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Why So Soon?

There are few things more devastating that discovering your new dream job is more like a nightmare. At first you might second-guess your initial gut instincts: I’m new. I’m figuring things out. This is just all part of the transition process. My colleagues will warm to me soon. The person I report to is just under stress. I came at a tough time, but it will be better soon.

Over time you will come to understand that it’s not you, it’s them. That’s when the hard decision has to be made: Do you stick it out? Or do you plan an immediate exit strategy?

In response to my previous post, “This Is Not What I Expected,” several readers commented on whether it makes more sense to leave a bad situation immediately or try to make the most of it. Concerns about looking like a job-hopper or even a failure weighed on some people’s minds, while a desire to put an end to the misery seemed more important to others. There is no easy answer to the “How long is long enough?” question, but once you’ve decided to move along, there are ways to manage the messaging about why you left or plan to leave early.

Complete honesty might not be the best policy here. While you don’t want to lie, it’s best not to go on and on about nasty co-workers, soul-crushing work, or a boss with no integrity. All that would make potential employers wonder about what you might say about them one day. Instead, consider expressing disappointment. “After about a month, it became clear that the job was not what I believed it to be. I don’t have a history of leaving positions quickly, so I had to think hard about this and what it might mean for my career. During the brief time I’ve been there, I have accomplished several things I am proud of, including [insert accomplishments here].” If you have no accomplishments, you might consider noting the things you have learned.

If possible, spend concentrated time establishing connections with people who will speak well of you and back up your story when you are ready to make your move: “He has developed some exceptional evaluation tools during his short time here, and we are going to miss that if he leaves.”

If you have a reasonable track record before the nightmare job, a one-time blip is not likely to make you a pariah. If you have no track record, you might want to suck it up for at least a year and do everything possible to build a portfolio of successes.

Have you ever had to explain why you exited a job early? If you hire people, how would you view a candidate who left a job quickly after beginning it?

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