When you're faced with new-job regrets: Should you stay or go?
Expert says a quarter of recently hired workers deal with 'acceptance remorse,' Here's how to handle the situation.
After working in public relations in Washington, D.C., for many years, Vicky Jaffe wanted to relocate to New England. The prospect of a position as vice president of public affairs for a New Hampshire bank sounded appealing.Skip to next paragraph
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So appealing, in fact, that she ignored a "funny feeling" about the job before she accepted the offer.
"During the interview, my future boss said, 'How do you feel about inputting data?' " Ms. Jaffe recalls. "It struck me as odd, but I said, 'I'm happy to be a team player. I'll work on anything.' "
But when she started working, she realized she had made a mistake. "The title was high-level but the job wasn't," she says. "It was terrible. I ended up just doing very mundane things."
That experience put Jaffe in the company of an estimated 25 percent of workers who regret taking a new position within the first year, according to outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Even Katie Couric hinted in a recent interview with New York magazine that her move from hosting the "Today" show to anchoring the "CBS Evening News" might have been a mistake.
With so many newly hired workers singing the "uh-oh" blues, more employers and job counselors want to help prospective employees avoid "acceptance remorse."
Sometimes a new employee's initial misgivings are simply part of the transition. "It is natural to have second thoughts in the first month or two of any new job," says CEO John Challenger. "Any type of major change elicits such thoughts, whether it is taking a new job, moving into a new house, or buying a new car."
But if feelings of regret persist after six months, he suggests discussing the situation with a supervisor. He also encourages "in-depth soul-searching about what matters most to you in a job and then listing where your current job succeeds and fails at meeting your expectations." If the gap between pluses and minuses is significant, the job may be impossible to salvage.
Jaffe was determined to make the best of her situation. "I told myself, 'Vicky, you've got to stay a year.' But after six months, I got called in and told it wasn't a good fit."
Through a contact at the bank, she found an interim position doing public relations for a nonprofit group. "It was positive and supportive," she says. She is now an account supervisor for a PR firm in Boston.
For young workers with no mortgage or family responsibilities, taking the wrong job might represent only a temporary professional detour. For those in midcareer, the consequences can be greater.
Fifteen years ago Edward Hershey, who spent 40 years in journalism and communications, realized it was a mistake to accept a position as vice president of a small Eastern liberal arts college. His job ended within months when the school's perilous finances came to light. After that he found a satisfying post at a large university, where he stayed 12 years.
"Regardless of the situation, you have to get over the shock," Mr. Hershey says. "If you go through all those stages of disappointment and anger, you'd better do it real quick. Get out the other side and say, OK, what's next?" He is now a writer and consultant in Portland, Ore.
One New York publicist who was desperate to leave a bad job ignored warning signals in interviews. "I thought, I'll take anything," says the man, who asks to be identified only by his first name, Russell, because of the sensitive subject.
"The week before I was going to start, I was told I would have to travel to Chicago my third day there," he says. "I had to be somewhere at 3 a.m. for a project. The first week I knew it was a really big mistake, and it never got better." He learned that the woman before him was fired after four months. The person before her lasted only three months.
After six months of working hard but being miserable, Russell was given an interim review. It was harsh, and he resigned.
Russell found another job as a senior manager and has been there a year. "I'm happy where I landed," he says. "The hiring process was very fair and professional, and that's how I've been treated."
Before you take that job ...
To avoid new-job regrets, BJ Gallagher, a workplace consultant, offers these tips before accepting a new position:
• Make a list of questions you want to ask during the interview process.
• Pay attention to the workplace and the people. Do they seem tense, or are they relaxed and friendly?
• Ask what happened to the person who had the job before you.
• Ask to interview some of the people you'll be working with – peers.
• Ask about your prospective boss's management style.
• Take notes during the interview.
• Notice how long it takes them to get back to you after the interview. Are they slow and bureaucratic or quick to decide?
• Do some research on the company. Read its annual report. Google the organization and see what has been written about them in the press.