Is it me??
July 28, 2014 6:27 PM   Subscribe

I need your job advice

I was in a job that had a toxic environment. People leaving left and right, dysfunction, micromanaging, backstabbing etc. I got a new job at a new co. which seemed amazing - everything I wanted and right in line with my experience and skill set. More responsibility in that I would be tasked with putting structure around what we do by developing and implementing processes and procedures as well as building new models around what we do. I also had to learn all the new systems as well as how they use them; the clients and their preferences/backgrounds as well as managing a lot of other office stuff for others like calendars, email and lots of stuff that just came up that was given to me with zero training and left up to me to figure it out.

My 4th week they told me they were disappointed that I hadn't put together processes and procedures as well as fully built the new models. They said I was supposed to hit the ground running. I did actually put together the models, but the subject matter requires a lot of research and I was told it was expected to know them in and out and could answer any question as to why I did it the way I did it etc. They knew I was an in-depth research person when I was hired - that's part of why they hired me. So that took about 2 weeks, with me checking in several times until I got it to them and that was "way too long". I think they expected me to do it in a couple of days and I could have thrown something together very quickly but then I wouldn't have really known on a deeper level why that was a good way to build it, which I was told was expected.

Also, I haven't put in place a whole process for certain things yet, but I've been sitting with people to see how they do things so I can get a feel for what I'm trying to change. All the while, they've been throwing other stuff at me to do nonstop with no explanation but quick deadlines. Most of these things I have had no experience with (which I did tell them in the interview process). So I've had to figure out how to do all this other stuff on my own, which literally takes 10x as long and obviously I can't focus on the process building. I've had to start asking the boss to help me prioritize what he gives me because everything is urgent and needs to get done right away.

This is my 6th week and they told me today they don't think I can do the job. I have done the exact things they want me to do in previous jobs and I know I can do it. They asked why I don't every come in early or work late. I told them I come in a half hour early most days and I've stayed late a few times, especially my first two weeks. I also rarely take lunch. I don't even leave my desk. Most everyone else arrives at 8 and leaves at 5, plus they told me that it was pretty much an 8-5 job in the interview so I thought it was okay to work 8-5 (though I do come in early most of the time).

They told me today I could resign with no hard feelings and they'd give me 4 weeks pay. I was horrified. They said they'd give me a few minutes to think about it and then I was supposed to let them know if I wanted to stay or go but if I passed up the opportunity to go, I would be under the microscope and heavily scrutinized and if didn't live up to expectations I would just be fired. I said I wanted to stay and work at it. This is mainly because I don't want to be fired but also because ever since week 4 I've known this is a bad job and I have an initial phone interview somewhere else tomorrow and I want to at least still have a job for that.

My questions:

1. How long is a realistic time to learn a new job? I thought at the minimum I'd be given a good three months to get into the swing of things before I would be expected to have completed basically everything on my job description (develop and implement this, put that into place, etc). My job offer says that within three months I was supposed to basically have an understanding of systems, procedures and culture, which I think I'm on track for. It doesn't say I'm supposed to have put all these things into place by then.

2. I was leaving a bad environment and I'm in one that seems even worse and I am really upset that something might actually be really wrong with me. How can I tell if it's me or if it's the job? My last job and the job before that were all long-term, I left on good terms and I had excellent feedback.

3. I am really devastated and humiliated by this. It was supposed to be such a great opportunity and I was really excited about it. My last job has already been filled (not that I'd want to go back to that environment). I'm really hoping tomorrow's phone interview goes well, but if nothing comes of it, should I just quit? I just feel like I can't do anything right there (when I talk about certain things, such as illustrating my thought process in why I've constructed things the way I have, I'm not saying it right. When I write things, it's not good because it's not the way they would write it, so I'm a "bad writer", even though I gave them about 8 writing samples when I interviewed). I feel like they'll just bide their time until they can fire me. Is it worth it to wait so I can collect unemployment?

The week I put in my notice at my last job, several people (amounting to 25% of the total staff) quit. Even though they knew I was working my notice, they called and asked me to start early and it was awkward for me to say I'd like to finish up all the loose ends at my other job, as I had promised. It was kind of a red flag but it was too late for me to go back so I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Quitting now wouldn't be a massive hardship, financially, but it wouldn't be great. I probably have a couple thousand dollars and that's it.

Any advice you could give would be great. I am really devastated over this and don't know what to do. Happy to answer any questions.
posted by and hey Charlie to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Don't quit. If they let you go because they think you couldn't do the job, you'll probably be entitled to unemployment. Something to keep in mind.
posted by agent99 at 6:35 PM on July 28, 2014 [19 favorites]

I agree about not quitting. The rules and laws vary from place to place, but typically you can collect unemployment unless you were fired for doing something specifically wrong - not just "not working out."

There are a whole lot of crappy, poorly-run, and dysfunctional workplaces out there. The odds are that everyone will encounter a few to several of these during their worklife, and you happened to get two back-to-back. No biggie, it isn't about you.

You might think about how to better identify warning signs in the interview, but don't be hard on yourself if you can't come up with any amazing revelations. People are on their best behavior during the process, and you usually don't have a chance to really see the culture at work.
posted by jeoc at 7:08 PM on July 28, 2014

This smells like a bad office to me, based on your descriptions. While there may be some trick to setting their expectations, it's probably not worth the effort to learn it.

Definitely stay until you have a new job, or they fire you. At which point, they may have to give you severance, anyway.

After you leave, don't put this job on your resume. It'll be easier "explaining" a gap of 4-8 weeks (if you even have to explain it at all) than a job that only lasted that long.

For your next job, to help with your piece of mind, make sure that you get concrete expectations for things that you're expected to do in writing. It may not do anything, but you'll have something to help remind you that it's them, and not you.

As to the way you feel... THIS is why it's important for us all to avoid getting our jobs tied up into our identity. We are not what we do at the office, we are what we do on our own time, and we accept the burden of employment so that we can support the things in life that are more important to us. Never accept the judgment of a work manager as an indictment of anything about yourself. You are always your truest self when you're not working.
posted by Citrus at 7:08 PM on July 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

Well, if it were me and I was asked to do a job I felt I couldn't do I'd rather resign than be fired. YMMV. It sounds like you marginally have enough money to walk away. You might want to figure out how resigning or getting fired would affect your prospects of collecting unemployment should you feel you need that.

Know that some prospective employers, but not all, will ask you if you've ever been fired or asked to resign. You'll need to sort out how you want to answer that no matter what you decide to do. Let's just say I've had some non-optimal employment experiences (ha!) and I've said something about xyz position being a poor fit for me with possible reason abc. For example, the position at Horrible Corporation was a poor fit for me because the environment was chaotic and I like to be through and detailed in my work. Re-frame to fit your needs. You need to be able to explain quickly and succinctly in a way that puts people at ease with you as a prospective employee. And without whining or badmouthing people.

It's hard to judge given the intentional vagueness of your post but for what it's worth, your current employer sounds unreasonable and you sound like a reasonable and great person!

You too can survive being asked to resign/fired! It hurts (a lot!) but will get better. You just need a place where you fit. I finally have a job that I enjoy. My first professional position was such a poor fit in part because I didn't realize it was possible to enjoy your job (as I do now). In other words, I thought I was *supposed* to be miserable at my first real job. Um no. (Then there were those other jobs I didn't like either... Slow learner...) You can do this! I'm confident you can find a job where you can use your skills successfully.
posted by ticketmaster10 at 7:10 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Definitely make them fire you unless you get a new job. It is not you; it's them. There are two ways I know this just from reading this question.

One: They asked why I don't every come in early or work late. Unless this is a very very high-level job, like a C-level or just just below, they want you to work for free, and they lied about it. Either one is bad, but both mean you owe them less than nothing.

Two: "I did actually put together the models, but the subject matter requires a lot of research and I was told it was expected to know them in and out and could answer any question as to why I did it the way I did it etc. They knew I was an in-depth research person when I was hired - that's part of why they hired me... So that took about 2 weeks, with me checking in several times until I got it to them and that was "way too long"...This is my 6th week and they told me today they don't think I can do the job. I have done the exact things they want me to do in previous jobs and I know I can do it." They hired you to do the project you did, and now that you've done it, they're letting you go. What they represented as a long-term salaried job was actually a contract project. I don't know if they're actively malicious or passively idiotic, but either way, you're probably done there and should plan your escape.

That's my 95% guess for what happened here. The other 5% is that it's something we can't know from just your question, like:
-You inadvertently pissed off someone important and they are firing you because of that
-Your working style isn't a good fit for them in some way that isn't obvious to you (like, my ass wouldn't come in early or stay late either, but it sounds like that's what's up with them.)
-In the shake-up just before you started, the person who had been your champion left and now you don't have anyone advocating for you or protecting you
-Your champion IS still there, but has spent all of their capital on something else and you are collateral damage
-Your work is not up to par (or, more likely, they expected something they weren't willing to pay for and didn't understand what the difference would be between a mid-level and a senior level person and now they think that's your fault)

I don't think it's your fault, but definitely move on as soon as you can.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:13 PM on July 28, 2014 [15 favorites]

No, it's not you. You've just had a run of bad luck, and also dysfunctional work environments are sadly common.

This sounds incredibly similar to a stint of jobs I had several years ago. Job A was toxic and dysfunctional, so I left for Job B, which (in spite of what they said during the interview) really needed me to hit the ground running in a way I did not have the experience for. At that point, I changed my job searching strategy from looking for opportunities to grow my skills to landing a job where I knew, without a doubt, that I could hit the ground running. That landed me pretty quickly into Job C, which was an excellent fit for my expertise, as well as a wonderfully collaborative, functional, non-toxic work environment. ( Yes, those really exist. :D )

The life lesson for me was that most companies really don't have a lot of patience for learning on the job. The expectation is that you will be experienced enough to hit the ground running from day one. It didn't use to be that way, but that's the way things are now.

Also, realize that it is the company's responsibility to accurately assess what they need out of a new hire and then hire for that. Sure, a lot of companies suck at that, but that's their fault, not yours. Sadly, this is common enough that we really need to take the wheel here and do everything we can to make sure that WE are a good fit for the job.

In my case, I quit Job B when I knew there was nothing I could do to make it work. BUT, that was a different time and the employment market is not nearly as good today. It may take longer than the four weeks of pay they are willing to give you to find a new job. I agree with agent99 that it's better from the perspective of unemployment insurance for them to let you go instead of you resigning.
posted by jazzbaby at 7:26 PM on July 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Chiming in that it's not you. I have had a couple of jobs with dysfunctional work environments like that since 2011. Unfortunately, the economy has changed and this type of chaotic management and bait-and-switch tactics are increasingly common. Sorry you are going through this. There are bigger sociological and economic issues at hand here, and denial about that in the media, so people are thinking it's all their fault. It's not. I've had similar feelings of inadequacy and it wasn't my fault either. You sound dedicated and intelligent and if I were hiring a systems engineer for anything I would want someone exactly like you. Let them fire you, collect unemployment, and try to find an employer who will appreciate your skills and thorough approach to the job.
posted by xenophile at 7:37 PM on July 28, 2014

Thanks everyone so far, these answers have made me feel better (I've seriously been so down over this). To tack on a question, what do I say to interviewers about this? Saying "it isn't a good fit" seems not-so-great.
posted by and hey Charlie at 8:06 PM on July 28, 2014

Oh golly, it is *not you*. I've been in some similarly disfunctional work environments/jobs and finally landed one that is healthy, functional, and supported - but it took some trial and error (and luck). Anyway, AskAManager is my go-to on how to handle awkward questions, weird time gaps, and how to recognize red flags.

As someone who's both been in your position and interviewed people, you could a lot worse than "it wasn't a good fit" + otherwise strong application and good references. It happens, and many many people/organizations are NOT good at interviewing and selecting candidates.

Along with looking for a new job, sign up for an online course, start exploring volunteer or temp jobs, etc... so that if there's a gap after this job you can gloss over the whole thing by saying you were studying/volunteering/working on X personal project etc... This way you will also have a current referee if they want one.

Good luck!
(and again - it's not you, they sound nuts! I'm sorry you got slammed twice in a row - it sucks and it's happened to me too. My current workplace is healthy and functional and my boss thinks I'm great and I genuinely like my job. It's possible. Hang in there!)
posted by jrobin276 at 8:21 PM on July 28, 2014

"It wasn't a good fit" is a great answer if you leave quickly. If you're there 5 years then you claim a fit issue it's a little harder to sell.

Three months ramp up seems a bit long - I usually do a transition timeline with new staff. I'd expect you to be doing some work independently quickly and to have a longer timeline with more complex/company specific tasks. But to do that, the manager needs to have really thought about transition. (Your bosses? Not so much!)

Find a new gig and bail on this job. Don't get hung up on needing to prove you can do it. Just bail.
posted by 26.2 at 10:02 PM on July 28, 2014

Your managers aren't managing. This isn't your problem.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:35 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

To tack on a question, what do I say to interviewers about this? Saying "it isn't a good fit" seems not-so-great.

Consider it a great starting point. If they press for details or ask you how you can avoid another bad fit, emphasize a couple of things:

-- That you cannot always detect a bad fit before you get into it. Sometimes you don't see red flags until after the interview process is over and the offer is accepted. That's happened to so many of us that you'll find that a lot of people are really understanding about it. You want to be very careful here not to say anything more that may sound like you are bashing the previous employer.

-- If you decide to leave instead of waiting for them to let you go, you can spin that as a positive by saying that it was obvious that there was nothing more you could do to make it work, and you got out as quickly as possible (giving appropriate notice, of course) after that realization to not waste any more of anyone's time.

-- Emphasize the long term jobs on your resume. If you can demonstrate that the short term job is unusual, folks will be more likely to see it as a bad break. Also emphasize the great experience that you bring to the table from these longer term jobs.
posted by jazzbaby at 5:08 AM on July 29, 2014

How can I tell if it's me or if it's the job?

Gawd, I hear you on this. But here's the thing: The fact that you are capable of asking this question at all probably rules it out, in the broadest sense.

In my experience, people who continually find themselves in "everyone's against me!" situations are people who don't possess that level of self-awareness. That doesn't mean that there aren't aspects of your character that might be working against you in this particular workplace, of course, but it's a good sign that you aren't a blindly flailing incompetent.

It kind of sounds like both you and your new employers have mismatched ideas of what's possible/ideal. It does appear that they expected some kind of superhero, which -- unless you grossly inflated your abilities in the interview process -- is on them. (As is any failure to make those expectations crystal clear.) On the other hand, three months is about double the amount of time I'd find acceptable for a new hire to have the basics down (either for myself, or someone I'd employed). And in this case, "the basics" are -- unless they downplayed them in the interview process -- pretty complicated. You may well have taken on more than you can handle, which is on you. (Sounds like more than a lot of people could handle, so don't feel too bad.)

You don't mention whether you are salaried. If you are, their expectations regarding your hours at work aren't totally groundless; they've hired you to master a lot of stuff, quickly, and that means long days. Conversely, if so many things are out of whack that they need that sort of effort from you, then they should be riding the other employees to work equally hard. Helping to you to get onboard, for instance. It's one thing if you've stumbled into a culture that's not comfortable for you, but another if that culture only applies to you. Then it's not a culture, it's just them being unreasonable jerks.

Should you stay or go? From your description, it sounds like you're already cooked. I've been fired from much longer-term employment with significantly less negative feedback than you seem to be receiving. Get cracking on finding the next thing. I suspect that -- even if you pull out a miracle in the short term -- you'll need to move on eventually.

I am really devastated and humiliated by this. Don't be. It happens (he says from the comfy position of it not currently happening to him). I mean, feel those feelings, grieve a little, and learn whatever you can from this setback. You can be disappointed in yourself, and your new employers. It's not zero sum!
posted by credible hulk at 7:03 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

Well, they fired me today.

This week has been awful. I've done my absolute best to have a good attitude and do exactly what my boss wants me to do. No matter what I did, he wasn't happy, it wasn't right, whatever. I know I can do this job and that I'm good at it. I can build models, I can write processes. And I did. He just seems to have a different way of seeing it or different thoughts on how it should be done and I could not for the life of me decipher what he wanted (he was inconsistent).

I'm happy to not have to go back there anywhere, to a place where they obviously dislike me and think I'm incompetent, but I'm really upset right now. I'm really humiliated - what do I tell all my former colleagues and my friends about how I was fired after six weeks from a job that seemed so promising?

My main question is this (and I'm not sure if anyone's still following this so I may have to ask another askme): what do I tell the other jobs I've been in contact with? I had an interview this week with one place and am going back for the final round of interviews on the 15th. What if they ask about my job, how do I tell them I've been fired in the interim?

I also reached out to a recruiter for a job I had interviewed for months ago and they got back to me after I had accepted this position and I told her I was due to start at the new place in a few days. I emailed her last week and said the job wasn't a good fit and if possible, I would like to be reconsidered for the position I interviewed for (which I'm pretty sure is still open) and/or any future similar openings. She emailed me back and said she'd like to talk and we've been playing phone tag since. How do I tell her I've since been fired?

Finally, they're giving me two weeks severance. The thing they want me to sign says something along the lines that we've agreed to end my employment there. Will that somehow affect me getting unemployment? I know it varies by state but I don't want to sign something that insinuates it was a mutual agreement and then be ineligible for unemployment.

Sorry for all the additional questions. I don't even know if anyone's still reading. My head is just a mess right now.
posted by and hey Charlie at 3:19 PM on August 1, 2014

Hey, I just wanted to tell you that I am still reading and I'm sorry that things worked out this way. I'm sorry I don't have better advice for you, but at least this way you can move forward and pursue opportunities that will be a better fit for you in the long run. This is only a season in your life and it will pass and give way to something new.

I wouldn't sign anything if you haven't already. It might be worth calling an employment attorney and just asking for a phone consultation to give you peace of mind. They would be able to tell you about unemployment benefits and if there's any implication to the wording of the document they want you to sign.

Just move forward with your interviews as best you can. This could even be something you can ask the attorney- you don't want any new places to think you've lied or dissembled, but I would be nervous about the phrasing, too. I bet Ask A Manager has some ideas on that too.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:49 PM on August 4, 2014

Good riddance to them. Really. F' them.

You tell potential employers the job ended because it was a really bad fit on both sides. The job was vastly different than it had been described. They were looking for specific skills they didn't include in their recruitment criteria and you both realized that you weren't going to be happy there. (And this is true! They didn't recruit you to deal with their toxic and inconsistent behaviors!)

You have nothing to be ashamed of here. You tried something new and it didn't work. That doesn't make you damaged goods. That makes you someone who took a risk that didn't pan out. It also doesn't mean that your skills are any less valuable than they were six weeks ago.

Hold your head high. You're not the problem here.
posted by 26.2 at 10:02 PM on August 4, 2014

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