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Sunday, October 17, 2010

will people think it's irresponsible that I quit my job?

A reader writes:

I am in a competitive field in a competitive market. I am also a second-year MBA student. I joined a brand-name non-profit right before the recession started and instantly knew the position was a poor fit. Unfortunately, I felt stuck due the increasing unemployment. I've stuck around around for almost two years and started looking for a new position four months ago. I've had two interviews, but nothing has come to fruition.

My job is taking an emotional toll. In addition, the limited resources at the non-profit are adversely affecting my employability and skill-set. Financially, it is feasible that I can quit my job. My thought is that I can spend more time networking, finishing my MBA and working on my skill-set (aka being the best in the world at something).

I'm afraid to just quit my job. How do I message to people I interview with in the future that I just up and quit my job? Doesn't that come across as irresponsible? Any other thoughts on this topic?

You know, it shouldn't come across as irresponsible. If you're okay financially, why shouldn't you do this? You should be able to say, "Financially I was able to quit and not work for a while, so that's what I did." But for some reason, a lot of people get very judgy about that, as if you must have a job all the time, even when your finances don't require it, unless you have one of a short list of sanctioned excuses (raising a kid, taking care of a family member, returned to school, etc.). This is stupid, and as a society, we need to stop thinking like this.

You, however, have a pretty good excuse that you can use with those people: You wanted to spend more time focusing on your MBA. It's reasonable, and it gets you out of having to deal with people who think there's something wrong with recognizing that your finances allow you to do something other than work for a while.


caro said...

i was contemplating writing in with a similar situation. sadly, i do not have my mba as a reason to give for leaving my job. i worked at a truly toxic office, and the only reason i am able to leave is because i have been planning and saving to do so, if i did not find gainful employment by october 1. i am working on a way of pointing out that i decided to take time off to {insert something good here} and felt it was more fair to the company that i do my { } on my own time as opposed to figuring out my life on that company's dime. hopefully that's a scary time to be unemployed by choice!

Charles said...

"You know, it shouldn't come across as irresponsible . . . unless you have one of a short list of sanctioned excuses (raising a kid, taking care of a family member, returned to school, etc.)."

All too true! Except I would remove "returned to school" from that sanctioned list.

I was one of those folks who returned to school fulltime after being laid-off. Just about every interview that I had after I finished my graduate degree was along the lines of how/why wasn't I working or even looking for work while in school. Why didn't I even take a part-time job?

One interviewer even said:
Yes, I understand that you were in graduate school fulltime, But what were you doing?"

As if being a fulltime student was "doing nothing."

Further, the OP should be prepared to answer the question: "How do we know that you won't leave us to go back to school?"

After being asked that question every time, I was so tempted to answer with a snarky: "How do I know that you won't lay me off!"

Sabrina said...

I have a friend who left a toxic job on Friday. He was very close to a breakdown. Not sleeping or eating, I would wager he was suffering from depression too. His wife works and they can get by on that for now, but what would he say? I know it was a concern of his before he left but for his health, he truly did need to leave that job.

Courtney said...

I have done exactly the same. I'm leaving my toxic company at the end of the year for the "unknown". My biggest fear is that I will be judged as being naive or a quitter, for making this decision.

I'm also struggling with a way to explain my reasons for leaving for what appears to be "the perfect job". Suggestions welcome.

I think you've done a brave thing and I commend you for your decision - if you have the means to support yourself (and your kids if you have any) then life is too short to be miserable.

Warning said...

I hope you have a really good understanding of what "financially feasible" is before you do this. My last FT job paid great money but was a horrible job in every other conceivable way. One day I couldn't take it anymore, blew up, and quit. I've always been a believer in rainy day saving and I had enough money in the bank to pay the bills for months. I thought surely I'd have another job before the money ran out. Wrong. The money ran out. We'd already sold the electronics, the jewelry, musical instruments, some appliances, everything we thought we could get a little money for, and we were about 2 weeks away from our very last dollar when I got another FT job.

I was truly losing my mind at that job, but the last 2-3 months before I got a new job were worse than any of the bad days I'd had at the old job. So I would tell you to think VERY hard about how "financially feasible" it is for you to quit your job. No job is worse than wondering if you will have a place to live next month... trust me.

Joey said...

.."the limited resources at the non profit are adversely affecting my employability and skill set."

I'm interested to know exactly what this means. It sounds kinda shady. Also, if you use the concentrating on school excuse you'd better be prepared to stick it out until you finish. Otherwise your lie will be exposed.

De Minimis said...

What Charles said....I have been getting a fair amount of criticism in job interviews for not working while I was in graduate school full-time.

What's even more ridiculous is that I graduated nearly three years ago, yet I am still having to deal with that. I was involved in remodeling a family member's home which took up what spare time I had, but even that apparently results in a "red flag" for employers.

Stephanie said...

I sort of did something similar. I was in a miserable job--I was depressed, I wasn't eating right, I hadn't had a sound night's sleep in months, and my performance had begun to suffer. Basically I was forced out and got a "quit now or we'll fire you in a day."

In some respects, it was good. I lost weight, I actually could sleep through the night, I stopped grinding my teeth, etc.

What wasn't great was the uncertainty. I would say double check and triple-check how financially secure you think you are, because the money'll go faster than you think. And the stress of figuring out how to pay your bills was almost as bad as the stress of a bad job.

I think it helps your situation that you can say you quit your job to focus more on school. I have kind of stumbled on what to say in interviews when asked why I left my last job and have answered that question with varying rates of success. I think everyone's had a miserable job (actually, in my industry, the reputation of my former employer precedes itself and I've had a couple of interviews where the interviewer was like "I've heard horrible things about that place") and can understand why you'd leave. The key is just phrasing it so it doesn't sound like "Waaaahhh! They made me work and I didn't like that!"

Anonymous said...

I'm back in school right now after being laid off. While I presently have part time employment on campus (in a program doing what I"m in school for actually) I do get asked about my employment gap on my resume. However when I answer that I went back to school full time and it took time to find a position that was flexible enough for me to concentrate on my studies everyone seems to be okay with that. I guess it depends on your situation/field.

Anonymous said...

I am also struggling with that question. Last year, I voluntarily resigned from a very stressful job after 15 years with the same co. I had enough. 2 months later, was diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian ca. I am now in recovery and ready to begin the job search, but am unsure about how to fill in that year long gap, without disclosing the illness and "liability" red flags all over the place.

Ask a Manager said...

Anonymous at 11:41: How about "dealing with a family health issue"?

Anonymous said...

I had thought of something along a family health event. I just am unsure if I will come across as someone who is unable to manage life situations. Is one better off to answer honestly? I'm not looking for a pity party.

Ask a Manager said...

What? No, absolutely not! Taking time off to take care of a seriously ill family member or your own serious illness is no way about not being able to handle life situations!

JC said...

I would say quit. For one, it's taking an emotional toil on your health. Eventually that will catch up to you and cause you more problems. Secondly, you are in graduate school and could always say that you need more time placed on your studies. Third, spending more time to network is a great way to open up more doors and opportunities. Pick up and internship or volunteer somewhere, there are a lot of things you can do with this free time to pick up the skills and experience you need to get another job at some point.

The only concern I have is money. Although you say you are financially secure, how long do you believe that will last? Months? A year? 2 years? Anything can happen so be prepared for potential emergencies or long periods of unemployment.

I don't believe it comes across as irresponsible. Tell your potential interviewers that you wanted to focus on your studies and reach out to new opportunities. You wanted a new career direction or new challeneges (building your skill set, etc). I probably wouldn't mention the toxic work environment. Keep it as neutral as possible.

For me, I have been out of college for 5 months. I have been busy moving to the big city, finding a job, and settling in. All of the interviews I have had ask "What have you been doing these past few months?" It seems like my answers fall flat to them...What do they expect me to be doing? Right now I am looking for volunteer opportunities because I do want to be productive with my time. But with the move and settling in I did not have time to do much else. It's frustrating when employers are so nitpicky about things.

Anyway, whatever you choose to do, good luck!

Anonymous said...

I did the same thing while in grad school. I was working 60-70 hour weeks at a startup that wasn't going anywhere, while doing grad school part time in the evening.

I checked my finances and figured I was better off focusing on my MS. I quit my job and 2 months later I landed a part time job across the street from school.

I had enough money to pay my expenses and school, along with a flexible schedule. The best of both worlds.

I would definitely do it again.

De Minimis said...

As far as the actual question, I would say quit. You have a plan for what to do, and it doesn't sound like you are doing yourself any good by staying.

Re: family health issues. I think generally it's risky to bring these up, the employer will think you're always going to be wanting time off.

Anonymous said...

I just had an interview, and I was a little worried if they would ask about why I left my last job without having a new one.
Midway through the interview, as I was describing the insane number of responsibilities I had, I realized that it was going to be obvious to the committee why I had left.
If you are overworked and understaffed, it is pretty easy to put a positive spin on things if you just tell the truth in an upbeat way about all the different things you did at your last job. They will think you are extremely capable, and they will most likely read between the lines and understand that your previous job was a nightmare.
I can't be sure, but I think I scored points at that interview by doing this. If the interviewer is familiar with the industry, they will understand what a realistic vs. unrealistic workload is.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:49, It's also important to say it's been taken care of and you don't forsee it becoming an issue again.

Mike said...

This situation angers me to no end.

The "Social Contract" between Employer and Employee works like this - the Employer makes an offer and the Employee accepts or declines the job. When conditions change, the Employee has the very same option. For better or worse, that is how things work.

Yet Employers must always be the ones to pay for asserting their end of the deal. If they leave too early, they're unreliable. If they leave and file safety or discrimination complaints, they're seen as "litigious" rather than someone who wants their rights enforced.

I just don't understand this. Are business owners and the HR departments they hire so removed from understanding that some workplaces are terrible and people tend not to last long there? Do they not understand that some places under-compensate their employees and add huge amount or work and unpaid overtime to their schedules in an effort to maintain current rates of profit?

Is it that difficult to understand?

fposte said...

Just a note from my experience--in general, I think the thing to avoid when giving reasons for such a departure is "the list": "I wanted to go back to grad school full time, and my carpal tunnel flared up, and my dad got sick, and the house burned down, and my dog ran away, and the job was crappy...." Even if it's true--and heaven knows that convergence of factors is a big deal--it's not the appropriate answer for a situation, since nobody makes such decisions in a complete vacuum anyway. "I'd been doing grad school on top of work and knew I'd have to make it my full time priority to achieve as I wished in my last year."

Mike, while I'm generally a fan of your pro-labor stance, I'd say the problem here isn't that employers won't accept that people leave bad jobs, it's that it's hard on shallow acquaintance to differentiate between somebody who is willing to leave a job on a whim and somebody who's fortunate and prudent enough to have a bit of cushion that allows him to exit a horrible situation. And when there are equally qualified candidates, the one who needs the benefit of the doubt isn't likely to come out on top.

It's kind of like a first-date conversation--somebody who talks about having to dump their horrible, horrible ex is often giving you a red flag that you're going to be the next horrible, horrible ex. It's okay to dump a horrible person or a horrible job, but early conversations with the possible successor need to control the message carefully.

Anonymous said...

To Joey:

You were wondering what the writer meant when he/she said, "..the limited resources at the non profit are adversely affecting my employability and skill set."

I could be reading into this wrong, but I also work at a nonprofit and this concern feels familiar to me. In my experience, the lack of funding and staff (limited resources) results in a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants strategy for everything we do. There's no money for consulting or training; it's the near-sighted leading the blind. While I have learned a lot in my three years here, I also worry whether or not I've developed truly transferable skills.

(Obviously, this isn't the case at every non-profit organization.)

Joey said...

Anon 3:49,
I see those as positive attributes-resourceful, ability to adapt, budget minded, etc. And my salary range is probably going to result in a raise for you. My main concern with non profiters is will you have a problem focusing on profits vs. a cause?

Anonymous said...

If you still have a job and are actively looking for other employment, or are unemployed, but equally qualified, what makes the employed candidate so appealing? The fact is they still want to leave their current employer and are probably using company time in the search to do so.

Mike said...

@fposte - If it's a situation where the prospective employee just lists a bunch of things then I think you first date metaphor makes a lot of sense.

In fact, it brought to mind an idea for a terrible romantic comedy.

Imagine some young pretty HR manager looking for love, but ends up scaring all the guys away by asking them for their weaknesses, how their ex-girlfriends would rate them and if they were cereal, what kind they'd be.

She then finds true love in the man that refuses to let his resume exceed a single page and always sends a thank you note after every date.

Ask a Manager said...

Mike, I love it. And while I've never asked a guy what kind of cereal he'd be (and hope I never will), I suspect that doing all this hiring really has in some way impacted the way I approach dating. I know I've had first dates where I've realized, "oh crap, I'm interviewing this guy." We need to start an initiative to de-program me.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like me. I quit not that long ago (less than a month) and didn't look back. My manager knew the work situation was not ideal in that my colleagues and internal customers were trying to make things hard for me (I was not part of their "group").

I am the policy enforcer and they were blatantly doing illegal and unethical things. Well I was afraid I could somehow be blamed. As I was in the past even with tons of evidence I advised against certain actions.

It got to the point where my health was in deep decline, I wasn't sleeping, etc. I prayed about it and begged God bless me out of this job. The next day I took a leap of faith and submitted my resignation.

With the support of my spouse, I walked out as the working spouse with no backup plan. I had savings but was prepared to take something making less than 1/2 my salary just to enjoy what I was doing and to get out of that toxic environment.

Well the funny thing is, the next day, I was offered a job I had applied to almost a year ago. It came right on time.

I understand my situation is not common but I have seen the same blessings happen to other hard working people. Sometimes it does end up being okay when you step out on faith. Best wishes to you and enjoy school!