I quit on the spot. Now what?
January 5, 2022 9:04 PM   Subscribe

In follow-up to my question yesterday. I quit on the spot. The situation became unbearable. I guess quitting in and of itself won't ruin my career, but certainly quitting without notice might. I don't know what to do now. What have I gotten myself into?

Do I regret walking out of this job? No. I have never, ever quit a job before on the spot or without one lined up.

The situation became completely unmanageable. I will not go into the nitty-gritty, but yeah. It was bad and today was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I've reached out to my references, told them my situation. They're still willing to be references. And agree that, yeah, the situation at my job was not good. But also that I shouldn't have just quit, because that's bad/unprofessional. I get it. I sincerely get it. But I could not work another day with the staff there. I could not do it.

I was in this position for half-a-year. How the hell do I frame this? It had a commute from hell. I might lean on that. There's definitely no way that anyone from this position will be a reference for me. There's no way. Um. I don't know what to do at this point. This job was terrible. And I just pressed the nuclear button my career.

Time to find a new profession and leave this field completely? I feel like I was TRULY forced out and undermined by the staff.
posted by VirginiaPlain to Work & Money (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In a previous post you said "The staff have become completely unmanageable". I don't think I would use that, even if true, in framing why you quit, because it looks like you are blaming the other employees and that doesn't look really professional in my opinion.

I do not think you should leave this field completely if you still like the work and the field. Some people and some organizations just don't "mesh" but that doesn't mean the field is bad for you.
posted by TimHare at 9:39 PM on January 5 [5 favorites]

Stop telling people you quit on the spot. Especially don't tell anyone you are interviewing with about that. It's in the past, it's over with, and if anyone asks you why you left, say it wasn't a good fit and didn't align with your professional goals.

The good news is that libraries seem to be hiring now. I've seen quite a few postings recently. Look on the various job boards like ALA, your state and local Library Association website, USAJobs if you're in America, HigherEd Jobs, etc. Apply for jobs that excite you or that you find interesting, not jobs that terrify you. I don't mean to sound harsh, but if you are terrified of being a manager, being a manager probably isn't for you. Take some time to figure out what you really want to do, even if that means being a bartender or something like that for a little while. One time when I was at a previous job and I was trying to get out, a friend asked me if I was running away from something or running to something. It's better to be running to something because if you are just running away from a job you don't like, you could end up with something else that's worse than what you left.
posted by DEiBnL13 at 9:53 PM on January 5 [28 favorites]

I for one would welcome you trying to better articulate what the problem was -- you'll need to explain it eventually, in diplomatic terms. If you say, here, exactly why you quit, maybe folks can help you frame it in a way that a) is truthful without being overly blamey or disclosive or uncharitable (I said _overly_ uncharitable), and b) will help you avoid similar situations in the future.

I think a lot depends, too, on how much previous experience you have in this field, and whether you've dealt with milder, but normal, problems with other people.
posted by amtho at 9:53 PM on January 5 [14 favorites]

Don't blame it on the commute, something you knew about before being hired... that calls your judgement into question.

Try to downshift these panic feelings; they're unnecessary. I've quit and been fired and panicked about it... and it has never to my knowledge seriously impacted future work. People just don't care that much, and they tend to trust their own judgement when they meet someone.

I would say, "Yes, I was at that job for 6 months. Now I'm looking for something [more like THIS job]." They likely won't pry.

If they do ask you to explain why you weren't there for long, say something vague, and you can use pauses and facial expression to imply a toxic environment without slandering the old workplace, for instance, (bland, pleasant voice:)

"There were a lot of great points about that role... (slow down a bit) and some challenges... within the organization... in terms of... some aspects of... the work culture. (Pause. Let that marinate a beat.) (Change gears.) What I loved most was being able to work with the patrons; I really found that incredibly rewarding and I was even able to update our [system thingie] to suit the needs of the customers in that specific location.

Saying something like this implies that the people were awful without YOU having to risk seeming awful by slandering them. It makes you look quite tactful and then you move on to your competencies.

As Don Draper told Peggy Olsen: "Get out of here and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened."
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:59 PM on January 5 [48 favorites]

I doubt it’s that much of a black mark that a public-facing managerial job you started in the middle of a pandemic, in a world of constantly-changing demands on staff, didn’t go exactly to plan. Libraries can be…resistant to change, and an overstressed team is more likely than not to buck under new management. Whether it’s true or not in this specific instance, *waves hands* “Covid” is worth a lot.
posted by mumkin at 10:01 PM on January 5 [4 favorites]

Hey VirginiaPlain, this may not really be an option because you said you quit (rather than got laid off) but I'm wondering if you just need to take a break for a bit and be on EI. I vaguely remember your question history from past years, and it seems you've had a really tough time, from parental aging/health, to terrible job, to interview stress, to another terrible job (plus the general horribleness and doom of COVID!). I mean I know Ask MeFi is a safe space to freak out with friendly and helpful strangers (so maybe we are only seeing the worst parts of your life here and it's a skewed view) but to me it seems that you're just so done with everything and that's why every incident is a big disaster and your emotions are dialed up to 11.

Feel free to tell me if that is totally wrong and I'm reading too much into things.

As for what to do: absolutely take the time to freak out, be angry, etc. with trusted friends, family, career coach, therapist etc. Get it out of your system so that by the time you are interviewing again, you can calmly and dispassionately talk about what happened, and refocus the conversation on what you are looking forward to. Remember that the "Why did you leave your last position?" is meant to only take about 3 minutes of interview time, and an interviewer will be happy to move on if you don't sound vindictive or "It's everyone else's fault, not mine!" in your answer.
posted by tinydancer at 10:18 PM on January 5 [16 favorites]

I hit the nuclear button on my career once (you only get to do this once), and yes, I told off my boss (still feels so good to think about it). The way I talk about it is try to find a truthful aspect of why I left. So what is a truthful aspect of why you left? I could imagine: bad commute during a global pandemic and the library wasn't taking covid protocols/safety as seriously as you'd like? (Just a guess). Stay in your industry. Start looking for work tomorrow morning first thing. Lucky you, it is an applicant's market right now - perfect time to press eject.
posted by Toddles at 10:24 PM on January 5 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I’m going to make one clarifying comment about the issue before I see myself out. The previous manager left this place in absolute shambles, from top to bottom. This job was a nightmare on practically every level. Not solely due to managing employees. The previous manager failed to manage at all. I had minimal from support to do my job well, period.

There is so much more to the situation that led me to quit beyond run of the mill staffing. Please trust me on this.

I know I ask a lot of complainy questions on here, but why would I ask questions about what’s going well in my life? Questions that I know how to solve on my own.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 10:25 PM on January 5

Noted, VirginiaPlain, and apologies again if my previous comments was jumping to conclusions.

Based on your update, I wonder if you could present it this way:

I was eager and excited to step into management. Unfortunately once I started the position, it became clear that the expectations were misaligned on both sides. They were looking for someone to right the ship (or if that is still too hostile-sounding) / someone to overhaul/create entire systems and teams from scratch. Whereas my strengths gear more towards improving an existing system, and growing a team both in head count and skills/mentoring.

Then maybe you can follow-up with:
Can you tell me more about the current team's makeup, and organizational objectives and initiatives the new manager would be expected to meet? What is your new hire/new manager onboarding process? What resources or supports are available to help the new hire execute the organization's objectives?

Obviously there is no magic set of questions, they could still be lying through their teeth about the position you're interviewing for! But hope that can be a useful script.
posted by tinydancer at 10:58 PM on January 5 [11 favorites]

Probably some fields care about this more than others, but I'd just use years on your resume, not months, and if there's still a gap say you were helping a sick relative, consulting, learning a new skill, covid something-something — whatever throwaway thing. Or maybe don't even mention it all. The idea that you must account for every moment of your life to an employer is nuts, frankly.
posted by Violet Blue at 12:05 AM on January 6 [8 favorites]

I was in this position for half-a-year. How the hell do I frame this?

When it's not immediate, and you've got another opportunity in front of you it will be less difficult to respond. You have left because of a mismatch between their expectations of you, and what you were looking for in a job. As it happens, their expectations were for a miracle worker, and you were looking for a semblence of normality, but you don't need to spell out that level of detail. For the purposes of interviewing, it's just a mismatch and you are not the first person in the world to have given a job 6 months and decided it wasn't right. Also, interviewers you want to work for will want to know that you are the right person to fill their vacancy, not the gossip around why you left another organisation.

Take a couple of days, and then start applying for jobs that look interesting and viable in both libraries and other fields that you are interested in. Keep your options open and see what offers you are made.

As I said the other day, I think a 6 month job you have just left is long enough that you do need to include it. Maybe not forever but for now. This is a good time in the wider economy to have just upped and left a job, and a good time to be looking for a new job.
posted by plonkee at 3:38 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]

People leave jobs all the time, for all sorts of reasons. If you have good references from other positions, you're fine. Future employers probably won't even ask or care that much- a 6 month position on a CV isn't unusual and might just look like a short term/contract role. If asked why you left (which you probably won't be) you can say as suggested above something like "It wasn't a great fit for me and I want to pursue a role more in line with my career goals." Then pivot to why you are interested in the job you are applying for.
Anecdote: i once had an asshole boss who removed me from payroll (essentially firing me) without even telling me. Oh, the joys of academia. His poor admin who had processed it told me after I had continued to show up for work for 3 more days. I immediately packed up and left. I obviously did not use him as a reference and said nothing about it at my next job (which I loved) until I had been there for about a year.
Your career will be okay, just focus on moving forward and finding a job you like.
posted by emd3737 at 5:16 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]

There is no need to offer up too many details. You don't need to be cagey, but you don't need to be evasive either.

You can probably explain something along the lines of "I was initially eager to prove my worth, but soon found that my job is not only to run the department, but to course-correct from my predecessor's stint. I did what I could, but COVID made things worse. In the end, I find myself doing a job that I was not hired to do and it will never be. "
posted by kschang at 5:47 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]

And I just pressed the nuclear button my career.

Time to find a new profession and leave this field completely?

I can't speak from personal experience, really - I've worked for one company for years and have not tended to have the kinds of jobs with very formal application processes - but I spent a lot (A LOT) of my time off in 2020 reading through the Ask A Manager archives and . . . AFAICT Alison Green thinks this is mostly not how things work these days.

That while there may be some industries that are relatively small and insular and everybody knows everybody, these days TONS of people have these kinds of blips in their employment histories. Folks wind up changing jobs for all sorts of reasons, some under their control, many not, and quitting after a relatively short time is not all that unusual.

If you have a pattern of changing jobs again and again and again, this might make some future potential employers go, "Hmmm", but even then if you're in a line of work (which it kinda sounds like you are) that runs on short term contracts and often sudden staffing changes due to budget crunches and stuff like that, it won't seem too bad.

IOW, it's highly unlikely that you've now got a Permanent Black Mark On Your Record that means your library career is OVER. Plus of course *gesticulates wildly* PANDEMIC. Which has thrown all sorts of monkey wrenches into expectations and assumptions about what is and is not "normal" for employment.

I think a lot of this is your anxiety kicking in (and anger and frustration), and your friends/references being all "Harrumph! That's Unprofessional!" are NOT HELPING. Maybe that kind of attitude was relevant in 1973, but not anymore. (And the more socialist among us might suggest that it was really never true, just a constant dose of propaganda to keep us serfs scared to look for better treatment.)

If you can take like a month to just chill I think you should do that. Then go ahead and start applying for library gigs that seem like a good fit and IF in an interview someone asks about this job and why it didn't last long - and DO NOT bring this up yourself and think you need to start with some kind of excuse - then go ahead and say something bland and anodyne and short, like "Unfortunately, that job did not align with my long term career goals", or "The responsibilities of that job did not mesh with my personal strengths", or use nouvelle-personne's script, or maybe something like, "The position and organization had serious structural problems that I was unaware of until I was in the position for a while." Then shift to how enthusiastic and interested you are about the position you're interviewing for.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:56 AM on January 6 [4 favorites]

I actually wouldn’t even put this 6 month job on my resume at all. In this our era of Covid, it doesn’t seem strange at all that someone would have a gap. If asked you were caring for a family member, or took the time off as you didn’t want to risk exposure, or spent the time pursuing a passion project, etc etc.
posted by nancynickerson at 7:21 AM on January 6 [4 favorites]

It's 2022. Employment is changing rapidly. You have not torpedoed your career, it's ok! I understand your panic reaction but while it's not optimal for finances, it's fine to quit a toxic workplace. It's just not okay to say your previous workplace was toxic.

Put the job on your CV, provide other references, and when asked you can just say "I was very excited about the opportunities presented in interviews, but unfortunately the role was not as described. I want to be somewhere I can really help to lead change and contribute to a positive and supportive team and workplace."
posted by DarlingBri at 7:21 AM on January 6 [14 favorites]

I had a job from hell where I held the position for six months (prev turnover was two months) and was replaced by three people who all quit even faster. It was crushing me and I was about to quit immediately when I got a job interview for my current much better sane job. I told them i was doing great at the job’s various challenges but that most of the work was in a related field that I had been told before hiring would be minimal and that long term I wanted a career in field x, coincidentally their field. Basically I spun it hard and stayed truthful - it was true - but omitted the primary reasons I was leaving, because my boss was so awful.

Right now you are in shock. And the job has poisoned you. Take a week to detox and do lovely happy things for yourself. Then practice a a truthful but very selective narrative.

You did a really good thing!
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:22 AM on January 6 [4 favorites]

It’s 6 months during a pandemic, you could also just leave it off your resume completely. It might come up in an interview as to why you left the job before that (which would be the most recent job on your resume), so you’ll need an answer to that, which might have to involve mentioning the current job. But with the state of the world and the job market now, they might not even ask! If they do, say a truthful version of what happened, something along the lines of:

I actually left that job for another, looking for x change/growth/opportunities, but that job was a bad fit for y reasons so now I am looking for z.

If you were laid off from the other job, even easier! Just say that and you don’t have to even bring up the most recent one (unless they ask what you’ve been doing, you might need to, but then you just say diplomatically why it was a bad fit)
posted by sillysally at 8:04 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]

Also, I second the suggestion that you should NOT use the commute as your excuse, you knew what that would be before you started, so it would reflect poorly on you, in my opinion. (Not that I blame you, but if I were hiring someone, that would be an orange flag)
posted by sillysally at 8:05 AM on January 6

I quit on the spot once. It had no impact on my career. I got good experience in that job and it helped me get another better one. So focus on what you learned and did that was different than before. It seems like you now have management experience and that's job growth, not a black mark.

Try not to have too much of a break on the resume. Consulting, temping or a certification in a related field should be on the calendar for February.
posted by jello at 8:16 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]

As most folks are commenting - it so unlikely this torpedoes your career. Sometimes people work for short periods of time because of a bad fit or circumstances unbeknownst. Its happens. Probably worse, in many industries, to have a long string of 1-2 year jobs. So you should let go of that concern.

More importantly for your next job search: you can not describe what happened as personally as you are in this question (as accurate as your description is.) Remove all judgement and emotional about the previous manager, the staff, whomever hired you from the story, entirely. I know you are rightfully pissed at all these jerks you had to deal with, and you should talk shit about them to your family and friends as much as you want... but hiring managers want to hire people that can separate and compartmentalize their experiences (for better or worse, but that's how it is...)

You should script a good two or three sentences about the experience, IF the question is even asked. "Unfortunately, when I started the position, my hiring manager and i didn't recognize that it wasn't quite the right fit. The lack of capacity at that library went far beyond what i was able to offer as a (job title manager), and they'll likely go back to the drawing board. I wish them well, but I really want to use my (specific skills) to do this exciting job."
posted by RajahKing at 8:46 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]

Let's put it another way - you were a manager at a library - how much time during your daily duties was spent hearing about other, unemployable people at your level? I would guess that it was essentially "zero".

In my 30+ year career, across hundreds of consulting clients/gigs, I have only encountered hearing gossip/rumours about 3 "unemployable" people - and one of those turned out to be perfectly employable, once he was able to shift his career in the direction he wanted to go - I was a technical team lead, he was underperforming as a programmer, management fired him - I found out ahead of time, had a talk and found out he was unhappy being a programmer, he wanted to be a systems administrator/operations person. He had even obtained certifications related to his new role - but the organisation refused to reimburse them, because they were unrelated to being a "programmer". He was fundamentally depressed and unhappy. So - I gave him a conditional reference - only for any roles related to being a sysadmin - and then basically stating that I had worked with him, that this was his intended career change - and he was excited and motivated to go there. I actually had a call with a single employer... and I gave that reference. The last time I had checked-in with him, he had been at the new company for 10-years and been promoted many times to become their most senior systems "engineer".

As others have pointed-out, be careful in how you discuss this role (basically be positive and focus on the client/user outcomes and not the staff interactions or messed-up history that you were unfortunately unable to rectify)...

.... IF... (and that is a big "IF") - you choose to actually put this on your resume. This is a pandemic - you could have been off for a myriad of legitimate reasons. Even if it were not a pandemic, the duration is short enough that I would feel fine with leaving it off...

I have quit exactly one gig (contract) with an obtuse client, I had been there for 2-months and they blocked every possible avenue that I could use to actually DO the work I had been hired to do, because "politics" (I wasn't allowed to even communicate with the stakeholders and subject-matter-experts of the project) - I came to the conclusion that the only reason they hired me, was to use their budget before the end of the year, so it wasn't "wasted" and their budget wasn't reduced in the next fiscal year.

I left it off my resume (total gap was 3-months), and have never looked back. Whenever I hear of their "family-run" big-name corporate communications business, I laugh, shake my head and think about how completely screwed-up they are internally...

Take some time, some deep breathing - and relax, it will work out - better days are ahead!
posted by rozcakj at 8:57 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]

There is so much more to the situation that led me to quit beyond run of the mill staffing. Please trust me on this.

With kindness, I don't think people here are doubting that the job was wretched and it was okay for you to leave. Just that if your question is "What they hell do I do now?" part of the answer involves helping you frame this job as you look for new jobs.

Your references have still agreed to be references, that's good. I agree with others, I wouldn't mention the commute when you talk to potential employers. I might frame it as "They needed someone to go in and repair this branch library situation, and my skillset is more geared towards managing a library that is more or less functional" or something that basically not only implies that the job was a bad fit, but also will make people be like "Well good, our library is functional so you are a better fit for it"

As I said in the last question, people in the library field know that some libraries are just broken. I would not dwell too much on this situation Complain to your friends, get it out of your system, gripe here if you want to and then start applying for new jobs and working on your elevator pitch about what your skills are and, if you want, what you learned from thisbrief position that would make you a good employee moving forwards.
posted by jessamyn at 9:08 AM on January 6 [5 favorites]

Hey I just did that too! Got promoted into a management position, hated it, walked away suddenly in under a year with no plan. High five!
100% my decision to quit was due to Terrible Others in my team and management, but in interviews now, I frame it all about what I learned about myself from the failure and how it informs what jobs I'm pursuing now: "This year I learned people management is not my strong suit, so the Team Lead position wasn't a perfect fit. I know now that I excel at execution rather than coaching, which is why I'm excited about your Executive position..." What does your previous experience reveal about YOUR strengths/weaknesses (not a SWOT analysis of your old colleagues, boss or company) and how they might serve your next employer? Spin spin spin!
posted by Freyja at 9:49 AM on January 6 [7 favorites]

Why would you mention that you gave no notice? You're not going to be able to use the supervisor at that job as a source of references, so it is unlikely that it will ever come up that you did not give them notice.

Especially because you can always flat out lie and make some kind of noises about "...waiting for the results of a Covid test." If it comes up, allow them to infer that you were infectious and that made it impossible to be present during the two weeks notice period.

Some situations are toxic because there are people whose interactions with each other make them pathologically bad. Your place of work was one of them. You couldn't make it work. You needed to get out. You can now understand why your predecessor left it in such a mess. They couldn't make it work either.

Congratulations for getting out! You did the right thing! You are free! Now, breath deep and slow, get your equilibrium back and don't dwell on the paranoia and learned helplessness and learned failure that you were picking up at this hopeless job. You now have a future and time to recharge and job hunt. Way to go!!
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:52 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]

To me it sounds like the place needed a manager who was specifically experienced with "overhaul." That's a category of skills. If I were interviewing candidates for a department that needed an overhaul, I would be asking them about their experience in identifying problems, replacing staff, realigning staff duties, diagnosing system failures and solving them, measuring success of new solutions, etc. And if I hired someone who didn't have those skills, then I'd be the one who screwed up. (I come from a big tech hiring background; I understand that most places don't get this granular. But this is how I'd do it.)

My point is that I think what happened here was a mismatch of skills. And that's ok to say - and in fact it's important to be honest about, because you don't want to get stuck in that situation again. "I was excited to take on a managerial role, but it turned out this place needed an overhaul manager to develop solutions for a number of systemic problems, which was a different scope of work than what I'm looking for. I have a demonstrated record of success with A, B, and C., and I'm looking for a role where I can concentrate on those and build on them."
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:33 AM on January 6 [5 favorites]

First off: good stuff. You extricated yourself from a situation that called for urgent action. A lot of people would have suffered needlessly, and I think you did the right thing. Take a breather, enjoy the weekend before thinking about job stuff again come Monday morning.

Second, here's my take on future interview possibilities. From a hiring perspective, while I might ask one question about the length of your tenure (e.g. "I see you were at X for 6 months -- why did you leave?"), I'm much more interested in what you can bring to my table. As such, I don't really care about the nittty gritty of your previous posts—with glorious exceptions, everyone has shit bosses—but rather your experiences dealing with situations relevant to my org and the role I'm hiring for, and listening to how you talk about them even if you lacked the support you needed. There is nothing to gain by lingering on the details of a job gone bad, and doing so tells me a candidate isn't ready to move on (and would likely be a bad fit in my team).

Salvage what you can, get a list of bullet points of experiences and skills from this specific role down before you forget anything, and make sure to be positive when you're ready to interview again. If that last one is a struggle, know that workplace trauma is real and takes effort to process. You'll get there.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 4:23 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]

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