared to what was originally sold to me during the interviewing process.

I have a strong feeling that things will not improve. I want it to work out, and I have spoken to my supervisor, but I honestly do not think anything will change. What is the best route to take here? Should I speak with the recruiter who sold me on the job? (This is a full-time position, not a contract.) What did I do wrong? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

wrong-jobYou’re on board now. Given that you relocated, there’s no easy way to turn back, unless you want to move back to your old company, and they’re willing to have you. That’s doubtful. Let’s discuss what to do now, then we’ll explore why this may have happened and how to avoid a repeat!

Did recruiter deliver the wrong job?

You should indeed speak to the recruiter, who might be able to serve as your advocate with the employer. I’d do this right now—the sooner, the better.

In most cases, the recruiter’s fee is contingent on you staying at the job for some period of time (90 days is common). So, the recruiter will have more than a passing interest in helping you work this out.

But let’s hope the recruiter didn’t deliver a wrong job.

Can you and your boss “right” a wrong job?

You should also continue to work with your manager to turn things around. It may take time, and you need to be very positive in the way you present this on an ongoing basis. You need to convey your interest in doing your work in the way that will be best for the company, and that “the way” is what you agreed to from the beginning. Don’t start with recriminations—that won’t help at this point. Approach it as a partner, because that’s what you are. Try to set the wrong job right.

This might mean your boss alters your job now, or agrees to change your work in the near future.

How to avoid taking a wrong job

The traditional recruiting and hiring process too often neglects the very issues that may have put you in the spot you’re in.

In the end, if the only real solution is to move on, you’ll know it. Remember that the purpose of a job search is not to “get a job”. The purpose is to win the right job. The best way to avoid situations like this is to address these questions before accepting a job:

  1. Has the work been clearly defined? Do you truly understand it? By the time HR gets done chewing up a job description and spitting out the job posting that lured you, you may be interviewing for a job even the hiring manager doesn’t recognize. So, discuss the wording of the job posting with the boss. This is best done in the interview, but it’s very important to review it together now.
  2. Can you do the work they want done? The only way to determine this for sure is to demonstrate your abilities in the interview, so they can see how you will approach the work. This also gives you the all-important opportunity to see what they really mean by “the work.” This may be why you’ve been taken by surprise — and why you’re in the wrong job.
  3. Can you do the work the way they want it done? Clearly, there’s a disconnect here, and you and they are not “matching.” Again, this needs to be covered during the due diligence phase of the interview process. It’s as much your responsibility as the employer’s.
  4. Can you do the work profitably, for you and for the employer? I doubt this ever got discussed, and it has likely contributed to the misunderstanding. If you had raised this issue and discovered what really matters to the employer, you may not have taken this job.

When these questions are not clearly and honestly addressed in the recruiting, interview and hiring process, people can land in the wrong job and wind up job hunting again very soon.

I hope you can work this out. Don’t assume yet that you took the wrong job. First, make sure you are doing a good job, then find out where this job leads. If you really took the wrong job, the sooner you move on, the better. (I won’t get into this here, but if you need to move on, please see Parting Company: How to leave your job.)

Never take a job unless you’ve addressed the questions above. Never hire anyone unless these questions have been addressed.

Have you ever taken a wrong job? What led up to the mistake? Were you at fault or was the employer? Should this reader even try to work it out with the boss, or just quit? What other methods should the reader try to get this resolved?

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18 Comments
  1. This is why I would rarely looked for another job if I was currently satisfied because the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Especially if a relocation was involved. The risks of switching has risen dramatically over the last several decades, and once stuck in a miserable job, getting out is very difficult, as I can personally attest.

    I know job hopping is the usual route to better pay or work opportunities, but giving up a very good situation for something supposedly better has far more risk than ever. I’m not blaming the questioner here, things can go wrong with the best of diligence. As context also matters; we all know of sports teammates that have gone from hero to zero (and sometimes the converse) by switching teams. So even without misrepresentation, a bad fit can put you behind the eight ball even if technically you seem a great match (I experienced this too). So I recommend great hesitance before letting go of a good situation. Not to mention having to prove yourself all over again to another employer.

  2. The unfortunate wildcard is that your questions must be answered honestly by the employer. That is frequently the underlying issue.

  3. This question is timely. I took the wrong job recently and ended up going back to my previous employer. Had I been been vigilant, I would have seen the red flags. I let the opportunity and the money blind me.

    First, the job description was vague. While I asked about the rhythm and flow of the position during the interview, the answers were as vague as the job description. Had I known what was in store, I would not have taken the job.

    The employer was not forthcoming with information to questions I asked. For instance, I asked how many weeks does the position work over 40 hours since this was salaried. I was told rarely over 40. I worked over 40 from the first week I started until I left. I knew, over time, it would get worse.

    I was told the job can take at least a year to learn. I was trained for a couple of weeks and then turned loose. I discovered I was doing things I shouldn’t and should’ve been doing things I wasn’t–no one was providing guidance after those first couple of weeks. There were no current written work instructions either.

    The leader of my area was seldom in the office and worked at another site. This was a big problem because there were decisions and tasks that fell within this person’s role that only this person could do. When I reached out with questions and needed information, I would get no response or it would come a week later with a vague answer.

    The second week there I had a sinking feeling taking the job was a mistake. I thought about it and determined the job was not salvageable. I left my previous employer on very good terms. I called my previous employer to see if they hired anyone yet and then asked if they would take me back–they did.

    Lessons learned:
    1. Ask pointed questions about the tasks and workflow associated with the position. Know what you will be doing and with whom you will be working.
    2. Ask how long the incumbent was in the job. The person before me was there 4 years, but that was unusual for that position. The average time was 1.5 years.
    3. Pay attention to what the employer doesn’t say as well as what is said. Looking back, there were many things omitted by the employer during the interview. Had I spent time probing, I would have discovered this job was a dumpster fire.
    4. Ask how the team works together and ask for specific examples. My team was siloed, which I did not know. No one communicated much with each other.
    5. Ask how often you meet with your supervisor to discuss the work, how it’s going, what additional training is needed, etc., especially the first 6 months on the job.
    6. Ask what made the last person who held the job successful in the role and ask for specific examples. Ask what could be improved. I discovered the previous person still did not know how to do all tasks due to lack of training.

    • These are excellent screening questions, especially during the now ever-so-popular 360 interviews (you know, the ones where you begin to feel like a passed plate of hors d’oeuvres). Think like a detective and see if the stories line up. If they don’t or the person is dismissive or visibly uncomfortable with you, beware Also if the direct report is uncomfortable with these questions, that’s a yellow flag. Interviewers ask you these questions…you should too.

    • @Regret: Great set of lessons! We get so sucked into the thrill of “We want to hire you!” that we forget our due diligence when it matters most: After they make the job offer and before we accept it.

  4. Agreed with Stevie, but our person today is in a situation where he or she can’t go back as likely the company paid for the relo. Honestly, I don’t see a quick and easy out. But he or she can use this experience.

    Most jobs are not as described! (I’ve been on interviews where I met the JD in spades but talking to the VP she wanted someone totally different–and took it out of my hide. Better on the interview than later.) You have to spend time to stretch yourself into it, deal with situations that are less than desirable, and eventually either shape it to you or decide to move on. I have been in jobs where for the first two months I went home most every night saying “what the hell am I doing here?” But I either didn’t have an old job to go back to (which this person has surely idealized by now) or my old job was on the highway to hell. But gradually, I worked things out enough to say after a few months that it was finally working out. Never perfect, but working out.

    I’d say: 1) Resist the tendency to bolt unless you’re being asked to do things that are illegal or immoral–or things are being done to you likewise. 2)Give yourself 6 months. Work with the recruiter and very positively with the boss AND your colleagues to do the best you can. Take on the attitude that you are shaping the job a) to your capabilities and b) to be most productive to your employer.
    The only exception to 2) I would make is a limited contract. If it’s not working out from the start and you’re getting abused, bolt as quickly as possible–there’s no long term to deal with. Even in that situation, I tried hard to work it out.

    That isn’t to say that you’re not quietly open to other opportunities, but unless you can say that the company is in trouble you’ll have trouble making the case for bailing out.

    Best of luck!!

    • If you need to bolt or you bolted, you can always say you’re a contractor. Never get into badmouthing. I had a situation that was clearly wrong from the get-go, did what was needed, then I got the heave-ho for a cheaper employee (it was that kind of a place). It taught me that if it feels wrong from the start but you need the job, take it as a consultancy or contract, not as an employee.

  5. This is why it is so important to leave jobs on good terms.

    I have friends who returned after realizing they made a mistake. And their boss was glad to have them.

    • Yes, always leave on good terms even if you didn’t feel that way, but…you have a timer on you in most situations.

  6. Here is an approach that was only lightly hinted at in the other comments. Instead of reacting to the fact that the job was not what it was supposed to be, be encouraged that they already chose you and are paying you well enough that you accepted. So now focus on how you can best be of service to fulfill the needs of the business. This might mean learning some new skills (which is great), it might mean doing things that are outside of your comfort zone (also a good thing), and it definitely means doing the best job you possibly can, to fill the needs of the company. Taking this approach will make you a valuable asset and earn their respect and loyalty … and maybe a few promotions.

    • @Robert: I see a little Zen in your suggestion and a little jiu jitsu. Lean into your new job and follow where it takes you.

  7. Perhaps I missed this in a previous comment but I always ask for an onsite tour before accepting an offer. Walk around and ask questions of the people working there and pay attention to the environment.

    I have turned down otherwise good offers when the work environment was not a good fit. Avoid allowing yourself to believe what you want to believe about a company.

    I have also accepted offers at lower compensation because the work environment and technology were genuinely exciting to me. Use caution with this approach but be open to good opportunities.

  8. Twice I took positions in which I realized very quickly that I had made a mistake. In both cases there were aspects of the position that were not disclosed in the interview process and only revealed after I was on board.

    In the first, I was unexpectedly asked to do something illegal and unethical by my boss who, if not an alcoholic, was drinking most of her lunches. I dragged my feet and raised my objections but was still ordered to do the task and put my name on all the correspondence. There was a lot of other other nonsense packed into those ten weeks until the boss created a pretext to dismiss me. I can look back and say “Good riddance!”

    In the other instance I was recruited to do perform work that I had successfully performed for another company which was virtually identical in size and organization to the one hiring, except the hiring company was seriously out of compliance with administering the Federal law governing the work with numerous problems resulting. In the interviews, they told me that they neeeded old issues cleaned up and this function put back on track quickly before any further problems resulted. For my part, I told them that, since I would be working alone, the key to doing the work was specific software designed to facilitate compliance which would track deadlines and produce the required correspondence.(I named the one I used at the other employer but there were several others.) Before I was hired, I was assured multiple times that a suitable software license would be purchased as soon as I was hired. The tune changed before my first paycheck. After giving me major pushback about the software cost (“Not in the budget!”), my direct supervisor bought the cheapest possible software which was nearly useless–and quit a week later. Instead of having the sotware equivalent of an admin handling the routine stuff while I cleaned up the old mess and handled complicated issues, I had to do the work of two or three people without any assistance. Management wanted everything done yesterday but provided no useful support while becoming increasing negative toward me. I didn’t quit because I needed the income, health insurance, and unemployment eligibilty. I slept very well after they let me go.

    • Posey, I went through the alcoholic boss twice–one a straight alky, the other with anger management issues. Fortunately with the latter I reported to him only for a short time and I had some time in the company. In the former, it was use me to do the big jobs in three months including hiring an ad agency and getting them started on a new campaign–then firing me and hiring someone at half my salary. The company eventually went bust.

      I’d think that even if you got the compliance software purchase in writing, they would not have done it. The ‘negativity’ I’ve gone through I see as a way to justify your being fired to the other workers. By doing this they cut you off as ‘unworthy’. Employers like this are dogs and there’s nothing you can do about them.

  9. That company is a well-known dog in the industry, known for underbidding competitors (including my previous employer) and then running the contracts with too few employees. I should have known. There were numerous other ways they cheaped out. The company did get a lot of national attention a few years back when they summarily fired someone who expressed an opinion in a vulgar way about a certain politician. Their GlassDoor reviews are manipulated to hide all the unfavorable ones/

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