Quitting my job after 5 months. How do I explain to prospective employers why?
April 16, 2007 8:36 AM   Subscribe

Quitting my job after 5 months. How do I (or rather, "Do I") explain to prospective employers that I'm leaving because of a verbally abusive manager?

I'm applying to new jobs and am resigning from the one I currently have this week. The trouble is, I don't know how to explain why I was with my current company for only five months. I'm only leaving because my manager is verbally abusive and I can't take it anymore. Otherwise, I've been outperforming and have been rewarded for it.

I've tried my best to keep my manager happy, but I feel emotionally unsafe in the workplace now. He belittles the work I've done (despite the fact that I've been recognized as outperforming) and he expects me to cover his ass when he's late to work, leaving early and when he doesn't show up for client conference calls. He speaks badly of upper-level management and colleagues at his middle level, and tries to manipulate me into believing that I can't trust anybody in our global company but him.

He also sees my high level of productivity as a threat.

I'm afraid. He is moody. I wouldn't put it past him to make up lies about me. I'm really scared. I have to cut my losses. HR, located in another city, asked me to adapt, but he's just so unpredicatable.

None of my old managers ever acted like this. I think this guy has problems but I just don't think I can do anything to make him feel like being a better manager.

But how do I explain my decision to leave to prospective employers and not be seen as a problem applicant?
posted by onepapertiger to Work & Money (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Never say anything bad about a former job. The standard line is, "It wasn't a good fit." Either that or, "Once I got into it I realized the position had been misrepresented in the hiring process." Be vague.
posted by orangemiles at 8:44 AM on April 16, 2007

You don't explain it. Badmouthing your current employer to prospective employers is never a good idea. You just start looking for a job and give the two reasons orangemiles gave above. Also, don't quit until you have a new job.
posted by boomchicka at 8:47 AM on April 16, 2007

Best answer: You don’t find you’re being productive in your current position and are looking for a better fit. Be sure to mention the glowing references from the people who recognise your contributions. Whoever is hiring you should be able to put two and two together.

If pressed for details, say you’re not comfortable saying anything that might be perceived as negative about anyone in your workplace. Then don’t say anything. Or perhaps, say you regret leaving because of X and Y great things about your job. Let them fill in the blanks of why you would leave a job with X and Y great things.

You want to make it clear that you’re a team player (not badmouthing your current employer). Giving details of the issues puts your listener in the difficult position of having to judge whether what you’re saying is a correct evaluation of your situation, which (unless you say that your employer is spying on you via radio emissions from your teeth) is just about impossible. The best you can do is be mature and discreet about it, and let them judge you as mature and discreet and therefore probably justified.
posted by kika at 8:55 AM on April 16, 2007

Best answer: No need to explain. Be regretful, blunt, but nonspecific.

Can you afford to be jobless for a bit? If so, your emotional wellbeing may be better off for leaving sooner. That's what I did; however, I ended up going right to the line as far as cushion vs. oh-my-god-I-need-money-to-live goes.
posted by atayah at 8:57 AM on April 16, 2007

Response by poster: But doesn't "It wasn't a good fit" immediately makes it sound like I'm a bad employee not willing to wear a lot of different hats?

As for quitting, I have to. I can't take it anymore. He scares me. I've tried everything, but he won't stop threatening or intimidating me. His office is right across from mine. I've endured this since the fifth week of being employed. I can't do this anymore. I'm just all cried out every night.
posted by onepapertiger at 9:04 AM on April 16, 2007

Don't worry about quitting a job that you hate - you're talking about almost half of your waking life. If the job sucks, usually your enjoyment of life is greatly reduced. If you can afford it, walk. I've done it twice and would do it again without a second thought (it gets easier after the first time).

As for the excuse for the new employer, I wouldn't sweat it too much. This is the 21st century. People move jobs all the time for all sorts of reasons. So what if it wasn't a good fit? You still performed well (as evinced by your reward), which shows you're a good professional.

On a separate note, have you alerted HR to the extent of your manager's abuses? This sounds like way more than the level of arseholery you should have to tolerate from a boss, and probably actionable. Although if you just can't face going that route, that's OK too. Life's too short to be miserable
posted by Jakey at 9:15 AM on April 16, 2007

In your case I would second atayah's advice to leave ASAP. Your time is better spent recovering for a few days and then starting to look for something else. That will help you put the whole experience in perspective a little more. Employers do like applicants to be able to wear different hats but this should always be via a process of sensible negotiation with your boss. Good employers will see the value of somebody who is willing to assert themselves by quitting when asked to do something unreasonable. Providing that you understand you are doing the right thing by leaving - and that you let interviewers fill in the blanks - the experience can reflect neutrally or positively on you.
posted by rongorongo at 9:21 AM on April 16, 2007

We all have strengths. Einstein might have found that being a nurse or a life coach wasn’t a good fit for him. Einstein would probably found that working for an aggressive, paranoid boss wasn’t a good fit for him either. (He definitely found that working in Nazi Germany wasn’t a good fit.)

If you say “I don’t find I’m being productive in my current position and am looking for a better fit” you say two things about yourself. One, that your goal is to contribute and two, that you’ll settle for a better fit — you aren’t holding out for a perfect one, that you’re flexible. Both are good things.

Second, find out from HR if they have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program). Many companies have a free counselling service. Yes, they are confidential. (I know someone who worked for one and when they submitted their reports about who they were seeing — how many employees, how many male and female employees, how many employees consulting about family vs work-related issues — they would often make things up to be absolutely sure nobody was identifiable. For instance, if there were only two people consulting in a particular city, one week they might show up on the reports as men, another week as women; one week as consulting about family, another week about work. If they made it obvious that there was only one or two people going back over and over again then someone might try to figure out who they were. They didn’t want that.)

Your current boss sounds like a nasty problem and you need to get away. But you should have ways to let go after work and not cry every night. It sounds like you could use some support during this difficult time.
posted by kika at 9:27 AM on April 16, 2007

I think it's professional to start with something like "it was not a good fit" and if that isn't satisfactory or you're asked for more details, then you can get into it more. But don't rush right in and point fingers. You may not even be asked about the 5-month period. Shit happens and people know it.
posted by scarabic at 9:48 AM on April 16, 2007

I left my last job after 7 months for a similar reason. (My hair had started to fall out from the stress.) While interviewing for my current company, I said that I was "looking for a new challenge" and that I had quit my last job before finding a new job because job-hunting is so time-consuming. The interviewers seemed satisfied with that. (I've been here for 6+ years now and am very happy.)

I was very honest with my manager's manager at the previous company before I left (and at the exit interview) about the psycho yelling, and my ex-boss was relieved of managerial duties soon after I left.
posted by mingshan at 9:52 AM on April 16, 2007

Quit. You will be far better off. NEVER stay in an abusive environment and allow yourself to live like a victim. Pick your head up and know you deserve better. And give it to yourself.

I have been in this situation, and when people ask me why I left a position I'm honest. I say that it was, unfortunately, a toxic work environment and that I needed to move on. I always try to be very professional & pride myself on being productive and doing good work for my employers, but I found my former employer didn't provide a healthy atmosphere that I felt comfortable in as an employee. So I gave my notice because I knew I needed to find a place that would be a better fit.

People do get that. Just don't go into too many specifics and sound petty or emotional, that's the key. They may try to push your buttons to gossip about it, but don't. If they ask you a bunch of questions, you can even say, "I'd rather not go into the details out of respect for them. It's in the past & I have no hard feelings so I'd just like to move on from it. I could go into it if I need to but I would rather not badmouth anyone, so if we could just leave it here I'd appreciate it. I'd really prefer to focus on why I know I can be a good employee for you and to hear more about this position, it sounds great!"

Lots better than walking in and doing the whole "OmyGOD those guys SUUUUUCCCCKKKKEEEDD!" shtick. That definitely isn't good.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:02 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've been in the (IT) workplace for more than twenty years now.

Last year, I left a job after a little less than eight months.

It just wasn't a good fit.

"It wasn't a good fit" is universally understood by all hiring managers to mean "I Can't Say Anything Nice About Them And So I'm Not Saying Anything At All. My, The Weather Is Quite Something Lately, Isn't It?"

Never, ever get into the specifics of problems or conflicts with an old boss or company. Keep it simple and don't badmouth them. Presumably you've got good references to give them that will check out, etc.

As long as you don't make a habit of job-hopping, quickly leaving a job where you're miserable once (or even twice) in your career is not going to hurt you.

(P.S. In my new gig, I am making more money, learning a lot, and really digging my co-workers. It's a good fit.)
posted by enrevanche at 1:36 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

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