update: how soon is too soon to leave a panic job?

Remember the letter-writer wondering how soon was too soon to leave a panic job? Here’s the update.

Thank you so much Alison for your wise and compassionate advice and to all the commenters who made me realize that a) I wasn’t alone in my dilemma and b) I didn’t have to condemn myself to misery for the next several years just to avoid fouling up my resume!

It was so helpful to hear career advice from people other than my parents, who — although I love them dearly — haven’t job-hunted in literally decades and have no idea about the workplace of 2022. (My mom even suggested I should think about moving out of state if I really wanted to give up on a job so soon, so future employers would think I had a “reasonable excuse!” You can see why I needed your help…)

Anyway, after my letter was published things didn’t get any better — they got worse. The workload went crazy, I had trouble sleeping and anxiety dreams about the work, I even struggled to switch off when on vacation. For the rest of the year, I was just too busy (routinely working 12+ hours a day) to even think about finding the energy and time for job hunting.

But the absolute dread I felt about going back to work after New Year’s was the last straw, so I started job hunting. However, I took your advice and was really selective about my applications; I didn’t allow myself to apply for any old job I was qualified for, if the work didn’t interest me. I even looked at roles outside my area of experience, because I started thinking more about what work would make me happy, rather than just making a lateral or upward move on my current career path. But I was resigning myself to a long process. All I hoped was that I stood a chance of getting out by the summer…

Well, here’s the great news. By the end of January, I had received and accepted an offer! I recently started a new job that really engages me, has a completely different culture and makes me excited about what I could achieve here. It’s a totally new direction for me, which is both exciting and daunting (success is never guaranteed) but I’m thrilled to have a new challenge. I’m sleeping better, my working days are shorter and more flexible, and now that those ethical dilemmas are a thing of the past, it’s amazing to actually feel proud about my work!

And guess what? The interviewer didn’t even ask about my short tenure. I focused my cover letter and interview answers on why I wanted the new job and what I could offer, and they seemed totally unconcerned. Ironically, the transferable experience and skills I’d gained in my misery job even played a part in my landing the new one, so it just goes to show that no professional experience is without value, even if you don’t enjoy it.

So, to all those commenters who said they were in a similar situation, I say, please don’t lose hope or feel you have to stay trapped in an unhappy situation just because of outdated career “rules”. I was out of there in less than a year (might have been a lot sooner if I’d started job searching earlier) and the fact I was moving on so soon wasn’t the terrible career road block I’d feared it would be.

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. Rainy*

    What a great update! I’m so pleased for you, and I’m glad you didn’t resign yourself to years of misery at a terrible job.

  2. Enough*

    The interviewer didn’t even ask about my short tenure.

    Getting the interview is proof that a short term stint doesn’t hurt as much as everyone worries about. Why would companies waste their time to interview people if a short stint was the kiss of death.

    1. londonedit*

      I have a short stint on my CV (though it’s getting to be long enough ago that whenever I’m next job-searching I’ll probably just leave it off altogether). I’ve been asked about it in an interview, but what I said (which was the truth) was ‘It sounded like a great opportunity on paper, but in fact it just wasn’t the right role for me. In fact it was a blessing in disguise, because it gave me the push to realise that [X area of publishing] really wasn’t where I wanted to be, and that’s why I decided to move into [Y area of publishing]’. I got that job and it really wasn’t a big deal – I think people like it when someone admits ‘Yep, that one was a mistake, but here’s XYZ that I learned and ABC that I’m carrying forward into my current job search’.

    2. lyonite*

      I think I mentioned this on the original post, but my last job was a very short tenure because of layoffs, and no one ever brought it up when I was interviewing. I think it’s partly not that big of a deal, and partly that people aren’t looking that closely at your resume dates.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      My job definitely has a bias against job hoppers – which I’m working on changing, but it’s slow progress with such ingrained feelings. I think the pandemic is starting to phase that mindset out though, in general – people are realizing sometimes circumstances happen.

      1. anonymous73*

        It can be a concern for a chronic job hopper though. I reviewed a resume recently where someone had about a 20 jobs in a 15 year period. Only one of them had been for any length of time. Everything else was less than a year. That’s a problem.

        1. dresscode*

          If I were that person, I’d probably cut out about half those jobs off the resume. Right? that just seems silly to keep all of those on there, for exactly this reason.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Yeah I’d almost worry more about general judgement than job-hopping in that case. I’m definitely referring more to situations with 3-5 jobs in 10 years (maybe a couple more), or a few early-career short stays coming into an entryish level role.

            1. Prospect Gone Bad*

              My issue when reviewing resumes is that so many young people do this and their resumes all look the same. They don’t give me any reason to think they are special or will stay longer. And despite what the internet has one believe, time served is really valuable even in my modern tech heavy workplace. Long-timers pick up and foresee things that newer staff members never do. So on the outside, they all look like they are doing the same work but they actually aren’t.

          2. Sova*

            I think it’s a catch 22 for people to know whether it’s better to put all those jobs to lessen gaps or to leave some off and have more gaps. And that’s for professional positions and office jobs.

            In non-professional and entry level positions, especially if someone does not have a lot of education or experience beyond working a job for short stints, they may actually think they have to list everything or risk not getting the job for lying if other jobs they don’t list are found out about by the company offering the position. You and I and most the readers here may assume that most background checks are not that deep or comprehensive. But, to someone being subjected to mountains of paperwork, drug tests, personality testing, a credit check and then being told they need a background check just to do a menial, entry level position…it may not seem that far-fetched or unreasonable that the employer will spend the time and money to catch them in that kind of omission.

          3. JustaTech*

            When we hired a (now former) coworker we got her CV rather than her resume, so it had *every* job on it, not just the ones she wanted to talk about. And she looked very job-hoppy (there were a lot of companies on the list). So I looked up a couple of them and lo and behold, she’d worked at a couple of start-ups that had gone under or got bought. I’m not going to hold *that* against anyone!

            She was also the kind of person who wants/needs something new all the time, but she stayed for four years, which is pretty much the opposite of job-hopping in my mind.

            I asked her later about the CV thing and she was pretty annoyed that the temp agency had sent that out instead of her resume, which was much more tailored.

        2. Retired (but not really)*

          Were some of those jobs short term seasonal work? That can be common in certain retail or entertainment circles.

        3. allathian*

          Yeah, I could see that. But this doesn’t mean that a few (3 or 4 maybe?) short stints in a row, especially if it happens early in someone’s career, should mean that the person should be judged as an unreliable job hopper.

          That said, it does depend on the field, and the type of employment. If they’re all short-term contracts or temporary jobs, it really can’t be helped. But if they were hired indefinitely and simply quit, or worse, were fired, that’s obviously a cause for concern.

          I’m in Finland, and the stigma against job hopping here is, or at least was when I started working, even greater than it is in the US. One of my friends is very easily bored, and she needs to be constantly learning new things and challenging herself, or else she loses interest very quickly. In the first 3 years of her career, she had something like 4 or 5 jobs. Then she went into consulting, specifically change management, which means that she legitimately gets to change projects often enough that she never gets bored. (I’m a total opposite, I’ve been in my current job for 15 years and could easily see myself staying until I retire, in 15-20 years’ time).

    4. Another person again*

      This was my experience too – I started applying/ interviewing in January, 6 months into a job I realized was a mistake and already hated, and no one I interviewed with cared that I was leaving so soon! I had three good offers by mid-February and started my new job earlier this month.

      Especially right now, with in-demand skills, one short stay is definitely not a problem.

      1. Excel-sior*

        I was 6 weeks into mine when i realised i needed to get out of there. Started another job 6 weeks after that (i did get lucky on this). Very short turnover, but not a doubt in my mind that it was the right thing to do. I was asked about it in interview and explained that the role was a bad fit. It’s definitely not a problem.

  3. Chairman of the Bored*

    Generally speaking, employers have proven themselves to be unworthy of loyalty.

    There are whole industries based around helping companies offshore jobs or subcontract them out to low-cost third parties; and management generally isn’t shy about laying people off or closing facilities in response to short-term downturns.

    Any large employer expecting “loyalty” is bananas, I’m committed to not punishing job candidates who are acting accordingly.

    I’m a hiring manager. If I’m interviewing somebody who has had multiple jobs in a short time I’m satisfied (even impressed) if their explanation for this is something like “Job 1 had unrealistic workloads, job 2 had a poor safety culture, Job 3 is currently paying below market wages.”

    I want to hire that person whos not afraid to advocate for and pursue their own best interests. Does this limit my ability to ask them to do unrealistic unsafe things for below market wages? Sure. I wasn’t planning to do that anyway, so I don’t care.

    The solution is not to avoid hiring “job hoppers” but rather to create the sort of environment that even empowered confident employees will want to stay with you long-term.

    1. Noblepower*

      I love this, it means you are doing the digging that probably ends up getting you excellent people for the roles you’re filling. Especially these past few years, there are myriad very good reasons why people might have more than one short tenure at a job in their recent history.

    2. JenniferAlys*

      I love this response. You are a wise hiring manager. I feel like I have the opposite problem. I’ve stayed way too long in a job that I also took as a panic job but enjoyed the people I worked with and the flexibility. But the people I enjoyed are gone now and I’ve stagnated. I’ve started searching but have been rejected for everything I’ve applied for. It’s disappointing considering the job market is supposedly so robust right now.

    3. pope suburban*

      I would really like to work for you. I just wrapped up a nearly two-month interview process for what I thought was a bog-standard marketing job, only to find out- AFTER I’d signed my acceptance- that it’s an exempt position requiring 50-hour work weeks (for absolutely no good reason; either they are delusional or they are terrible at managing workload or both). I’m going to have to rescind it and while I feel a bit bad, I appreciate your comment because it reminded me that there is nothing wrong with preserving my work-life balance, or with declining to work with people who waved a number of yellow flags at me (like, say, an alarming amount of devotion to the company before this last fumble. I don’t owe any company my life, health, or happiness. Sure, this sounded like an exciting opportunity on paper, but it turned out to be bleh and I don’t have to take it and suffer. Sure, if an employer is good to me, I’ll return the favor (and I’ll be a good employee even if the employer sucks, on principle), but at the end of the day we all have a responsibility to ourselves and there is no actual shame in being realistic about that.

  4. anonymouse*

    I hoped that you would recalibrate and see it’s the job not you problem before you got stuck.
    Well, damn. You did. Well done.
    Because I remember that letter and the comments where so many of us wrote about how much this site and Alison have done for us as individuals trying to navigate the work world, realizing what is, isn’t or should shouldn’t be normal.
    No disrespect to your loving family (been there!) who suggested you to run away to another state like you flunked out of school and needed a fresh start, but definitely better to send out the AAM Signal over blowing up your life.

  5. Soup of the Day*

    Yay, OP! So happy you found a better job! I’ve had similar worries in the past, and the best way to dispel them was to just… apply for jobs. If I got one or even just got some interview requests, it was likely that my short time at a job didn’t matter. There’s no harm in trying if you’re really miserable at your current job, but I think your strategy of being selective was a good one!

  6. Squid*

    Congrats to you, OP! I think that the future of work involves a lot more frequent moves and not necessarily within just a couple of employers (the days of “lifelong employees” are coming to an end), so you were right to seek Alison’s advice and take a chance on yourself. Best wishes!

  7. Bronze Bess*

    What a great update. Congrats! It sounds like not only is your work life much improved, but so is your overall quality of life.

  8. Popinki*

    I think that if parents haven’t job hunted in at least the past 5 years, they should be forbidden from offering any job hunting advice lest they be locked up in the basement on bread and water until the job hunter has an employment contract in hand :D

  9. RJ*

    Congratulations, OP. I’m so happy you’re in a better work environment and that it all worked out for you!

  10. Yo Gabba Gabba!*

    I feel like way too many people heard “it might look bad if you have a lot of short stints on your resume” and turned it into an ironclad rule that you have to stay at every job for at least two years or there will be dire consequences.
    “Something to consider” turned into a law.

  11. Another person again*

    Congrats, and I just realized the original letter and response was one of the things that convinced me to start looking after 6 months when I realized the job I took sucked and wasn’t going to change. I always thought there was some unwritten rule you had to give it a full year, preferably two. But it turned out that employers right now really don’t care about that if you have the skills they want, and I have a new job too!

    Thanks for the great update!

  12. Jennifer*


    And I just want to defend some parents a little bit. When I found myself in the same situation my mom told me to “take my talents to South Beach” a la LeBron James. But my mom is an odd one.

    Again, I’m so happy for you, OP!

    1. pope suburban*

      Yeah I had a watershed moment like that after I had a long-term temp contract get pulled out from under me by a business manager known for being shady. I was distraught and felt terrible for having to leave things half-done, on top of the normal stress of “Oh god, how am I going to pay rent?” I called my dad in a panic, and was totally expecting some step-by-step advice that may or may not work, since that was what I’d heard during college and after I graduated into the 2008 recession and got exploited by employers. Instead, he said, “You don’t owe them anything. What did any of your colleagues do? Did they push back against it? Did they support you? No, they let it happen and now you’re done and you don’t owe them more.” I still struggle with falling into the old “go the extra mile to prove yourself” trap, but I return to this when I feel myself slipping and it helps. It’s okay to cut your losses or to pack your things and leave when you’re not valued.

  13. Bookworm*

    YAY! So happy for you, OP. I had a similar experience not long ago–had been in a job for a few years, left because pandemic showed how much the situation deteriorated/how bad it was and I didn’t know and ended up in a panic job. I thought it’d be fine and tried but I was unhappy and am now in something that I hope better suits me. So happy that it worked out for you!!

  14. Pants*

    This update makes me happy! I love that OP basically says “I’m proof that it works!” Who doesn’t love proof that good things work?

  15. M.*

    Congratulations to the LW! I really needed to hear this. I recently accepted an internal promotion with a different team in the office I’ve been in for almost 5 years, and I’m sensing that it’s just not the best fit for me right now. I wouldn’t call it a disaster, but I don’t see myself lasting more than a year or so in this new role. I’m hoping that changes because I do see its potential, but if current patterns continue, and I’m still losing sleep and having extreme anxiety about tackling an immense workload, I owe it to myself to leave.

Comments are closed.