How to minimize fallout from work miscommunication?
August 11, 2011 11:11 AM   Subscribe

A friend referred me for a dream job and I screwed it up really badly. Please help me fix things.

Long story short: the job and I didn't communicate clearly about expectations re my responsibilities and now we both feel overwhelmed and mistreated. Complicated by my anxiety issues. I am hoping to salvage my reputation with my friend and the company.

(Posting anonymously because my current job doesn't know I was considering leaving for a new job.)

Story long:
A friend recently referred me for a job and a company I'm very very interested in. The position had been posted for awhile but the company had trouble filling it; they had planned to hire a temp while continuing the search for a permanent person, but brought me on instead as a temp with the possibility of -to-perm status.

I had (and have) a full-time job already, and the opportunity was coming up too fast for me to take vacation time from it, so I came in 1/2 time to the new job by taking personal days at the old job and working >10 hour days at both the old and new jobs.

Work at the new job was extremely busy and honestly kind of overwhelming. I did the best I could to take notes and ask questions and work long hours to get things done, but it wasn't enough.

Work at the old job picked up fast and unexpectedly - I got scheduled for big meetings with little notice, some important things changed and had to be addressed right away, etc.

I was finalizing my schedule for this week when the new company told me not to bother coming in - too chaotic with multiple people, inconsistent hours, etc. Said they were still interested in hiring me for the long-term job but I tried to talk them out of it - offered to commit to a part-time schedule, with regular hours. They said they weren't interested in that but were still considering me for original FT/long-term job.

Today I learned that they're frustrated / upset about me (unreliable, etc.). I feel terrible because I was and am very excited about the company and the position and hate to have ruined the opportunity, and because I'm afraid it'll damage my reputation within the industry, and because I'm afraid it'll reflect poorly on my friend who referred me, and because I'm afraid that my friend (and any of our mutual friends) will be upset with me, and because I am definitely catastrophizing about having destroyed my entire professional life and possibly my personal life, too.

I have an anxiety disorder that is particularly virulent around work issues. It was really hard for me to even compose this rambling question because my brain really wants to just FREAK OUT and have me keep crying/pacing/obsessing about this all week.

What should I do?
Should I tell the company how sorry I am about this? (I already apologized to key staff, in a series of awkward conversations, but maybe I should put something in writing?) Then they would know that I at least meant well . . . but it would also take up even more of their time.
Should I try to explain myself to my friend? And/or apologize to her?
Is there a solution that I'm missing?

I'm sorry this is such a mess. Thank you so much to anyone who has advice to share.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You can't handle the job due to your situation and experience level. So what? Tell your friend that the company thought it didn't work out immediately because things are so busy but they're considering you for the full-time hire later on. That doesn't sound terrible.

Of course if your friend says his judgment was questioned, please respond along the lines of, "I feel bad that you did something kind for me and it worked out badly," when you tell the news, but you don't need to apologize for an incompatibility that is hardly unique.

Your reputation has hardly been ruined in this industry, and if you doubt that perhaps you could read some industry forum or publication where people talk about their early days/failures to give yourself some perspective. And, you can take comfort in your old job obviously needing you so much that you find it hard to get away!
posted by michaelh at 11:28 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think you did anything wrong here. It's pretty strange that they would want you to work at their job and at your old job at the same time. If you want to switch jobs, don't half-ass it; you need to commit to the new one by quitting your old one. (If it doesn't work out, ask for your old job back. Many places will say "sure" because now they don't have to pay a recruiter 30% of your salary to find a replacement.)

This won't damage your reputation in the industry, and it shouldn't damage your reputation with your friends. I've referred people to jobs that they didn't do very well. You never know how someone is going to be at job x, so it's not a big deal. No friendships were lost, it's simply a referral that didn't work out.

Everyone wants to be great at everything, but sometimes circumstances make that impossible. Circumstances beyond your control made this job not work out. Keep your current job and relax. Another great opportunity will come up.
posted by jrockway at 11:29 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't know about the company but I'd consider forwarding what you've just written here to your friend, maybe with a bit of polishing. It's a complicated situation and it sounds like you did your best.
posted by philip-random at 11:30 AM on August 11, 2011

The real problem is probably your lack of commitment to the new company. You're trying to please too many people. You could possibly smooth things over with the new company by talking to them about your schedule and expressing interest in a new full-time job, if they feel you have the skills and interest to learn and run with it. Otherwise, you're wasting your (and their) time trying to half-ass it at both jobs.

Pick one and excel.
posted by Hylas at 11:32 AM on August 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

Seriously? You actually tried to talk the "dream job" employer out of hiring you full-time? Is it a dream job, or not?

They don't want you to apologize, they want you to start acting like you actually want the job. You were expected to quit your existing full-time job when they brought you on, and the fact that you still haven't done so is almost certainly the entirety of the issue.

If you are prone to anxiety, I cannot imagine why you thought trying to juggle (what should be) two full-time jobs, one without your employer finding out that you're doing that, would be anything but a minefield of stress.
posted by kindall at 11:35 AM on August 11, 2011 [29 favorites]

It's completely unsustainable to work two jobs by taking personal time at one in order to work at the other. Are you doing this because you're literally afraid to quit your current job? Like, you can't bring yourself to tell them you're leaving?

You need to choose one job and quit the other. You have probably stretched your credibility to nearly the breaking point at the new job and need to do something pretty much immediately. That thing you need to do is not apologize, but commit.

You said Then they would know that I at least meant well. No. Doing the job means you mean well. Being flaky means you're flaky, it doesn't matter how much you talk about it.

Tell your friend you tried taking on too much and that didn't work and you're going to do X to solve that problem. One sentence, no rambling, problem->solution.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:45 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

i don't understand how either of these companies allowed you to be working at the other, especially when you were FT at your original job? because if this was the case, then how anyone—including you—could think that you would be working with 100% focus and capacity at either of these jobs was either naïve or delusional. the best thing you can do here is to go in to your manager and explain that you are really interested in this job but because they couldn't commit immediately to hiring you FT, you thought you could handle both jobs and prove that they should hire you FT. however, because of the amount of work from both jobs, you weren't able to perform to the standard that you usually set yourself and that you are sorry that you haven't been able to perform at the level you could know for them. add that you hope that won't reflect poorly on your friend who recommended you bc she knows better what is your ability than you have been able to demonstrate, given the circumstances. then either commit to them or leave them and go back to your original company and commit fully to them. and then apologize to your friend.

also, i'm with kindall: if this was your "dream job" and they offered it to you FT, why the hell wouldn't you take it? this baffles me.
posted by violetk at 11:47 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Did either of the employers know that you were "moonlighting" in the other job? It doesn't seem clear in your post.

If the new employers didn't know you were doing two jobs at once it makes for one hell of a rational argument for why you couldn't perform.
posted by hnnrs at 11:53 AM on August 11, 2011

I don't have an anxiety disorder and just reading your post made my heart start pounding a little bit. I also can't tell exactly what you want to have happen. You can only work one full-time job. Which one is the best match for your skills and interests and pays you well? Do that one. Commit to it. Don't worry about the friend right now -- focus on what you have in front of you and what you want to have happen. Once the dust settles, you can address the friend. You are trying to please too many people, it seems, and you're leaving yourself out. This will cause anxiety!!

And, if you do decide to work for the new company, see if you can arrange a week of downtime in between. I think you will need it!
posted by amanda at 12:01 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to switch jobs, don't half-ass it; you need to commit to the new one by quitting your old one.

I totally agree with this. I did something sort of like what you are doing, where I took a short-notice vacation from my existing job in order to test out a new job. I ended up going with the new job and quitting the old one abruptly when I got back from my "vacation". I felt guilty about it for quite a while, even though Old Job really didn't treat me right.

The reason I set things up that way is that I lacked confidence that I could really do New Job. I am guessing the same sort of issue is going on with you; you lack confidence that you can really, truly, do a great job at Dream Job. BUT ironically that lack of confidence is exactly what is going to do you in and assure that you don't in fact do a good job there. As others have said, if this is *really* your dream job, you need to immediately quit the old job, and put your heart into the new one. If you still fail, you have failed nobly, while going for what you really wanted. If you fail because you half-assed it, that is a very un-noble failure indeed.
posted by parrot_person at 2:22 PM on August 11, 2011

If you decide you want the new job, for god's sake be professional and succinct when you talk to them. Don't mention your anxiety, don't look to them to stroke your ego, etc. Just go in and say "I've enjoyed what I've done so far, and I'd like to move into a full-time position." And tell them a few things that you would want to do if they hired you on, or things that you want to improve on, or something. No apologies!
posted by cabingirl at 2:27 PM on August 11, 2011

I had (and have) a full-time job already, and the opportunity was coming up too fast for me to take vacation time from it, so I came in 1/2 time to the new job by taking personal days at the old job and working >10 hour days at both the old and new jobs.

Echoing those above, did dream job know that you were trying to juggle both jobs? This is totally crazy, no wonder you're frustrated.
posted by desuetude at 10:14 PM on August 11, 2011

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Thank you everyone for taking the time to read and respond to my question.

Your responses were helpful both
- in what they said directly
- and in how they made me realize that I managed to leave out key information, accidentally phrase things ambiguously, operate under assumptions I didn't realize, etc., in the question.

This responses to this question really highlighted for me that even when I try to avoid assumptions and lay out all the relevant facts, I still miss a lot! And that's in the anonymous MetaFilter vacuum. I'm sure I did this even worse in dealing with the new job.

Your answers helped me see things from the employer's perspective. Which helped me see that New Job and I are pretty incompatible - among other things, I'm not going to leave my current job for a temp gig, and they weren't/aren't sure enough about me to make me an offer for more than temp work. This is something I should have addressed directly at the start of this debacle; I didn't then, but I can work from here.

Thank you especially to those of you who answered compassionately. It really helped me feel less overwhelmed and made me better able to absorb all of the good advice here, including the less-gently-phrased good advice in other comments.

I have taken all of your advice to heart (more importantly to some of you: I'm actively following it) and am sincerely grateful for everyone's contributions. Thank you all!
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:09 AM on August 12, 2011

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