am I being unrealistic in my expectations of the interview process?

A reader writes:

I spent the past three and a half years trying to break into really competitive industries and haven’t had much luck. I’m not the most ideal candidate and am ready to just move on to plan B: grad school for an entirely different field that I’ve become pretty passionate about in the past year and a half or so. I’m totally okay with this and really excited about this path. In the meantime, I have bills to pay and I need a job to make some money while I go through the grad school application process and eventually start attending classes.

In the past, I’ve taken a lot of jobs at really toxic workplaces completely unrelated to the field I was trying to break into. In most cases, the hiring process left me feeling a little uneasy from the start, but I take the job anyway for a paycheck. Ultimately, the toxicity is too much for me to handle, and I end up leaving a few months after starting. I feel bad about doing this and realize this isn’t going to make it any easier to hire me.

In order to prevent this from happening again, I’ve made a list of red flags that lead me to believe I may not be the best fit for the company. Some of my close friends think I’m being unrealistic with some of the things I see as red flags, but I see them as things, if left unaccounted for, are indicators that this might not be the best place for me.

Some of these red flags are not notifying me of major changes to the timeline, changing interview times last minute, contacting me for an interview and asking me to interview that day or the next day, or sending a skills assessment to see proficiency on skills not mentioned in the job listing. None of these are necessarily deal breakers on their own, but when a company does many of them without providing reasoning, I become very leery of what I would be walking into.

The most recent job I interviewed for requires me to move across the country. They’ve done a few things that raised red flags for me and were never really addressed. I hesitate to take the position and move across the country if it is offered to me. People close to me think I’m being unrealistic with my expectations, need to be more understanding towards routine hiccups in the hiring process, and should just take it because I need the money. Am I being too unrealistic with my expectations? Is there a more realistic way to go about figuring out if a company is going to be a good fit for me?

You’re right that none of the things you listed are deal-breakers on your own, but they could be part of a pattern of other evidence that, put all together, is alarming. You need to look at the full picture though, because sometimes this stuff isn’t a danger sign.

Healthy, functional employers sometimes will need to change interview times at the last minute — like if someone is out sick or a crisis needs to be dealt with. Asking you to interview the same day is legitimately weird (unless it’s framed as “I know this is incredibly last-minute but we happened to have a slot open up today and if there’s any chance that would work, I’d love to get you in, but otherwise we can look at times next week”), but the next day — eh, maybe, maybe not. If they acknowledge it’s short notice and understand you may say no, it’s not a huge deal. Not notifying you of changes to their hiring timeline — annoying but really common, even with otherwise good companies. Sending a skills assessment for skills not mentioned in the job posting — really depends on the context. It’s something to ask about in the interview, but I wouldn’t write them off without knowing more.

Typically the things I’d find most alarming in an interview process are more substantive than these — they’d be about things you learn about the culture, the role itself, the manager’s management style, and so forth. It’s not that the things you named can’t be red flags too — they can — but I’m wondering why you’ve confined your list to these more logistical issues and not to anything that’s discussed in the interview itself.

What really jumps out to me in your letter is that you sound … well, impulsive and like you haven’t been thinking through your professional decisions very well. You’ve taken a string of jobs that you felt uneasy about but (it sounds like) didn’t do due diligence on (flag #1), then left a bunch of them after only a couple of months (flag #2), and have been trying to break into competitive industries without thinking through the impact of all that job-hopping (flag #3).

It’s great that you’re trying to be more thoughtful about how to avoid toxic jobs going forward … but it’s also true that at this point your options are going to be pretty limited if your resume is full of jobs where you only stayed a few months, and I don’t see recognition of that in your letter. So the question to ask is not just whether you’re being unrealistic in your expectations of employers, but also whether you’re being realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of your candidacy.

The thing about leaving a slew of toxic jobs very quickly is that the more often you do it, the harder it becomes to get a non-toxic job to hire you — because they’ll want to go with a less risky candidate with a more stable job history (and the sort of accomplishments you need to stay in a job for a while to rack up). At some point, the employers willing to hire you are mainly the ones you don’t want to work for — the ones that will keep the toxic job cycle going.

Given all that, at this point you might not be in a position to be as picky as you’re now realizing you want to be. Unless you’re getting a ton of offers, you may just need to go with the best of some not-ideal options and stick with it, even if it’s not perfect. (But I would not move for a job you’re not excited about, not unless your finances demand it).

{ 321 comments… read them below }

  1. animaniactoo*

    In the past, I’ve taken a lot of jobs at really toxic workplaces completely unrelated to the field I was trying to break into. In most cases, the hiring process left me feeling a little uneasy from the start, but I take the job anyway for a paycheck. Ultimately, the toxicity is too much for me to handle, and I end up leaving a few months after starting. I feel bad about doing this and realize this isn’t going to make it any easier to hire me.

    OP, if you come to the comments, can you provide more details about what made those jobs really toxic workplaces, such that you felt like you had to leave after a few months?

    1. LLovesWork*

      It feels unlikely to me that a person would have had such bad luck as to have stumbled into that many “toxic” workplaces. It seems very possible that the problem be the OP him/herself.

      1. Aquawoman*

        Maybe, maybe not. If someone has a family background that involves people routinely ignoring boundaries or gaslighting people about their feelings/instincts, they could repeat that pattern in the job search.

        1. alphabet soup*

          Very, very true.

          This has been a factor for me– not being able to recognize red/yellow flags during an interview, because I grew up thinking that dysfunction is normal.

          Also want to add that not the ability to be choosy about jobs in the first place is a bit of a privilege. Folks from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds may not have immediate access to the resources needed to find a non-toxic job, and/or there may be exigent circumstances that prevent them from taking the time to find one.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Adding if a person comes from a family background where the workday is just NOT discussed, this would also happen.

          I think we can trust OP to have correctly identified where they need some additional inputs.

          Decades ago, this was the very reason why I did NOT ask for help because people would want to know why I did not know these things. I was pretty naive and easily embarrassed, I would not say, “Because my parents never taught me.”

          If we delve into why a person has a knowledge gap we can lose that person’s attention entirely.

        3. boop the first*

          True… I have a rep among my friends as being someone who stays way too long in a bad job and quits when I couldn’t possibly get any angrier/sadder.

          I haven’t had a large number of jobs (since I stay forever), but it surprises me that every one of them does the exact same thing that frustrates me terribly: They are surprised that I can handle stuff alone and therefore they stop training people, and therefore I become the only person available, which means I cannot get time off for life stuff. Or help when I’m overloaded. Even though it’s REALLY not in a business’ best interest to do so?? It’s crazy risky. I could drop dead at any time, who could know?

          So is that a pattern of bad employers or is it my fault? Who claims more responsibility in this situation? Maybe they’re all shortsighted fools, or maybe I’m just worthless.

        4. Glitsy Gus*

          That is very possible. But it is also possible the industries they’ve been getting their subsistence jobs in are more prone to bad management and poor treatment than others. If OP has been working retail I’d believe you could end up in several jobs in a row that were truly awful.

          There does come a point, though where sometimes you need to suck up a situation that is bad, but not as bad as some of the others, for at least a little while to break the cycle.

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        It sounds like OP is looking for quick gigs to temporarily keep a roof over their head, which to me implies that we might be talking about service industry jobs. Which frequently are toxic.

        At the end of the day, you have to decide for yourself how much nonsense you’re willing to tolerate so that you can keep the lights on until you get what you really want.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah once you’re in the hourly service arena (bars, restaurants, warehouses etc), it’s not surprising to me that a lot of the jobs get more toxic. Plus the places most likely to be hiring are the ones that have lots of turnover and drama.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I assumed that until we got to the part about moving across the country for this current job. It’s a very odd amalgam that is hard for me to parse.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Yep. There was mention of ‘industries’, which makes me think that they have actually been career jobs that OP has left, not service jobs.

        3. JSPA*

          “Toxic” is a strong word. Many things (from habits to foods to jobs) that are unhealthy in the long term are not out-and-out toxic in the short term–merely unpleasant / unadvisable / something you move on from willingly when better options are available. I wish there were enough detail to determine where on the “not ideal” to “this will leave a bitter taste for some time” to “this will leave a permanent scar for me, but might not be so scarring for someone else” to “this is broadly dangerous, exploitative and/or illegal and I need to get out now.”

          A place where you are doing work that bores you to tears, or where you are under-appreciated / can’t truly succeed, but can continue to draw a paycheck? Bad, but not toxic. A boss that’s not grounded in reality / is doing drugs / yells when frustrated, blames others broadly? Toxic in the long-term, sure, but not intrinsically too toxic to ride it out short-term, if other people are managing to do so, and can offer tips and strategies and sympathy. A place where you’re threatened, groped, individually belittled, gaslighted, blackmailed, or ordered to do illegal things? That’s legit, “get out now” toxic.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            Good point. One also has to be realistic about jobs, and remember that one might not have perfect co-workers. There will always be at least one irritating person at a job. The key is learning how to put up with him/her. I would say at least stay with a job for 1 year minimum, because otherwise you won’t be able to accomplish anything to get a reference out of it. I mean, unless you are enduring extreme daily verbal abuse/harassment/or some such thing.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          This is what happened to me. I wanted to get away from my mother and if that meant working one, two, three toxic jobs that was easier than dealing with my mother.

          Hopefully, OP realizes they don’t have to explain the reasons for what they have done.

      3. animaniactoo*

        Maybe, maybe not – A lot of retail/service industry (or related) jobs which generally ARE toxic by the standards we would apply to office/white collar jobs. And it is true that even there, there are levels and then there are LEVELS. So I’d like to know more before drawing any conclusions.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          I’m 32, I’ve had like… a number- maybe 3-4? Each toxic in their own special way. Not all that many that were so toxic I had to leave ASAP though.

          1. Busy*

            Yeah I mean while I have a white color profession, many of the places I have worked for are manufacturing. Manufacturing is a very toxic industry where I live.

          2. Emily K*

            Yeah, my first two jobs in my field were definitely not what I’d hold up as models of a healthy, well-functioning workplace where everyone is living up to their potential.

            The first had a leadership crisis/scandal with a gross senior exec that led to half the staff being laid off from the resulting fall-out with key funders and led to a very uncomfortable dynamic for the half that remained, where we were treated like we’d been irreversibly poisoned by the experience and management did their best to push everyone out, either by suddenly raising performance standards to an unattainable level to justify a firing, or making people so miserable they quit. There was palpable sadness in the air every day and “today was Bob’s last day, Bob is no longer here” emails went out regularly. Eventually many of us were offered severance in exchange for a voluntary resignation so that the company could “move on” from its shameful past. In total, I was there for a year, which was long enough for a first job that I leveraged the experience into a step up at my next job.

            Next job, classic small business/startup syndrome. Boss wasn’t ever just like, mean for no reason, but sometimes seemed like she was doing her best imitation of the boss in Devil Wears Prada, was fond of giving a stern dressing-down when you didn’t live up to her expectations, and all three of us who worked for her were doing 3-4 jobs apiece to keep the place afloat. I served under her for 2.5 years, the last 1.5 years of which I was selectively applying to jobs.

            I look back on the second experience as something akin to a boot camp – it was grueling and brutal and I was definitely not living my best life outside of work during that time because of the constant stress of feeling like I was just not quite good enough at my job…but because of the small business/4-jobs-in-1 factor I had the freedom to generate some projects for myself in the areas I especially wanted to work in and build up an impressive list of accomplishments. Leveraged those accomplishments into my current job, where I’ve been happily working alongside some of the most talented, driven, and genuinely nice people I’ve ever worked with for the past seven years.

            An observer probably wouldn’t fault me for calling either of those workplaces toxic, because they were definitely dysfunctional and poorly run and instilling the wrong habits/values in employees. But they weren’t so bad I couldn’t grit my teeth and shlog my way through the muck until I could climb out on the other side.

      4. Ella*

        I wouldn’t be terribly surprised, especially if these are entry level jobs and the letter writer was jumping on the first offer she got. As other people have mentioned, service industry jobs have a pretty high toxic to not-toxic ration, but even beyond that there are a lot of wildly dysfunctional or actively predatory multi-level marketing/call center/customer service type jobs out there. I can imagine it would be very easy to fall into a job like that for someone who is quick to apply for and accept job offers without a lot of background research. Toxic workplaces and industries by their very nature see a lot of turnover, so are making a lot more hires than less toxic places.

      5. Kelly AF*

        I agree. I think it’s important to note that there’s a difference between a job that’s boring, or not a great fit for you, or doesn’t pay very well, etc. and a truly toxic job.

      6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I agree. It sounds as if OP is overly cautious with the potential jobs in their field, and just winging it with jobs to tide them over until something better comes along. I think the problem does lie with OP, but more in the method of finding their ideal job. It is possible to be stuck in multiple toxic jobs, but for them to be SO toxic that you feel the need to leave after a few months…either OP has unrealistic expectations for these jobs, or they’re missing something when applying.

      7. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

        It may be unlikely, but as a hiring manager I stopped penalizing candidates for job-hopping at all once I realized that it disproportionately impacts women and people of color (and doubly so at the intersection), because of sexual harassment and discrimination.

        Those things happen to people, and nobody asks for it, but once it happens the rest of your career is a minefield! Navigating references, nondisclosure agreements (attached to settlements and otherwise), and your general reputation in a world where people will assume, to some degree, that *you* were the problem is a nightmare. And they might not be able to speak honestly about it, or might be nervous to (who wants to tell those kinds of details to a stranger, especially a stranger with more power than you?).

        I’m not saying it would never be a flag for me that people don’t have any stability in their career, but this is one of the ways that racism and sexism become systemic, when they have an impact far outside what any individual decisionmaker in the process can anticipate or control.

        (And I’m not saying LLovesWork or anyone else is a racist or a sexist, just that this is a specific area of impact of bias that I didn’t always know about, and now that I do, it’s important for me to spread the info.)

        1. Johnny Tarr*

          This is a very interesting point that I’ve never considered. Do you think you have enough of a sample size at this time to either strengthen your opinion or call it into question?

          The only job-hoppers I’ve had experience with are non-custodial parents trying to avoid child support payments. But there’s probably no way to screen for that.

        2. CM*

          That is really interesting and makes so much sense. I’m glad you’re spreading the word — you should think about publishing an article about this, if you haven’t.

        3. alphabet soup*

          Thank you so much for adding this perspective and for being understanding of candidates.

          As a woman of color, I feel like I’ve had a disproportionate number of jobs that range from mildly dysfunctional to toxic. It feels like race/gender have somewhat figured into this.

          One of the more toxic places I worked at wouldn’t hire white people, and *only* hired poc and some people who probably were undocumented, because the owners of the company assumed we’d be less likely to push back on their toxicity (including being yelled at in front of the entire company, having “mistakes” deducted from paychecks, etc). At another place I worked at, I was the only poc who didn’t work in customer service or the loading docks, so none of my coworkers would talk to me, and the ones who did made thinly-veiled comments about how it was a shame my role went to an “outsider” instead of promoting from within. And another place I worked at, I experienced low-level, borderline sexual harassment behavior– constantly being stared at, co-workers who inundated me with instant messages all day long, “jokingly” being told to fetch someone coffee, etc.

          I managed to hold out 1-2 years in each of those jobs. But, man, I wish we lived in a world where women and poc didn’t have to tough it out in situations like this just to have the hope of getting a normal job one day.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          Thank you for this. Yes, if you strive to stay employed at all times, you do get penalized for it. You end up taking seasonal work or temp jobs just to keep money coming in.

        5. Emily K*

          As someone who has done a good bit of hiring, I don’t penalize people for job-hopping as any kind of blanket rule, but I do ask the candidate about why they left each job in order to figure out whether I actually need to be concerned about it or not. It’s always been more of an indicator that you need to dig deeper than it is a hiring metric on its own for me.

          1. Emily K*

            And I’ll add, I have absolutely made offers people with multiple short stays after hearing their explanation, and that has included someone who left a previous job with nothing lined up because of abusive behavior by their boss. My jaw dropped and I sympathized with her when she told me what she’d had to deal with. She used objective language and gave a few specific examples that were not a matter of opinion, so I crossed that off in my mind as not a problem for her candidacy and moved on to the next question.

            1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

              See, this one’s always frightening, because… there’s a risk that your interviewer will just think “Oh, badmouthing their ex-boss, red flag!” But if you’re asked why you left, or asked a question like “What’s the worst job/worst manager you’ve had”, how is a person who’s had a genuinely toxic workplace to answer that question? Lie, or be seen as badmouthing their former employer?

              1. Massmatt*

                What Emily said about staying cool and describing it dispassionately is key. It’s hard and maybe unfair to expect, but this is the way to talk about anything bad about previous employers during an interview. Ideally you can add some sort of lesson you gained or at least how this has been a great segueway into THIS opportunity to work HERE etc. Acknowledge and then put distance between that and now.

              2. Emily K*

                I can’t speak for all hiring managers, but for me badmouthing is more about subjective complaints, unnecessary insults, airing dirty laundry that isn’t relevant, stuff like that. I would be alarmed to hear a candidate say they left their last job because the owner was too incompetent to run the business and all their coworkers were superficial airheads.

                A couple of examples –

                Badmouthing: The owner was too busy gambling to run his business and I have no respect for him.
                Objective negative: The owner missed payroll several times and the uncertainty of whether I’ll be paid on time is obviously quite stressful.

                Badmouthing: All my coworkers are stupid and I can’t get anything done because of their incompetence.
                Objective negative: I find that I’m frequently pulled away from my core duties, which I enjoy, to redo the work of others, and I’m unable to implement a lot of ideas that I’m excited about because I don’t have the bandwidth to do it alone and there’s nobody else on staff with the right skills to help me.

                Badmouthing: The only people who get promoted are those who participate in office gossip and the managers play favorites and give all the opportunities to their BFFs.
                Objective negative: After talking with my manager about my goals, I learned there isn’t room for advancement where I currently am, and the company hasn’t been able to provide me any professional development, so I’ve realized I need to move on in order to continue to grow professionally.

                All jobs/workplaces have negatives and they are very often the reason we leave jobs, so to me it’s pretty pollyanna to expect every candidate is leaving a job that’s nothing but rainbows and kittens. What I want to see is that the person can look at a situation objectively and articulate what was wrong in a mature way that focuses on the facts.

                1. Emily K*

                  Follow-up thought is it’s very similar to the advice Alison often gives when you need to talk to your manager about a problem you’re having with a coworker: you stay focused on the concrete effect that the issue you’re raising is having on your ability to get your work done (or in this context, pursue your career goals/succeed in your role). You don’t say that Sally always comes in late and spends hours a day on Amazon – you say that Sally is frequently unavailable when you need her and takes longer than is reasonable to turn around requests, and it causes problematic delays in project timelines. Except instead of ending with, “How should I navigate this?” as it would when talking to your manager, you’ve already answered that question – you’re navigating it by seeking other opportunities.

              3. boop the first*

                Surely everyone has a really basic and neutral reason for leaving jobs, though, even when it’s intolerable in SO MANY OTHER WAYS. I try to choose the least personal one. It’s going to be so hard, though!

                One job, I ultimately left because I wanted something more part time.

                I didn’t have to mention that I was pissed that they were paying me less than the men for no reason, that I couldn’t get past the owner’s lousy reaction to a workplace violence incident, that the place was hot and filthy, that I was too frequently left alone, etc etc.

                Nah, just needed a schedule change.

        6. Lana Kane*

          In complete agreement with this. People need to survive. I try hard to keep that in mind when I’m looking at resumes.

        7. Amethystmoon*

          I temped around when I was younger, and was also a very shy person. I would do what they asked of me, yet they would never want to pay the temp agency fees for hiring me, and then I would get laid off. A lot of people would call that job hopping even though it wasn’t done willingly. So I’m glad that I finally found a big company to land at, but it took me a good decade or so of temping in order to get to that point.

        8. Tibs*

          Is there data showing that? In my experience as a black woman I haven’t seen that we change jobs more than anyone else, thank you. This sounds like an attempt to be woke but I don’t think the data backs up what you are saying but if it does I’d be interested in seeing it.

          1. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

            There is some! Black women are disproportionately targeted for workplace sexual harassment. Of course people of color are more likely to experience racial discrimination at work than white people. Caregivers would be more likely to lose a job due to a medical situation with the person they’re taking care of, and caregivers are disproportionately women, disproportionately people of color, and disproportionately lower-income. People with disabilities and neuroatypicalities are similarly more likely to have experienced a medical situation that required them to take time suddenly away from work, which is how many people lose jobs.

            None of that stuff is within anyone’s control; it’s just life happening. And of course statistics don’t describe every person’s life, but I think there’s a preponderance of evidence that a general, unexamined bias in hiring managers against people with multiple short-term jobs on their resume would disproportionately hurt women and people of various other marginalized identities, in ways that compound at the intersections.


      8. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

        Ehhhh…. a lot of the jobs that are available to/attempt to recruit young people with very limited experience are pretty toxic. Early career, I ended up taking a crappy sales position, where the boss decided a great motivational technique would be to have the team with the best numbers for the day throw pie in the faces of the team with the worst numbers. I seemed to be the only person who recognized how effed up that whole situation was, but with my limited experience, couldn’t get a job anywhere else. OP may be in a similar trap.

      9. Anon for today (and probably tomorrow)*

        In my adult working life, I have been employed by four places. Two of them turned toxic. It doesn’t take much. A bad manager here. A bad manager here. Upper management who let that continue. Upper management who encourage it to go on. In both of my cases, it was the old frog slowly being boiled to death experience. In the first case, it was only after I left to go back to school that I realized how not normal the job was. My current place of employment is finally gradually becoming non-toxic.

        It happens more than you know.

      10. Queen Anon*

        I had 3 toxic jobs in a row back in the 90s. It did cause me to second-guess myself and for quite awhile afterward I wondered about my own skills and abilities. Eventually I was able to look back more objectively and realize that the only thing I’d done wrong was to ignore the red flags they were waving in front of me in the first place. (One of those jobs they were minor red flags that were easy to ignore. The other 2 were huge banners with klaxons attached and if I found myself back in time with the knowledge I have today, I’d run screaming.)

    2. NothingIsLittle*

      Yeah, the flags mentioned in the letter seem pretty reasonable, as long as they’re taken in context. I’m concerned that the number of times OP has jumped ship after only a few months suggests that they may be being unrealistic in their expectations of a work environment, or that they might not be applying to jobs strategically.

      I think in a previous post Alison mentioned that once you’ve created a pattern of job hopping, you’re more and more likely to be stuck only getting offers at less healthy workplaces and that, at some point, you need to just pick the least toxic and stick it out a few years to demonstrate that you’re capable of it.

      1. Frank Doyle*

        I think in a previous post Alison mentioned that once you’ve created a pattern of job hopping, you’re more and more likely to be stuck only getting offers at less healthy workplaces and that, at some point, you need to just pick the least toxic and stick it out a few years to demonstrate that you’re capable of it.

        She says it in this very post, in fact! Second-to-last paragraph.

        1. NothingIsLittle*

          That she did! I just wanted to point out the old post because it included a timeline for how long to expect to stay (two years) and this one didn’t. I should have been clearer about that!

          “you may just need to go with the best of some not-ideal options and stick with it, even if it’s not perfect” vs “If at all possible, I’d commit to sticking it out where you are for two years. Or, you could write this one off and commit to staying at your next job that long…”

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Unfortunately, OP’s kind of painted herself into a corner here with the constant job hops. She’ll probably have to put aside her list of logistical no’s, pick a job that’s good enough, and work it for a couple of years. And the grad school thing? That’s concerning too. OP’s history of not really knowing what she wants to do and just accepting whatever to pay the bills makes me wonder if she’s substituting school for one of these throw away jobs.

        OP, please think long and hard about whether you really need to go to grad school right now. Unless you get a full ride somewhere, you’ll be paying for it out of pocket, and I’d hate for you to go into debt, get out of school, and have the exact same problem you had before you went in.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This last paragraph worries me, OP. Especially in light of spending the last 3 years trying to break into industries, plural.

        2. alphabet soup*

          Or if OP does really have their heart set on grad school, it would make sense first to get some kind of entry-level job at a university that offers tuition benefits (especially since they seem ok with taking basically any job that pays the bills right now). That’s a great way to build connections and get your employer to foot some/all of the bill for your tuition.

          1. Sarah N*

            Yes! Our former admin assistant did this — definitely it was not his “dream job,” but he got a free Masters degree out of it as well as access to the university’s career services and various professional development benefits. I think this is a great way to go with anyone looking at a grad degree they would have to pay out of pocket (or go into debt) for.

        3. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

          In *most* cases, unless it’s a professional degree (like MLIS), it’s expected that grad school will be paid – when I attended grad school, it wasn’t just full tuition, they actually paid me – not a lot, but enough for food & shelter. The general advice for grad school is that you shouldn’t go to grad school unless you’re getting compensated.

          1. Daisy*

            But people also shouldn’t go *just because* they’re compensated, or think that they’ll be no downside if they’re not going into debt. It’s another few years of not earning, and if it doesn’t lead to a job you’ve just fallen farther behind. I think employability afterwards is the only thing that should be considered

            1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

              Oh, agreed. I was just responding to the ‘go into debt’ part. There’s no reason why grad school should equate debt.

          2. Malarkey01*

            Wait what? I was extremely fortunate because my grad school tuition was paid by my company in a program that was discontinued 10 years ago, but no one else in my program or none of my friends had grad school payments. If you were a PhD candidate at the schools I’ve attended you could TA and get a salary, but none of the masters programs did that. I have never heard the advice that you should only go to grad school if they paid.

          3. Cascadia*

            Most Masters degree programs don’t give you any money, and in fact, cost a fortune. I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of students getting paid by the university to go to grad school are PhD’s. Everyone in my masters program, and everyone else I know who got just a masters degree had to pay tuition, and a lot of it. Everyone I know with a PhD got a stipend for attending and did not have to pay tuition. Also worth noting that in the US, the vast majority of student loan debt is coming from graduate education because it is more unregulated than undergraduate. Be wary of debt!

          4. Natatat*

            Is this perhaps specific to your experience or your country/region? I work in academia in Canada and from what I’ve seen in Canada at least PhD’s tend to be funded (though not always, and not enough really to live in an expensive city unless you’re also winning big scholarships) and Master’s are very often paid by the student unless you are a top student getting an entrance scholarship.

            1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

              Hm… well, I was in Canada, so maybe it’s more about the type of degree. I met my spouse in grad school, and spouse has gone on to complete a PhD and now works as an academic, so I do have a fair amount of experience in/contact with academia in many different countries (like…aside from having dug into this extensively before deciding to go to grad school myself, I know a *lot* of people with graduate degrees, and my spouse has talked to me about the different funding programs at various universities he’s interviewed with, as the ability to fund your grad students is a big consideration for academics); I don’t think it’s so much regional as it is the type of degree – research degrees are generally funded, professional degrees generally are not.

    3. Unrealistic Question Asker*

      I can.

      At one job, I was a manager who reported directly to the owner. The owner asked me to be complicit in him using the business as a front for money laundering. I declined and resigned.

      Another job I was repeatedly sexually harassed and touched in appropriately by a coworker. The coworker was the district managers best friend. District manager excused their friends behavior and told me this coworker was already relocated after she sexually assaulted another coworker at another location. I was touched inappropriately again that day and resigned.

      Another job I told the general manager at the interview I planned to go out with my partner on a one week vacation 2 months after the position started. I was willing to cancel, but he said it would be fine. The first 2 months were great. I had earned a promotion to an assistant manager position and a raise already in that time. While I was on vacation, general manager was relocated and a new one brought in. I was immediately demoted and my raise rolled back. He let go of the rest of the assistant managers and brought in his own people. My hours were cut from full time to 15 hours a week for saying I couldn’t go into work directly from the airport. When I finally met the new general manager, he made sexual comments to me about a 17 year old employee before firing her. I resigned.

      Another job that was supposed to be 40-50 hours a week turned into 80-90 hours a week. It was a salary position with no overtime. They also demanded we break the law and fired people who refused. Over half of the staff quit or was fired.

      In these situations, I felt like I was being asked to do or accept things that were unreasonable or illegal, and I wasn’t really comfortable with it. Does that help at all?

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        If you don’t mind clarifying, OP, what industries are you giving up on and switching your focus to? Not relevant to the immediate question but I always get curious about that when it’s unspecified. :) And for these (mostly truly horrendous-sounding) jobs- are they all tiny companies? Were they all retail or service industry? That might be an important theme in determining where these toxic environments thrive.

        1. Unrealistic Question Asker*

          I don’t mind!

          The first 3 happened in restaurants. The first was a small gastropub; second and third were chain restaurants I worked later. Fourth was a political organization that did voter registration.

          I had wanted to be one of those chefs-turned-food writer people you hear about, so I tried to get into journalism. Went to the right university but couldn’t afford to do the internship. I spent 2 years after graduating trying to make it happen but no luck.

          I started working for nonprofits about a year and a half ago doing political work.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            *screaming* Okay this explains so much and it makes me ill at the same time. That toxic waste dump of an industry is always spitting up horror story after horror story.

          2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            The restaurant business is a hotbed of toxicity. I don’t blame you for wanting to get out.

            Knowing how difficult it is to get into journalism, have you looked at other communications-based fields such as PR or advertising? There are many agencies focused on the food industry that might be far more professional.

          3. CM*

            This context is important. It explains a lot. Also, I don’t think the “stay for 2 years” advice applies in these types of jobs.

            My take is that you should be on the lookout for red flags, but it doesn’t seem like you’re focusing on the right ones? I’d look more at the reputation of the place and try to talk to other people about their experiences there.

          4. Campaign Season*

            One thing to note regarding the political organization, in my experience, working significantly more than 40 hours a week (and working 7 days a week) is exceedingly common in that industry. There are aspects of your experience that are concerning (breaking the law, of course) but I’ve found staff turnover and long hours to be par for the course.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              Yup. My dotted line manager’s wife is working for a campaign right now, and she travels two to three weeks a month these days. That’s just the reality with certain political careers.

              1. Campaign Season*

                I got out of it precisely because I wanted days off and to stop moving every 9-12 month.

            2. EinJungerLudendorff*

              True, but at that point I would expect their compensation to be structured accordingly.

              If you know your employees’ workload will regularly go up to 100 hours, you better be paying hourly or include overtime for salaried workers.

              1. Campaign Season*

                There are a lot of issues with campaign and political organization pay structure, especially when it comes to interns. Luckily there is more talk of ways to improve these this cycle but I spent almost 10 years doing campaigns and issue-focused work and was never hourly or non-exempt.

              2. Massmatt*

                I know several people that have worked on political campaigns and as mid-level staffers. The idea of OT or high pay is ludicrous. The jobs generally pay only moderately well at best, and that only for high level staff. People either do these jobs because the love the work and/or mission or they use the contacts they build up to move to the private sector where they cash in.

                There is a reason why there has been a revolving door between political operatives and bureaucrats on one side and lobbying firms and consulting groups on the other for many years.

          5. NW Mossy*

            Ah, that’s really illuminating!

            One thing I’ll add to your watch list – organizational size and structure. Restaurants and non-profits, as industries, tend to be tilted towards small workplaces where one or two bad apples in leadership can really skew the experience of working there. Even when they’re part of larger umbrellas, if there’s not a regular monitoring structure in place reinforce policies and professional practice, you can see individual locations/offices devolve into Lord-of-the-Flies-esque islands.

            As you’re hunting now, you may find yourself better off looking at big organizations – north of 500 people in the site you’re applying to would be a good threshold. Not to say that you can’t find toxicity in bigger companies, but the requirements of getting that many people to work together profitably tends to cap out the really nasty behavior and give you more resources to push back if you encounter it.

            1. Emily K*

              In the nonprofit world, even here in DC – nonprofit capital of the US – you would be hard pressed to find many orgs with 500 employees in one site. For a nonprofit, 100+ employees is typically considered large enough to open an office somewhere else. Mine has around 800 employees but only 200 in DC, and another large org we work closely with has about 1500 employees and only 250 or so in DC. Both are extremely bureaucratic and have wonderfully standardized policies, good benefits, competent HR departments – the opposite in every way to my time at a 40-person org let alone a 4-person org.

              I would say 500 employees is a good threshold, but wouldn’t say they all have to be in one office to get the benefit.

          6. JSPA*

            Forgot to add: none of these things would be signaled by the new flags you’re adding. If you’re in a field with huge turnover (and both restaurants and campaigns count) and massive disparities in power (ditto) and a lot of young employees who don’t have much awareness of what’s acceptable or not in other workplaces (very much ditto), you’re going to have to be extra aware of behavioral issues, personalities, and workplace protections. Volunteer at the campaign for a while, or befriend someone who does. Visit the restaurant for coffee a few times (at different times), and keep your ears open as you pass the kitchen, going to the bathroom; carry a lighter, and chat with workers on their smoke break. More generally, chef-turned-writer is basically where failed good chefs end up, if they happen to write well, have a lot of contacts and a lot of stories to tell, and are very, very lucky. It’s not generally the sort of thing you would plan, as a career path! Or rather, if you did, you might WANT to encounter egregious behavior (and take copious notes)–more to write about later, and all that.

            1. Working Mom Having It All*

              In addition to that, I’d guess that virtually zero people have the career of full-time, no day job, living-wage food writer. Maybe 20 people in the entire USA, and that’s counting people who are already famous and have been working in the field for decades, like maybe Ruth Reichl or Evan Kleiman or someone like that. Most of the food writing you read if you read food magazines or food blogs is done by people who have other jobs to pay the bills.

              Most chefs who publish a memoir or cookbook make their real living off being a chef. The book deal is just gravy. Same for chefs that score a TV show: unless you become a household name like Gordon Ramsey or Giada diLaurentiis, your real money is still going to come from your restaurants, not being a TV star.

              Not to mention that the only chef I can think of who turned a kitchen career that wasn’t particularly notable — and didn’t involve decades of concurrently running successful businesses — into a career as a writer/TV personality is Anthony Bourdain, and his story is extremely specific and revolves around knowing the right people. (The right people here include a New Yorker editor and executives at several TV networks.)

              This isn’t the kind of career you can decide you want to do, spend a year or so following the right steps, and then walk into as if it were, like, being a dentist or a cop. It’s more like winning the lottery, or like a fun side gig you do that makes a little extra money on top of your real career.

          7. Turtle Candle*

            Oooh, yeah, the restaurant industry is famous for toxic workplaces and outright illegal behavior. And suuuuuuuper long hours are normal with election-related political organizations when elections come up (though the illegality is a separate issue, and they should at least be up front about it). This isn’t, I don’t think, an issue of interviewing red flags (especially as in my experience “can you come in tomorrow for an interview? and then start the day after that?” is also not uncommon in restaurants, at least) but of a sadly high level of toxicity and outright abuse in food service work.

            Obviously like, #notallrestaurants, but yeah, part of this is just the industry.

      2. animaniactoo*

        Yes, it does, thanks for answering.

        I agree that all but one of those is a pull-the-ripcord situation. That 3rd job – I think you could have ridden that out further because while gross and inappropriate, you will find a lot of that and if you run every time you run across it you’ll do a lot of running without getting anywhere. Should you have to deal with it? No. But in realistic terms… yes. It’s going to happen. Whether you try to pursue it further up the food chain in terms of trying to get it to change is up to you. But especially at the point where you are now, I think that this is a level of issue that you’re going to have to try and stick out longer in order to fix your resume.

        The last one – I agree with pulling the ripcord here, but am curious whether anyone reported them to DOL or attempted to otherwise address the legal issues?

        Question: How long can you wait out a job search? Do you have the money to carry you so that you can avoid picking up the “anything for a paycheck” job? If not, do you think that you can commit to staying at some place like the 3rd place long enough to give you a cushion while you are searching? So that you can take your time about vetting and not accepting a position until you’ve found one that passes your additional checks on company culture, etc.?

        1. NothingIsLittle*

          I’m going to disagree about the third job mentioned because it sounds like OP was specifically being shoved out (hours dropped to 15 a week). It seems like that sort of GM would have found a reason to fire them regardless, which is worse than resigning.

          Gross comments are certainly something you’ll sometimes have to stick out (although in that case, I would have kept a very close eye on him), but the real issue was the GM driving out everyone from the previous department to hire his own people.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Yeah, but you don’t have to help them along the way. In that situation, I would particularly be looking at filing a complaint above the GM’s head and seeing where it goes. It’s also possible that GM would have gotten over his power trip and reinstated UQA’s hours (if not the position and the raise) in a couple of weeks or a month. Particularly if he needed more people – reliable people – than he could get by bringing in his own people. I disagree that it’s worse to be fired than resign in those circumstances – at worst, probably you get to leave the job off your resume.

            1. Anna*

              “Seeing where it goes” when you can’t afford working 15 hours a week isn’t reasonable. Staying put and “seeing where it goes” or jumping ship and finding something with more hours? I know which one I’d choose.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Adding this is the service industry. If an employee thinks TPTB will help them that is probably a naive way of thinking.
                Annnd many times the employer wants 24/7 availability to do that 15 hrs/wk. So getting a second job is unacceptable.

                The quicker path is just to leave and dig yourself out of the rubble from all this crap.

                1. Emily K*

                  Haha, yeah, I’m pretty sure the official corporate position on front-line employees who are being mistreated by their managers is “don’t @ me.”

            2. EinJungerLudendorff*

              No, that’s just seems like wishful thinking.
              This GM came in to deliberately wreck the existing management structure, and made the workplace unsustainable for OP. Then he put his own people in charge. This was a deliberate coup to take over OP’s workplace.
              He’s also clearly a repulsive and abusive person in general.

              This is not someone who will suddenly wake up and be a reasonable manager. They’re not going to start setting reasonable hours or giving honest reviews to the people on their hit-list. They won’t just give promotions back to someone they were trying to run out of the company a month ago.
              Even if they did, this person just screams “manager from hell” in every way.
              Getting out is the only option.

        2. EinJungerLudendorff*

          The third one seemed the grossest and most unsustainable of them all. OP was all but being fired, and their workplace got turned into a cesspool of hostile toxicity.
          I would be running out of there as soon as possible. Trying to make it work is obviously an exercise in futility, and I don’t think I could endure such a vile boss for long without it seriously impacting my mental health.

          1. animaniactoo*

            I think that I was not clear myself about what I meant by “ride it out” – mostly, I meant see if you can make it to 6 months, and be job hunting, just to have a longer stint on your resume. Yes, the situation sucks, but sometimes you deal with sucky-but-liveable in order to get yourself to at least semi-decent. That was all that I was trying to say about riding it out.

            If I misunderstood UQA that s/he resigned before finding another job, then my mistake.

      3. NothingIsLittle*

        Yes, that definitely helps! It sounds a lot like you became the victim of circumstance, given the severity of the issues, rather than just being picky, which I wondered about in your letter. I’m sorry you went through that!

        I’d recommend finding somewhere that you can stick it out and staying there for two years minimum to start building faith that you’ll be a safe hire. If you really must go to grad school before that time, I’d recommend taking temporary or contract work with a set deadline and indicating that on your resume when you list it, to indicate that you know it’s strange to change jobs that often. Are there any you can leave off your resume? A few months isn’t really long enough to have major accomplishments and may not be worth including.

        In terms of your flags, I think they’re more yellow than red, and that you might want to start seriously probing into corporate culture during interviews. Generally, questions into the culture will give you insight into the treatment of overtime and of how above-board the company really is. (Not always, but you’ll have a much better chance!) It might also be worth pushing to meet whoever would be managing you before accepting an offer and looking up any company on websites like Glassdoors.

      4. Jedi Squirrel*

        Thank you. You are right, those are terrible situations to be in and I’m sorry that you experienced those things.

        However, the red flags you have about the interview process probably wouldn’t cover these issues. You might want to ask more questions that get at the corporate culture and where the company plans on going in the next 1-5 years:

        1. “What is your policy on sexual harassment?”
        2. “What is your policy on nepotism?”
        3. “What is your policy on promotions?” (And you can sneak in some questions about demotions as well with this discussion.)

        I know these sound fairly blunt, but given your job history, you need to be, and if they ask you why you are concerned, you need to be equally frank about your past experiences. Also, it sounds like these are fairly small companies.

        I wish you all the best. Good luck, and please update us when you find something new.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Those are the equivalent of “tell me about a time” questions that interviewers ask candidates. You really can’t trust the answers bc people/employers will paint themselves in the best light possible. You might get someone who shows their ass right away, but it’s more likely that the answers will sound reasonable and the dysfunction will show up later.

          1. EinJungerLudendorff*

            Then again, some of these manager’s weren’t exactly hiding what they were doing.

            I agree that just asking them directly probably isn’t the best approach, but I think you could get a lot of warning signs with some well-aimed tangential questions.

            And then sometimes it won’t help at all, because people outside your establishment come in to wreck the place.

          2. Emily K*

            I actually think they are different from “tell me about a time” questions, because there’s often a huge gap between what’s policy and what’s done in practice, so someone can truthfully talk about a great policy that isn’t actual practiced.

            I always recommend that people phrase those types of questions like a “tell me about a time” questions. Ex:

            “How long have you worked here?” and “Are there many people left from when you started?” are better than, “Do you have high turnover?”

            “Did you get a chance to take a vacation this summer/holiday season? Where did you go?” asked during the getting-to-know-you moments at the beginning is better than, “How many vacation days do you get?” at the end.

            “What do people usually wear to work?” is better than, “What’s the dress code?”

            “Were any of the senior managers promoted into their roles or were they all external hires?” is better than, “What’s your policy on internal advancements?”

            “Can you recommend any professional conferences you’ve been to recently that you enjoyed?” is better than, “Does the org provide professional development and training opportunities?”

            And so on. Yes, there are always going to be people who lie, but the great majority of people are uncomfortable with explicit, outright lies. By asking a question about what’s theoretically the policy, you give them an easy way to disguise the truth without lying, and a large chunk of people who are uncomfortable saying something unflattering about their employer will seize that opportunity. But when you ask someone to tell you what people have actually done and experienced in reality, you make it harder for them to avoid the truth and much more likely they’ll be straight with you.

            1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

              For some of these, doing a bit of research ahead can be even better – i.e., “I noticed a few comments on Glassdoor mentioning a high turnover rate/noticed that many reviewers didn’t stay with the company long, can you tell me about that?” You’d want to mention in a very neutral, polite tone, of course, but their reaction to “Here’s what other people said about you” can be illuminating.

        2. CM*

          I agree that the red flags in the post up top don’t map onto the behaviours we’re trying to avoid.

          To me the most telling thing isn’t whether the people I’m interviewing with are good at managing the process (doing stuff on time, etc) but how they treat me, how they treat each other, if there’s weird tension in the room, if the reception staff seem pissed off to be there (which generally means there’s a reason they’re pissed off to be there)…

          You can also try gently challenging people during the interview process, if you’re skilled enough to do it without looking aggressive. Like, if one person’s really dominating the conversation, see what the reaction is if you ask a question of somebody else. Or if they seem really opinionated, see what the reaction is if you disagree. That kind of thing.

      5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Oh my goodness, these are truly awful and made me shiver. It makes complete sense why you pulled the cord so quickly in each one.

        How were you put into these positions? Did you answer job ads or was it through a recruiter or agency?

        I only ask because if you found them through job ads, I would strongly suggest working with an agency for your next step to get out of this awful spiral. They will give you an extra place to go back to if something outrageous goes on because they’re on the hook for placing people in utterly awful situations, most try to at least weed out ones who are running a money laundry scheme, yikes!

        Someone below mentioned temp-to-hire and that may also relieve a lot of your stress.

        My first job was toxic to an extreme as well. I wasn’t threatened but I got to hear my boss threatened with bodily harm by vendors, which was an awful life lesson in how awful things can get if you don’t pay the right people. I did temp work after that and was able to really get a good feeling before I took the job that launched my entire career. Once you get that one safe space job, it helps you heal from this horrible stuff that scars us so deeply.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          A family member worked in importing. It was not usual to hear, “Please don’t make me rectify x or y, these people are mob connected. It will not go well for me.” She learned to write missing items off the books and not ask questions.

      6. JSPA*

        That’s bad to the point of “let the cops know.” I know Alison is in favor of not highlighting the negatives in interviews, but when you have to explain several very short stints, being able to say, “I refused to be involved in money laundering, and the company was shut down for doing so earlier this year” is actually a point in your favor (and if they’re convicted and shut down, it’s not ambiguous which side(s) the problem is on.)

      7. Twenty Points for the Copier*

        This additional information is really helpful and changes a lot of my reaction to your question.

        First off (and this is through reading AAM and knowing people in the industry, not firsthand experience), I think the job-hopping will work against you a lot less in restaurant type jobs than it would be office settings. Generally food service, retail, and other service sector jobs can get someone up and running and productive pretty quickly and have much higher turnover (some of which is caused by terrible management, some of which is just par for the course in those industries).

        So the good news is I don’t think a lot of the stuff about your work history really putting you in a position to be a less desirable applicant really applies the same way it would if you were taking a lot of jobs where it takes a few months to really learn the ropes and work independently. And given the additional information about why these jobs were toxic, it’s definitely not you, it’s them.

        The less positive is that I think your prior target career is something where it is really, really hard if not impossible to actually build a paying career. To say journalism is a tough business is an understatement – there is less and less money available which leads to below market salaries and people tolerating a lot more than they should to get in and stay in the industry. I’m not sure what you want to go to grad school in, but I have seen a lot of people go to grad school without a plan for why that particular program was important to them to get where they wanted to go.

        I’m not sure how far out of school you are, so ignore this last part if it seems condescending (but it is the advice I wish my early 20’s self had received). I think rather than screening interview procedure for toxicity (others have covered better ways to screen for lousy environments than just the interview process itself), you should look at what fields may provide more stable opportunities with less potential for crazy hours, terrible bosses, and a huge supply of people willing to work for near-free to be in the industry. This can be notoriously hard to do, but I’d suggest talking to friends, family, alumni from your school, basically anyone you can who seems reasonably happy about what they do and doesn’t work in a high profile or glamorous field. There is a lot out there that isn’t particularly exciting on the surface but provides decent, interesting opportunities and a lot of people are happy to talk about what they do, how they got into it, and what they wish they knew when they were starting. Especially if you’re asking this specifically of the people who don’t get a lot of people interested in the details of their careers.

      8. Ella*

        Ah, thoswe two industries specifically add a lot of context that makes job hopping extremely understandable. I can’t speak to the restaurant industry beyond a general sense that it’s more dysfunctional than most. But for non-profit/political work, I’d highly recommend doing due diligence about the organization you’re applying to by talking to people who have worked there before, looking up glass door reviews, etc. The flags you mentioned above are all things that could be signs of dysfunction, could be signs of a fine organization that has an understaffed HR department (which isn’t ideal but isn’t necessarily going to mean a toxic workplace), or could have just been a one-off scheduling issue.

        I’d focus more on finding reliable sources of information on the organization’s reputation, what compensation looks like, what work/life balance looks like, and how stable their financial situation is. That last one is somewhat unique to the non-profit world, and is something a lot of people wouldn’t think to look at, but can make a massive difference in how functional a place it is to work. In general, political campaigns are going to involve a ton of unpaid overtime. This is changing in some places (Elizabeth Warren’s campaign staff is working to unionize, I believe) but at the moment it’s still basically industry standard to work upwards of 80-100 hour weeks while still being salaried employees who don’t receive overtime. Similarly, I’d be wary of PIRGS or similar canvassing positions. (AKA all those Greenpeace workers you run into on street asking for donations.) While I’m sure there are some out there that aren’t miserable to work for, they’re often very low paying and have unreasonably high requirements for how many donations you must bring in on any given week.

      9. Emily K*

        Omg, in what world is, “We’ve relocated her for bad behavior once already,” is somehow supposed to be a reason why she can’t be disciplined or stopped?? To me that is a reason why she needs to be fired.

    4. Heidi*

      I second this. There are several points in this letter where I think that more detail would result in better advice. For instance, “I’m not the most ideal candidate.” What makes OP not ideal (besides the short stints at multiple jobs)? Also, with this last job interview, “They’ve done a few things that raised red flags for me and were never really addressed.” What were the things specifically? I’m also curious as to the nature of the toxicity at the prior jobs and how the OP is interpreting these red flags to mean the the workplace is toxic. Last minute changes and such are obviously not great hiring practice, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the job is not worth looking at, especially if you need the money.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Not long after graduation I had a couple of bad experiences that left me unsure of myself. I signed up with a temp agency to get a paycheck immediately while I took my time to do more research. Bonus there is that if you find yourself in a post that you despise, you usually can look forward to an end date. And often you can tell the agency a a particular position is not working and they’ll replace you. (This works best if it’s a not-you issue: Bad commute turns out to be even worse than you expected. Client doesn’t need the X skills they said you’d be using and that agency knows you’re focused on developing. Client behaves unprofessionally — yells and throws things, curses AT you (not just in general), disparages employees, etc. A personality conflict you can get away with once or twice before the agency might start prioritising other people over you — you do need to learn to get along with people who are unpleasant, as long as they’re not the unprofessional one cited above.)

  2. time for plan c*

    If you’re going to grad school for basically anything, you should already be prepared to:
    a) move almost anywhere for any job, and absolutely anywhere for a good job.
    b) be perpetually broke
    c) have no choice but to work somewhere toxic, or at least unpleasant, for years
    d) grueling, unfair, stupid interview practices, much much much worse than you’ve described here.

    Good luck.

    1. Artemesia*

      A masters is not a ticket to a job. One thing it will often do is make you even less desirable as a candidate. Don’t indebt yourself without a very clear plan about how the degree will actually connect you to future employment; almost always it won’t, but will just make you ‘overqualified’. Couple that with a job hopper record and you may be worse off. highly technical training like computer science or nursing may be more likely to lead to a job, but few masters are that ticket you are looking for.

      I’d find a job that is tolerable and stick to it for a couple of years even if it isn’t perfect and then try to move forward.

      1. Jerk Store*

        My friend wanted a higher salary and borrowed $ to get her MBA so she could apply to higher level jobs. She still couldn’t get those jobs because she didn’t have experience managing people.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          MBAs are still pretty marketable. The way to leverage them into higher salaries / higher level jobs usually requires moving companies. My MBA ROI was 3 years, but I was using it to completely change industries, from non-profit IT to supply chain mgmt. She’d need to aim for team lead / project lead roles for her next moves, and that can be hard in some MBA areas.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            And the best way to get them are to go to a company that has tuition assistance/reimbursement so that you don’t end up paying for it yourself. That way, if the degree doesn’t end up getting you the higher salary/promotion/whatever you seek, then it’s not that big a deal because the only thing you lost was study time. And who knows – you could leave your company after the clawback period is up and get that promotion/raise from someone else, again, having not spent a dime of your own funds.

            1. Bananas*

              This is what I’m doing right now. I’m mid-career and on the later side of the ideal timeframe to go back to school, but better that than early. Hoping to launch myself out of my current employer since I’m at the limit of where I can go.

              OP, would rather you sit down and focus on an achievable plan of action for the next 5 years rather than run to grad school. Where can you slot into a stable industry that is hiring (in other words, not journalism). That’s the avenue I think deserves exploring. I say this as a person with a journalism degree, who interned in politics, and pursued neither for a career. They remain interests, probably for that very reason.

        2. Natatat*

          Yes, it seems to be particularly important for the MBA from what I’ve seen to have already had some experience in the area (managing people) before doing the MBA so that when you graduate you have actual work experience in the area to back up the MBA credential. An MBA on it’s own without managing experience is a tougher sell to employers.

          Worst of all would be going directly into the MBA after undergrad with zero/minimal work history – you’re not going to get hired as a manager fresh out of school and now you look very over qualified for the entry-level jobs you would be considered for.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          No, but with certain master’s programs there might be internships or externships through the program that pay a stipend.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            It’s unusual, mainly with highly desirable candidates in highly desirable degrees (eg, MBA candidate with 700+ GMAT & 5 years professional experience might get free tuition + $5k/internship). Very few people get ‘passionate’ about MBAs – usually ‘passionate’ MA areas are… not well funded.

            Livable stipends aren’t usually available until you hit PhD programs.

            1. ABK*

              No, lots of research degrees are funded! Things like MS in stats, chemistry, public health, engineering. Key is that they are usually RESEARCH degrees, so funded with grants and focusing on research tools and methods. Still transferable to the workforce after graduation, though. Seriously, I got a fully funded MS with a whole cohort of students who didn’t pay anything and got a stipend. I also have a fully funded MBA through scholarships, so these things are possible you just need to do some serious research and flex on what your dream school & degree is!

              1. Botanist*

                Bingo. MS in Genetics and Biotechnology here. I went to a very affordable school in a low COL town, got half my tuition paid by scholarship and got an 18K stipend each year for teaching and research. Not a ton, but in that town it was enough to live on and graduate debt-free.

              2. Antilles*

                MS in Civil Engineering here and every single person in the program at my Large Midwestern University had their MS at least 50% funded via research and stipends and most of us (including me) had it fully funded. Plus a stipend of $1200/month – not fantastic, but enough to cover expenses. So effectively, the only cost of that degree is the opportunity cost of 1.5-2 years.

              3. Ahead Fish*

                While I was getting an MFA in poetry, my aunt was making snide comments about how my parents were paying for my degree. Me: “Actually, it’s completely free!” Her: “But your parents still pay your living expenses.” Me: “Actually, I get a stipend for those as well as tuition, so I’m pretty much financially independent. *bright smile*”

                Seriously, the amount of people who give me shit for essentially getting paid to write poetry for two years is insane. Yes, it’s a privilege to be able to support myself on the stipend and not have dependents. Yes, I did miss out on years of real work experience, although I did have a part-time job that lead to my current job. I wouldn’t advise anyone to pay for a creative writing degree. But if it’s free, what’s the harm?

            2. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

              My MA was fully funded, as was everyone else in the program with me. The only people I know from grad school who weren’t fully funded were those doing professional degrees. That said, I advise against going to grad school without some kind of funding package.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          Actually some do. My local university has a partnership MSW program with the county. The county covers student’s tuition and provides a small stipend on the condition that when you complete your master’s you’ll work as a county social worker for at least two years. Not some unpaid internsip hijinx, they are full employees with standard salary and benefits for the position. They’re just that desperate for social workers.

          1. doreen*

            I’ve seen something like that, but typically it’s someone who is already employed at a lower level. When I was a caseworker, my agency would have not only paid my tuition for an MSW but would also given me two paid half-days a week to attend classes with a commitment to remain there for a few years after graduating.

      2. kittymommy*

        Mine was a ticket to $80,000 of debt, a job that is completely unrelated to the field, and a degree that is utterly useless in my industry.

        So yay, grad school!

      3. Kendra*

        See, I just assumed they were talking about grad school itself, not post-school employment. (I liked my program and all, but there were definitely a few things on that list that sounded sadly familiar…there’s also more than one reason I never tried to go into academia!)

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        A degree in general is no ticket to a job!

        Also you will always need to still start at the bottom and work yourself up in a lot of cases. They aren’t going to let you skip a bunch of lower rungs. So you come out with X amount of debt, for mediocre salary for a few years, then if you’re good and work things out well, you can use that master’s degree to get that promotion and finally a nice salary!

        I’ve got a lot of friends with a lot of great education, up to PHD levels and a lot of them are still struggling to get those jobs that will allow them to break into the comfortable upper middle class range, currently just down there, dancing between lower middle class and straight up poverty.

      5. Petry Dish*

        All of this! I know people who often put off joining the working world to get that Masters in under water basket weaving. Then entering the job field a few years later more in debt and losing out on jobs to people with real world experience. Not saying a Masters won’t help but its good to be very educated about the plausibility of gaining employment with that degree. The term lifetime student comes to mind!

      6. Adalind*

        This. My sister has her master’s and got laid off the end of last year and is having trouble finding a job because now she’s viewed as overqualified. Of course it always depends on the field, but it’s not going to magically get you jobs any faster.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          And in this case you face that hard decision to remove the higher education from your resume, just so you can get that foot in the door again =(

    2. College Career Counselor*

      I get what you mean, but it is dependent on the type/level of degree the LW is going for. You are describing certain segments of the academic job market (e.g. Humanities PhD to research and teach students–yes, grueling interview practices in ultra competitive job market), not necessarily any and all professional programs, master’s degrees, etc. Some may be required for entry into the field and some may be done while working, which would mitigate the expense (e.g. “perpetually broke”). But, yes, the LW should do due diligence on the job market for the field before committing to graduate school.

    3. ABK*

      That’s not really true. Grad school is super diverse and includes research degrees, PhDs, clinical degrees, professional degrees, etc etc etc. Take clinical degrees for example, if you want to be a PA, PT, NP, OT, or whatever else, you need to get the degree and will likely not need to move anywhere crazy to get a good paying job. Other professional degrees like public affairs, public health, data science, business, engineering also qualify you for a range of good jobs. STEM Phd are quite strenuous but highly valued in many industries. Many fields really do require these sorts of degrees to be considered. Graduate school isn’t required for a lot of paths, but also isn’t the dead end you’re making it out to be. Key, just like anything else, is to be super judicious about why you are going to grad school and what kind of jobs their graduates get and what kind of career services the school offers. An MBA who can’t get a job without management experience? Shouldn’t she have asked those questions before enrolling?

      1. Artemesia*

        Getting an MBA while you are working to enable promotion is a reasonable strategy many places; getting it except at a top school with the idea it will buy you a job is naive. I know lots of people who have gotten masters degrees in the belief it would make them employable when it just made them overqualified on paper but still not qualified for actual jobs. The OP didn’t sound like someone who thought things through first and was seeing an MA as somehow a ride out — it can be if very strategically done, but it very often is not.

        1. Spreadsheets and Books*


          This is a truth many, many people don’t know, which results in a ton of debt and a lot of strife. MBAs are more about the networking opportunities than the education itself, and the quality of a school matters deeply. A top MBA can springboard you into a prestigious high finance degree; a no-name MBA isn’t going to springboard you anywhere. I feel awful for people who try to change job paths via an MBA, particularly if you don’t have at least 5 years of career experience. I got an MAcc to do it and it worked out wonderfully for me, but that’s a deeply practical degree.

          1. CMart*

            Based upon the OP’s statement that grad school would be for an “entirely different field that I’ve become pretty passionate about in the past year and a half or so”, I would assume it’s not an MBA, ha.

    4. Working Mom Having It All*

      Yeah, as much as I have hope that OP has found the right path and will thrive in grad school and then in their chosen field… I’m also wondering if there’s a bit of habitual dream-chasing going on. It can be very easy to say “well I’m not happy because this isn’t what I really want to do; what I really want to do is X!” and then coast for years as you fail to achieve X but still can blame that for your unhappiness in your actual life that is really happening right now. Especially if you can just roll that failed/broken dream into a new dream which also has a high chance of failure down the road.

      In the short to medium term, it might be better to at least partially focus on right now rather than living for the future. Even if you are deeply committed to that future!

      1. Chinookwind*

        “I’m also wondering if there’s a bit of habitual dream-chasing going on”

        That is my thought too. The OP sounds like my cousin a few year’s back – big on dreams and not settling for just any job but wanting to focus on what made him feel fulfilled. Meanwhile, he would take any job that came by to put a roof over his head and jump ship whenever he declared it “too toxic” (though often it was a case of his personality for perfection not meshing with the reality of needing to compromise with other humans). The only saving grace was this made him available to help my grandmother in her declining years because he hadn’t found the on ramp to the career he dreamed of (a fact the sane members of my family would remind cousin’s parents’ of whenever they complained about not having a job).

        OP, if you are willing to risk your financial stability to pursue a career that makes you fulfilled, then go for it. Just remember that this involves the risk of high education debt, non-stable home life and never actually succeeding. I know I couldn’t live like that, but my cousin, though frustrated,felt like it was worth the risk.

      2. Mia*

        Yeah, I got this vibe as well. I think LW might be falling into the pattern of thinking a good job or career path in general is one that presents minimal frustrations or leaves her feeling totally fulfilled, but realistically even the best jobs have their downsides and sometimes you gotta stick it out for the sake of money and, ultimately, your resume.

        1. Anna*

          OP clarified further up and the reasons they decided to leave jobs were much more than just being unable to deal with simple frustrations.

          1. WellRed*

            The first however was wanting to be a chef turned food writer without, it sounds like, experience or grounding in eithe field. That’s a career very few attain even if they are tops at both.

            1. Working Mom Having It All*

              Yeah saying “I spent the past three years trying to break into a competitive industry” and then it turns out the competitive industry was literally doing a thing that a small handful of people in the country get to do, which, for most people, either isn’t an option at all or isn’t how they make their main income, does lend me more toward thinking that they are, indeed, bouncing from dream to dream without thinking about how likely they are to achieve that dream and what they will do in the meantime or if it doesn’t work out.

              Like, I get it. I started out as/kind of still am an aspiring TV writer. TV writing jobs are really hard to get. I spent a long time deferring my real life because I was positive that, in a year or two, I’d have my career on lock and then the rest would fall into place. I’m now in my late 30s, am not a TV writer and almost certainly never will be, and I’m basically just starting out in life compared to people who focused on something a little more attainable. And it’s not that I think nobody should reach for their dreams, but, like, while you’re reaching for your dreams, remember that life is happening that entire time. And ask yourself if there’s something else you’d be equally happy doing, and how you could set yourself up to do that as well. Not to give up, but because it’s way better to be making a good living doing your second choice thing than to be hopping from toxic job to toxic job waiting for your ship to come in.

              1. Natatat*

                Very true – always good to have a Plan B while you work towards Plan A. I have a friend who has spent multiple long-ish stretches unemployed (lives at home so that’s financially feasible) because she didn’t want to settle for a typical office job but hasn’t quite figured out what her goal job is yet either. (I guess in her case really the Plan A was undefined and she didn’t want to settle for a Plan B) We’re in our early 30’s now, so years of this approach have left her with a patchy resume and now she’s struggling to get interviews AND she’s having to start from the bottom salary-wise because she didn’t stick with anything long enough to move up.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I went the opposite way that OP tried this and that, nothing is working. So they took jobs that would keep some money coming in. In my area, decades ago, I was told “As a woman you will find work as a teacher, nurse or secretary. That’s it around here.” It was pretty dismal, especially for someone starting out and not having a skill or pool of knowledge that employers absolutely need.

    5. Librarianne*

      I went to grad school because it’s considered a requirement in my field. And while I really enjoy what I do, there are incredibly few job openings each year so interviews are very competitive. I’m 6 years into my career and I’ve never gotten a job in a state where I particularly wanted to live.

      As I think OP learned from their previous experience with journalism, you MUST work/intern in your field during grad school if you want any hope of getting a job. There were a handful of people in my grad program who didn’t work because their parents were supporting them financially, but to the best of my knowledge none of them has ever gotten a job in the (tiny, hyper-competitive) field for which they trained.

    6. Turtle Candle*

      I think it makes a huge difference what type of program it is. For the humanities, you are 100% accurate. For sciences, it depends on the field of study (and whether you want to continue in academia or move into industry). For professional degrees, it may not be the truth at all–though that’s somewhat field-dependent.

      If this is an academic degree rather than a professional degree, and in a field where it’s hard/next to impossible to get work in academia later, the degree might actually exacerbate the perception of managers that the person might be a flight risk should they try to get a job not in academia afterwards. But for a professional degree, not as much. I’m curious what field the LW is looking to go into–though, of course, they didn’t ask us for advice about that part.

    7. TPS Cover Sheet*

      Ah, but guys, isn’t it always the case of the ”graduate catch-22”? You don’t get a job in your field because they want someone with work experience in the field. To get work experience in the field, you need a job in the field. Cherry on top – whatever work experience you had before, you go apply for a job, you can’t get it as you are now ”overqualified”… been there, done that…

      Oh, and now I am in my 50’s and am a guru with a flapping cape in tech ABC… however the modern trend is tech XYZ. I have sat in XYZ training, but have no hands on experience and I can’t get hands on experience because… and I am ”too senior” to take on a junior role, which are offshore anyways, so there I am like a lemon waiting for a gin.

      How to break the catch-22?

      ”There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to.”

  3. Bee Eye Ill*

    There are a lot of toxic workplaces out there. It’s unfortunate, but true. Sometimes you have to go with your gut. One thing I check for is high turnover – like Facebook photos of staff where you see new faces all the time – or lots of title changes over a short period. It helps to look at sites like Glassdoor for internal reviews, plus try to look up customer reviews of the business (if applicable) to see how they are doing.

  4. blackcatlady*

    Yes, I could see falling into one, maybe two toxic jobs but something is off here – too much of a pattern. Why are they toxic? Or is it your expectation of the job? Employers do tend to expect you to show up on time and complete the tasks! You seem to go into a job thinking it isn’t your field (ie beneath you) but is a paycheck. Then you quit after a few months with the excuse that the job is toxic/bad fit. Is there any chance you’re ADHD?

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I’ve seen people fall into a toxic job pattern because they leave the first one fast, then take whatever job they get hired to next because it must be better than the last job. Right? Then it turns out to be just as toxic but in new and horrible ways, so they leave fast. Before long they have a string of short term jobs, and the best companies won’t peruse their application because of the job history. But crappy, desperate companies with high turnover will call the candidate. And the cycle continues.
      Having a steady work history really is key to getting out of the toxic rut.

      1. Polymer Phil*

        This is a vicious circle a lot of people in the sciences get trapped in. Someone with a BS or MS followed by a succession of crappy temp jobs doing low-level routine lab tasks could be a problem employee, but is more likely just unlucky or bad at interviewing.

      2. Minocho*

        I have been in toxic jobs, and it’s really easy to have rose-colored glasses about the next job because you are intimately familiar with all the warts on this one. I would suggest that the next job, unless it is unsafe, be stuck with for two years. If you are moving to take said job, that adds more stress on you than taking a non-moving job. If the job is better, it may be worth the risk, but I think some deliberate consideration and thoughtful analysis would be useful.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yep I’ve seen this cycle play out with loved ones. They are too fast to bounce when things aren’t 100% what they “think” they signed up for. “He keeps changing my schedule, so I can’t make plans!” Yeah that STINKS and is something that means you wanna leave when the time is right but that time isn’t right away.

        But if they’re yelling and heaven forbid [you’ve scarred me, Friday Questions] spitting on you or otherwise engaging in awful unlawful behavior, then you want to just cut the losses and run away gingerbread man style.

        1. Chinookwind*

          I am seeing that play out here at my very non-toxic job. We just had a promising labourer/first year apprentice quit because she was tired of cleaning up after everyone and wanted to get back to welding. Well, honey, we just laid off 1/4 of our staff and the job description you signed off on when you were hired said “labourer.” Yes, the foreman did give you a chance to practice your trade when we were busy because he saw your potential, but we have no trade related work for you at the moment, so the options are painting posts, sweeping floors or nothing at all.

          Ironically, if she could have just grumbled but kept moving that paintbrush, she would be back to learning her trade in a few weeks. Instead, she is leaving with the attitude that we can’t appreciate her ptoential.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          Yuuuuup. I’ve had a lot of low level jobs since I started working very early (14 years old). There are plenty of unpleasant workplaces, but unpleasant is not the same as truly toxic. The nasty, toxic workplaces are much fewer and farther between. I’ve seen a lot of my peers, especially ones without much experience or frame of reference, get very frustrated with unpleasant jobs to the point of quitting without a plan or even walking off the job… only to end up someplace even worse because now they’re forced to take whatever they stumble into first.

          This is not to say I’ve never quit without a plan – I’ve even walked off the job.* But it’s not something to be done lightly. That’s the kind of thing to reserve for when things are dangerous or abusive, not for things that are irritating/frustrating/boring.

          *It’s kind of funny in hindsight… my very first shift at the plant I was put on a production line, standing right next to a former landlord who had terrorized me into literally fleeing town a few years prior. I went to lunch and never came back.

    2. Kelly AF*

      You meet an asshole in the morning, you met an asshole. You meet assholes all day? You are the asshole.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I ususally say, ‘What’s the common denominator in all your bad relationships/jobs/friendships? You. Maybe YOU are the problem.’ You’re more colorful and to the point, and I’m using your version from now on. Thank you!

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Wow. It’s such an antagonistic framing of the concern, why would you want to copy that? For instance: OP doesn’t sound like an asshole. Impulsive, sure, but there’s lots of reasons that might underlie that.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I think in addition to what’s been mentioned about retail and food service, I think some people don’t have good antennae for bad situations. And I think that’s why the OP wrote–she’s trying to develop that.

            1. Jessen*

              Even past that, it’s common for people with terrible boundaries to attract toxic people. Not that they’re the asshole, but that they’re seen as an easy mark.

          2. Kendra*

            True, but I do think it’s at least worth it for the OP to reflect on whether or not she might have unrealistic expectations of the work world, or could be doing something that’s making it harder for her than it has to be. The problem could be 100% external to her, and nothing she has control over, or it could be something about herself that she could work on, and then have a better experience at the next place she works.

            1. Elaine*

              Maybe OP is a part of the problem, or maybe not. I agree OP could reflect on what part, if any, she/he has in the problem. But delivering a gratuitous insult or even just commenting unkindly, as some here have done, is unlikely to bring that about. SheLooksFamiliar’s initial comment is more likely to make OP (or anyone) stop to think.

          3. Kelly AF*

            I wasn’t intending to call the OP an asshole. I was repeating a saying about looking for a common denominator.

      2. Donkey Hotey*

        Well said.

        It also ties in to the first rule of poker: If you’ve been playing for an hour and haven’t figured out who the mark is, you’re the mark.

      3. Usually Lurks, Sometimes Comments*

        Or maybe you had bad luck that day and met a few assholes. Maybe you are in a part of town that’s hosting an asshole convention and didn’t know it. Tomorrow you could meet no assholes.

        In my area, there are a lot of small business with few opportunities for growth. It’s very easy to bounce from one toxic job to another and still not break into your field without making a major move. I could see how OP could have similar luck.

      4. JSPA*

        See OP’s reply above, posting as “Unrealistic Question Asker.” turns out, OP isn’t being unrealistic, as far as walking out. (More unrealistic, as far as which flags to watch out for.)

      5. Not So NewReader*

        Wow. I don’t think that you meant to call OP an AH, but there could be an unintentional inference there.

        1. Courageous cat*

          I mean, I don’t think there’s anything hugely wrong with implying “do some reflection to make sure you’re not being the asshole just to be sure”. It’s not like a condemnation of their character, it’s just a casual, if mildly? vulgar, way to characterize certain behaviors.

    3. MistOrMister*

      I didn’t get the feeling that OP thought jobs not in their field were beneath them. I read it as they don’t have any/much experience with the industry they were interested in and thus had to take other jobs while trying to get a position doing what they were passionate about. Nothing about that says they look down on the jobs they DID take. (And really, who among us hasn’t taken a job doing something they didn’t love while trying to get into their preferred field??).

      Without a deeper explanation from OP it isn’t clear if these places they’re leaving so quickly are what a majority would consider toxic, OP believes they are and it seems unkind to say they’re using that as an excuse to leave a job they thought they were better than. Also, I don’t underatand asking/assuming if they have ADHD. Maybe you saw something in the letter that I didn’t but I didn’t see enough to make that leap. That plus saying employers expect you to show up and complete tasks just seems condescending towards OP. Where does their letter say they don’t want to show up on time or actually do the work?

      The one thing I agree on is that there is an issue if one has a pattern of ending up in toxic workplaces, but I think Alison did a good job of pointing out the things one should be looking for to try to avoid that and hopefully OP can apply that in future searches.

    4. Close Bracket*

      I wonder why you jump to “beneath you” from “not your field.”

      OP answered above. They were in truly toxic situations.

    5. Jana*

      Another possibility is that OP has fallen into this pattern because he/she may have had, say, 2 toxic jobs back-to-back (I think it’s fairly easy for that to happen since a person may be desperate to jump ship), then ended up in the third and so on since 1) toxic workplaces are more likely to hire someone with unrelated experience and/or apparent “job hopping” and 2) toxic workplaces can have such a detrimental impact on a person’s mental health that he/she ends up thinking it’s not possible to do better than crappy jobs.

    6. Turtle Candle*

      It sounds kind of like the LW has been mostly getting work in an industry that is infamous for bad behavior and bending or breaking labor laws, which puts a different spin on it, to my mind. Behavior that would be jawdroppingly shocking in most offices is far more common in restaurant work, alas.

  5. Guacamole Bob*

    One thing to consider is that in many workplaces, the people doing the interview logistics are not the same people you’d be working with every day. I’m at a government agency and our HR department is kind of difficult to work with, and that sometimes leads to this kind of logistical issue around communications and scheduling (or not checking in about salary expectations early in the process even after the hiring manager specifically asks the HR rep to do that. Which happened to us multiple times in our most recent round of hiring and wasted time on both sides. Grr…). Our job descriptions are also notoriously bad/generic/out of date, so a skills assessment for something not listed wouldn’t be that odd (but would be good to talk about in the interview so you could be sure you understood what the position actually entailed).

    Applicants here should do their due diligence on the manager and team they’d actually be working with – that part is critical. But if you let the HR nonsense get in the way too much you could miss out on a great job. You do need to be able to tolerate some level of bureaucratic dysfunction in order to thrive here, but it’s really not that big a part of the day-to-day.

    1. Jerk Store*

      Yes, this. The bigger the company / org, the less you’ll deal with HR in many positions.

    2. miss_chevious*

      This was my experience. I was literally, by the legal definition, kidnapped by an incompetent recruiter in my company’s HR department, but I’ve been at my job for 7 years now and it’s been great. These things are worrying if they’re coming out of the department that you work for, but if it’s just HR (and you don’t work in HR :) ), those might be more like yellow flags.

      1. EnfysNest*

        Please, please come back on the Friday open thread with more details on this because… oh my gosh.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        What the hell? Are you sure you’re still at that company of your own free will? Do we need to send somebody to your location?! Lol. (I need the story behind this kidnapping.)

    3. Momma*

      Such a good point!
      I just dealt with the opposite – HR was great and the hiring manager and overall team were a nightmare to deal with. Constant rescheduling (5 different CONFIRMED interview times), the first person I was supposed to talk to was 15 minutes late and when the HR person found out I was still sitting in the lobby (thanks to the wonderful front desk staff) came to get me and rearranged her schedule to have me meet with that team first, then the person who was supposed to get me flipped their lid I wasn’t “where I was supposed to be”.
      By the time I met the hiring manager, I reminded them I had a hard stop time and the response was “how I am supposed to evaluate you in 8 minutes?” I said you aren’t, I am withdrawing.
      For some reason I still got an email informing me they were going with other candidates.

    4. Fortitude Jones*

      One thing to consider is that in many workplaces, the people doing the interview logistics are not the same people you’d be working with every day.

      Not even just HR. One of the executives at my current company is responsible for reviewing and approving all new hire forms that are sent through by HR. Well, my paperwork ended up sitting on this guy’s desk for two weeks, and he wasn’t even the final sign off. I had passed on other, better paying jobs and had another offer out there lingering that I was almost tempted to take, which would have been a HUGE mistake because my current job is pretty much exactly what I was looking for. I’m getting to do some really amazing things and already have quite a few impressive accomplishments added to my resume, and I’ve only been here nine weeks!

      If I had let my frustration with this guy drive me away, I’d be in a “just okay” job, and definitely wouldn’t be working from home full time (which I need due to medical issues) – my salary would be higher, though, but it’s not like my current salary is bad either.

    5. Librarianne*

      This! At my last job, the organizational HR, which is responsible for all the pre-interview logistics, was incredibly inept and disorganized. My departmental HR rep and my immediate supervisor, on the other hand, were great and made sure everything ran smoothly. Unless you encounter something egregiously rude or harrassing, I wouldn’t focus too much on what HR does before your actual interview.

  6. Lena Clare*

    “The thing about leaving a slew of toxic jobs very quickly is that the more often you do it, the harder it becomes to get a non-toxic job to hire you — because they’ll want to go with a less risky candidate with a more stable job history …”

    This is true of romantic relationships too, and is why I am convinced that attachment styles affect people’s work life too. If you are finding it difficult to recognise and be unable to disentangle yourself from toxic workplaces before you start work there, then it can be really hard to retrain yourself to do things differently the next time round. We respond to what is familiar to us, even if it isn’t healthy!

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      It’s true, I see people saying “how you could go from one toxic job to another and then another” but that certanly can be how it goes in relationships unfortunately. People can sometimes find familiar patterns comfortable / comforting even if they’re not healthy.

      1. Usually Lurks, Sometimes Comments*

        I think people are forgetting that when you are in a toxic environment your options are much more limited than when you are in a normal environment and that toxic people tend to be good at hiding how toxic they are until they’ve sucked you in.

        So if you are in a truly toxic situation and a new job presents itself as odd, maybe a little unprofessional, but overall nice and way better than your current job, then, of course, you’re going to jump ship. Then that job reveals its toxicity and you are in the cycle all over again. People applying for the same position but working in a normal workplace may think “They were a little odd, I’ll keep looking.” There’s not the same sense of urgency.

        Plus, everyone is on their best behavior for interviews. Being in a toxic environment shapes your idea of what’s normal. So with the toxic environment putting its best foot forward and your idea of what’s normal slowly shifting, it’s easy to miss red flags. Or you think, well it’s better than where I’m at now.

    2. One L FTW*

      Wow, you’ve raised an excellent and very complex point that I’m dealing with in my own work right now. I think that not only do you have to retrain yourself how to do things differently, but your expectations are such that when you finally land in a decent workplace, you straight up might not recognize it as such. This is sad. Even sadder is when your past workplace required toxic behaviors as a survival skill.

      I have a coworker (sort of a peer to me, but I have seniority) who spent most of her career in a workplace that was competitive, misogynist, bullying, and cutthroat to the point of paranoia. She’s a controlling perfectionist who keeps constant track of which one of us (her, me, our supervisor, our manager, other staff) is“responsible” for which choices, which procedures, which tasks – not because it’s, ya know, useful to have accountability, but because she needs to be able to assign blame when it “goes wrong” according to her impossible standards.

      Thing is, our workplace is pretty healthy. Our supervisor is supportive. He knows that we have technical expertise that he lacks, so he leaves it up to us to decide whether to do X instead of Y, and genuinely supports our decision. Sadly, my coworker thinks this means that he’s “not doing his job” (because he’s our boss so his job is … to give us orders?)) and that he’ll “hang us out to dry” if things don’t go according to plan (in fact, he has a proven track record of helping us solve problems). She thinks that other staff “want to see us fall flat on our faces” (actually, if they think of us at all, they wish us well). She views all other team members as a personal liability to her, and her relentless negativity saps everyone’s energy and morale. When other team members ask her for her input, she seems almost threatened by it. I’ve come to the conclusion that a healthy workplace dynamic is so unfamiliar to her that she literally doesn’t know what to do with it.

      Our job? Think of it as teaching the craft of teapot-making to people who want to learn it for fun. It’s a fun, low-stakes job doing a fun activity that’s supposed to be fun. And because of her history of toxic workplaces, this poor person cannot let herself (or anyone else she works with) relax and enjoy it.

  7. John*

    We just had a person who quit after three months. She had left her last job after four months because the situation was “the most toxic they ever experienced”

    The company believed her and took a chance but lo and behold they just up and left because they were having problems getting along with one employee. Now they will not have a reference and other job hop on their resume.

    So just be careful OP as it could be that you are the one being too picky.

  8. Moray*

    I think, for the most part, the red flags listed are indeed routine hiccups. Interview times get delayed or shuffled around last minute all the time, and there’s a difference between “can you come in to interview tomorrow?” and “if you can’t come in tomorrow, we won’t consider you for the job.”

    1. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I totally agree. My current position came out of an extremely fast interview process. Like – around 2 weeks from first contact to an offer, with a phone interview, three in person interviews, and a reference check crammed into that time. I was asked to come in the day after my phone interview if possible.

      This is a widely known company – I am fully positive that virtually every person commenting here is familiar with either the company as a whole or one of the brands/lines of business it maintains – with a generally positive corporate image. The job is everything I wanted to it be and the company is exactly what it appears to be. HR is just super organized and competent.

  9. Beth*

    The industry you wanted to break into have you thought about taking on any jobs that are related but not exactly that job role?

    For example, I wanted to break into multi family housing, leasing. I interviewed and interviewed, but try as I might could not break in. Finally I wound up taking a job at residential property management company where I was in charge of work orders, managing vendors, etc. Not exactly leasing , but after two years and many more interviews I finally landed a leasing role at a multi family housing community.

    Just a thought.

    1. Just My Opinion*

      My company hires people like you. Hats off to you — it’s a difficult and often thankless job. A bad tenant can make your life heaven or hell. Also, many property management companies treat their leasing specialists like crap. I hope you have a good one and are treated well.

      1. Beth*

        I am 4 months in. I am treated okay for the most part. The worst part is sometimes I think the work load is unrealistic, I have to do a ton of administrative things that get in the way of my ability to lease. I e not enough time to respond to leads. Having to do apartment transfers where I make zero commission. I know that is part of the job, but I wish we had a part timer who exclusively handles work orders apartment transfers etc. They want our preleasing up . It is a balance.

      2. Beth*

        I interviewed I swear at 13 properties before I landed this job. Things where I live are very insular if you know what I mean.

    2. Jana*

      Good idea! Volunteer work could be another option (depending on the field). For example, if OP wanted to become a veterinarian, volunteer at an animal shelter’s clinic; or if OP wanted to become a teacher, volunteer with a children’s literacy program.

  10. Former Expat*

    Is there a counselor in your area that you can talk to about career issues? I mean a professional therapist who specializes in work issues. THey’re out there! Before you invest time and money (even if it just the opportunity cost) in grad school, I would talk to a neutral third party about your expectations for your work life. The cost is tiny in comparison to that of more school. Friends can be helpful, but only up to a point. It can be frustrating too, if one of you is saying something that the other doesn’t agree with. A neutral third party (with the right professional background of course) should be able to give you perspective.

  11. mf*

    The red flags you listed *can* be concerning, but it’s highly context dependent. I do think all of those scenarios are worth asking about over the phone or in the interview. “I noticed that the skill assessment covered skills that weren’t included in the job listing. Can we talk about that? How important are those skills and how do you see them being used in this role?”

    A hiring manager who’s willing to have a dialogue about these concerns is probably someone you can work with if issues arise between you and your employer or between you and a coworker.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Agree, to me the red flags are less these circumstances and more the attitude – does the person seem rushed / seem like they’re trying to rush me? Are they pressuring me to make quick decisions or commit? Do they seem annoyed and inconvenienced by my questions or concerns?

  12. AndersonDarling*

    Yeah, you can’t judge a company by their recruiters. They could be juggling the scheduling of 100 candidates for 20 different roles. Then you have to find times where the Hiring Manager is available, but then they decide to take PTO on the day the interview is scheduled. I couldn’t do it.
    I worked in a few toxic places and in hindsight, the red flags were:
    1. The Hiring Manager wouldn’t really answer my questions. I’d ask about the frequency of overtime and he would respond with a funny story about opening a new location. Dodging questions is always shady.
    2. When you walk around the office, even if it’s just to the interview room, see if people are talking. People who pass you, do they make eye contact? Does it seem like junk is stacked up in a corner or an empty cube?
    3. Are the employees skeemish or unsure? I was once introduced to someone during an interview and her eyes darted to the Hiring Manager, kind of like an abused dog looking to see if the master would get mad or trying to figure out what she was supposed to say. If you have a peer interview, does only one person talk and the others don’t even make eye contact?
    4. And always, check the Glassdoor reviews and look for patterns.
    5. Be honest about the vibes you get when you walk in the door. I wouldn’t let this be my only decision factor, but it is at the top of the list.

    1. Spreadsheets and Books*

      Or you could be interviewing with a company like my old one – HR recruiters used to put interviews on interviewers calendars… without asking them first. They operated under the impression that any time period without a meeting scheduled was fair game. A lot of interviews got canceled during a recent cycle until the bad logic behind this practice was impressed upon HR. The team was great and the company was a decent place to work. HR just majorly sucked.

      1. goducks*

        I’m not so sure that assuming that an open stretch of calendar is fair game is faulty logic.
        More appropriate would seem that if you’re relying on others to schedule your time that you make sure that your schedule reflects your true availability.
        It’s a nightmare to try to coordinate the schedules of all the interviewers AND the candidates (and sometimes conference rooms). Having availability at the scheduler’s fingertips while on the phone with the candidate works best, generally.
        I’ve never worked anywhere that it wasn’t on the individual person to make sure that their calendar is up to date. How is HR supposed to know all the things that the hiring team has going on?

        1. Spreadsheets and Books*

          The problem is that HR wasn’t asking, they were confirming with candidates before they even scheduled with the interviewer. The candidate would say 10 AM works, HR would say great, see you at 10, and just stick interviews on people’s calendars. And, of course, 10 AM would be a few hours before a big meeting with the CFO that required some preparation, and the interview would have to be canceled and rescheduled.

      2. McKramer*

        I feel like this is exactly what the Outlook scheduling assistant does though… You find an empty space, send an invitation for that time and the person can accept or decline. If HR really could just access and alter people’s calendars without any sort of notification/acceptance on their part, that’s not a great calendaring system!

        1. Spreadsheets and Books*

          The key there is “accept or decline.” HR had already confirmed with the interviewee before sending an appointment that could be accepted or declined. If the interviewee said that 10 AM was good for them, HR would confirm an interview at 10, and THEN send appointments out. Because it was a busy time for us and HR didn’t know which meetings were casual internal gatherings and which were meetings with the CFO with substantial prep, they kept scheduling interviews that were already confirmed with a candidate at times right before big meetings that didn’t work.

          That system works great if the interviewer is given a chance to accept or decline before a date and time are confirmed with a candidate, but that’s not what was happening.

    2. Eccentric Smurf*

      Point #2 ended up being a huge red flag I missed with my previous employer. I was waiting for my interviewer in a somewhat central area with a fair amount of employee foot traffic. Everybody blatantly ignored me like I wasn’t there. It didn’t dawn on me until later that they also ignored each other.

      Turns out, the company had a very adversarial culture. Departments were very cliquey and generally considered people from other departments to be incompetent, rude, dishonest, etc. Too bad I didn’t recognize the signs before I accepted a position requiring me to work with multiple departments. Management thought they could fix the issues by bringing in a neutral party to act a a go-between. Um, no. I’m not a miracle worker.

    3. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      Also – one of the questions you should ask in the interview is company culture. They’ll put a positive spin on it, of course, but the way they choose to spin it is part of what you’re looking for. “We’re like a family here!”=BAD, run awaaaaaay!

      Pay attention to things like turnover – the one truly toxic place I worked was constantly interviewing. Literally, there were several interviews a week, always. Somehow, headcount never really increased, at least not for more than 2 weeks at a time. Which makes “Is this a new position, or am I replacing someone?” a good question as well; dodging this one is troublesome.

      And if you do accept the job, look out for anything that contradicts what you were told during your first couple days – the hours did not match up with what I was expecting at all in toxic job (i.e., I’d been told we start at X time, and then when I came in at X was informed that people usually come in 30 minutes before X to have one-on-one meetings, just as a matter of course; I’d been told we end at Z time, and when my partner arrived to take me home at Z, was told that we still had a silly, and rather long, daily ceremony to do before we could leave) and in retrospect, I wish I’d have quit the moment I realized that and continued job-hunting without even adding the 2 days there to my resume.

      Basically, pay attention to your gut, and watch for inconsistencies.

    4. CMart*

      Yes – logistical things can just be merely that, “logistical things”.

      Obviously I will never know for sure since I didn’t take the job there, but the biggest, brightest, flappiest red flag I ever saw was during an interview with a company that pretty much did everything else right. Professional and timely communication, straightforward application process, nice looking offices, free beer at the bar fixed in front of the C-suite offices after 4pm, great sounding job description etc…

      The frenetic, nervous laughter and wild fixation on my statement that I was “generally unflappable” and how that would be a huge asset in this office. Hahaha no just kidding but hahaha really though hahaha being calm under pressure is a very desirable trait… I bounced out of there so fast.

      My current job surprised me with a phone screen wherein they asked me a bunch of generic technical questions while I was driving to a doctor’s appointment. It was poorly timed and a little offputting, but I seriously love it here.

  13. Working Mom Having It All*

    A lot of these things may depend on the industry, too. Especially since OP seems to be changing fields a lot. I pivoted from one part of my industry to a different area of the same basic field, and standards for things like the hiring timeline and how communications between the person doing the hiring and the person seeking a job are very different.

    OP, are you sure that you’re not using a mental yardstick for how hiring works in the corporate world (much more formalized) to judge the quality of jobs where the hiring process is more casual? Especially if these are quickie stopgap gigs to keep a roof over your head while you apply to grad school, which sounds like we might be talking about lower level service industry jobs. Which almost always have very different hiring processes than something in an office.

    1. Unrealistic Question Asker*

      No, I actually never thought about this and it makes so much sense! My interviews lately have been with smaller nonprofit organizations. Thank you so much!

      1. Jaybeetee*

        UQA, I saw your comment above, and you really have had a bad run! Some industries do attract more toxicity than others – and “small nonprofits” are unfortunately rather infamous for toxicity of various kinds. One of my more toxic jobs was also a small nonprofit – of course the work was great and things were often a lot of fun, but there were soooo many interpersonal issues, bad management issues, and I was being massively underpaid compared to similar jobs elsewhere.

        Much as I love the idea of working for a cause, in your scenario you might want to at least temporarily abandon that for some boring Large Corp that’s likely to be better regulated, and has more people watching if things get shady.

      2. Chinookwind*

        Having seen which industry you were talking about, I would definitely not use the yardsticks you mentioned. I went from a corporate job to an industrial one where I was hired to start the day after the interview. We still have people walking in to drop off resumes and some even get hired that day if we are looking (I joke that it is like working during the 70’s). The managers see nothing wrong with that and even give a side eye to anyone who wants to give their current job 2 week’s notice. But this is a healthy workplace with decent wages and a low tolerance for drama and toxicity. Some of the employees have been here for decades even though they could make more money elsewhere (because we try to minimize layoffs during down times)

        I could see this also applying in the restaurant industry because of the hire turnover it is famous for. All those red flags you mentioned happen in my environment due to shifts in workload with minimal notice. If you want to really find out how toxic a workplace is, asking questions about how they handle their annual performance reviews, how they deal with disciplinary issues and AAM’s magic question about what success would look like in the position would give you better information.

        1. JSPA*

          I’ve walked into a campaign HQ with a plate of cookies for the volunteers and some spare extension cords, and had them ask if I wanted a job. I’ve gone into another to volunteer, and been told to sort though the food trash in case any voter registration forms had ended up there. There’s really no “normal” in campaigns.

    2. Psyche*

      Also keep in mind that many times the hiring process is run by a completely different person that who you will answer to day to day. A flaky HR person doesn’t necessarily mean that your manager won’t be awesome.

  14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    The problem you’ve had with “toxic jobs” and that you’ve only been able to stand them for a few months is what jumps out at me more than your expectations on the interview process.

    You my friend, sadly are a big red flag of it’s own and a lot of solid employers and hiring managers aren’t going to want to touch someone with your job history with a ten foot pole. It screams unreliable and we understand a couple short stints are pretty normal, constantly being between jobs is troublesome.

    That’s not saying you need to accept abuse or unlawful behavior from a job but you need to stick it out. Yeah you have to be able to put up with a certain amount of “stuff” to just prove that you aren’t going to bail the first time we ask you to work OT or switch schedules for a week while someone is on vacation.

    Also as a hiring manager, I don’t want to hire someone who “just needs a job any job” and is looking towards the future, which includes leaving for greener pastures as soon as the application process is over with. Is that fair? Not necessarily but this is a two way street. I don’t need you to want to retire here or to see this as your forever job, it’s just I can’t have you one foot in and one foot out from Day 0.

    1. Mediamaven*

      Agreed. I’m curious as to what the LW interprets as “toxic.” That word is often misused in reference to jobs.

      1. JSPA*

        See above. OP didn’t post as OP, so it’s not easy to search; they posted as “Unrealistic Question Asker.” It’s quite a read. The only reason to have “stuck it out” would have been as an informant. Or to write an exposé.

    2. marmalade*

      Wow, you guys are harsh. OP posted about their different job situations in the response to the top(?) thread, and it sounds like a terrible run of luck.

      I often think that people on this site underestimate just how many workplaces are crappy! I honestly think it’s the majority.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m going off their original letter, the comments were after the comments started asking what the OP was dealing with in order to deem their situations “toxic”, as many of us have seen places erroneously labeled toxic as well.

        You’re discounting the fact that many of us have been working for decades and seen the inside of a lot of businesses, especially on the hire and employment side.

        I have no doubt there are toxic places out there. I have family and friends who have been victim of cruel unusual and truly absurd companies, I know they’re out there. However it’s a dim view on life in general to assume that the “bad” ones are the majority. That’s simply not true, you don’t have the math to back that up at all, just your own data to draw on which is skewed by circumstances of your own.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yeah, I’ve only had three truly hellish jobs out of about 10 over my working career (including my college jobs), and it all boiled down to dreadful management (and one was a four month stint at my school’s on campus cafe – never would I do food service again). I’ve had some other positions that eventually burned me out and wore me down, but they weren’t “toxic” per se – they just really didn’t suit my lifestyle or temperament after awhile.

        2. Anna*

          And that goes both ways. You don’t have that experience, so you’re not as sensitive to it as people, like the OP, who have had a string of bad luck. The OP is now attempting to course correct so they can see any warning signs ahead of taking the offer.

        3. Courageous cat*

          I mean, you don’t have anything but your own data and circumstances to draw on either.

        4. marmalade*

          That’s simply not true, you don’t have the math to back that up at all, just your own data to draw on which is skewed by circumstances of your own.

          I mean, that’s true for all of us – there don’t really exist objective measures of this stuff!

          I didn’t say that I think the majority of workplaces are toxic/cruel/unusual, that’s too strong. Maybe even saying “kinda crappy” is too strong, but I do think that a lot of places, probably the majority, aren’t very well-run. I don’t know, maybe I’m having a cynical day.

  15. Jerk Store*

    I’m wondering if a shift in your outlook isn’t in order here.

    I tend to be the kind of person, when I have found myself in a job or relationship or apartment I didn’t want to be in, to Monday morning quarterback all the decisions that led me to where I was. My therapist said to me about one of these situations, “Most people make the best decisions with the information they have at the time.”

    So you accepted jobs because you needed the paycheck. While going through the interview process, this probably made you concentrate on showing them you were the best person for the job, instead of letting them show you it was the best job for you. And that’s fine! We all gotta eat.

    Then when the job is really making you unhappy, you wonder if you could have prevented it by walking when you felt like they were being unreasonable in the hiring process. But you probably would not have walked because you needed a job and had no way to know if someone else would hire you if you withdrew.

  16. Marty*

    One of the biggest red flags around is any employer that interviews you because they need somebody… anybody… to fill that opening. If you’re job hopping and keep applying to unrelated roles, you’re substantially increasing your risk of bad employers, period.

    Great employers don’t necessarily need to interview anyone who isn’t already an ideal candidate, period. They have their pick of a qualified pool (or the resources to find ideal candidates is a tiny pool).

    I really think Alison’s more broad professional advice is useful here. You can’t change bad employers but you can understand how good employers work and decide how to become the kind of candidate they want.

  17. Serin*

    I would go on yellow alert if I was sent a skills assessments on skills not mentioned in the job description. I wouldn’t consider it a warning of a toxic job, necessarily, but it could be a warning of an inaccurate job description or an unreasonable expectation of “well, everybody should know how to do that.”

    There’s a common attitude that some kinds of employees are interchangeable and easily replaced. (Retail and other service industry jobs are notorious for this, but there’s a touch of it in many entry-level jobs.) And people who are hiring for jobs like that sometimes aren’t very careful, because if this one doesn’t work out, there are ten more waiting outside the door.

    This is crap, of course, but it’s not uncommon. So some of your red flags may just be warning that the company doesn’t see the need to put a lot of effort into hiring.

    It may increase your value as an employee (not to mention your skills and your self-esteem) if you do some volunteer or freelance work in addition to what you do to pay the rent.

  18. Willow*

    Flag #4 – you are thinking about moving across the country to take this job, while you are trying to get settled for grad school. Can you do grad school completely on-line? If not, then can you get into a grad school at your new location? The logistics of new job AND grad school acceptance are confusing to me.

    1. Unrealistic Question Asker*

      Sorry! That is my mistake. I’ve been recently working in a field where contracts are typically for only a year or less.

  19. Blarg*

    Please, please, please don’t take on loan debt for a grad program in your newly chosen field until you’ve worked out some of the issues you’ve noted in your letter and Allison and others have addressed here. Find an ok paying, non-toxic job, stick with it for a year or so and THEN decide if you want to go back to school, and for what.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      At least a year. Preferably two. Aim for something adjacent to either your prior enthusiasms or the grad school passion. If you can’t get a job in those areas, get a ‘pay the bills’ job and volunteer for something adjacent to your dreams.

      You really need to build up some stable work experience, and to try out your passions before you spend money on more school. Even if the grad school is in a really hire-able field like medicine, you need to know if *you* will like it before you spend money. And if it’s a less employable field, like librarian or the arts, you need a day job and stable history to fall back on.

      Says the person who used to buy equipment for a new enthusiasm every two years.

  20. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    Oh I really feel for you! I’ve gotten into the Toxic Work Environment loop and it’s just awful. You need a job, so you just take whatever job will pay you as quickly as possible, which is usually not that great of a job. Then, having that mediocre job on your resume makes it harder to get another job, because your employer and role are less desirable to other employers. So you decide to go all in where you are, and start looking to grow your position/develop your skillset, etc., and hunker down for a bit in that job…only to find out because it’s a toxic work environment, there actually isn’t any way to really advance without really digging into the toxicity. So you say screw it and start applying elsewhere…and accept whatever job will pay you as quickly as possible, which is usually also not that great of a job.

    It’s like the economics version of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, and it sucks. I’m sorry.

    That said, I’d advise looking over your resume to see if you can remove some of your shorter-tenure jobs from it. If you only worked somewhere 60-90 days, it doesn’t need to be on your resume. And if every job you’ve had has only lasted 60-90 days…that is the time to start some serious self-reflection and examination on your part, to see if there’s something you might be doing to make these workplaces so toxic in the first place.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Plus working in toxic environments gets in your head, messes with your perception of what’s normal, and often teaches you the wrong skills so you aren’t as marketable.

  21. MissDisplaced*

    OP Is it possible for you to temp or contract while you’re applying to grad schools? If you go with one of the larger temp agencies it’s perfectly fine to have a few jobs within that temp employer. Maybe not being as invested in the jobs will help, and you can test different companies.

    I’m frankly worried that you’re considering a cross country move for an unrelated job when you don’t yet even know which university you’ll decide on!

    But if you know the school, why wouldn’t you look for a job in that town? I’m a little confused at that thought process.

    I wish you luck with school, and it’s never too late. I enjoyed my grad school experience immensely, but I’ve been more or less in that field for years. As many are saying, the degree isn’t a golden ticket, but in my case it really did help me move up and make a better salary. If I could’ve afforded the time and reduced income, I honestly would have continued for my PhD.

    1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      Seconding the suggestion of temp work – this can allow you to build up some experience without it looking weird that your positions aren’t particularly long-term. It can also allow you to try out different fields, different positions, and different employers, to get a feel for what kind of work you’d actually thrive in, which is very useful if you are considering changing industries. It can also help you get a feel for what kind of work environment you’d actually enjoy.

      A good temp agency can work with you to find work that you’re actually interested in. They may very well ask you to do silly skills testing (I was asked to complete skills testing in *alphabetizing* for some insane reason, as well as more sensible things like computer skills), but just do it – this testing and interviewing process allows the temp agency to present you as a fully vetted candidate for a variety of different positions. You can even sign up with multiple agencies – just be sure to keep in touch with all of them regarding availability, so you don’t get called to a job for one agency while on assignment form another agency.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I only wish my employer had asked for an alphabetization test… we might not be still sorting out old files “organized” by a long-departed employee. Although come to think of it, the worst of her problem wasn’t alphabetization itself, but the inability to remember where the drawer stops in the alphabet. (For example, you don’t put a file starting “Bi” at the back of the drawer labelled “A-Ba”. And you REALLY don’t combine two drawers without checking that you didn’t mix that up several times already.)

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, if I’m understanding correctly that they are currently looking for not a career but just a job to pay the bills while they apply to grad schools… I’m very surprised that anyone they know would think they should move across country for that! I would never in general consider a move that big for a job if you are going into it already expecting it to be temporary, but it seems even weirder when it is super likely you’ll have to move again for school.

      1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

        That depends on the field; my spouse is in academia, for instance, so we’ve moved countries, and even continents, many times for temporary positions. That’s just how early-career academia works – you apply to basically every open position in the world, every year, until you get a permanent job; until then, you do short-term stints as a post-doc, research fellow, etc. I’m not sure what field OP is applying in, but it might be normal for that industry.

  22. cmcinnyc*

    When I was in my 20s I knew I didn’t want to be in one office for long as I was pursuing other interests and wanted to be able to pick up/put down work as it suited me. So I temped. I worked in a ton of places for a ton of people doing a ton of stuff. But my resume showed XYZ Temp Agency, Bunch of Years, and then I listed the types of jobs/industries and skills. It made me look like a pretty stable job holder when I most certainly was not. And my regular temp agency people were great references for me. This strategy might work for the OP. Downside is no PTO or benefits, which is a big downside. But if you’re headed to grad school it may be the most workable fix.

    1. Tired DC Resident*

      That’s been my plan for 2 years after leaving a toxic job after 6 months (with the Glassdoor and reputation) and not having the good sense to take it off my resume for the 6 months I spent job searching after that. Now I have the triple threat of being forced to keep that toxic job on my resume lest I have year gap on my resume, a master’s degree, and my most recent job experience being temping. This economy is fantastic!

    2. Skullclutter*

      I did something similar at the same age. In my industry, entry-level, fresh-out-of-college jobs are more often than not synonymous with “3-6 month contract job”. I was then able to leverage both the “stable work history” and the “look how often my contracts were renewed!” into a permanent full-time position.

      And as a side note, was able to use the “stable contract worker” trick to land a car loan, because public transit from one suburb to another sucks if you don’t want to take an hour-long detour through the local major city.

    3. Fortitude Jones*

      In my mid-size city, there are two major temp agencies that offer benefits (no PTO though), but they’re very expensive. Still, I usually advise people looking for temp work, or who can only get temp work, to look for agencies like this in their area.

  23. SheLooksFamiliar*

    ‘Some of these red flags are not notifying me of major changes to the timeline, changing interview times last minute, contacting me for an interview and asking me to interview that day or the next day…’

    Corporate staffing here, and let me assure you I don’t like this any more than you do. Scheduling is usually the biggest challenge in hiring – schedules just do not magically come together, or stay that way. We all pull our hair out when a hiring manager tells us, ‘By the way, I’ve got an emergency in our Really Remote Office and am flying out tonight. Can you reschedule tomorrow’s interviews? My calendar is up to date…’ and of course, it usually isn’t.

    As for the timeline, OP, it changes every day. Hiring never happens the way people think it will/should, and it’s best not to expect any vestige of a timeline to be absolute. Things change for no reason, and sometimes for reasons we can’t share with a candidate. You should get an apology if a schedule derails, but you’re expecting too much if you think they’re chiseled in marble.

    ‘…or sending a skills assessment to see proficiency on skills not mentioned in the job listing.’

    I’m not a big fan of vague or personality assessments (Myers Briggs), but needed to speak up on this. Just like your resume is not a complete unveiling of you as a professional, a job description/posting is not the complete list of what an employer is looking for in their new hire. Many companies have defined their company culture and the traits and characteristics they value in their org. Their assessments (Lominger, DDI) should focus on those behaviors and traits in detail, and are not specifically tied to the job function.

    I think it would be helpful to not look at the interview process as a series of specifc, ‘if-then’ statements about your experience and the company’s role, nor to look at changes as an indication a company sits under a huge, flapping red flag. Sure, there are a lot of companies that suck at this, but what you’re describing is not all that unusual or unrealistic. Good luck!

    1. Marty*

      This is a great point.

      Candidates often forget that the employer’s end of hiring is a headache. An expensive, frustrating headache. There are so many different people involved, most with management schedules (aka competing urgent requirements), it is natural that it’s not a straightforward, linear process.

      If the perfect hiring cycle fairy existed, I’m sure HR would be the first ones to chip in on their done!

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Thank you for this! Most of my staffing colleagues really do want a good candidate experience, and would happily embrace a fail-safe solution. Heck, I’d be happy if interviewers who couldn’t make the interview FOUND THEIR OWN REPLACEMENT instead of expecting my recruiters to do it for them. But that’s another thread.

        I know companies often treat both applicants and candidates very badly, but that doesn’t mean ANY deviation from plan is a red flag.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        I actually had a near perfect hiring experience with my current company (barring the job approval situation I noted above). Seriously, our HR recruiter is fantastic (I told her they should clone her and put her in every HR department across America), and she made sure my phone screen with her and all three of my management interviews went exactly according to schedule. It was probably the best hiring experience I’ve ever had, and they’re not even the largest company I’ve ever worked for.

        But yes, my experience this time around was a fluke, lol. The process usually doesn’t work out this well.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      This is very true. A job posting is not a complete job description, and even then, you will still have to do things that aren’t on that job description from time to time.

      Hiring is a bit like putting an octopus to bed. You think you’ve got all the tentacles tucked under, but there are always one or two and are wiggling their way out.

      Hiring is also a big risk area for companies. Onboarding and training are expensive, and you want to make sure you hire someone that will return some benefit to the company for a while—often at least two years.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      The last paragraph especially. It struck me that the OP might be recalling things that happened during interviews for jobs that turned out (in their opinion) to be toxic, and then deciding the relatively meaningless hiccups in the interview process are indicators that the job itself will be awful.

      Indicators that the job itself will be awful should be found in the content of the interaction (what the interviewers say or don’t say, how the office ‘feels’ when you interview in person), and not in the process. I’ve been hearing from hiring managers at my company that our new company-wide HR software is botching the hiring process pretty badly – that could give candidates a really bad impression of the company, sure, but has nothing to do with whether any individual job will suck or not.

  24. Mellow*

    “The most recent job I interviewed for requires me to move across the country. They’ve done a few things that raised red flags for me and were never really addressed.”

    Like what?

  25. Batman*

    I’ve had a couple companies reach out to me to schedule phone screenings or interviews, and I’ll get back to them the same day, but then they’ll wait a couple business days, or even several business days, to get back to me. And they’ll want the phone screening or interview to happen in less than 24 hours. Like they might e-mail me on a Tuesday, and then they’ll get back to me the following Monday late in the afternoon and ask me to come in early Tuesday morning. They never give a reason for taking so long to get back to me, or acknowledge or apologize for the short notice. I always start ignoring them at this point because it seems like a major red flag that they’re apparently expecting me to keep my schedule cleared for them for an extended period of time, and that they seem to think I’m constantly checking my e-mail several days after not hearing back to see if they still want to schedule the interview.

    Am I being too inflexible?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I don’t think you’re being inflexible. They need to respect your time as much as they want you to respect them. Otherwise it is a redflag that I certainly don’t mess with either in your shoes.

      If a candidate takes awhile to get back, it’s a red flag for most hiring managers. So indeed, the same goes for if they wait until the day before the interview to confirm, that’s not cool.

      I mean if they’re apologetic and acknowledge it’s a one off [I’ve had to do this before and ended up hiring that person, who was indeed a great addition to the team etc], then as you mention, that would be understandable. However glossing over the fact they waited so long and aren’t cutting it close on their side is just, flippant in my point of view.

  26. Buttons*

    As others have said, I would really like to know what happened in those workplaces to make the OP call them toxic. Without that it is really hard to say what is going on, but the vicious cycle needs to stop. I think if you need a paycheck and are having trouble staying in a place for long, then go work for a temp agency. Then it appears you solidly worked for one company, and it allows you to jump around. Because it is temporary you become less invested in the environment, and things roll off your back a bit easier, or won’t even include you.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Search for “Unrealistic Question Asker” for an eye popping string of bad bosses. Sexual harassment, illegal instructions, “non-exempt” position that went from 40 hours to 70-80… four very good reasons to dislike a company enough to leave. I do wish OP had been able to file harassment complaint against that one employer instead of just leaving — but as we’ve been reading, that’s a huge problem in restaurants.

  27. Toodie*

    I believe part of the problem is that “toxic” is an overused adjective, too. A job can have its issues or minor dramas and be a not-great job without being a toxic job. I think “toxic” should be reserved for those jobs that are true nightmares, with harrassment or unlawful or unsafe practices.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree.

      It’s the new “hostile work environment” , where it really gets misconstrued frequently. At least hostile work environment has a true definition to point to, toxicity is often in the eye of the beholder. A lot of people resent working at all and having a “boss” and “the man”, so they’re like “You expect me there at 8am? I take your start time as a suggestion, I’ll get in when I feel like it.”

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Sure I am. Just like everyone else does here who are drawing on their own experiences.

          I just had to fire someone for no-call, no showing after multiple warnings. And I’ve listened to people say these things to my face for years.

    2. Positive Polly*

      I think there are a lot more toxic workplaces out there than are given credit for.

    3. Mia*

      Agreed. There are definitely lots of genuinely awful workplaces out there, but I think a lot of folks write cultural mismatches off as toxic.

      1. goducks*

        Or just general ineptitude. I’ve heard of workplaces called toxic where I don’t think it’s toxicity, which implies a level of malignant harm, but rather just a place that doesn’t have it’s act together.

    4. Shan*

      I think limiting the definition to more or less “outright illegal” is much like gatekeeping other issues. I understand the appeal, but what ends up happening is that if a person can’t say “here is a clear cut example of _____”, they aren’t taken seriously. Sure, toxicity can be a fatal dose, but it can also be a slow build that accumulates gradually but still harms your mental and physical wellbeing.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Sounds like OP’s four jobs meet your criteria, then. Money laundering, sexual harassment, doubling a work week… oy.

  28. Jennifer*

    When you’re first starting out, sometimes the opportunities you’re offered aren’t ideal. Unless something truly horrible is happening there, like harassment, physical violence, etc., and you’re getting paid on time and accurately, I’d suggest at least trying to stick it out for at least a year before jumping ship.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Apparently OP was being harassed at at least one of her previous jobs, so she’s not leaving for nothing.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That one I wish OP’d been able to file a complaint… For me it was the money laundering that really made my eyes bulge.

  29. Jam Today*

    I’ve gone from toxic job to toxic job to toxic job without (I think) being a toxic person. Toxic job #1 was a year-long unrelenting abuse and sexual harassment situation, which left me so depleted that I was barely functional and essentially un-hireable.

    I found my next job with a previous boss that I considered a mentor who totally by coincidence had just opened a requisition, and hired me basically on the spot. Well, because I had no defense up, guess what happened there? HE HIT ON ME. So I threaded that needle for long enough — 2.5 years — that I could get my head together (more or less, with my boss trying to convince me to have an affair for about a year of that) and find a job that I wanted and would be good at.

    I found one, so I thought, doing the exact work that I wanted to do for the exact clients I loved working with — only to find out after a few weeks that the CEO was a raging misogynist. I white-knuckled it through that until he was fired by the BoD, but it was a pretty brutal time for a while.

    Shorter story: really terrible managers are in vast supply, and its easy for non-toxic people to wind up in toxic jobs over and over again, simply because business-life is crawling with bad managers who spoil the work environment.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I am, in many ways, glad that I am now considered “old” and no longer a target for the sexual harassment. Because it was a very real thing when I was just starting out and it sucks to be in that position and needing a job.

      1. Jam Today*

        Yeah there was definitely a period of time in my mid-30s where I seemed to be emblematic of…something…to middle-aged married men. I was single, traveled a lot, went out to concerts all the time, and generally was just really enjoying my time on earth, so they decided I was supposed to flirt with / entertain an affair with them, because…I don’t know why. Because men are awful (#notallmen bla bla bla).

  30. Petry Dish*

    Your progression to your dream job starts with your work performance on those menial jobs, just an idea OP.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Go back and read the additional info posted as “Unrealistic Question Asker”… I actually think leaving the job was the correct decision when money-laundering is involved.

  31. Positive Polly*

    I’ll be honest, this answer infuriated me! Alison, I read this blog every day, and your answers have gotten me out of (or prevented me from) some sticky situations.

    To insinuate that the OP is the problem here is…awful. I relate to this letter a LOT. I’m 26 and spent the first three years out of college job hopping for the very same reasons. For me, it was a combination of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life and the toxicity/demands placed on employees in certain workplaces. It is not too much to ask to be treated with respect and understanding as a young person in a job. I often found that I was not treated with basic respect. Maybe that’s because I worked for some really rich people in NYC. Who knows.

    I do admit that my lack of motivation was my fault – of course it was! But I was taken advantage of in one particular job and now I have Bad Boss PTSD, which is much more real than you might think. I feel like OP has it too. I absolutely have my own list of red flags, albeit different from yours, that I stay wary of when interviewing.

    Labeling OP as impulsive upset me – shouldn’t someone have the right to try things out – and leave if it’s not working? I’m not saying the professional world is a sample platter, but times have changed since a person has to devote thirty years to a company. Assuming that OP is impulsive and that’s why she’s where she is minimizes any of her real, negative experiences.

    OP – I stopped job hopping and got into the graduate program of my dreams. To offset all the negative Nancy’s above me, I’m interning at a renowned company in my field, I have a treasure trove of new connections, and I spent $80,000 on learning about the things I love/accessing the field of my dreams. For me, the lack of motivation had a lot to do with my unhappiness at certain places. But so did toxicity and lack of respect. I feel you.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m sorry that your’e so shaken by the reality of business, I’m glad this all worked out for you but in the end, I’ve seen more people continue to be miserable, job hopping and struggling well into the age range that you’d expect to be retired by in most situations.

      You’re still in that honeymoon phase, where you’re in an internship. I’ve seen people who can’t get passed the internship stage as well. You’re far from finished.

      1. Positive Polly*

        Whew, this is so full of loom and doom, I had to laugh.

        I’m not gonna waste my time convincing you that I’m not in the honeymoon phase of my incredibly demanding internship (where I am actually treated like a person – imagine that). I also won’t waste my time listing all of the professional situations I’ve been in that have been yes – TOXIC – and that I’ve learned from, and now I apply those lessons to my current situation like OP is trying to do with her red flags list.

        And I’m far from finished doing what? Having negative workplace experiences? Thanks for the heads up. I’m a 26-year-old intern with a whole career ahead of me, and I prefer not to dread the next 30-35 years of my life. Work won’t always be great, but I’ll be damned if I accept toxicity into my life at any point.

        1. Marty*

          I really don’t see The Man, Becky Lynch’s comment as doom? You’re an intern. It’s still a completely different set of expectations. You’re hired for the sole purpose of being green and trainable. It takes years to really understand how an employer truly operates or how a culture functions at a workplace, something that job hoppers don’t seem to understand because they never stay long enough to live through it.

          In the full-time career working world, a personal existential crisis combined with the inability to cope with challenging work environments is just not something that any employer cares about. I’ve dealt with a lot of “toxicity” that quite frankly, can be resolved by just hunkering down and weathering the storm. Even good employers have bad periods. I work for 4.6* employer on Glassdoor and believe me, things are ROUGH right now but we’ll be okay. That’s inevitable. People can get upset about that all they want, but again, it’s not the employer’s concern.

    2. fposte*

      But somebody who prioritizes trying new things over creating a longer history *is* impulsive. That’s pretty much what it means in job terms. And of course you have the right to be like that, but people hiring have the right to prefer somebody they’ll keep for longer; there’s also likely to be a higher percentage of toxicity in places with short turnover than places that value longer duration and deeper understanding.

      FWIW, though, Alison isn’t calling the OP impulsive in that way, because the OP doesn’t seem to have been craving new experiences; she’s saying that the OP’s own description of taking jobs despite her reservations make those decisions seem impulsive. Now if you want to argue that that was economically determined and shouldn’t be a read on the OP’s behavior, I’d see some point in that, but you seem to be arguing that it’s not fair that hiring managers want people who have a history of staying longer, and I don’t think that’s true.

      1. Positive Polly*

        I’m not arguing that hiring managers should not want people who seem to stay longer at their jobs. I’m arguing that it was off-putting to see Alison refer to the OP as impulsive when toxicity is often legitimate.

        I also do think, deep down, that maybe hiring managers should not look past someone who seems to be a job hopper. There are reasons. I moved back home with parents at one point because my dad was sick, and I took a job right away because I had to make money. Not a great fit! On to the next one. People seem so unforgiving of that notion. It’s funny, I’m hearing both sides of it – “it’s just a job,” and then responses like Alison’s. Maybe I’m missing something.

        1. hbc*

          I think what you’re missing is that “oh, well, on to the next one” is not one that you’d look for if you were hiring someone. Like, if you were hiring a home health aide for your sick dad, would you be thrilled if you had to search for a new one every 2-4 months because they just felt like it wasn’t a great fit? It’s their right to go, but I bet a couple of people into that, you’d be throwing resumes that have a “it’s just a job” appearance into the trash.

          You have every right to leave when it’s not right, but you can’t demand that people be “forgiving” of it to the point that they hire you over the person whose history shows they’ll stick around.

          1. Positive Polly*

            I think someone said it way up above, but it is true that job-hopping affects women and people of color disproportionately. While none of my decisions to leave were based on my gender, I think it is super important to keep that in mind! I guess being dubbed a job-hopper myself, I wouldn’t pass judgement on someone for that. Maybe that’s just me.

        2. fposte*

          It’s not that people automatically assume you’re a flighty field sprite; it’s that if I’m hiring for a position where I’d like somebody to stay for a few years, people who’ve historically spent that time in a job are going to be stronger candidates, because they’ve already done what I want them to do. Additionally, three one-year experiences are not the same as one three-year experience when it comes to understanding and growing in a job.

          It can be a situation the applicant couldn’t help and still mean that other people are more competitive. Rejection isn’t a moral judgment.

          1. Positive Polly*

            This is a much more reasonable response than I’ve read from anyone! My gosh, the level of judgement passed on applicants over situations they know nothing over – it’s scary! This makes perfect sense, and I would completely understand if someone passed on me due to my lack of experience and not because I seem flighty.

            1. goducks*

              Hiring managers have to make decisions about whom they’re going to hire with a very limited bit of information. Generally, just the resume, a couple of conversations, and references (often provided by people also unknown to the hiring manager). They don’t really know you, they have to work with whatever information they have. They have to assume that how you behaved for other companies is how you’ll behave for them. Frequent job changes tell them that you’re likely to leave quickly.
              Everybody hates hiring. It’s expensive, takes too long, and is completely disruptive. Training is as bad or worse. Nobody wants to go through all that to just do it again in a few months.

              1. Marty*

                Job hoppers never see the big deal because they’ve rarely ever stayed long enough in a position to be trusted with hiring decisions, let alone invest their own time and money into training these candidates.

            2. JSPA*

              It’s not that you “seem flighty.” It’s that you COULD be. Think of it in terms of conditional probability, that is, the chance of something being true, given some prior information (that’s known to be incomplete).

              Someone who’s held down a 4 year position is demonstrably not flighty, unless they’ve gone though a major psychological change.

              Someone right out of school is a blank slate–no information either way.

              Someone who’s left a string of jobs might have done so due to a string of bad situations, or a string of outside bad luck, or due to flightiness, or any of several reasons in combination. (Some of those might be reasons that, if made manifest, would turn out to have protections, e.g. disabilities; some might in fact demonstrate a keen sense of morality and indicate that you actively want to hire them; some are going to be fine, if you’re hiring someone short-term, but not long-term, like getting bored easily; and some flags people who have a huge chip on their shoulder, defend by attacking, stink up every workplace they’re in, and leave in a cloud of vituperation and brimstone.) There are often good reasons to go out on a limb and hire from the “might be flakey or have issues” pool! But that’s not the safest option, if it takes time to get someone up to speed, such that turnover is a big headache.

    3. Mia*

      I don’t think it’s awful or unkind to point out that LW has indeed made some impulsive moves. I’m sorry the letter and answer struck a painful chord for you, but realistically, jumping from not just job to job but industry to industry and then deciding that your plan b is just more school does sound impulsive. Maybe there’s some context LW left out of her initial question, but I think there is definitely some dreamchasing going on here.

      1. Positive Polly*

        Am I crazy!? What is wrong with dreamchasing? Maybe her admission to only just having become interested in the field she would go to grad school for is throwing people off. I personally had a passion for my field my whole life and was just too scared to really try it out. I’m happy I did. I see your point if that’s a factor.

        1. fposte*

          I think you’re conflating the morality and the practical question again. There’s nothing morally wrong with being a dreamchaser, but it doesn’t mean other people have to be interested in hiring one.

          1. goducks*

            Exactly. We all make our choices in life. But all those choices bring outcomes. Some are desired, some are not.
            A common but generally undesired outcome of changing jobs frequently is that employers perceive you as uncommitted.
            It doesn’t make one wrong for doing so, but it does make it harder to land the dream job.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            Yes. There are tradeoffs to everything. Dreamchasers get to chase their dreams. That’s excellent! The down side is that industries that privilege stability don’t want someone who’s going to chase a dream in six months–for example, it takes us about that long to get an engineer to the point where they are contributing at a decent level (i.e., where what they’re doing outweighs what is required of the rest of the team in terms of training) because they have to get used to our tools, code base, industry needs, etc. So that engineering job is not going to want someone who chases dreams, unless that dream happens to be ‘stay at this job for at least a couple of years.’

            There are industries that are fine with dreamchasers. This is why the stereotypical job for, say, an aspiring actress is ‘waitress’ or ‘barista,’ and why some people choose to do temp work or freelancing–but a lot of office jobs want to know that you’ll stick around for a least a little while.

        2. Mia*

          There’s nothing inherently wrong with chasing your dreams, but if you’re constantly leaving positions because they doesn’t immediately fulfill them, that’s an issue. Also, when I say “dreamchasing” I don’t mean “I have one concrete goal in mind and will stop at nothing til I get there”; I mean “I need a job that gives me x, y, and z and leaves me feeling totally happy all the time, so I’m gonna keep trying out new roles til I find it.”

    4. Antilles*

      Labeling OP as impulsive upset me – shouldn’t someone have the right to try things out – and leave if it’s not working?
      The brutal truth is that’s exactly what employers will think. Even if the jobs are so toxic that OP’s reasons are completely and totally unassailable, the Hiring Manager reading the resume doesn’t know that. HM just sees “three months at company A, two months at company B, three months at company C, four months at company D”, and is very likely to assume OP can’t be relied upon and toss OP’s resume in the trash.
      Is it fair to OP? Maybe not, but it *is* the reality.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yup, and Alison would be remiss in her duties as the author of this workplace blog, and as a hiring manager herself, to not mention this to the OP. It does OP no favors to have someone basically coddle her and say, “Well, the hiring managers that don’t want to hire you are being totally unfair. Keep job hopping until you find something better,” because this isn’t remotely true in the real world, even if we wish it were.

      2. Positive Polly*

        So what is OP to do? What am I to do? Explain my situation up front? Everybody is giving reasons but not solutions.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          As I wrote in the post, she’ll likely need to take a job that might not be ideal and stay there for a solid amount of time to counteract all the short-term stays (typically I’d advise at least two years, but if she goes to grad school next year, then just until then).

          1. Positive Polly*

            I guess I’m in the wrong here. I am totally uncomfortable with staying at a shitty job for two years just to counteract some mistakes I’ve (or OP) has made. Life is too short for that. Sure, I don’t expect to get a crazy good job the next place I go with a resume like that, but I’m not for settling. At all. We’ll have to agree to disagree? I guess I’m not cut out for the professional world, oh well lol!

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Eh, I’d argue it’s a really privileged position to refuse to work a not-ideal job for two years. Most people in the world work in kind of crappy jobs. If you can avoid it, that’s great — but for most people with a resume made up of multiple few-month stays, it’s going to be increasingly hard to avoid and still bring in a paycheck. At some point most people need to take the job they can get — and they increasingly limit what jobs are in that group if they don’t repair a resume like that.

              1. Positive Polly*

                I completely agree on the privilege point. However, this OP is choosing in between grad school and continuing to job hop. I think that’s a different situation. And like someone pointed out above, it’s privileged to assume someone, especially a woman or person would be able to tolerate whatever is going on at the job they want to hop from.

                I see what you’re saying, though.

                1. Mia*

                  She isn’t actually; her letter says that she’s being especially choosy about the jobs she’ll take while going through the grad school application process.

                  And honestly, as a queer woman of color, our marginalization actually makes a lot of us way more likely to stick around for a while despite a job not being great. There are typically way fewer options for marginalized folks and while the type of behavior we’re often on the receiving end of *can* result in job hopping, I would argue that that’s not the typical case; realistically, most of us still need a stable income and can’t afford to just up and leave whenever something sucks, even if it would be better for their mental health.

                2. Courageous cat*

                  It’s strange that you kept connecting all of this to your experience, until something about your experience is finally addressed and then you’re like “oh but we’re talking about OP here”.

                  I think you are taking OP’s advice too personally and simultaneously shrugging off the very real fact that your comments are coming out of privilege and are not realistic options for most people, nor should they be.

              2. Fortitude Jones*

                Exactly – that’s a very privileged position to be in. I quit my first toxic workplace after four months because a) I was in college and knew I could just get a workstudy job someplace else, and b) if I wasn’t able to find something quickly, my mom would send me money and/or food, and my financial aid already covered my housing, so I wasn’t going to be homeless and hungry.

                But my next two toxic jobs? I had to stick those out even though they were physically killing me (I have so many chronic illnesses now thanks to #3) because if I didn’t, I would end up homeless and hungry – mom couldn’t help me out anymore being a single parent with her own bills and my brother about to go to college himself. I was at toxic job #3 for nearly three years, and had been job searching for nearly a year and a half before I found something. That job nearly destroyed every piece of my soul, but when you’re poor and with student loans, you don’t have the luxury to walk out (and this firm was engaging in illegal/fraudulent activities and had abusive management to boot).

            2. Jesse*

              At the end of the day, many people have bills to pay and aren’t in a position to jump at the first sign of a bad job unfortunately. Whether that is a mortgage, children to feed, or student loans.

              Even if you are a young person with “no responsibilities”, you still have a lot to risk by jumping – you’re relinquishing the opportunity to demonstrate reliability and adversity. As someone who has worked in HR, there is a lot of value in seeing something like “McDonalds, 5 years” on a resume of a fairly young person. Most entry-level jobs are not great places to work, I think we’re all aware of the lack of professionalism that often accompanies them, but demonstrating commitment has incredible value.

              At the end of the day, employers aren’t there to finance your dreams, they’re filling an important business need that is already costing time and/or money. For candidates without long-term professional experience, one of the hardest things to understand is that this whole “work thing” occupies a much lower level on Maslow’s period than they might think.

            3. Courageous cat*

              I mean it doesn’t sound like it if you refuse “to settle”, it sounds like your standards are probably high to an unlikely degree. These are some extreeeemely privileged comments. Not everyone has the luxury of waiting for The Perfect Job.

              1. Positive Polly*

                I don’t know why I can’t respond to your comment above, but in response to that – I owned up to the fact that its privileged. I acknowledge that. And I provided another POV. Not sure where you’re getting a “strange” feeling from. I guess everything is up to individual experience – generalizing is usually a bad idea. I know that now.

                This blog is so judgmental and snarky lately. I mean really, I said my piece and accepted where I was wrong and the comments refuse to acknowledge that. I used to come here for interesting discourse about workplace stuff, but the ganging up on people and huuuuuge levels of judgement has really turned me off.

        2. Antilles*

          The only real solution is to stay at a job for a couple years to effectively “repair” your resume in the mind of a hiring manager.
          This *doesn’t* mean you stay in a job that’s legitimately horrifically toxic (safety concerns, sexual harassment, being asked to violate the law, etc), but if the job is just “meh whatever” or has run-of-the-mill concerns, you need to stick at to counter that perception.
          Maybe you don’t believe this is a reasonable trade-off. That’s understandable and a decision you’re allowed to make. But in terms of preventing that ‘flaky / unreliable / impulsive’ perception in the minds of hiring managers, finding a job and sticking with it (even if it’s not perfect) is the only potential solution.

      3. JSPA*

        Nobody says people don’t have that right. Only that, nobody has the responsibility to hire people who have been exercising that right. You do you, and as long as the job market is red-hot in your area and for your demographic, you’ll probably find another job. But age-wise, most of the people posting here remember how hot the job market was before the last crash. We’re not going to encourage someone to behave in ways that would have rendered them thoroughly unemployable in, say, 2008-2012.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I spelled out in a numbered list in the post why I thought the OP was being impulsive:

      You’ve taken a string of jobs that you felt uneasy about but (it sounds like) didn’t do due diligence on (flag #1), then left a bunch of them after only a couple of months (flag #2), and have been trying to break into competitive industries without thinking through the impact of all that job-hopping (flag #3).

      Those things do indeed come across as impulsive. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being impulsive, but in this particular context, it’s left the OP in a situation with fewer options than she might have had otherwise. That’s not moral judgment, it’s just cause and effect.

  32. Tomalak*

    Others have said similar but let me be even more explicit: an under-resourced HR/hiring department tells you almost nothing about working in other parts of the organisation.

    For me, what I dislike in hiring processes are preachy, tedious company values and having to pretend to be naively awed by how wonderful and unique they are when really they’re shallow statements that no company would actually disagree with. But once you get the job, you can easily never hear about these values again. Same with an overworked or scatterbrained recruiter – after joining you’ll see her in the elevator a few times a year and that’s it.

  33. Jaybeetee*

    I too had a Toxic Job loop for awhile (in tandem with some toxic romantic relationships! My 20s sucked!) As a Recession child who graduated into one of the worst job markets in nearly a century, it was well-drilled into me to “take what I could get” and to stick with a job if I possibly could. There were a few bad ones in there. Honestly, I got out of that slowly, and some of it was just luck that the recession eventually ended and jobs came available again. (Still figuring out the relationship angle – dating feels like a foreign language right now…)

    LW, this might seem like “duh” advice to some, but the first thing you can do to get out of this is stop applying for “anything.” That was one thing that got me into trouble – desperate for work, I’d apply for anything I thought I could get, regardless of it was work I actually wanted to be doing or if things seemed legit. I finally allowed myself to be a bit picky with jobs – not with a set list of “musts” or “dealbreakers”, but trying to just apply for jobs that genuinely interested me, even if they were entry-level and not great pay. There was some anxiety to that – I was worried I wouldn’t get anything – but quicker than I expected, I landed a good six-month contract doing work I really enjoyed at a really reputable company. And from there I got a better permanent job, then a better-still job that I have today. But I’d stopped applying to the “anywhere that might take me” jobs, and only focused on jobs I actually, like, wanted.

    In terms of actual “red flags”, you want to pay attention to culture stuff more than logistical stuff – though if it does seem like the interviewer doesn’t respect your time, that certainly is a flag. (I learned the hard way that it is *never* a good thing when a company wants you to start immediately, to the point you won’t even be able to give proper notice to your current employer. I fell for that once or twice, and it never went well). But pay attention during the interview, check out the place, check out the workers. After awhile, you learn from experience which sorts of places will leave you miserable.

    Finally, I encourage you to look into coping techniques, in case the next job does have problems, but you need to stick it out for awhile. There are ways you can learn to deal and compartmentalize so that even a negative work environment doesn’t leave you constantly stressed and miserable. It might be you have to stick it out awhile somewhere not-awesome to get out of this rut you’re in, then once you have a longer stay on your resume, you’ll find it easier to get better opportunities.

  34. Fuzz Frogs*

    I had a friend with a similar work history and she found it extremely helpful to join a temp agency. She got work, got more experience in the kind of work she wanted to be doing (i.e. office as opposed to retail/service), and the positive with temp-to-hire is that you’re familiar with the workplace when you accept the position.

    If you go to grad school: APPLY FOR INTERNSHIPS. There are a lotttt of internships out there for people in grad programs/just generally in college–way more than you expect, and a lot of them are looking for more permanent hires. This is especially true in many competitive fields. I have a friend who’s in librarian master’s courses who got an internship at NASA–NASA!!!–and was basically told anyone who was decent as an intern gets hired right after. (lus: the master’s has nothing to do with what she’s doing at NASA. The important part is that she’s in school and therefore eligible to apply.

    1. annakarina1*

      I highly agree. I got myself out of a rut by getting into grad school for a library science degree, and got hired into part-time paid intern positions, which formed my career in archives and set me on the right career track. I would have never had those opportunities had I not gone to grad school.

  35. Tomalak*

    If I were the letter writer I might try to enter all these short term roles under one heading on my resume. Something like:

    Freelance and other short term work
    Feb 2017 – July 2019
    In this period I undertook a number of short term projects and roles, including bottle-washer, candlestick maker and dinosaur photographer while preparing for graduate school (something I eventually decided against). Successes include:
    – Captured four images of velociraptors
    – 24% increase in clean bottles
    – Drafting how to training guide for candlestick makers who joined the company

    1. UnusualVerbena*

      I’m a huge fan of consolidating stuff in a resume, and I like your example. Clearly it wouldn’t work for every hiring manager, but it would interest some. I would probably swap “successes include” for “including”, and I would probably leave out the reference to grad school altogether at this point.

      I’d also be very prepared to explain why I left all my previous jobs (sometimes there really is a good reason, every time! But you can’t say things like “my boss was a creepy pervert” or “my coworkers were nasty bullies” or “I was bored out of my skull”.)

    2. JSPA*

      Especially as OP can probably spin it as a “string of unusual jobs taken an eye towards having life experiences of journalistic interest.” OK, OP didn’t actually set out to have “horrible jobs that make great stories,” but that’s pretty much how it worked out. And OP did (maybe, does?) have an interest in turning life into writing (albeit of the food-writing variety, which these days, usually is more a blogger thing?).

      1. Courageous cat*

        Hmmmm… I think anyone would see right through that. Not many people take on a variety of shitty restaurant jobs for journalism.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      Yes! I also did something very like that when I was laid off for 2 years and went back to college & grad school. I had 3-4 short term gigs and my “fallback” freelance graphic design. It looks better!

  36. UnusualVerbena*

    My first question would be, would you take the cross-country job if the issues you’re concerned about were addressed to your satisfaction? If not, then you don’t need to worry about it. If yes, why not? If you’re in the mood for an adventure, and you don’t have any important ties keeping you in your current location.

    I agree with almost everything Alison said, except that I don’t think you sound impulsive at all. You do sound like you’re being a bit picky, though. As you’ve had trouble breaking into competitive industries, and are now considering a different path that benefits from an advanced degree, maybe you’re overly focussed on jobs that relate directly to your chosen fields? If, right now, your finances would benefit from a steady job, you could look for something completely different. If you’re comfortable dealing with the public, then bartender, waitstaff, receptionist or cashier jobs are often available. I’ve done three of those four myself, and they were all to my benefit for one reason or another. Or if you’d prefer an office job, you could join up with every temp agency in a reasonable radius (I’ve done that too, and it worked out well. Plus it has the advantage of you being able to consolidate several assignments into one bullet point on your resume.)

    At the end of the day, there is no perfect method for deciding if a company is a good for for you or not. I’ve had jobs where the interview went incredibly well, every box was ticked, and it turned out to be a mess. I’ve also had jobs that I took because I needed the money, was expecting to hate it based on the application process and interview, and ended up working a happy, satisfied two years.

    I don’t think you need to further limit your expectations, but I do think you need to broaden them a bit. Good luck to you!

  37. AnotherSarah*

    Depending on the grad program, this hopping may not matter at all–I had two jobs pre-graduate school: one I was in for 8 months, which was a crappy place to work but not toxic per se, and one for a year, which was also shitty in different ways. Then I went to one grad program, left in the middle, and then another.

    I felt weird about all the hopping at the time, but it hasn’t mattered one bit–I finished the program and none of the earlier experience mattered except in positive ways (I know how to deal with more kinds of people, I have some random weird knowledge that is sometimes helpful, etc.). My husband’s trajectory has been the same.

    YMMV, but if your grad program is a professional one, what you need in the meantime is money to pay the bills and then some, and that’s it.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      This can be true. You can often write those short-term jobs as work you took during school, or whilst saving money for grad school.

  38. Not So NewReader*

    Well, OP, if you have read all the way down to the bottom of the comments section, you are a stronger person than I am.

    Many of the comments here blame you, yet you are asking for advice on how to get out of the rut. I don’t think blaming you is the same as giving advice.

    It seems to me that some folks here are not experienced or unprepared with how life goes if a person has to get out of their childhood home and has to do whatever to support themselves. If a person grew up surrounded by a bunch of turkeys, they may not be able to correctly identify what normal looks like.

    FWIW, OP, I think your question indicates that you are aware you are the common denominator in this story and you are asking how to change so this can stop happening to you. I am sorry people had to say, “You are the problem.” Not only have you identified the problem but you ask The Best Person, Alison, for advice. You probably have 50% of your problem solved, even though it may not feel like it right now.

    Here’s what happened to me. I got out of my house with some of my sanity still intact. I moved almost 200 miles away from home where I knew NO ONE but my husband-to-be. I went from job to job, taking whatever I could because I had to eat. With what I was being paid back then I could have 2 meals a day for six days and then one day of no food. I still believe I was lucky, others have had it far worse.
    You know, when you don’t eat you can’t think really good. And when a bunch of family stuff is still going on that also clouds the thinking.
    But things leveled off after a bit and I found a job that suited me. I lasted 8 years. I had to quit because of the chemicals. I had a couple false starts then I found the next job that lasted 11 years. I stayed too long because I did not want to go back to job hunting. Had some life stuff go on, then I landed this job that I have been at for 7 years. Add in about 3.5 years for schooling and that covers just over 30 years of my working life.

    Stuff that I learned:
    Food and proper hydration help the body and mind to work. Clear thinking is super important to getting out of bad spots. Try not to skip this step. Go to the food pantry if you need to. In some areas (food deserts) libraries are offering fruits and veggies for free.

    The people closest to you can be the LEAST helpful people when it comes to career questions. Sometimes a stranger who you talk to for 15 minutes can offer you better advice.

    As you are doing here, you recognize that it’s not our fault if we don’t know something. All we can do is try to find answers. Keep looking for answers. Not everyone will understand the question. Move to someone else.

    Pick things that you do well at. Notice I did not say “pick things you like”. You know the expression “Familiarity breeds contempt.” We can end up hating anything we like if we have too much of it. Go with things that you can do well, this will keep you employed and probably keep you moving upward if you want. I stayed at one job too long but I was good at it. The place was toxic but I was able to survive because I was good at my job. I knew my job like I know how to breathe and that was super helpful so many times.

    Keep reading Alison’s advice on anything and everything. The more you saturate your brain with this stuff the more likely answers will become apparent. Make it a point to read her advice daily as often as possible.

    If you have friends in your area ask around about the reputation of various employers. If you are applying far away from home try to google and see what you can find out about the company’s rep.

    Keep your resume up to date even once you find work.

    You know toxic when you see it. Get out sooner. Don’t stay one extra minute to try to make it work.

    Last, and this is critical, don’t work so hard that you come home tired and there is nothing left to you. Especially if you know you want to move on from a job. We can’t job hunt at night if we are dead tired.

    1. One L FTW*

      This is lovely, compassionate, practical advice that comes from a place of bare-bones survival. My family of origin was. … complicated. I face a fair bit of structural inequality. I’ve put up with more than one toxic workplace for far, far longer than I should have, and my professional life has suffered for it in so many ways, for so many reasons. You really get it, Not So NewReader… thank you.

  39. Big Biscuit*

    I can relate to the OP. I worked for a company for 20 years that sadly went out of business and then I had four jobs in two years before finding another great job that I’ve been at for 11 years. I actually left three of the four jobs off of my resume and it never came up in any interviews. In hindsight, there were small red flags in the interview/hiring process, but I was eager to keep working and I guess a little impulsive. I’m interviewing again (have hit a ceiling with my current company) and I’ve turned down three offers over the past six months because of what I interpreted as red flags during the interview process. Granted, it’s easier to turn down a job when you already have one.

  40. moneypenny312*

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last, say, five years of employment it’s not to judge a company by its HR or onboarding process. Sure, sometimes it’s a “too many cooks in the kitchen”-level shambles but once you get through that, often you’ll see it in your rearview and never encounter the same headaches again. Go with it and make sure all the red flags are gone (or most of them anyway, depending on priority or intensity of said flag) by the time you meet with the team and manager. If THEY seem a shambles, keep that in the forefront. Every time I’ve been bit by a job is because I ignored those particular flags.

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