Career Opportunities

A ComputorEdge Column

Back to Archive Index

...into the fire. (Parts 1-4)

© Douglas E. Welch 1997

Gone are the days of our parents, when careers spanned 30 or more years with the same company, slowly working your way up the corporate ladder and retiring at 65 with the gold pocket watch. Today careers are made up of movement from one job to another, hopefully growing in power and responsibility each step of the way. With such movement comes the possibility for disappointment, anger and frustration. It is a rare person who hasn?t experienced the failure of a job opportunity, even when it appeared perfect at the outset.
This month I will give some insight into what makes a job go bad and how to manage when it does. I have been down this road myself and recently had a friend undergothe same. Hopefully, our experiences can help you if, and when, it happens.

Great Expectations!
In today?s job market it is always important to be looking for your next opportunity. We all have career goals and aspirations and sometimes the only way to fulfill those goals is to leave our current position for another, hopefully better one. I call it "moving up by moving out." It is very common in high-tech careers.
Sometimes, though, we can leap from the frying pan into the fire. We allow other, non-job-related, issues to cloud our vision. We see perfection where their is none. We have such great expectations for our new position that we ignore the possible problems that might arise. This isn?t to say we should beat ourselves up over these decisions. It is important to acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them and move on. No one can afford to languish over past problems in today?s job market. You have to move on and find the next job that will serve your needs.

Case Study
A close friend, Stan, recently left a large HMO to join a small company. He had been through many mergers and layoffs and was becoming tired of the typical corporate rigmarole. This new company was much closer to his home, a 5 minute commute instead of 45. Stan thought the small size of the company would contain fewer political battles. He also saw "huge growth abilities" since the company was being purchased by a larger holding company with the usual cash infusion. On top of this, there was a planned stock option package that would help him tie his rewards directly to his productivity. All in all, a very attractive proposition.
It was only after Stan left his HMO position and joined the new company that he discovered the realities of his new job. Despite his best intentions, research and interviewing Stan soon realized that things were not as they seemed.

As we will see in next week?s column, any position can be presented in a highly attractive light, but it is the reality that we have to deal with on a daily basis.

Part 2

We are discussing the issues involved when a new job doesn?t measure up to the picture presented in the job interview. Last week, I described how my friend Stan had left a corporate computer department position to join a new, smaller company. I asked Stan to outline some of the warning signs that tipped him off that all was not well.

Buying hands not heads
One of the first stories Stan related was friction with his new manager. Although during the interview there had been much talk about bringing the company into the 20th Century the actual situation was much different.
"It was the ?not-invented-here? syndrome gone wild. The manager didn?t want me stepping on his toes. I get the feeling that I overdid the technical aspect of my job when I had REALLY been hired to be a backup help desk person. "
This is not uncommon and I have experienced similar situations myself. Managers often profess a desire to be forward-thinking. Unless they are secure in themselves and their situation, they often see the "gung ho" attitudes of a new hire as a threat to their stability. Although new employees have no desire to "take the boss?s job", managers can often interpret it that way.
Managers can also fall victim to inflating the responsibilities and opportunities of a job to make the company and themselves look more important in the interview. They feel they must do this to attract the right level of candidates, but fail to realize the their turnover will be huge if the job isn?t really what they described.

Warning Signs
Stan saw some warning signs before he was eventually terminated, but they only became clear after he was let go.
"My boss was mad that he couldn?t ?handle? me. I would come to him with everyday issues, like writing thank you letters to clients after a three day off-site seminar, and he would look at me like I had crap for brains."
It is obvious that Stan and his manager had different expectations of the job.
"I was taken to lunch about 2 1/2 months prior to my departure and was told that I needed to be doing more of the pure coding and Quality Assurance effort. I would need to learn a minicomputer operating system and all of the company?s applications with the goal of being able to support the apps in place of any client support rep. This was different from the role we had originally discussed when I was hired. I said OK, but now I realize that was mistake."

There are often warning signs that there is a mis-match between manager?s and employee?s expectations, but it can be difficult to see them. As employees, we are often blinded by the interview promises and descriptions when the daily reality is nearly opposite.

Part 3

Last week I talked about what warning signs might be seen when your understanding of the duties of a new job do not match with those of your manager. This situation can often lead to your termination from the company but there are a few things you can do to salvage the job, if you really want.

Cutting your loses
Once you have been exposed to the sometimes vicious responses that can result from job conflicts you might be so angry or upset that you feel you cannot do anything about it. In truth, though, it is only you, yourself that can resolve the problem. The first decision you have to make can often be the hardest. How important is this job to you?
It can be difficult to make a clear decision like this when you are in so much turmoil. You might blame yourself, you might blame your manager, you might blame the company, but blame is the most useless of actions you can take. You have to step back, away from the emotions, away from the feeling of inadequacy, the feeling that somehow you have failed.
Ask yourself these questions.
o Is it possible to salvage this job or can I not work with these people due to personality or ethical problems?
o Is the true definition of this job really what I want to be doing?
o Is it better to continue my job search?
In more than half the cases you will realize that the job is not worth salvaging. The environment, the people or the job description might be too far outside of your career plans.
There is nothing wrong with this decision, as long as you make it from a clear head and not a clouded heart. I once walked away from a job after 2 days because the day I arrived several staff members left under protest, the rest of the staff was in an uproar and the owner/manager had no clue what had caused it. It was a tough decision, made with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I felt so much better leaving than I ever would have by trying to stick it out.

Salvage Operation
If you decide that the job is worth salvaging then you have to commit yourself to an even deeper investment of time and energy then when you started. You have to come to some sort of agreement with your manager, and quickly. You have to crawl inside their mind and find out what role they have in mind for you. This might take several meetings and some diplomatic negotiating and might still end in your dismissal, but you will have the satisfaction of trying.
Stan, my close friend mentioned earlier in this series, didn?t have this luxury. His manager was reluctant to mention that they had a problem until it was too late.
"I did not see it coming. I guess I could have beat his door down and talked to him weekly. Generally, I needed to be plugged into his mind more but, due to personality conflicts, that wouldn?t have happened."
Next week, the road to recovery.

Part 4

This month I have related the situation of my friend Stan, who moved from the "frying pan" of a job that didn?t fulfill his needs to the "fire" of one that was even worse. This week I want to talk about recovering from this situation and moving on with your career and your life.

On the couch?
The first thing that we all must do when suffering from a bad experience is to analyze what happened, learn from the experience and put that knowledge to immediate use. What questions would you ask in the interview now that might not have occurred to you before? What would you take pains to notice when you went in for the interview? Who would you want to meet before accepting a new position?
This does not mean beating yourself up with recriminations or blaming yourself for the failure. There are too many factors involved in a situation such as this to shoulder the blame.

Back in the saddle again
The next step, once you have developed an understanding of what has happened, is to put this knowledge to work immediately. If you were involved in a wide-ranging job search, you already have other opportunities you can pursue. Start contacting those other prospects and continue the process with them, all the while, utilizing your new found knowledge. Don?t be afraid that all other situations will be identical to the one that failed. You need to go in with an open mind and an open heart that interviewers will treat you as you deserve.
Stan has started this already. "Recovery means getting back to work. The biggest and best tool I have used is the Internet. There are plenty of entry points to find and respond to job opportunities."
This is especially true of high tech careers. Since the Internet grew from a basis of computer workers there has always been a plethora of job listings on the ?Net and it continues to grow every day.

As we move through our careers we must be aware of situations like the one I have described this month, where a job turns out to the antithesis of what had been understood or desired. It is a fact of our economy and just plain probability that we will have a few jobs that fail to sustain us in one or more areas. We must learn what we can from each one, basking in the good jobs, extricating ourselves from the bad, and understand that nothing is forever. A job need only last as long as it serves our needs.
In some ways we suffer less from a job that fails quickly than one where we linger on in a sort of limbo. We might feel a short term emotional pain and fear from a failed job, but that is far better than languishing in a position for years until someone else decides that is time for us to leave. Take the power you are given and direct your career instead of letting it direct you.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at