...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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Next week, the road to recovery.
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
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
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
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: http://home.earthlink.net/~dewelch/
He can reached via email at email@example.com