Growing up, I was a big cereal kid – and I LOVED me some Cocoa Pebbles. Sweet, delicious (definitely not nutritious) and the chocolate milk action as you ate it was the topper. I would eat that stuff morning, noon and night if my parents would have let me. But yet, as much as I loved Fed Flintstone’s chocolate goodness, I was intrigued to try other cereals. Captain Crunch, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios – you name it and I tried it but always came back to old reliable Cocoa Pebbles. At some point though I was introduced to Lucky Charms. Ahhh yes – those marshmallows were a seductive temptress for me as a kid. I abandoned Cocoa Pebbles and moved full time to the Charms. Funny thing though, after a few months of eating the cereal I was ready to go back to Cocoa Pebbles. Why did I just spend a good 3 – 4 sentences talking about cereal? Because the comparison to switching jobs and then having buyer’s remorse has a lot of parallels. What if you leave a job and then realize a few months in the new role you aren’t happy and made a big mistake? Unlike eating cereals this is a relationship that is much harder to get out of and equally challenging to manage when looking for a new role. I get asked this question a lot by people and thought it would be a great idea to blog about what you can do if you too find yourself regretting a recent job move.
1. Move quickly – OK – you are in the job a few months and realize, for whatever reason, you made a big mistake. You have been patient, tried to communicate your concerns and don’t see any light at the end of the rainbow. The last thing you want to do now is wait and hope it gets better. Time to find a new gig. Trust your instincts. Right or wrong, you need to start thinking about your resume and how you position this potentially very short stint on your resume. If it is just a few months and you can find something quickly, no harm no foul. This company doesn’t even need to appear on your resume moving forward. However – if you are there for more than 3 – 4 months, you need to explain the time gap, and thus becomes a potential “flag” to future employers. While I don’t agree with that as a whole, it is a reality in the minds of hiring managers. Moral of the story here is cut your losses as soon as possible so that you can frame the narrative on your resume and chalk it up to a bad decision – everyone makes them after all at one point or another.
2. Frame the story – We seem to forget when we are in situations like this that we are all humans (except The Rock – that guy is a machine). As humans, we understand an occasional bad decision in people’s careers. The story and reasoning behind the decision, though, is what frames the audience reactions (read – hiring manager reactions). First things first – any attempt to trash your current employer, no matter how much you hate it there, is bad form and will not make a potential future employer excited about your candidacy. Be honest and open, but frame your story not around the failures of the company you joined but rather on how the opportunity had appeared to be something you soon realized it was not – ideally from a career growth perspective. Example – instead of saying “ I soon realized after joining that the people were really stand off-ish and that the exec team has no clue what they are doing” try “I was very excited about the company and the role, but realized after a few months that this was not the career growth position I was expecting”. Obviously this is a shortened answer that will require more explanation in interviews, but the best bet is to be prepared and own the decision as opposed to pointing fingers. Remember – everyone at some point in their career has made mistakes. If you are genuine, humble and own it then it is a lot easier to explain and move past it in your discussions.
3. Get looking (but with Stealth) – So you have realized you need to move, have framed your story, but not sure how to start? Of course your first concern is income. Unless you can manage it financially and quit, you need to keep the job you are in while you are looking for a new one. This obviously is tough because you (and rightfully so) are concerned your current employer will find out. First things first – do NOT post your resume on boards if you want to remain confidential. What you might not realize is that recruiters at companies will often do searches on “current company” with their own firm/company as the search criteria to find who might be potentially leaving and thus get ahead of future recruiting needs. Your best bet is to search job aggregators like Indeed.com, SimplyHired.com, Glassdoor and LinkedIn. You can browse and selectively reach out to those organizations of interest without putting your information out there. As I have stated in prior posts, applying to these jobs is the last resort. You want to stand out in a meaningful way. Use your network to broker an intro the hiring manager directly (obviously with people you trust) or if no direct connection, reach out yourself. The key here is to reach out expressing interest in the company and role, not with a message that screams “get me out of my current role!”. Following companies of interest on Social media is also a good way to get to know them better (see point 5) and occasionally hear about opportunities you might not find elsewhere. Also might make sense to engage with a recruiter – but please consider if you are trying to be confidential using only one. When you engage multiple recruiters it becomes harder to manager your confidential search and also puts your name and resume out there to places and people you might not want knowing you are on the market.
4. Your resume and LinkedIn Profile – Even if you have quit because you just couldn’t take it anymore – my advice is to leave your resume and LinkedIn profile at this job as “to present”. Reason being, right or wrong (and I DEFINITELY think wrong) hiring managers and recruiters seem to feel that “employed = hirable” and that”not currently employed = not so much”. What you also should do is update your LinkedIn profile with terms and skills you want to be found for. Dirty industry secret – recruiters often times have no clue what they are looking for and use buzz words to search for candidates. Putting these buzzwords in your profile will garner views and potential outreach from recruiters. On your resume, do not use just ONE resume to apply to jobs for the very same reason I just mentioned. As most recruiters are simply going off of buzz words, use the terminology they use in the job description on your resume (obviously being truthful). This will definitely get you past the gatekeepers and get your resume seen by the right folks.
5. Be Patient – Yes- you are in a job that you hate and realized quickly it was a bad decision. The last thing you want to do is run to something else just as bad because you just couldn’t take it anymore at your current job. As you would in any job search scenario – be patient. Do your homework on the prospective employers. There is a TON of information out there today on employers, the most obvious being Glassdoor. When you are interviewing, be prepared with questions and specifically ones that you felt you wished you would have asked before taking the job you currently have, Again – use your network at these companies to probe about working there, their business and anything else that matters to you in your next employer. From a career perspective, short term stints are bound to happen sooner or later. What you want to avoid is two in a row. While I think employers look at short term stints in a backwards way in today’s economy, the reality is that to 95% of employers out there (according to “The Ed Survey of Ed’s experience”) they will look very negatively on them. Best to make sure the next move is the RIGHT move if you catch my drift.
Here are just some tips to help you if you find yourself in a situation where you joined a company and soon realized you made a mistake. Unlike my cereal analogy, you can’t just go to Stop and Shop and get some Cocoa Pebbles after realizing Lucky Charms marshmallows rule but the actually cereal kind of sucks. You need to be decisive, frame your story, look stealthily and be patient. Trust me – your next Cocoa Pebbles is out there.