Cant hold a job
December 27, 2015 4:06 PM   Subscribe

For the past 2 to 3 years I have had the most difficult time holding a job.

I am mid level professional who is finding it difficult to navigate the people politics in a new job. This includes the teams I have to work with and my manager. Prior to this I have worked at large companies and have been there for a few years but the going has always been difficult. I have always found myself being caught in the politics and have had difficulty figuring out how to reach out to the top players. I am also not a very people person and, as one person once told me, too easy. (However I like people and am very friendly and also, I am good at what I do and like my work a lot).

This is starting to play a huge toll on my life and career and I need your help to see how you all survive the first few weeks in a job. I truly appreciate it. I may have blind spots, actually tons of them because I cannot really tell when I am being used or what someone's motive is :(

Can you all share your best strategies on how you get into a new job and what you do to survive there in the first few weeks?
posted by stepup to Work & Money (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what's going on exactly. Can you say more about why you are being let go? Or are you quitting? Are you really only lasting a few weeks?

In the first few weeks I try to find out who the go-to people are. Not by playing politics (whatever that means) but by finding out who are the decision makers, who has the knowledge, who other people trust. I need to know who has the right answers to questions about how to do my job.
posted by desjardins at 4:17 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like The First 90 Days as a guide for starting a new job. It is targeted to new leaders, but the structure and advice is useful for any professional. It provides a structured learning plan about your new organization, how it works, what your department does and how it is perceived, and what your role in all that can be.

If you're finding that people are "using" you right off the bat, it may be good to reserve judgement about who to trust and confide in until you get a better feel for the place. But usually people are just trying to get a feel for who you are and what you can contribute, and (in my experience, at least) aren't trying to use anyone or make any big power plays. It is a time to be friendly, polite, helpful, and check in routinely with your boss to make sure you're focusing on the right things and working toward the results she wants. Ask questions. You can seek assistance and guidance from coworkers, but it is really your boss's opinion that counts.
posted by jeoc at 4:41 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you quitting, getting fired, or something else?

In the first few weeks at a new job, I focus on being friendly to everyone, learning from my supervisor what my responsibilities are, and mastering those responsibilities. No politics, no figuring out who the "top players" are, no gossip, no drama. Just work, learning everyone's names, and asking my boss questions about how to do my job. I don't know how you keep ending up in situations where you can be used if you're just listening to your supervisor, or why it matters what other people's motives are if you're being friendly to everyone. But those are goo things to focus on. And if anyone asks you about anything else, you have at least a few months when you can just say, "hey, I'm new, I don't really know anything about that," and then change the subject back to work.
posted by decathecting at 5:08 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Would it be possible for you to get into more specifics regarding your current situation? I'm not sure what you mean exactly by getting "caught in the politics" but it seems really surprising to me that you could feel that your job is seriously at risk (or that you could get fired) due to office politics in just 2-3 weeks. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's highly unusual.

Office politics is a dirty and dangerous game, and most people should not play, especially in the first 3-6 months at a new job. As suggested above, you should focus on performing your job, as directed by your supervisor, to the best of your abilities, while getting to know the rest of your team. Be friendly to everyone, do not gossip, pay attention to the chain of command, and always demonstrate a positive attitude.
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 5:52 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the responses (and some great questions which makes me think)--some clarification-I usually end up leaving (quitting), mostly in 2 to 3 months. Wherever I land, there is a lot of pressure to show something/make some hits in the first 3 months, the expectations are very high and the environment is very competitive (one e.g. you must have read in the newspapers). My most recent reasons for quitting recently has been my managers (manager A=not qualified for the job at all, manager B=ready to throw anyone under the bus and this time it was me for a project she could not carry out). Prior to that as a new person on the block I had to lead and carry out projects whose key managers were non cooperative and territorial. So how do you get to the point where you can buddy up with key folks to get them to cooperate with you or with higher ups who pay attention to you.
posted by stepup at 6:48 PM on December 27, 2015

As noted, we need more specifics. I've worked in a lot of office jobs, and while office politics can be filthy, unless you are in a really cut throat field (are you a trader? or a fund manager?) I've never heard of it being so bad that people regularly bomb out in weeks. This isn't to say it can't happen (especially if you are in one of the fields I named above or something similar) but in most jobs I would look for a different explanation.

If you're in a temp-to-perm construction, then I wouldn't be so stressed about it. (I mean a contract where you originally start out through an agency, but they have the option to hire you as full time after x period of time.) Unfortunately, window shopping with consultants in that position is pretty common.

Anyhow, I would sit down and focus on the feedback you've been given. Maybe you have written part of it off to politics, but try to imagine it has nothing to do with politics. How do you hear the feedback then?

(We can say more if you can share more.)
posted by frumiousb at 6:51 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I usually end up leaving (quitting), mostly in 2 to 3 months.

Aha. I typed my answer before seeing this appear.

It strikes me as I read your story that I hear very little effort to analyse yourself or your own behaviour. I hear a lot of very quick judgement of other people (2 months is not long enough to decide someone isn't competent, IMO) and not a lot of reflection about what you could do differently (aside from "play politics better".)

For project leaders, part of the job is about dealing with stakeholders who are less interested than you in getting the project done. And, again, 2-3 months is not very much time to decide you can't make a change. How much attention are you paying to change management in your assignments?

Are you quitting so quickly because you are afraid you are going to be fired? Or because you're annoyed you can't manage to make things happen?
posted by frumiousb at 6:58 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Without knowing more about your particular situation, there is one thing you can do to avoid the drama. You know how at every job, one person rushes to be your BFF? That person is probably a drama llama and you should decline to engage. New people are often seen as new allies for the gossip and drama prone. I can look back at every job I've had and recognize this toxic person, and hoo-boy, do I wish that I knew to avoid them from my very first job. This advice was echoed by a few people in this recent Ask thread about starting a new job—lots of great advice in there that you should consider!

This isn't to say that you shouldn't be friendly with people, but shut down any attempts by your new coworkers to turn you into their ally as they complain about whatever it is they dislike about the job. Tell these people that it hasn't been your experience that Jane Smith is lazy or that John Doe is a brownnoser and redirect the conversation.

Also, you say that you're unsure when you're being used. I wouldn't spend so much time worrying about that, instead, you can actively work to promote yourself and others. Promote the good work done by your coworkers and resist the urge to throw them under the bus when they don't do their jobs as well as they might. Help them if you can if they're flailing without doing their jobs for them—freely sharing knowledge is a great way to establish yourself as valuable. Just make sure that you keep your boss in the loop by regularly mentioning your achievements, including the ways in which you have become the go-to person on the team when someone is stuck.

This can be tricky if you work with people who try to take ownership of your work, but make it a habit to keep your boss informed when you solve a problem or hit a milestone. A lot of time people stew about not getting recognition from the higher-ups about their work, but you really do have to point out your achievements on a regular basis. Keep it casual, but keep your boss up to date about what you're working on, what roadblocks you foresee and what you're going to do to solve them, either in a weekly email or during one-on-one meetings. During your first couple weeks you can frame this in terms of what you're learning, who has been helpful, and demonstrate that you understand that is important to the goals of the department and talk about how you will help achieve them. (And then follow through.)
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:01 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you might want to do some more due diligence before accepting offers:

Ask to meet the managers you'll be working with while you're interviewing, and go over expectations with them.

If possible, ask if you can meet a couple of your potential co-workers. (If they won't let you, reach out to them on LinkedIn instead.) Ask these people what working there is really like (i.e., not the company line).

Always always ask why the position you're interviewing for is open, and press them if they give you BS like "the company is growing so fast!". Chances are, the position is open because the previous person left for some reason, and finding out that reason will help you know what you're getting into. If the previous person was promoted, that's good; if they left the company to take a lateral move, that's bad.

Some of it sounds like managing your own expectations as well. Not to be flippant, but the easiest way not to quit a job is to keep showing up every day. Yes, it's probably frustrating, but if your job requires any amount of skill, you probably won't be the MVP in a single month. Some of the places I've worked, you're not even out of training after the first month. And if you find most companies in your industry expect that kind of timeline from your position, you either need to figure out how to start hitting in that time, or you should look into a different line of work.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:05 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

So, then, the answer to "why can't I hold a job?" is a really easy one: you can't keep a job because you are, literally, not holding a job. You are, instead, letting go of jobs just a few weeks or months into them.

So now the question is different: "why can't I go more than a few months without quitting a job?" And that's not a question about office politics or being used or about your managers or coworkers. That's a question about you. So, why can't you just not quit?

Is it because you become so stressed out that you just can't stomach the idea of going to work in the morning, and therefore you feel you need to quit for your mental health? If so, I think you might consider that you're in the wrong career, because if this happens over and over again, it might be that this is not the right work for you.

Is it because you're reacting poorly to what is, actually, pretty average workplace behavior? Have you ever had a job you really liked, where you didn't feel like your bosses and coworkers were incompetent or unreasonable. What was different about that place?

Are you putting too much pressure on yourself? You talk about all of these expectations of you, but you're not getting fired from these jobs, you are choosing to leave when you don't meet what you perceive to be the expectations. Any chance that they don't actually expect those things, that the goals are more aspirational than realistic, and everyone knows it but you?

I hate to trot out that old trope, but I think you might benefit from talking about this issue, as well as the larger issue of your beliefs about how you are perceived by others, with a therapist.

But in the meantime, how about this: just stop quitting jobs. Whatever happens, don't quit. If they eventually fire you, so be it. But stop quitting. And then see whether at month 6 or month 12 or month 18, you feel differently.
posted by decathecting at 11:29 PM on December 27, 2015 [12 favorites]

You might also just be in the wrong sector. If it's cut throat and you don't like that, see about a lateral move to another area of work.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:16 AM on December 28, 2015

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