Friday, March 5, 2010

Jobs We Shouldn’t Accept

If you’ve worked for the same company in Corporate America for more than four or five years, chances are that you have had more than one job in that company. Sometimes you even have the opportunity to make a decision whether or not to accept those new jobs.

During my corporate career I was lucky in that most of the jobs I chose were indeed a good choice, but there are a couple that stand out – because they were the wrong choice. The first of these happened about 10 years into my career. A new organization was being formed, and the management team asked for volunteers. The job was exciting.

It seemed like a good idea.

During the interview I realized that the new manager of this team and I would not see eye to eye. He was from a field organization and knew nothing about a lab environment. I could see that he wanted to be very hands on – not a quality I preferred in my managers. But I was sure he’d soon recognize my value and let me have some autonomy.

I was wrong.

I took the job … and I was miserable. I couldn’t wait to move on, but I learned a valuable lesson. I vowed never to take another job where I didn’t think I could successfully work for the direct manager of the team.

We can’t always pick our jobs or our bosses, but when I could, I made sure to interview the manager at the same time as they interviewed me. I did my own research on the manager – checking with prior employees and asking questions before accepting a job. This strategy worked well – until two decades later. I forgot my own advice and quickly accepted a new job.

I actively pursued this job. It was a job that appeared to be tailor made for me, and in an organization that I considered ‘home’. I asked questions about the manager after I accepted the job – and I got an earful. People who had worked with my new manager had a lot to say – none of it positive. I reasoned that it couldn’t possibly be that bad. It might be a challenge, but I could handle it.

I was wrong. Again.

So what did I learn? Never ever take a job where you don’t think you can successfully work with your immediate manager. Never. Ever.

What was the job you shouldn’t have accepted? And why was it the wrong choice for you?


Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head. I too, have learned the hard way by accepting a jobs (yes, two) with management that turned up nothing but misery.
The first lesson I learned was that if I'm nervous in the interview...especially visibly...RUN, do not walk, as far and as fast as you can. They are making you nervous for a reason and it will only get worse. Your subconsious mind is doing it's job, trying to protect you and you must listen to this nervousness as a WARNING, not just nerves.
Second time I made the mistake, I just didn't like the person, flat out. But I accepted anyway, thinking I warm up to them. I was very wrong and left after only 3 months.

Anon_e_mouse said...

I've been in the same boat myself, although the worst experience was not a case of accepting a new job at our former employer but rather failing to accept a new one, when I was asked by my old boss to follow him to a new assignment. I demurred, being happy to remain in my old position... working for a fellow whose sheer incompetence made my life - and those of my teammates - miserable. To his credit, he was personally a very nice guy, and his intentions were honorable, but he had absolutely no idea how to manage a group, and after less than a year a convenient "reorganization" moved him out, and most of us ended up back under our old boss in his new, expanded group.

More recently, although I have been unemployed for quite a stretch, I turned down an offer for much that same reason... while I would have liked the job itself, one of the people with whom I would have been a "dotted line" report had a much different sense of ethics than I do, and I accordingly declined join the team, as I knew I would be directed to act in a manner that, in good conscience, I could not so do. Yes, it hurts financially, but at least I can sleep at night.

Crusader AXE said...

I took two in a row that I should have run from. The first was in ignorance -- let's just say that I couldn't believe this particular group of people were that dysfunctional.

However, the next one was amazing. I dropped an application letter and continued my job search and consulting work focused in nonprofits and tribal enterprises. I got a screening call from a Vice President, and we seemed to hit it off. I interviewed with him, and it seemed fine. He had me come back for a second interview with two other Vice Presidents. One seemed like a crazy, power mad paranoid, which he was. The other was great; she in fact asked me to feel free to call her at any time. I then came back for a third interview, this time with the President and founder of the company, a world renowned medical ethicist and scientist. That also went well...

The next year was sheer hell. I had never thought I was an ideal choice for the job, and was surprised at each stage to be called back. I found the atmosphere stodgy and repressive; I was stunned at the amount of fear throughout. I was also surprised at how hard it was to adapt to the politics...I started seeing an executive coach, because I couldn't get my arms around what was going wrong. Randy was great, and after a few meetings, he started trying to convince me to leave. Finally, I came to the conclusion that that was what I needed to do, immediately. The following Wednesday, I was told to report to the paranoid guy's office for a confab, where he informed me he was no longer confident in me, and was ending the job immediately. I started smiling, and as he told me how much severance he was assigning me and how long my benefits were going to last -- both very generous -- my smile got bigger.

By this time, the VP who hired me had reduced his schedule to part time; the VP who wanted me to call her had been driven out screaming; and paranoia was rife throughout. Took two years to find a successor. CFO was tasked with doing the perp-walk with me, and I had to stop him from crying, saying in effect, "Suck it up, brother; and, watch your back." They fired him the day after Christmas.

I came to a number of conclusions about job interviews from the victim's end as a result of these two experiences. If you are uncomfortable, seek clarification. If they won't clarify, then run; if they do clarify and it's as awful as you thought it might be, run faster.

Next, it's not uncommon to think "WOW, I blew that interview!" but still get an offer. If you want the job, take it. On the other hand, if you have any second thoughts, don't like the people, or don't want the job, RUN AWAY!

As an interviewer, the mask of professionalism should be on them as much as it's on you. You will never be treated that well again.

Colette said...

Thank you all for sharing your stories.

Anon_e_mouse -- thanks for bringing up the jobs we failed to take too!

Crusader AXE - ahhh yes -- that word 'dysfunctional' describes too many organizations I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes you have to work someplace for a while before you realize you’ve made a mistake. But there was one job I knew I shouldn’t take before I took it. I applied for the job because I had been out of work for several months. I’d already been warned to stay away from this company, but I mailed a resume anyway.

I was called and practically begged to come in for an interview. I went, but instead of an interview I met a man who claimed to be the “owner” who whisked me straight away to a meeting with his client. He had me pose as an employee, perform a site survey and advise his client about how we could solve his problems. On the way back to his shop he mentioned something about reining in a rogue salesman. Then he had me discuss the visit with one of his employees, who clearly didn’t like me (later I found he was the rogue).

Even though that day was weird, I accepted a job two weeks later when out of the blue the “owner” called again. I was supposed to be a systems integration engineer, but they had noticed some project management experience on my resume so they wanted me to do that too. They also threw in Operations Manager. This really was more than I should have accepted, but since this was the first offer I’d had in months I jumped on it.

Problems surfaced the very first day. They had many projects that were in shambles and most of their people were fighting. The rogue was trying to run everything, but he was careless with details and made unqualified decisions. He was very loud and Type A, and everybody (including the “owner”) was afraid of him. When I suggested a few procedure changes to minimize costly errors he went berserk. He threatened to hit me, and I wish he had because I would have taught him a lesson.

After several months of this, I found out that the “owner” I knew actually only owned a small part of the company. Another guy, who had been watching from the wings, owned most of the company. I tried to talk to both of these owners about straightening out the rogue and some other personnel problems, but he was having none of it – he found it all very entertaining! Although he complained about all of the money he was losing, he told me he enjoyed watching the strife. I determined later that the two owners were having a power battle and I was in the middle of it. Although I was expected to solve all of their problems neither would give me any support. Finally, the major owner decided that it would be fun to appoint the rogue as head of our department. Rogue took me aside and gloated that now he would really get me. I resigned the next day.

It’s hard to turn down a job, especially in a bad economy and when jobs appear few and far between, but Colette is right about following your gut. If it feels bad, it probably is bad. It took several months for my blood pressure to return to normal after this one.

Sudeep Mitra said...

There are no good or bad Jobs...only good or bad Managers. People leave Managers, and not Jobs. Whenever the Job becomes unbearable due to the Manager, it is best to cut one's losses by leaving the invariably leads to better results.

Colette said...

Sudeep, yes, I agree -- it's generally the boss that makes a job unbearable.

Anonymous -- thanks for sharing your rogue story. It's hard to believe anyone can manage a business like that.

Jo said...

This is such good advice in a bad economy! I think that as the weeks and months go by, people lower their expectations and will take anything! I've been urged to apply for jobs I hate; companies that I don't like.. and I'm always glad when I don't get a call back.

In my years of corporate America, however, I rarely had the opportunity to accept or decline a new boss.. Usually there was a reorganization or a respected boss quit, and... voila!.. There's a new person that you need to get along with whether or not you like him or her.

It becomes really hard if you have enjoyed your job and your company.. If you have many years invested; a successful career ongoing.. and then.. poof! Everything has changed. And instead of being lauded for your strengths, you are now getting complaints and reprimands from somebody you don't like nor respect.

Sometimes you can navigate an in-house move, but in many companies that isn't possible. So you are either stuck.. hoping you can wait it out until there is another reorg.. or you move on.

Colette said...

Jo, I agree -- when everything suddenly changes due to an org change or a new boss, that is extremely frustrating.

Anonymous said...

Actually Sudeep, there are bad jobs that people leave (not their manager). Although most times you are right. But here are examples of jobs that I've known people to quit despite liking their bosses and not disliking the company overall.
Telemarketer. Too much pressure to make sales, too many rude conversations.
Road kill clean-up detail. Yucky!
Firing Boss. This guy was officially brought in to a department to evaluate how well it worked and make improvements. However, he also had to “trim deadwood” and soon developed a reputation as an axe man. He eventually quit when he realized that his reputation prevented people from working honestly with him, rendering him ineffective.
Stray animal euthanizer. This person liked taking care of animals at the shelter, and her boss was sympathetic, but she had to put down at least four animals per week. Too depressing.