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So, why did you leave your last job?
January 28, 2007 8:03 PM   Subscribe

My very first post-college job has little resemblance to the one for which I interviewed. In a couple of weeks, my trial period is up. I do not intend to take the option for employment. How do I spin this in future interviews?

When I was offered this job as a Java programmer with a year-old startup, I negotiated a salary based on information in the interview. They described a relaxed work environment. It was described as a "full time job" when I asked about the approximate number of hours I'd be expected in the office, and in discussion of salary the phrase "40 hours" was mentioned. Furthermore, I interviewed for a position that existed to develop a new product from the ground up on a platform with which I had a great deal of experience.

In reality, the work environment is anything but relaxed. I expected to work hard, but I hadn't expected to be ordered about on an hourly basis responding to the arbitrary whims of my superiors. Schedules are prepared by my superiors (who have no technical background whatsoever) with little or no input from engineering, and the two of us engineers are expected to complete them "on time" by working overtime (unpaid, of course, since we're salaried). This can amount to 60-hour weeks for weeks on a stretch.

Recently, the comfortable 10-6 schedule I was enjoying so much was dessimated by a decree that we should arrive no later than 9.30. No other information on this new policy was given. When I arrived half an hour late, in the middle of the eternal "crunch time", I was sent home and my pay was docked.

The generally non-relaxed atmosphere, the below-median salary, and the nearly non-existant benefits have lead me to decide that I cannot continue my employ with this company.

I hear constantly in all advice about interviews, not to be negative about previous employers. Likewise, these people are not going to provide a good reference; in their eyes, I'm sure I underperformed. So when asked why I left, I'm going to have a hard time explaining this positively. Likewise, I'm going to need to qualify the report they might get from my previous manager.

However, I don't just want to leave these folks off my resume. The development was smack dab in my field, and I learned more there in the three months than I did in a year of university. The knowledge I have is an asset that I don't wish to deny.

My entire trial period is 1099, so can I spin this as a contract-to-hire gig that I just didn't take the hire option on?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
My very first post-college job has little resemblance to the one for which I interviewed.

I think any reasonable person hiring you would accept that as a perfectly legitimate reason for you not staying in that position. In fact, I bet many would see it as a positive indicator. Just so long as you emphasize that you are a team player, and willing to do some things outside the scope of your job description.
posted by Dave Faris at 8:13 PM on January 28, 2007


Stay.

You will be looking for a new job. That is always much easier from a position of employment than from unemployment. They are working you to death and I am guessing that the pay is not commensurate with such abuse. However, such abuse is common in your industry. Beware.
posted by caddis at 8:16 PM on January 28, 2007


It's easier to find a job if you have a job. Guaranteed.

You should stay until you find another position. If a potential employer questions you about it, you just need to tell them what you've told us: that the position you interviewed for is not the position that you're currently working in.
posted by bshort at 8:20 PM on January 28, 2007


My entire trial period is 1099, so can I spin this as a contract-to-hire gig that I just didn't take the hire option on?
Even better, just say it was a contract position. No need to get into the specifics of whether they would have hired you or not. But I agree that it is a lot easier to get an interview if you are currently employed. Start looking now.

On to the unsolicited advice re: future interviews:
* Beware of characterizations like "relaxed work atmosphere," which mean different things to different people -- not wearing a suit and tie every day is considered "relaxed" to some people, having a ping-pong table in the break room is "relaxed" to another.

* Try to get into a discussion about structure, and what means to your employer. For example: if asked how much supervision you prefer, you could discuss developing a plan and schedule with specific expectations within which you could work fairly independently.
posted by desuetude at 8:27 PM on January 28, 2007


Most people's first jobs only last a year. It's considered training wheels. But for your second job, make sure you choose a company that's a little bigger, better funded, and slower moving (i.e. IBM, Intel, a University, etc... NOT a startup environment), because you don't want the dreaded "three jobs in three years on his resume" label.
posted by SpecialK at 8:29 PM on January 28, 2007


I agree with the other posters who say that you should not quit until you have a new job. Your pay may suck now, but being unemployed pays far worse. I screen resumes and conduct interviews; a gap on a resume is a flag, and for someone to say they chose unemployment over a job (barring some huge catastrophe; and I wouldn't consider yours one) is a huuuuuuge red flag. Think about it as you vs. them- they're using you by paying you shit and making you work too hard; you're going to use working for them as a way to make yourself look good to future employers.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:32 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Most people's first jobs only last a year. It's considered training wheels. But for your second job, make sure you choose a company that's a little bigger, better funded, and slower moving (i.e. IBM, Intel, a University, etc... NOT a startup environment), because you don't want the dreaded "three jobs in three years on his resume" label.

Definitely try to get a big-name company under your belt for 2-3 years. Even if you don't plan to go the corporate route right away, having it on your resume will open many doors.

If you do decide to go the startup route, create your own company (usually less than $100 in fees to get the paperwork taken care of). When you go to list projects on your resume, list your company, and bullet point the various clients (startups). A dozen clients in a year shows that you are good at running a consultancy. A dozen jobs in a year shows that no one can tolerate working with you. 90% of life is spin.

Startups are a crap-shoot, though. You can either lead a life of poverty, cycling through startups until one takes off and makes you crazy rich (sadly, this is unlikely), or you can get a corporate gig and look for mid to late stage startups. A mid-stage startup has gone through one VC round and has a bullet-proof plan to get to the liquidity event. They need help to do so, and they will pay a premium for that help. On the positive side, you will get more money than at a corporate gig. On the negative side, they will expect you to know correspondingly more about your job than the average guy on the street.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:51 PM on January 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


fourthed: stay till you find something else. How you are going to be able to work in interviews with the present, less-than-fleixble work environment (other than interviews outside of business hours) is another story. Maybe some people have suggestions for that?

Also, do try to manage your expectations. Seems like you are being hit with a double whammy of reality here: the treatment you've described is pretty common in your industry (and the norm for start ups) AND pretty common treatment for new graduates and low man/woman on the totem pole.

Good luck!
posted by necessitas at 8:55 PM on January 28, 2007


Recently, the comfortable 10-6 schedule I was enjoying so much was dessimated by a decree that we should arrive no later than 9.30. No other information on this new policy was given. When I arrived half an hour late, in the middle of the eternal "crunch time", I was sent home and my pay was docked.

This strikes me as a bizarre hazing ritual. If they really wanted to get the project done on time, your boss would have yelled at you and told you to work harder. Docking pay and sending you home is infantile. Get away from these people as soon as your contract expires.

My entire trial period is 1099, so can I spin this as a contract-to-hire gig that I just didn't take the hire option on?

Easy, it isn't your trial period, it was a mutual trial period. They failed miserably and you decided to get out of a work environment that was far from mutually beneficial.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:57 PM on January 28, 2007


Seems like you are being hit with a double whammy of reality here: the treatment you've described is pretty common in your industry (and the norm for start ups) AND pretty common treatment for new graduates and low man/woman on the totem pole.

It may be common but that doesn't make it acceptable, and the job market is fairly hot for developers now. Get your resume out on the usual sites and try to pick up a better gig.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:58 PM on January 28, 2007


I agree that most employers won't consider your previous employment a red flag. If you explain that your last job was a young start-up, and the job you ended up with differed dramatically from the job that you were originally offered, they'll probably understand, because that sort of thing happens all the time, especially in young companies.

If a prospective employer does have a problem with that explanation, you probably don't want that job anyway.

Just be professional in you explanation. Don't say, "My last boss was a total Nazi, man. He made me get there at 9:30."
posted by molybdenum at 9:03 PM on January 28, 2007


Just don't bother putting it on your resume.

That said, showing up at 9, or where I live 8 is pretty much expected in the working world :(
posted by delmoi at 9:26 PM on January 28, 2007


can I spin this as a contract-to-hire gig that I just didn't take the hire option on?

Spin it? That's what it was. How could you possibly describe it as anything else?
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:34 PM on January 28, 2007


Honesty is the best policy. Omission is the second best.

You took a job on a contract basis and it didn't work out. You even have some good reasons like bad compensation and lousy benefits. That's a perfectly reasonable situation. If you feel it's hurting you, just leave it off your resume.

Finding a job when you have a job is usually easier but I don't think that adage is universal.

Oh yeah, references don't necessarily have to be your boss. You could list your co-worker if she respects you.
posted by chairface at 9:43 PM on January 28, 2007


Fifthed. It's easier to find a new horse if you are already riding one to begin with. Or something like that my mom used to tell me. Stay + look for a new job.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 10:01 PM on January 28, 2007


You might want to mention in any new interviews your "no work before 10" policy to prevent future disappointment. Certainly it's something I would want to know about if I was hiring.
posted by markr at 10:07 PM on January 28, 2007


The best advice is to stay and find a new job. However, it's not necessarily easier to find a new job while holding an old one. I've been in post-interview discussions where someone says, "We should hire Candidate A because they are out of work, while Candidate B has a decent job, it appears," and that holds the day.

But if you stay, you'll be getting paid while you look for another position. If you decide to opt out, you won't be paid. Can you afford to be out of work?
posted by dw at 10:22 PM on January 28, 2007


* Beware of characterizations like "relaxed work atmosphere," which mean different things to different people -- not wearing a suit and tie every day is considered "relaxed" to some people, having a ping-pong table in the break room is "relaxed" to another.

Yep, you should definitely ask to take a tour of the area that you'd be working in (and meet the people you'd be working with) to see what they consider "relaxed".
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 11:48 PM on January 28, 2007


First, get your story straight. Since when are contractors 'salaried'? If you're on a salary, how come you allowed them to dock your pay? These things don't add up to me. But I've not been at this game for a long time.
posted by Goofyy at 4:20 AM on January 29, 2007


1. ignore paulsc's randomly accusative shit, which solves nothing, throws in a couple of red herrings and completely misrepresents this post.

(paulsc: i am surprised as your advice is generally reasonable, but damn, what crawled up your ass this morning? this poster is not asking for your sympathy, nor are they claiming maltreatment. they are asking for advice on how to explain their situation, you contribute nothing by dumping that hot turd into this thread.)

2. don't make up stuff about your employment history. if asked, just explain that the working conditions, corporate atmosphere and whatnot were not what you expected when you took the job, and you didn't think the job was a good fit for you or for the company.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 5:25 AM on January 29, 2007


And "Welcome" to the modern working world.

As you have discovered, the job you apply for doesn't always end up being the job you get saddled with. And the description of the working environment doesn't have to be anywhere near reality. No employer is going to advertise that you are going to be worked like a dog for 60+ hours a week. Hint: look for phrases like "high-energy work environment" if you want to avoid high-stress, long-hours, poorly-managed workplaces.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:58 AM on January 29, 2007


First, get your story straight. Since when are contractors 'salaried'? If you're on a salary, how come you allowed them to dock your pay? These things don't add up to me. But I've not been at this game for a long time.

I meant to mention that this stuck me as odd, too (and I have both a salaried job with, ahem, "high expectations" AND consulting gigs.) You don't get your pay docked when you're salaried. Likewise, if you're on a 1099, you're not salaried, you get overtime.

I read the hours thing as them changing the rules on you unexpectedly. I don't get why you would respond to this by being intentionally late, though. If you actually think that 10-6 are typical work hours, you are indeed going to be very disappointed. If this is something that's very very important to you, look for a company with flex time. But note that programs like flex time are generally offered to help you accomodate other personal responsibilities.
posted by desuetude at 6:21 AM on January 29, 2007


I feel like an old fart saying this (and I'm not that old), but my first job was with a big company where I was traveling halfway across the country for five days a week and regularly working 12 (sometimes more) hour days to develop some other big company's very first online store. A lot of the more experienced people in your field have or have had jobs like this (just ask fellow mefites). It's not really a small vs. big company thing -- if you end up at IBM or Accenture or something, it's entirely possible that you'll end up with a job that pays more than your current one but works you much, much harder (and it's entirely possible that you won't - it's rather arbitrary).

As for the interviews...when you're interviewing for a new job, tell the truth about this job not being what you expected and that you are looking for opportunities that are a better fit for you and your skill set (and give examples of what you want in a work environment, make sure to talk to people who are in positions like the one you're interviewing for, etc.). However, be professional about it and PLEASE don't tell a prospective employer some of the stuff you told us. As someone who regularly interviews people your age who don't have much experience...the part about coming in half an hour late when you're expected in the office at 9:30? That is a red flag that says "LAZY" on it in big black bold letters. No matter how you spin it.

I'm just saying.
posted by echo0720 at 6:57 AM on January 29, 2007


Firstly, since it was a contract gig, describe it as such. The contract was up, you're moving on. Your new employer will probably ask if they offered to bring you on full time, tell them they did but you weren't interested. Come up with a good reason why, prospective employers don't like to hear bad things in interviews.

Second, lower your expectations. If you're planning on working in IT, it sounds like you actually were treated pretty well there. Yes, I'm serious. I've worked MUCH worse jobs than that in IT. I would suggest at the very least you not leave until you find another job. If you think things are going to be better than at your current employer, you're going to be VERY disappointed.
posted by Spoonman at 7:10 AM on January 29, 2007


So, I'm the OP, lifting the veil of anonymity to offer the conclusion to this situation.

First, I wasn't complaining about actually getting to work at 9.30. That's fine; I was in on time for weeks before the morning that I was late. However, the fact that 10 o'clock was an acceptable start time figured into my initial negotiations for the position; losing that felt like taking a pay cut.

Anyway, I went in today and the CEO took me to a conference room. I'm now unemployed, but my severance is on very amicable terms. I even have a good reference from them.

All is well, except that now I need to work my ass off to find a new job. I'll certainly use the interview strategies ya'll suggested. They're much appreciated.

Thank you, Metafilter!
posted by Netzapper at 7:46 AM on January 29, 2007


Good luck.
posted by caddis at 7:48 AM on January 29, 2007


Glad to hear things worked out well.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:14 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


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