No sane person would expect me to work here anymore, right?
December 4, 2013 7:30 PM   Subscribe

So, I have only been working at this new job two months, but now I need to leave. For, I think, reasons no sane person would object to. But it's only been two months and the last job was also brief, although again for very excusable reasons. Help me phrase a cover letter?

My previous job ended because the company closed. Nothing I could really do about that. I found this one relatively quickly. It was always a bit iffy--small office, just me and my boss, I know way more about what we do than he does, but it's a job. He's always been pretty obsessed with guns. Talks about them constantly, is always buying more gun stuff even though he says he has no money. But, everybody has a hobby.

Then he says some things that seem a little fishy and I go searching and it turns out that he's been convicted in the very recent past of threatening someone with a firearm. And yet he's still walking around with it, because he's appealing and therefore still has his concealed carry permit for the moment. He had previously said that he'd never had any gun-related trouble and so I had nothing to worry about.

I'm not exactly afraid for my life, but I'm extremely nervous, at any rate, about the prospects of the business and whether he's mature and stable enough to be doing this. I took low pay with the promise of more later, and I don't think it's coming, and I'm nervous about what could happen if there was a conflict with a bad client or something, much less if he got upset with me. That's reasonable, right? I'm not seriously overreacting if this has happened before?

If that's reasonable, then how should I phrase it when looking for a new job? I don't feel like I can leave this off entirely because the last position was also short, and everybody says that these days it's better to have a job while you're looking for one. I'm not intending to quit tomorrow, because I need the money, but I think I want out ASAP, so... help? (If I sound a little freaked out right now, I am.)
posted by Sequence to Work & Money (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, if it's relevant: I'm an accountant who's always worked at small firms. Not a CPA but on that track.
posted by Sequence at 7:31 PM on December 4, 2013

I think the best you can do is "The culture was a bad fit."
posted by Rock Steady at 7:51 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

I don't think it can hurt you to look for a new job. Based on what you said, it doesn't sound like enough of an emergency to quit, but trust your instincts if things start to feel dangerous. If asked, well, I'd just say vaguely that the culture isn't the fit you thought it would be. (On preview, jinx!)
posted by salvia at 7:54 PM on December 4, 2013

How do you phrase it?

"My boss was recently convicted of threatening someone with a firearm, and he was still walking around armed and constantly talking about guns. It made me uncomfortable so I left."

That works. And for what it's worth, I'm pretty staunch supporter of gun rights. Somebody who's been convicted of a gun crime is either a nut or an idiot if he's behaving like this during an appeal.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 7:55 PM on December 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: This is part of why I included the comment--is that something that's really going to work in a company where there's only one other human being? That information's on the company website, etc.
posted by Sequence at 7:55 PM on December 4, 2013

I would leave this off your cover letter, though be prepared to explain in case of an interview. And then be sure to keep it positive in case you're asked about it in the interview: You want to work with a larger team, or this new opportunity is a good match for you because X, or you are particularly interested in Y aspect of the new company.

Never ever ever (ever ever) say anything negative.
posted by mochapickle at 7:56 PM on December 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

I would go with saying that the job ended up being different than advertised and that because it's a two man shop, the owner was inexperienced and didn't adequately anticipate the needs of the company. As a result you've been doing a hodge podge of duties that don't further your career goals.

I realize this is not the truth, but saying your boss is a gun nut is like saying you quit because you were being sexually harassed. It's a perfectly valid reason, but people will unreasonably hold it against you and assume there is more to the story (i.e. blame the victim) and/or you're a drama queen whiner.

Bad cultural fit is more honest but would send off alarm bells to me unless there was a thorough explanation of how and why. Otherwise I'd assume you're difficult and don't adapt well to new environments.

I would only talk about it in the interview, not the cover letter.
posted by whoaali at 7:59 PM on December 4, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I disagree with what whoaali just said. "He gave me duties that don't further my career goals" sounds like an extreme red light to me. And saying your boss has been convicted of threatening someone with a firearm, and that he still carries it around all the time while appealing his conviction, is not even remotely "saying your boss is a gun nut".

I would go with not saying anything at all about it, unless you're directly questioned about it, in which case just tell the truth: He was convicted of threatening someone with a firearm, and he is still carrying his firearm in the workplace while appealing his conviction. That's a completely reasonable reason to want to find a new job, and any prospective employer who doesn't think it's reasonable is probably not someone you'd want to work for anyway.
posted by Flunkie at 8:09 PM on December 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

Two months? I'd say I'd been on vacation.
posted by pompomtom at 8:10 PM on December 4, 2013 [28 favorites]

Best answer: Do not mention why you dislike your current job in your cover letter. Just talk about why the job for which you're applying is a totally wonderful awesome fit for you.

If asked directly about it in an interview, I like Flunkie's no-nonsense answer. Don't bring it up yourself.
posted by jaguar at 8:17 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

When asked - "Since it was just me and my boss, I didn't see much chance for advancement".
posted by 445supermag at 8:24 PM on December 4, 2013

I would probably not even put it on my resume. In the interview, if they ask about a two-month gap (in this economy, not a real big deal), I would take a cleansing breath and say, "I did briefly take a position, but it was," -big eyes- "not a safe place to work." Exhale.

Now, unless you are speaking to a very formal sort of person, they are immediately going to be desperate to hear this story. Interviewing people is boring. People with good stories are interesting. But you have to use the opportunity to suggest that if they hire you, you will tell them the whole crazy story, but as a rational job-seeking person you are going to be very, very diplomatic. You simply say, "There was a lot more...guns...around than I had expected, and I wasn't comfortable in that situation." Eyebrow.

I think displaying a very mild sense of humor about the situation is probably your best angle. A lot of people have taken jobs that were bad ideas. It is a credit to your character that you identified the issue and moved on quickly and with maturity. But you have to save the real payoff story for after they hire you.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:24 PM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

To me, two months is in the "why put it on your resume at all" category.
posted by Sara C. at 8:31 PM on December 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

I am also in the "don't mention it" camp. It's one of those situation where the less said, the better.
posted by Pudhoho at 8:39 PM on December 4, 2013

Response by poster: The previous situation means that I am in a much worse position if I leave it off, or believe me, I would. These two are literally the only accounting work I've had in the last ~5 years, and several of the things I arranged to be doing at this place fill specific gaps in my recent experience at the last place. I had trouble finding even this one because of that part, so I don't think it's worth the sacrifice to leave it off.

I think I'm going to settle on spending the cover letter just talking up why I want to be at New Firm, and if asked going with the plain truth, because at least the plain truth is a matter of public record on the internet and not subjective stuff. We'll see how it goes.
posted by Sequence at 8:57 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could you put your last job on your résumé and leave this one off in order to have some recent accounting experience to discuss? A company ending is no bad reflection on you, especially since you arrived late in the game and presumably helped them untangle what was going on.

You'll never want to use this guy as a reference given his emotional volatility, so doing more work for him will not improve your next-job prospects.
posted by SakuraK at 9:10 PM on December 4, 2013

Is there any way that you could spin the current job as being project-based rather than a forever-job?
List it as "EmployerB, 2013-present" on the resume. In your cover letter, you refer to your previous career-building work at company A and the excellently relevant skills you're practicing during your current project at company B. You shouldn't explicitly say it's a contract (which is a lie), or explicitly say that it's not working out and it's all the other guy's fault (which is a red flag, despite being truth). An oblique mention in the cover letter will reassure the reader that you're aware that you've only been there a few months (duh) and that it's all under control (which it is, because you're getting a new job).
Don't say anything untrue, because then they'll ask you in for an interview, and you can't say anything that contradicts what's in your letter and resume. About the job, if they mention projects/contracts, you say, "well, yes, that project is the best part of my job at B, I've learned a lot." (possibly add "another thing I've learned is to do more careful research about potential employers before I accept a job contract") About why you're leaving, you say "There was a legal history in the office that I'm uncomfortable with, but I wasn't aware of it until after I started." In more detail, "the owner was/is appealing a firearm conviction, which bothers me mostly because he is brashly unrepentant about it, and I'm alone in the office with him." You would want to downplay the "alone in the office" bit if you're interviewing with another (very) small business.

The best phrasing I can come up with is "There was a legal history in the office that I'm uncomfortable with" - it's history, nothing to do with you, and it's legal, not your personal judgement.
posted by aimedwander at 9:32 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

"I left because my boss threatened someone with a gun."
posted by zippy at 11:59 PM on December 4, 2013

And you don't put that in your letter, but you do have it at the ready if someone asks you why you left.
posted by zippy at 12:00 AM on December 5, 2013

I would not recommend going to another firm and saying, "I left because my boss threatened someone with a gun", for a few reasons.

First and foremost, it exposes you as someone who "goes searching" into their employer's life. Yes, you may feel that in this case it was justified, and that you would never do it otherwise, but they don't know that. For all they know you are going to intrusively google them, and then possibly report whatever you find to your next employer. It makes you look like a man with a grudge - even if you feel you have valid safety concerns.

I think, though, you are overreacting - if understandably - just a bit. If he was convicted for threatening someone with a gun, and is appealing to preserve his concealed carry permit, he is exponentially less likely to threaten anyone with a gun or do something like that - he is probably very aware he is under scrutiny currently around his gun possession, and the last thing he wants is another piece of evidence that he's unstable with guns and should have them taken away. You will most likely be fine staying in that job for the duration of looking for another job, and this is where "culture is a bad fit" or "project based" stuff comes in.

That said, I would still leave, because you're right - someone who is irresponsible with his firearm is not a responsible person. Unless the person he was threatening with a gun was a mugger or something, there is no excuse for that, and it does not tend to lead to stable business practices.

But you have time, essentially, is what I'm saying, to do this right.
posted by corb at 3:42 AM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, interviews are not the place to introduce even a whiff of potential drama. You really don't need to mention the conviction or gun issue at all, or vague references to feeling unsafe at the previous job. There is exactly zero upside to introducing that level of unnecessary detail into a business conversation. It will make your interviewer uncomfortable, and will raise eyebrows and more questions than it answers. The stink will linger.

There's no need to be dishonest, but there's also no need to overshare. Use any one of the bland, HR-acceptable variations on "not a good fit" or "actual job was not as described" or some such.
posted by nacho fries at 11:38 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actual job was not as described = because the owner was crazy :)

I'm thinking that is about the only reasonable way you could go here is to claim that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:04 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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