How to explain why I'm leaving my current job after only 6 months
September 29, 2016 9:19 AM   Subscribe

I recently joined an organization for a job that sounded awesome on paper and even better in the interview. It's turned out to be anything but. Six months in, there's been one aborted reorganization and a 180 degree turn in strategy. This has resulted in not enough work and generally poor morale. I'll soon be interviewing at another organization (in a small field) for a similar role. How to explain my departure from my current job without sounding like a flake?

After a decade of doing my dream job, some life issues forced me to seek out a different career in early 2016. Earlier this year, when I interviewed for my current job, it sounded like an awesome challenge that would afford me the opportunity to learn new skills and eventually lead a team.

As it turned out, unfortunately, the job is a flop. My immediate managers are good people, but the top-level folks have repeatedly foisted new "strategy concepts" on us, resulting in confusion, overlapping workloads, abandoned projects, and poor morale. I was initially given a tricky portfolio and a broad mandate to achieve X goals within my first year -- a challenge I welcomed and was eager to take on. However, a month later (and after a lot of work on my part), our upper management pulled the funding for my portfolio and allocated it all to another project in another department.

Since then, I've bounced around helping folks out with various tasks, but with no real role to call my own. This has resulted in my feeling severely underemployed and bored, a new and unpleasant experience for me. I've talked with my manager on more than one occasion about it and offered my ideas (and asked for her input) on how I could be more useful to the organization, but it's been met with a lot of "let's see how the budget for the next fiscal year shapes up before we make any decisions" type of talk and the assignment of small tasks that I could do in my sleep. I have a sense that she is as lost as I am and isn't given the tools to manage the team, but I don't know all the details. In short, I am overpaid and bored. I know this sounds like a dream to some, but I like to be engaged with my work and I'm miserable.

I was recently turned on to an interesting opportunity at another org in my field, doing work similar to what I *thought* I'd be doing at my current job. This would be very much a lateral transfer, not a step up. However, I have a former colleague working there who has great things to say about the atmosphere and the projects in the pipeline that they're looking to manage (the reason they're hiring). I applied and will interview next week. I know from my colleague that they're a little concerned about the fact that I've only been at my current job for six months and will want to know why I'm leaving. I will also be hesitant to use my current supervisor as a reference because my departure will reflect badly on her -- it turns out there's been a fair amount of turnover during her tenure, some of it her fault, some of it not -- but it will cast her in a bad light if I leave and I don't know her well enough to be certain that she would offer a glowing review.

When asked why I'm leaving my current job, it seems odd to say "I'm seeking new challenges," or "I've reached the limit of my potential," after only six months. And the "not a good fit" response, in my experience, often leads to follow-up questions as to why. Nobody wants to bad-mouth their former employer in an interview, but this is purely a lateral transfer, so it'll be obvious that I'm seeking out the new opportunity for a reason. What would you say?
posted by GorgeousPorridge to Work & Money (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It was not a good fit because "I was initially given a tricky portfolio and a broad mandate to achieve X goals within my first year -- a challenge I welcomed and was eager to take on. However, a month later (and after a lot of work on my part), our upper management pulled the funding for my portfolio and allocated it all to another project in another department."
posted by Rock Steady at 9:26 AM on September 29, 2016 [21 favorites]

This is a perfect situation in which you should absolutely just tell them the truth. The job isn't what you thought it would be. It makes a lot of sense you would be looking for other opportunities.
posted by something something at 9:28 AM on September 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Exactly what they said above. Also: "After a decade of doing my dream job": You're not going to look like a flake after that.
posted by General Malaise at 9:31 AM on September 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

The job wasn't what was originally presented to you.

This happens to people all the time, and there is nothing remarkable about it unless you make it sound like a big drama, so as long as you don't do that - leave it unspoken hanging in the air, because everybody's been there, the people doing the hiring are also working professionals who have seen some shit in their time too - and behave as if it's disappointing but you're making the best of the situation, that's all anybody wants to see. Just seem like a calm rational person and it will be fine.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:34 AM on September 29, 2016 [7 favorites]

"There were some badly-timed changes in funding that left me with a significantly less challenging role" would raise no red flags for me (although I'm in academia, where that happens constantly).
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:54 AM on September 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

I would say something like "I really like the people I work with, but the company underwent a major reorganization and strategy change a month after I started, and my role has changed very dramatically from the original plan. The original vision was for me to do XYZ, and I was very excited about that." [I think it's important to make it clear that it's not an interpersonal issue that's pushing you away].

You won't look like a flake with 10 years at your previous job. I think the main thing is to just be straightforward about how this didn't work out, and it appears to be due to a matter of bad timing. Don't blame the organization, don't appear embarrassed or ashamed. Their priorities have changed, and yours remain the same. No harm, no foul.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:03 AM on September 29, 2016 [11 favorites]

Nthing that this is a situation where you can just tell the truth. The usual situations where reasonable people would want to massage the truth about their reasons for leaving are ones where a potential future employer has to consider whether the employee might have been the cause of the problem. For example if an applicant said "I'm leaving [workplace] because everyone there is a jerk" they might just be saying something that's objectively true, but it's equally likely that the applicant is just a difficult person who invites conflict, and employers are not going to risk it.

But none of that applies in your case. It would take a lot of mental gymnastics to turn your story as presented here into something that reflected badly on you. The only danger I could see here is if this whole situation gets you so steamed that you can't appear calm and professional while talking about it, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Just be as kind and objective as you can in describing the actions that led to your looking elsewhere (so "management decided to reallocate funding" not "those idiots in management screwed me"), and tell the truth concisely and clearly.
posted by firechicago at 10:16 AM on September 29, 2016

I'd just say something like "The position I was hired for was drastically altered shortly after starting and the new job duties are not aligned with my growth trajectory" Then quickly segue into how you would like to grow in your career and how this new position is better aligned with your passions and professional skills/interests. And then you are back on talking about the future job, not the past one.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:29 AM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

You won't look like a flake with 10 years at your previous job.

And once you've succinctly stated the circumstances around the new job, you should cleanly pivot right back to your earlier work. "....I really feel that your company and this position are a continuation/step up/(whatever it looks like to you) that builds on my ten years at [X] where I had a lot of success in my role as yada, yada, yada."

If the interviewer for some reason comes back to your short stint at new company, I'd say something, "Yes, it was really unfortunate and it's been a tough time for me personally, first taking the leap and then seeing that it was not going in the direction that I needed to go. But at least it has clarified for me that I'm looking for X, Y, Z – how do you feel like your company does on those things?" People don't usually want to press other people on painful things and allowing them to move on from this to talking about themselves is best.

Good luck!
posted by amanda at 10:47 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've just changed jobs after a similar situation. I didn't find it a problem and explained how a big restructure was announced a month after I joined and the role I thought I had was changing. Interviewers were understanding and many could relate directly. So definitely go for the full truth - I think a generic answer like not a good fit or new opportunities makes people assume far worse.
posted by JonB at 10:54 AM on September 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thanks to all who have taken the time to answer. My internal compass was just to be honest ("there was a reorganization and my duties changed, and the new position better reflects the path I'd like to take, yada yada"), but I wanted a reality check. I'm not the least bit angry with my current employers -- although frustrated with faceless senior management -- so I don't think I'll be projecting any negative vibes. Cheers, all!
posted by GorgeousPorridge at 11:35 AM on September 29, 2016

This is one of those opportunities to turn a negative into a positive.

You stuck it out 6 months which is more then reasonable to know you're in a bad situation. As a hiring manager I'd look well on someone who took a job, realized it didn't meet expectations and decided to move on.

After telling them what happened then follow up with questions about the job you're interviewing for to show that you're pro-actively trying to prevent this from happening again.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:40 AM on September 29, 2016

You can put in a word or two about how you're willing to be flexible and roll with the changes... up to a point. There's also the idea that an initial probationary period on a new job is a way to find out if they're a good fit for you, and not just vice versa.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:01 PM on September 29, 2016

Agreeing with above, but I would also be somewhat concerned about the financial longevity of your current employer (re-allocating funding could mean a few different things) and might gently hint that funding issues are making you be proactive earlier than you might otherwise have been.
posted by saucysault at 3:59 PM on September 29, 2016

Sometimes, "there was a reorganization, and several of my projects were moved elsewhere" actually means "higher-ups deliberately reorganized things so that key projects would no longer be run by me."

I would be careful to emphasize the reasons why the reorganization that cost you your primary project wasn't (or couldn't have been) a response to any perceived failures on your part.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:00 PM on September 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

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