But those who never win and never quit are idiots.
March 28, 2014 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Long-time listener, first-time caller. I've been in my current job just over nine months and it's been a slow-moving disaster. I've decided it's time to call it quits, my boss agrees - now how to spin this?

To make a very long story short, I was unemployed four years ago when a friend offered me an interview at his very large company. It was my first "real" job at the ripe old age of 28 and, all things considered, it went as well as could be expected. It was in logistics, a rather odd little industry, that's known for being very high-stress due to tight deadlines. The first place I worked at was not unique for the industry but definitely not one of the best. There were screaming matches in the office and people quitting every other week. In one year, out of our department of 45, I saw 30 people leave. And after two years of madness, I was one of them. I gave my notice that day. I know this is generally poor form but in that industry, isn't unusual and at that workplace, was one of the duller exits.

Even though I left without another job lined up, I found one within three weeks and began it with great enthusiasm as I was certain that at a more functional workplace, all my problems would be solved.


The new place, while much better, had its own share of secret crazy with poisonous office politics and my position having had a high turnover rate as well. And even though I made it clear to my manager I was still relatively inexperienced, I think they were hoping for a much faster learning curve than I was able to provide. Then there were my own issues - some undiagnosed depression and anxiety coupled with a major sense of Impostor Syndrome led to a very uneven and "mediocre" (as my manager put it) performance. I went from being one of the best employees in my crazy first workplace to being the office screw-up at my second workplace.

After a lot of tense and sometimes angry conversations with my boss, and after realizing she was reading all my emails (which is the company's perogative but I find it odd she didn't tell me) and realizing no matter how much she talked about "fresh starts", I was always going to be The Office Fuck-Up, I told her today I was thinking it was time to wrap this up. She agreed and we will discuss this further in ten days when she returns from a business trip overseas.

So here are my questions:
- Since I will be looking at other jobs in the same industry, how do I spin this?
- What should I be on the lookout at future jobs so I don't repeat the same patterns? I know what I need to work on, I am with a therapist and on medication which has been helping but I also know there's more than that to consider. How do I go into a job - even if it's not the ideal one - with a goal of succeeding?
posted by bgal81 to Work & Money (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How do I go into a job - even if it's not the ideal one - with a goal of succeeding?

This may not be quite the right question; if only because no one ever goes into a job with a goal of not succeeding. Maybe the question is: How do I get the information I need during an interview so I make better decisions and avoid employers where I am not likely to succeed?

Here are some questions to use with your would-be boss:

1. When you make the move to come here, what was the most compelling reason?
2. What keeps you here?
3. Profile your top performer for me. What does he/she do that makes him/her so much better?
4. If I were to start work tomorrow, what would you assign me to do?
5. How can I stand out in the first 60 days?

And questions to use with your would-be peers (red flag if they won't let you talk to your would-be peers):

1. When you make the move to come here, what was the most compelling reason?
2. What keeps you here?
3. What is the one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you were new here?
4. What are the important pieces of the history of this organization?
5. Who are the people "in the know" here?
6. What has been your biggest surprise? Disappointment?
7. What advice would you give me about being successful in this organization?
8. Who really does what around here?
posted by John Borrowman at 12:20 PM on March 28, 2014 [25 favorites]

my position having had a high turnover rate

This tells most of the story, honestly. I think you can legitimately tell a story that everyone recognizes: My mistake, I let them talk me into taking a position we both knew I was truly under-qualified for (and if possible, give an example, like they really needed someone who already knew $industry_jargon well and could hit the ground running, I couldn't do that) and it worked out about as well as those things usually do. They don't seem to know who they want or what an appropriate job description is for a person at the level they're paying for that job, and...I wasn't it, whatever it was.

I don't know logistics very well, but I think it would be an excellent exercise to sit down and try to figure out what you DO know and what you DON'T know, and a good way to do that is to just start looking through job postings. Doesn't need to be your city - pick Atlanta or Memphis or Chicago or another hub, to increase your hit rate, and just read how the responsibilities of these jobs get described and keep two, maybe 3 columns: stuff you've done, stuff you're aware of but maybe haven't really done, and stuff that barely means anything to you.

Then write some ideal job descriptions for yourself.

While most people should take a job where they still have some things to learn, don't take jobs that are flat-out above your skill and experience level. That's setting yourself up for failure.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:25 PM on March 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you entirely sure that what you want is another job in logistics? Because it sounds like you really dislike working in that field. After two different positions and several years in the field, if you're that miserable, maybe it's time to transition to something that won't make you hate life.

In my view, you are in a prime position to transfer into a role that can play on the skills you gained in logistics, but which isn't logistics. That way, you can even be 100% honest about why you're leaving your current job: it's a high burn-out field, after several experiences with toxic workplace dynamics you're ready for something more stable, you're looking for something where you will be a better fit, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 12:31 PM on March 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

I went through this last year. They were crazy, I was unhappy, and they were about to fire me when I told them I would just quit. I didn't stay in the same exact industry, but a very close one. I spun it as "it just wasn't a good fit and I was ready for a change." People seemed sympathetic and it wasn't a problem.

In the future, definitely ask about turnover rate. I also would ask for a very clear job description and an idea of how they foresee this position growing in the future.
posted by anotheraccount at 2:45 PM on March 28, 2014

Next time, don't quit until you find a job. Taking pure desperation out of the picture is a pretty nice thing to have when job hunting because you allow yourself more options.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:24 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

And to add to John Borrowman's great suggestions for questions - I'd just add ask everyone you meet these same questions. That is, when interviewing, you're looking for two things: candor and consistency.

Candor encompasses John B.'s questions, such as, "How can I stand out in the first 60 days?" A variation of this question is something like, "What are the priorities in the first three months for the person in this role?". That's candor. Consistency involves asking everyone you meet the exact same questions and hearing pretty much the same responses. For the priority question for example, if person A says that they way you stand out is by getting project X up and running because that's the priority and person B says that the way you stand out by completing project Y, then that means that people aren't exactly on the same page about what this person is supposed to be doing and how they fit into the organization. And the question about whether your job is manageable is important.

For some of the specific concerns you addressed, like training and having a good manager, there are a couple of questions you can ask everyone about that as well. For example, you can ask people

- How would you describe supervisor X's management style?
-Can you give me an example of when you have seen supervisor X give corrective feedback to someone - perhaps when the person made a mistake?
-What kind of training did you receive to get you up to speed when you started in your position?
-What are professional development opportunities you've taken advantage of since you began working here?

The point is, when things are crappy, employees give vague (not detailed) answers to questions like ' describe the management style of your boss'. They don't give detailed answers about the type of training they received, because they didn't receive any. And in the most, most unhealthy of environments, people aren't candid, because they fear for their jobs. So you can't expect honest answers for these questions. Instead what you'll note is that the answers aren't consistent - A question like, "What's great about working for supervisor X" should be pretty consistent, but isn't. What it takes for a person to succeed in the organization is different, what the supposed priorities are is different, etc. - nothing lines up.

So ask questions and hope for candor, but listen to all of the answers in the aggregate and make sure you hear consistency.
posted by anitanita at 9:48 AM on March 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

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