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‘How Do I Explain Why I’m Leaving My New Job After Only 3 Months?’

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Dear Boss,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘How Do I Explain Leaving a New Job After 3 Months?’