how can I explain why I’m leaving my new job after only three months?

A reader writes:

I started a new job about three months ago and have quickly realized that it is a very bad fit. During the interview, I asked several questions about things that are important to me, such as the reason the last person left the position, the amount of paid time off, what the culture of the organization is like, etc. My boss has admitted that the hiring panel intentionally gave misleading but technically true answers to my questions, saying that they “know [they] have issues” but that I was a good candidate and they didn’t want to scare me away by being “too honest.”

I’m trying to give this job a shot, but I’ve also started quietly looking for other employment. The thing is, I’m not sure how to address my short stay at my current job with potential employers. I imagine it’ll be pretty obvious that I am not looking for “new challenges” after three months, and I can’t badmouth my current employer. On the other hand, I don’t want potential employers to think I didn’t do my research before accepting this job. I’m at a loss. (For what it’s worth, I stayed at all my previous jobs for three to five years so I’m not especially worried about looking like a job hopper. I’m hoping I can eventually leave this job off my resume entirely.)

One more question… is there anything I can do to ensure I get honest answers from potential employers about things like benefits and culture? I want to avoid this situation in the future if I can.

When employers hide the downsides of a job or a work culture from candidates, they end up with resentful, unhappy employees who leave as soon as they can. The beauty of truth in advertising — in this case, being open and direct about the less appealing aspects of a job — is that candidates who will be miserable in the job will self-select out. Ideally, the person who does get hired will know what they’ve signed up for. That doesn’t meant they might not have legitimate beefs once there, but difficult conditions tend to be a lot more tolerable when you knew to expect them than when you feel like you were deliberately misled and that you wouldn’t have accepted the job if you’d had full information from the start.

It takes both courage and self-awareness for a hiring manager to lay out the downsides — of a job, of one’s management style, or of a company culture — which is the reason plenty of people don’t do it. But your manager’s admission that she and the rest of the hiring panel intentionally misled you is particularly egregious.

As for how to explain to prospective new employers why you’re looking for a new job after only three months: You’re right that you can’t credibly use some of the old standby answers like “I’m looking for new challenges” or “I’ve reached the limits of how far I can grow in my current position.” You really can’t use anything vague because it’s going to be clear that something pretty serious is going on at your new job if you’re looking again so soon. Instead, simply explain that the job turned out to be different than you expected. In its most straightforward form, that could sound something like this: “Unfortunately, the job turned out to be different than what I’d expected. I was hired to create written content, but it turns out that they really need someone with a heavy focus on graphic design. It ended up being a very different role than the one I’d originally signed on for.”

It’s easy to do that when the issue is that the job itself is different. But in your case, it sounds like the bait-and-switch was about less about the job and more about deeply rooted cultural issues. In that case, you need to finesse the specifics a little more. For example: “I realized after starting that I wasn’t going to be able to work with the degree of autonomy we’d discussed when I was being hired, and which was a key reason I took the job.” Or: “We’d talked in the interview about the culture being one that values work-life balance and working sane hours, but it’s turned out that most people there work seven days a week and don’t have much down time. I’ve worked long hours for much of my career and I’m looking for something now that will let me see my kids/spouse/dog occasionally.”

Alternately, you could say something like this: “I’ve always had great luck with jobs and worked places where I was happy to stay a long time. Unfortunately, I got it wrong this time — this organization has a lot of strengths, but it’s not as ____ as I’m looking for, and I’ve realized it’s just the wrong fit for me.” (Fill in the blank with whatever makes sense — fast-paced, collaborative, structured, team-based, entrepreneurial, mission-focused, etc.)

I wouldn’t worry too much about potential employers judging you too harshly, especially because you have a solid job history up until now. If you had a pattern of short-term stays, hiring managers would wonder what was really going on — if you weren’t being thoughtful about what jobs to accept, or if you were leaving at the first sign of anything hard or frustrating, or if you were constantly getting fired. But one job that wasn’t what you were expecting? That can happen to anyone, and employers will understand that.

The best way to avoid this in the future is to assume you won’t get total honesty from employers when you ask about things like culture. It’s not that most people will intentionally lie, but rather that managers can have a much rosier view of things than their employees might. And it can be easy for them to gloss over real problems as not being worth mentioning, when those things are exactly the kind of information you’d want to hear about. Because of that, it’s crucial to find other sources to talk to about what it’s really like to work at a given employer. Try to find opportunities during the hiring process to talk to other people who work there. Check LinkedIn to see if anyone in your network is connected to current or former employees who might be willing to talk to you. Check reviews of the company on Glassdoor, if it’s big enough to have them. And pay close attention to the cues that you get during the interview process — things like the type of energy in the office, how your interviewers treat you, how thoughtful they seem to be about ensuring they’re hiring the right person, and especially whether you’re being sold on a shiny version of a company rather than being given a real look at what it’s like to work there.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 120 comments… read them below }

  1. Lil Fidget*

    If they’re determined to lie to you, it’s kind of on them if you ask me. Don’t feel at all guilty about noping right on out of there when you get something new. Good luck, OP!

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think she’s worried about that, though; I think she’s more concerned about how to present the short stay to places where she’s applying.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah true but I think if you’re feeling shady it can come through in interviews too, and OP should both believe that she’s in the clear here, and that other employers can likely understand that too. Doesn’t contradict any of Alison’s excellent advice, of course – just, as she says, most people will take their cue from you.

    2. OP*

      Thank you for this comment. I had been feeling a little guilty about wanting to leave so quickly. I definitely don’t want that to come across in interviews.

      1. hbc*

        Don’t feel guilty. You just might be the only way they learn to cut that out, saving them and other potential employees lots of future pain.

        1. Jesca*

          Exactly this OP! I worked at a place that would do this! I happened to be in the thick of the hiring processes at the time, and it was awful. I felt terrible for the people they would bring in! I mean it was a highly stressful medical device process remediation with the threat of the federal government shutting it down every day! I mean yeah some people like that challenge, but some people do not want that challenge at a point in stage in their life either! It was not fair for them to paint the picture they did. Some did it intentionally while others did not. Either way, no way is it anyone’s fault other than the hiring managers/committee!!!

  2. synchrojo*

    To me, being up front (if diplomatic) about one or two specific reasons for leaving this job seems like an advantage in the next job search. You’re communicating to employers that those are the things you really care about as far as organizational culture goes, and that you’re willing to leave over being misled about them. This should help encourage interviewers to give you real answers about their office cultures and think more deeply about whether you’d be a good fit. This seems like a good way to weed out offers from places (like current employer) where you wouldn’t be happy.

    1. It's all Fun and Dev*

      I’m in the same boat as OP (only 8 months instead of 3), and I’ve found total honesty to be a) not at all offputting, and b) incredibly helpful, to both me and the interviewer. It’s clear I’ve learned a lot about what kind of environment I thrive in and where I don’t do so well, and being honest about my reasons for leaving help both of us assess if I’m the right fit for them, and if they’re the right fit for me.

  3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I would leave this company off my resume entirely, and give the answers Alison is asking if asked why I left my last job (i.e., the last job on my resume). “I left for another opportunity that ended up not being a good fit. [Add Alison’s script.] I’m still with that organization, but I’d really like to be somewhere more in alignment with what I was looking for when I left Last Job.”

    1. Anononon*

      But then you’re admitting to being at a job that you didn’t put on your resume, which raises even more questions. Better to put it on there and address it than be caught in a weird place where it doesn’t make sense to bring it up, but you don’t want to lie and say you’re not working.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Hiring managers know that not everything goes on a resume. This would be a very easy conversation to have: “I didn’t include XYZ Org on my resume because I’ve been there such a short time. I had hoped to stay at least three years, as I have at my past jobs, but unfortunately, it turned out that… [use Alison’s scripts].” This isn’t going to freak folks out.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Not only that, you’re more likely to get a new job if you look like you already have one. So leaving this job off may not be an option.

        I am in a similar boat in that I’ve been in a job for three months, and I started applying to other jobs a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t lied to or anything, and the job’s actually interesting (when I have something to do that is), but they don’t have enough work to give me. I spend most days reading blogs on my phone because they keep assigning proposals to other people who are swamped with work, but they’ve been here longer *shrug*. I understand they don’t want to overwhelm me and they want to give me lower pressure projects so that a) I can learn how to respond to RFPs and b) I won’t burn out quickly, but man, do I get bored to tears. I want to scream, “I can do stuff! I really can! I’m a writer, that’s why you hired me – let me write!”

        But how to convey this in a cover letter? I’ve attempted it, but reading back what I wrote, I think it can read as negative. I have no idea how to word this without sounding like I’m complaining or criticizing them, so I feel OP’s pain.

        1. Sam.*

          I think Alison’s approach still works here, because, ultimately, you haven’t been able to do the work that you were hired to do and you want to be in a role where your specific skills are well utilized.

          (This is a useful reminder to me, actually, because I’m leading my first project at the moment and am falling into the “I don’t want to overload people so I’ll do more myself” trap, even though I know some of my team members have time. I’m going to talk to them individually and see how we can better distribute the work.)

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            My therapist actually brought up a really good point in our session today – am I really not getting enough work, or am I so used to being overworked from my previous positions that I’m now looking at my now perfectly normal workload through the prior lens and seeing a problem where one doesn’t actually exist?

            It was an interesting thought experiment, and she may have a slight point. I’m going to talk to my manager (again) and see if we can find a middle ground here. I want to contribute!

        2. Samata*

          Have you thought about having a conversation with them that addresses this? I want to scream, “I can do stuff! I really can! I’m a writer, that’s why you hired me – let me write!”, but without the actual screaming part I mean?

  4. InfoSec Cat*

    Ugh, this is my situation too but sadly paired with a spotty job history. I had a rough start to my career and I’ve only been in my current position for under a year, but the culture is not what it was made out to be. It’s very cliquey and exclusionary yet they expect everyone to be best friends. I’m and introvert and it was really upsetting to receive a negative mark on my PR for not being outgoing with departments that I do not work with at all. I’ve tried really hard to engage and be outgoing (Started a fantasy league about a TV show, joined the fantasy football team even though I don’t like football, talk to other people about stuff they like) but it hasn’t helped at all. I am dreading the summer where 20 out of the 30 people in the office take half days and go to the park together to hang out…. last time they were putting sun screen on in the office while I was there and no one mentioned where they were going. So job hunting is hard, but staying here is hard.

    1. AnonyMouse*

      This is also me right now! But it’s more the dysfunction and chaos caused by turnover at all levels of our administration that’s getting to me. Also have been here less than a year, but luckily I have an in person interview coming up with a organization that’s in a much better location for me personally! Hopeful it goes well!

  5. Jaybeetee*

    I think Alison has a good bead on polite ways to tell interviewers that your current job is shite. I just wanted to chime in that your idea of leaving it off your resume altogether in the future is a good one. Many people are terrified of “gaps in their resume”, but post-recession, I don’t think many employers are surprised or dismayed to see stints of unemployment. I had two awful back-to-back jobs (one a contract position) a couple years ago, and now I leave them both off my resume – my guess is it looks better for it to appear I was unemployed for 7 months than that I hopped around like that. And in such a short space of time, you’re not really gaining much meaningful experience that an employer would care about anyway.

    1. TardyTardis*

      Besides, you can cover a gap by saying, “I did some temp stuff to put food on the table, but didn’t think that was relevant to the position I’m applying for”–delivering phonebooks usually isn’t, but everyone understands wanting to eat and pay bills.

  6. AnotherAlison*

    This post is interesting to me because I interviewed someone recently who had a weird reason for why he was leaving after 9 months. He said he was looking for something with more stability, but he could not make the case for what was unstable with his current new job. The obvious truth was he had worked in my industry for 15 yrs, then taken a position outside the box, and it was a cultural mismatch. If he had not stumbled all over making the case for “stability” I would have been fine with that, but I really felt like he was covering up that he hated it there and it was a big mistake. I understand why you wouldn’t want to say that, but I would have liked it if he had just said it. Being from his original industry and having familiarity with his current employer, we all got why it was not great for him there.

    Advice to the OP – if you invent a reason for leaving, have strong supporting evidence prepared.

    1. Mike C.*

      The problem with this approach is that there’s a massive social taboo with saying anything about a former employer that even hints of being negative. I had an interview that absolutely raked me over the coals for wanting to know why I was switching jobs and wouldn’t take, “I’ve been there three years, reached the limit of my progression and want to move onto new challenges” for an answer. What did he want to hear, that I was trying to form a union and couldn’t because the H1-B visa folks were terrified of being kicked out of their employer owned housing and deported?

      1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

        Perhaps you could try something like “I felt I didn’t really fit into the organizational culture at my last employer. I’m looking for a workplace where management has a more collaborative focus with employees.”

      2. Kate 2*

        Precisely! Honestly, sometimes it feels like you can’t win.

        I trying to leave my toxic job, I know my bosses will lie and give me bad references, what am I supposed to do? What can I tell employers about why I left, and when they ask for references?

        We have gotten tons of letters here about toxic workplaces and bad managers, and yet when a question came up a few months ago about an prospect having one bad reference and 2 good ones, almost every single commenter said they wouldn’t hire him!!!!

        Seriously, what do we expect people to do? We know the reality of the working world, yet we punish people for not being perfect across the board.

        1. Mona Lisa*

          It’s really common for applicants not to use current managers/co-workers for references since it might jeopardize their employment if the company knew they were looking around. I don’t think anyone would look sideways at this.

    2. Nico m*

      I think you were mean. Why did you let the poor chap twist like that?
      Presumably you were interviewing him for his industry skills and experience, not a special talent for diplomatic tact.

      1. Naptime Enthusiast*

        It’s not “mean” to ask for clarification. If an interviewer made a comment during an interview but couldn’t explain to me what they actually meant, I would see it as a red flag. Why shouldn’t an employer feel the same way about a candidate?

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Really? That’s what you got from that? I actually liked him and recommended him for hire, so I must be a terrible person.

        It was actually important to get to the real reason why he was leaving. He left Teapots to go work in the Llama industry. . .if “stability” is the reason he is leaving Llamas, then we’ve got to get to the root of whether he prefers working in Teapots or with Llamas. He may hate Teapots and still love Llamas, but fears getting laid off. We wanted to know that when another Llama company had an opening, he wasn’t likely to go pursue that. Ultimately, we ferreted out that he wanted to be a Teapot manager (which is what our position was), and he could not break out of Teapot design at his old company, so he went into Llama management. He didn’t fit in with Llama types, so he wanted to get back to teapots, but only as a manager.

        1. Nico m*

          That all seems to be answerable by “why do you want this job” rather than “why do you want to leave “

          1. AnotherAlison*

            For me, if you spent 15 years in one industry, 9 months in another, and are then interviewing for a job back at your first industry, I think you are going to expect some probing into what drove you to leave and come back. If he had applied to us straight out of Teapots R Us, and said he was looking for more stability (or management opportunities), I wouldn’t have blinked at either answer.

            What was really interesting in his situation was that his first company got acquired around the time he left, which would be a great reason to have left and would have acquired no further explanation (everyone got restructured or laid off), but he made a point of saying that was not why he left there to go to the weird company.

            It was a fairly specific situation, and we are a tight knit industry, so I’m not saying all interviewers would have enough info to question your answers in every circumstance, but it made sense here.

    3. designbot*

      Why do you really need to have evidence that things are a certain way at your current employer when interviewing? The potential new employer doesn’t get to tell you, ‘nope, you don’t have a good enough reason, you need to stay where you’re at!’ The truth is, this person is leaving this org, you only decide whether you want to take them on or not. Acting like they need to justify their reason for leaving and prove it somehow feels like a step too far.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not that they have to justify it. It’s that as an interviewer you’re trying to understand why they’re making a move so quickly because it could be relevant to you — for example, maybe the thing they’re leaving over is going to be present at your org too, or maybe they’re being pushed out because of weakness in skill X which is key for the job you’re hiring for, or maybe they’re leaving because they don’t fit well with Y and your culture is totally anti-Y too, or so forth.

    4. Amtelope*

      I would tend to take vague concerns about “stability” as code for “my current organization is on the verge of bankruptcy/can’t make payroll/is messily falling apart, but I can’t publicly admit that.” I don’t think I’d be inclined to push for more details.

      1. DecorativeCacti*

        I’ve wondered how to say just those things while I’ve been searching. We’re in the middle of union negotiations and my company claims they are in such financial straights that they can’t give us even a COL raise and they want to double our medical costs. Finding something that’s not constantly on the verge of bankruptcy with a CEO of the “they’re lucky they even have a job” variety is a big part of why I’m looking.

        1. Jerry Vandesic*

          A mention that the company financial situation has changed might be the way to go. And I would include taking away PTO in this category.

    5. Need A Change*

      A few years back I found myself on the wrong end of a 20% pay cut with my company. This was after a few rounds of layoffs that I made it through, but those who were safe got a pay-cut. This lead me to an opportunity for what I thought, and was sold as, a very similar job but in a different industry. Within weeks I knew I made a mistake! I tried to make the best of it but it became a very toxic environment and ended up bleeding into my home life. I started job searching again and got an opportunity back in the previous industry.

      Now that I’m looking to change and move up in my industry; I have hit the ceiling at my current job. This question comes up in every interview. Current job easy answer I have reached my peak with Company A and want to further my career. When they ask about the short time at Company B I am always honest and say it was a bad fit, but I saw that it was and I tried to change to fit them it didn’t work I moved on. I don’t bad month Company B ever. I always say that I learned more about myself, my habits , and what I need to be successful from that time. This tends to lead to more questions about what I need and want allowing me to question them. I always find it interesting how many people forget an interview is a two way street. If I get an offer I have to make a decision based on what I observed and how they answered questions.

      Having dealt with that issue in the past I will not allow myself to do it again. I’ll admit I took the job out of fear of my job going away, losing more money, or stagnation as the company floated along.(They closed for good 4 years after I left)

  7. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    Alison’s scripts are great, but I have to admit I’m super distracted by THAT HAT in the stock photo! Wow.

    (On a more serious note, OP, I think you’ll be fine since you have such a good track record until now.)

    1. Pomona Sprout*

      Omg, I couldn’t stop looking at the hat, either! I love everything else about the picture, especially the Chanel suit, but that hat was SO freaking distracting!

  8. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Corporate staffing here – sadly, we hear about situations like this more than you might think. Leaving a role/situation that were deliberately misrepresented won’t reflect poorly on you, OP. Alison’s advice is solid: speak to the ‘new’ or ‘evolved’ elements of the role, or overall fit not being right for you after all. Heck, a recent candidate told me, nicely but directly, that they made a big mistake in going to work for ABC Company, and wanted to leave before they became entrenched. This didn’t reflect poorly on them at all. Again, this kind of thing happens, and I can relate.

    I’m so sorry you heard about the lies – yes, LIES – after the fact, and hope you find a better fit soon.

    1. Where's the Le-Toose?*

      I agree with this comment.

      When I hire, I’d rather have a candidate come in and be polite but firm and direct than to dance around the issue. I would have no problem with a candidate who said: “I asked about work-life balance and office culture during my interview, and what was represented to me during the interview didn’t pan out. For example, they said I’d have weekends off but I’ve worked every weekend since I’ve been hired. I don’t shy away from hard work, but work-life balance is important to me.”

    2. designbot*

      yep, and I’d even extend this to if you wound up being fired. If there were just mismatched expectations in some way, just say it! Whether in work or in other areas of life I feel like we’ve all experienced that at some point so it’s easy to relate to.

  9. clow*

    Ugh I feel for you OP. I was in this situation at my last job. I was straight up lied to during the interview, about culture and benefits. When I was asked why I am leaving, I said it simply was not a good fit, a couple of places asked for more information, and I said the office culture just was not what it had appeared to be and it did not work for me. Good luck OP, I hope you find a better place soon!

  10. Bea*

    I shiver at how hard it is to move out of a job you hate or is toxic in whatever way because we have to watch our step during the interview in your escape process. I’m grateful Voldemort had me doing things obviously out of my skill and title along with hitting 50-60 hour weeks so I went with the long hours being an issue.

    I would drop this from my resume if the gap between the last job and this 3 months job wasn’t that much. 3 months gap is nothing to most interviewers.

  11. animaniactoo*

    You know, I don’t think it’s badmouthing a company to say “Many of the things I was told about the nature of the job were technically true, but the reality has been different and it’s proven to be a bad fit for me.”

    Sorry, they misrepresented themselves, it’s not badmouthing to say so – tactfully. And it’s a clear warning shot across the bow when interviewing again “I won’t stick around for only “technically” true if you’re not upfront with me.”

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yes, it’s not really an issue to badmouth an employer if you aren’t using vague adjectives and hyperbole, and if you aren’t badmouthing any other former employers—just that one.

  12. Nico m*

    I’m not sure that leaving this job off the resume is a good idea. Don’t you then instead have to explain why you left the previous (presumably ok) job for… nothing ?

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      And also explain what you’ve been doing the last few months? “Oh, I’ve been at a job I didn’t want to put on my résumé” sounds much stranger than “This job was misrepresented to me, so I’m looking to leave.”

      1. Anony*

        I agree. I think looking like you are hiding something would be worse. Later on leaving it off should be ok, but right now it doesn’t make sense.

    2. Frank Doyle*

      She said she’d eventually leave it off the resume; I took that to mean when she’s jobhunting NEXT time. So there will just be a gap between the job before the misleading one, and the one she’s about to find.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah three months is so short that for future, it should just disappear from a resume between her prior job and the one she gets next.

      2. Nico m*

        Scrambled egg face nom nom

        Although… logically if you did hire someone who then didn’t like the job, wouldn’t you rather they quit after 3 months than stuck around for a year?

        1. K.*

          Not necessarily because not liking a job doesn’t always mean a person is bad at a job. You can dislike a job and still do it well.

  13. Anonymous Educator*

    Yeah, if you have a fairly solid history of medium or longish stints, one short stint really doesn’t hurt you in the job search. I had one place that turned out to be a horrible work environment, and I left within months. No hiring manager gave me a hard time about it. In fact, I had more “leads” on that job search than any I’d had in the past. They were perfectly fine with me just saying it wasn’t a good fit, since I’d been at all my other jobs for years at a time.

    1. LKW*

      I was at a job for 7 years then my next two jobs lasted no more than 3-4 months. The first, my awesome boss was leaving. I was her assistant. I could have stayed but it wasn’t really presented as the best option and an opportunity for a new job had presented itself. And that opportunity turned into a disaster. I was young, I didn’t see the red flags. It was awful. I was lucky enough to find a new job pretty quickly but that initial seven year stretch helped me do that.

  14. AnitaJ*

    AGH, I totally feel for this OP. This happened to me years ago. I realized it about 2 months in, but tried to give it a 6-month good faith effort. I made it about 5 months before it became so detrimental to my emotional well-being that I…well, burned that bridge rather badly. I’m very lucky that for me, things worked out well; I don’t know how comfortable I would have felt in an interview saying “Well, Susan, this position looked exciting and challenging when I started, but unfortunately there were some issues with bigoted language, nasty gossip and mockery, bullying, and general misrepresentation of my position that made me want to rip my eyes out of my skull and throw them at people!”.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Plus it’s harder to cover up a one year job than a few-months job on your resume. Better to leave sooner sometimes, if you can.

    2. Wendy Darling*

      I made it 8 months in my terrible job and then noped out of there in an icily polite way.

      I wish it was interview-appropriate to say “Well the company is actively hostile to the idea of data-driven decision-making and I’m their data analyst so that sucks, but really the part I can’t deal with is that my boss apparently took a wrong turn on her way to Mean Girls and ended up here.”

      Seriously this woman once went around the entire office and ordered catered lunch for everyone… except me and one other person she was mad at. In such a way that it was very clear she was shunning us in particular.

      I’ve actually tried to explain the hostility toward data in interviews but about 50% of the time the interviewer straight up does not believe me because they’re in an industry that’s ALL ABOUT data and yet they hate it. I don’t understand it either and I don’t have a good explanation for it, but it’s true.

      1. Bea W*

        My sympathies! I’ve worked with people in the same role as me, which is all about data, who were actively hostile to the idea of data-driven decision-making. It’s baffling and weird. How do you even function this job like that AND continuously get promoted? What? If I’m working in an industry that is all about data and my job is to be a data analyst, and your job is also to be a data analyst, I should not have to continuously defend my use of data-driven decision making against arguments that are literally or amount to “But we’ve always done it this way.”

        I don’t understand it either, and I still don’t have a good explanation for it. I don’t even discuss it in interviews. It’s too weird. It makes heads explode.

  15. nnn*

    If the specifics of your situation permit, you could also express enthusiasm for the job you’re interviewing for – putting some of the emphasis on “this potential new job is so awesome I just had to apply!” rather than “the old job was so awful I just had to leave!”

    1. Natalie*

      I don’t know if that is a good idea unless the position you’re applying to is a real unicorn (one of the companies that get thousands of applications, for example) – at least to me, if its a pretty standard job I would wonder how realistic the person was being, and it still leaves open the question of why they’re even perusing job openings when they literally just started somewhere.

    2. Been There, Done That*

      Except there is ALWAYS something else that sounds awesome out there. I’ve seen jobs that (on paper) I’d rather have within months of every new job I’ve accepted. As a hiring official, that answer would make me nervous. Explaining why you are interested in the specific open position is great…but there needs to be more than a “grass is always greener” explanation for why you are leaving the current job IMO.

      (Says the person who is currently letting the months tick over until she starts applying elsewhere because the new position I took a year ago has turned out to be the dullest job I’ve had in my life with minimal odds it will improve to what it was described as during interviews until the manager retires 5 years from now.)

  16. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

    Two things I wanted to add:

    1.) Depending on your industry and area – your company might have a reputation for this type of behavior. Obviously you should not badmouth the employer, but Alison’s wonderful scripts above might very well be met with a knowing smile and complete acceptance. It happended to me just recently. I’m leaving my current role sooner than I had planned (and than looks ideal in terms of job history), but once I got out there and started interviewing it turns out that my “reason” is well known within the industry (I’m in NYC, within finance – so not what I considered terribly small world/niche).

    2.) I’ve been working for about 10 years (and have had a larger number of actual jobs, and managers, than would be ideal – I graduated into the recession *shrug*). I’ve had exactly one person (future manager) accurately describe their management style. This is a question that I ask in EVERY interview (“please describe your management style”). I’m sure part of it has to do with the fact that much of my early career was spent bouncing around from one toxic, dysfunctional environment to the next, but even in my later roles with more reputable/less toxic companies – this just isn’t a skill that everyone has (accurate introspection and the ability to clearly communicate the results).

    When it comes to culture questions in interviews – I’ve stopped giving much weight to descriptions without specific examples to back them up. EX: “we have a very congenial culture here” – doesn’t mean much to me anymore. However, “We try to promote comraderie amongst employees by doing monthly pizza parties/birthday parties and encourage employees to submit their own ideas for team building/bonding activities”, does mean something to me. Those are specific examples that are much more meaningful than throwing around a random “good sounding” descriptor. I also don’t ask about work/life balance anymore. I ask “what time do you typically head home”?

    1. OP*

      These are really great questions. It makes complete sense to ask for specific examples from employers, since interviews are a two-way street. Thank you for the advice!

    2. Muhnamonuh*

      Thank you for these! I’ve had a couple jobs now where managers lied and/or had no self awareness and have been trying to find good questions to weed out this issue in the future. I would love to see a whole thread of good questions to ask your interviewer.

    3. Fake old Converse shoes*

      This. Back when I was at Old Job I met a hiring manager that had spent a short time there. He was surprised that I hadn’t quitted yet since that company is famous for being extremely toxic with its lower level employees. (I was let go in one of their infamous massive layoffs shortly after that interview)

    4. Green Goose*

      This is great. I have a question about responses you get from “please describe your management style?” If people don’t do a great job of accurately describing their style, what tips do you have for reading between the lines with the answers you get?

        1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

          Oh yeah – I always ask it, but when it finally hit me that only one person in my entire job history has been accurate about this – well I realized I wasn’t learning much from it directly.

          So now I still ask it, but my only goal is to see if their answers line up with other things that I’m asking/trying to get examples of.

        2. Windchime*

          Yeah, the worst micro-managing boss I ever had liked to proudly proclaim how she was NOT a micro-manager. She was the opposite of self-aware.

          1. JamieS*

            Whenever anyone proudly proclaims something I’m immediately suspicious they’re trying to hide the lies with bravado.

          2. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

            My rule of thumb now: if the manager for the role I’m interviewing directly says “I’m not a micromanager” I’m immediately out. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but the only people I’ve heard say these words out loud and directly have been micromanagers.

            1. Jake*

              My first manager out of college said he wasn’t a micromanager, and he was 100% right. If anything he was too hands off for a new grad hire. He was a very straightforward and blunt person though, and that was evident throughout the interview.

              Every other manager I’ve interviewed with always seemed to have a veneer that shielded what they were actually like.

      1. MassMatt*

        The how-to-spot-a-bad boss piece is great, and it’s a good idea to ask follow up questions and ask for examples.

        I think it’s often easier to get more accurate insight on the boss’s behavior from colleagues and (especially) subordinates when possible. If you are offered the opportunity to walk around the office and talk to people, grab it. I ask subordinates/potential future coworkers some of the same questions I ask in interviews—what’s the best thing about working here, what’s the worst, why’d the last person leave, if you could change 1 thing what would it be, etc. Read body language, be aware of rolled eyes, raised eyebrows, signs people don’t feel they can talk freely.

    5. zora*

      I also like to ask open ended questions that require them to answer with more than a yes or no. Like, instead of “Do you have good communication with your employees?” I’d ask “How would you handle one of your employees making a serious mistake?” “What do people do here when there are disagreements between different departments?” Things like that.

      That way if they are super generic or vague, I can assume they might be avoiding the question because they don’t have a very good answer. ;o)

      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        I really like the “How would you handle one of your employees making a serious mistake?” question! I’m absolutely putting that one in my back pocket.

  17. AdAgencyChick*

    Everything Alison said.

    I feel for you, OP. This happened to me a few years back when an agency that was aggressively courting me told people to lie to me about what a great place it was to work. Even the person exiting the position (who was still there) said she was only leaving to spend more time with her kids. Turns out she was hoping for more freelance work after she quit being full-time, but she didn’t like it there either. I’ve also rescinded an offer once in my career when I ended up tracking down the person who quit the job, and got confirmation of the craziness she was talking about from another person I asked for advice about the situation whom I didn’t know had worked there and observed the same issues.

    There really is no way to get a full picture if you speak only to people who have a vested interest in whether you get hired IMO. Do as much as you can to find other current or former employees who can offer you an unbiased perspective.

  18. beentheretoo*

    I’ve had a similar situation with a job a couple years ago. There were red flags throughout the interview process that the manager and culture may not be the right fit for me, but I wasn’t in the position to turn down a job, the company had a decent reputation, and the pay was good. 3 months in, I still just never meshed with my manager and team and never felt comfortable at work, and we mutually parted ways. I grappled with whether or not to leave it on my resume, but ultimately decided to keep it for name recognition and the fact that I did do a decent amount of work in my time there. I’ve since explained the short stint similarly to Alison’s recommendation about it just not being the right fit and adding something along the lines of “Everyone has that one job that just doesn’t end up being the right fit, and for me, it happened to be the last one”. I’ve also been able to shift the situation into a learning experience. Interviewers typically completely understand and even empathize.

    Once I did land my next job, I learned that the hiring manager (my manager, who also ended up being the best manager I’ve ever had) had also had a similar experience in a previous role and felt my pain. I just wish I had the foresight like the OP to start looking for new roles once I was sure it wouldn’t work out instead of trying to stick it out for 6+ months. Trust your instincts!

  19. Lil Fidget*

    Sad to say, I’m actually surprised one of the examples was “We’d talked in the interview about the culture being one that values work-life balance and working sane hours, but it’s turned out that most people there work seven days a week and don’t have much down time. I’ve worked long hours for much of my career and I’m looking for something now that will let me see my kids/spouse/dog occasionally.” That’s totally valid to feel, but I’d want to be sure the new company really did see themselves as a 9-5 type place before I used it in an interview.

    1. Anony*

      If having a 9-5 job is that important, then it sounds like a good way to avoid another company that demands long hours. Companies that do not see themselves as 9-5 would be much less likely to make an offer and presumably someone leaving a job over long hours would not want to work there either.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah, true, just that even the 9-5 companies I’ve worked for don’t really see themselves that way. They’re all looking for someone willing to go above and beyond, nights and weekends etc. Or at least they’re not super impressed with someone who says upfront that what they’re looking for is a job that doesn’t have that mindset. But if that truly is what you as a jobseeker are looking for then you’re right, you want to find a place where this literally is a value.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          But I’ve also had workplaces that really did pride themselves on having a good work/life balance, and wouldn’t mind someone saying this. Tops, I could see them wondering about occasionally staying late (which most people would say is fine!).

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Same here, IME the employers who say “we have a good work-life balance” mean an occasional late night/weekend in case of an emergency, but regular hours otherwise. Maybe not 9-5, but reasonable hours. Whereas the ones who like to keep their people in the office forever will only mention the work-life balance when asked, and will say things like “45 hours per week at the most” which is when you know it’s not really forty-five.

            1. zora*

              Yes, exactly. My current job was pretty clear about this in interviews, that a few times a year there is an emergency or an over the weekend event that might need support. But most of the year, they want everyone to work a reasonable week, and have plenty of time for family on evenings and weekends.

              And then my current boss was very clear that since I would be hourly that I would be getting overtime for any hours over 40 that I was asked to work, and that it is a very rare occurrence, and that has proven to be true.

        2. Bea*

          This is where you make it clear you don’t mind some long nights and weeks for a rush season for example but do not want a solid 50-60 hour week.

          In my line of work all my interviewers were shocked by my previous schedule and load. My current boss, the CEO, works less hours weekly than I was and he’s pulling over 40hr weeks. And this week we are working on Saturday because it’s year end clean up and necessary.

          I have dealt with those who refuse all overtime every time, those are often problematic but easier to spot in my experience

  20. SusanIvanova*

    Leaving after 3 months is not a permanent blot on your resume. Twenty years ago I spent 3 months on a hardware team. I’m a software engineer, the turnaround times are dramatically faster, and we reached a point where there was nothing left for me to do until the product shipped – which was still a year in the future.

    So I moved on, doing the typical Silicon Valley trajectory of 4 years per job, and now I’m back at that first company on a team which is *much* more suited to my skills.

  21. K.*

    We hired someone at my old job who was looking after about four months at a previous place. (The hiring process took a month and she gave them a month’s notice, so she was there six months altogether.) She was pretty senior and had two-year-and-up stints in the rest of her work history (which was pretty long, she was in her late forties), and she didn’t dance around the short stint in her cover letter. When we interviewed her, we asked her about it and she was clear about the reasons she was unhappy without trashing the company: the environment was very prescriptive and micromanage-y and that didn’t align with her personal preferences or her seniority, and the culture hadn’t been presented that way during the hiring process. We didn’t think much of her leaving after a short time – we just made a note to ask her about it in the interview, and were satisfied with the answer.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Huh. If it had happened more than once, I’d at least think she had fairly poor judgement about picking her workplaces. That must just be me.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Ah, I’m sorry, I read “two-year-and-up stints in the rest of her work history” wrong and somehow thought this poster was saying the woman had a few two year stints as well as this four month stint. Reading comprehension fail! You are right, if this was the first time (or even second in a long career), I wouldn’t think anything of it.

      1. K.*

        It hadn’t happened more than once. She had been at every other job on her resume for at least two years. She held the job she had before the short stint for six years. Her resume showed a steady upward trajectory (she had been in management and senior leadership roles for ten years) and medium-to-long stints with no major employment gaps. The months-long stint was an anomaly.

  22. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Oh OP, I had the exact same job and job interview! Except I’d only been at mine for a little over two months. (Started there in early November, started at NextJob in early February.) Of course I was asked why I was looking so soon, and told them the truth – “I took this job under the impression that it was in the X field with a 20-mile commute, and it turned out to be in an obsolete Y field with a 65-mile commute.” Everyone was very understanding of it; I’m guessing especially the 20 vs 65 mile part. (I swear I could hear a gasp around the room when I said that.) They told me I was hired at the end of the interview, and made an official offer on the same or next day. It was a Fortune 500 company and I stayed there 6.5 years before moving to my next job. When I gave notice at Job From Hell the next day after accepting the offer, the only person who looked surprised was the owner. Everyone else said things like “I don’t blame you” and “I would have done the same”.

    1. K.*

      I would have called my previous employer the same day I found out about a sixty-five-mile commute to see if I could have my old job back. There is zero chance I would stay unless I could work remotely.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I was young and adventurous. And my previous employer was beyond toxic. (think my boss wanting to sleep with me, ending up having an affair with another woman on his team, who then left him for a guy in sales and marketing! All characters in this ridiculous drama were married and had kids.) But more importantly, I was told on my first day that this was a “temporary, part-time arrangement”. Two months in, my new boss finally admitted that it was “more like full-time and permanent”, and then, yes, I did send my resume out on the same day, and had an interview two weeks later.

  23. OP*

    OP here. Thank you to everyone who has commented here — your comments and Alison’s advice have really helped. Since I’ve never been in this position before, I was really worried I’d done something wrong in the interview process. Your reassurance (and your stories of overcoming similar situations) have been really helpful. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll find something soon.

  24. CW*

    I’ve developed a set of questions that I can use during interviews to hopefully tease out any potential problems.

    The questions cover professional development, capacity planning and resourcing, work / life balance, internal support for staff, etc.

    It’s so far uncovered resourcing issues at a previous workplace — they were trying to do much with too few staff, and this caused a cascade of other issues.

  25. The Other Dawn*

    If I were interviewing someone with such a short stint at their current job, I’d much rather they tell me it’s a bad fit because of X, Y and Z then to make something up. Obviously if they trash talk the current employer I would give the side eye on that, but to say that the company’s culture is much different than what was stated before taking the job isn’t trash talking.

    The same thing happened to me. I knew about three weeks into my previous job that I wanted out. It was the wrong fit in every conceivable way, and I was miserable until I finally found a job 10 months later. I was completely upfront with my current boss, as well as others I’d interviewed with during those miserable 10 months. I said that I’d been at my first company (before Awful Job) from the day it opened until the day it closed 12 years later, and was faced with having to pick one hat versus the five+ hats I wore at that job, and I figured out very quickly that I’d picked the wrong one. I explained why it wasn’t the right fit for me and what I really wanted to be doing, and I ended up getting the job. I feel like being so honest about it opened the door to some really good discussion and it allowed me to be myself.

  26. Nanani*

    I don’t get why any employer would feel the need to lie about what the job is like. Surely, within the range of possible work cultures and everything involves, every job is wrong for some people and right for others. If they felt the need to lie about what working there is like to get you in the door, it feels like the wrongness may actually go a lot deeper than OP saw.

    If they lied about day to day work there, what else are they lying about? What else will they lie about when it’s convenient?

    Dodge that bullet while it’s just a graze, OP.

    1. MassMatt*

      This is true, it’s likely to backfire and make things worse, but people who would do this seem to lack the awareness or decision making ability to understand this. This is the big reason they are dysfunctional.

      I think this letter merits a”your employer sucks and doesn’t know how to hire” answer.

      Good luck, OP!

  27. GriefBacon*

    OP, I’m currently in your exact situation! I’m been in my job 3.5 months, and it’s just the worst. I’d actually applied for a different job at the organization, but they asked if I’d consider my current job — and I only did because I was in desperate need of any job. I knew going in I wouldn’t like it and didn’t plan on staying long, but it’s turned out to be just abysmal (compounded by my officemate that plays the radio loudly and wears sweats and walks around in socks all day…and literally wore a sweatshirt covered in cat pee yesterday and didn’t realize it until someone else said something).

    I’m lucky in that a) current job is totally outside of any field I’ve ever worked in or want to work in, and b) I’ll most likely be heading back to my former employer for a promotion in my desired field/industry. I’ve kept current job off my resume thus far, because I start with a “Related Experience” section. But I had a phone interview last week with my former employer where the HR person (who knows me) asked if I was still at current job, since she didn’t see it on my resume. It was very much a casual question, but I was able to reply that I’d left it off since it wasn’t even remotely related to the job I’d applied for. I don’t know what the magic time is for needing to include it on your resume (4 months?)…but for now, I’d suggest leaving it off.

  28. AnonyMouse*

    I’m really glad that I’m not on the search committee for a recent opening with my current organization, because I’m pretty sure my boss is going to mislead candidates about how our office is currently. I don’t want to bear witness to it!

  29. Espeon*

    OP don’t feel guilty or worry in the slightest – they actively *lied* to you – you’re not the problem here!

    My last job was a similar disaster – I got *technical* truths in the interviews to my culture questions also. On the second day I was hiding in the toilets having a little cry as I knew it just wasn’t the right environment or role for me AT ALL, and I left without another job lined up at five months because I’d started having panic attacks on the way to work.

    I was utterly blunt in my exit interview – the manager asked if I had got another job, I said no, he said “Is it that bad here?”, to which I simply replied “Yes”.

    I was told it was a brand new role, and it was… for the young woman before me who also left before six months – which I discovered from people in other departments after I’d started. The atmosphere was awful – stuffy, negative, a clique of four miserable women who’d worked together for years, and one slightly unhinged and humourless director. The 9-5 on my contract was apparently only ‘technical’ too – they wanted someone who would play the appearance game – not me! (& yeah, I made that clear in the interview as well…). Absolute joke!

    1. OP*

      I was also told this was a brand new position. Technically true (it has a new funding source) but I’ve since found out that at least three people had the same title/role before me in the past two years, and none of them lasted more than four months.

  30. cncx*

    i had a three month job that i had to talk about in an interview because i had moved to a different city for it and now was abruptly looking for jobs in that city. i said pretty much exactly what AAM said. I explained that I was hired to do a paralegal role in a department with new management, and when all the puzzle pieces were in place, my position really was more admin assistant and event planning, which wasn’t what i wanted to do even if i had done it in the past, which is why i was again applying for paralegal roles. no one batted an eye.

    I think the three month company just thought i would be ok with going back to admin assistant work because of a salary bump, but i wasn’t, i got out of event planning and travel/calendar management because it is stressful to me and not because i suck at it.

    At this stage in my career, i’ve done my time as a admin and don’t mind doing some admin assistant type tasks (which i do in my current job gladly)- my red flag now in interviews is i don’t want to step into a newly created role (too much opportunity for other people to take the interesting parts and be left with cleanup jobs only) or a department with brand new management (because they may not have enough information to know what they want).

  31. Bea W*

    Very timely post. I decided to start looking after 3 months on the job largely because of cultural fit and a micromanaging inept GrandBoss, but also because I’m hardly using any of my skills (due to the first two things!). The job was sold to me as much more senior than it actually is, and I suspect I was deliberately kept in the dark about GrandBoss’ serious control and micromanagement issues, because micromanagement is a topic we actually discussed. While my own boss is sane, the GrandBoss, who is the person with all the power, is absolutely insufferable! :( My boss clearly knew this, and other people who have worked with this person say the same thing. Add being under-utilized, bored, and having a long commute, and it’s just best to move on.

    In explaining why I’m looking, I’m focusing on how the job was not what I expected, and my skills are not being put to good use, which is why I would have ended up leaving anyway just maybe not as soon.

  32. all those punk rock guys*

    In terms of benefits, don’t accept an offer until you can see their brochure/employee handbook/whichever they have. That’s part of the final-negotiation part for me. Part of my “due diligence” is seeing if I can find one online before applying to a job (I’ve decided against some places because their benefits were bad), but that’s not always available. But they should definitely give you official documents before you agree, just like they give you the official salary and start date.

    That probably won’t get into all the nitty-gritty or things you’d only find out in orientation, but it would certainly cover things like “how much vacation” and “is there health insurance that covers more than this one specific hospital in a city I don’t live in.”

  33. Candi*

    My boss has admitted that the hiring panel intentionally gave misleading but technically true answers to my questions, saying that they “know [they] have issues” but that I was a good candidate and they didn’t want to scare me away by being “too honest.”

    I actually swore at the screen when I read that. That is acknowledging both serious issues and deception in one slimy little package.

    They deliberately conned you, and that was, to put it politely, inconsiderate and rude.

    One way to get some answers, if you can? If you have the opportunity, get them talking, in an informal conversation, rather than the more formal interview structure. One thing I’ve seen many a time when reading about criminal history (not Hollywood happy-CSI type stuff, real stuff) is many a police officer has gotten information out of a victim, witness, or crook just by talking -politely, even- with them. People just don’t think about what they’re saying in the average conversation.

    Best of luck on the job search, and may it be short. :)

  34. Gard*

    I have a similar issue but after 6 months now.

    I don’t think I was lied to – but the job was definitely not what I thought it was going to be, after a short while I’ve started to feel like I’m doing what I’ve already done 5,6 years ago, instead of anything new that would develop me further. Doesn’t help that the team feels very disjointed as they’re hardly ever in the same room together, and I’ve hardly received a proper training for my job.

    I’ve applied for a job earlier – hopefully I hear back and I can utilise Alison’s advice. Just hope I don’t come across too negative in anything I say, I worry that I’m going to come across as inpatient. This company actually already has someone who joined with me and left after 3 months, I wonder whether I should ask that person or not, as they kind of had a more personal reason ready to leave.

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