Just two weeks into her new job at tech company, Nicole* knew she’d made a mistake, and the job just wasn’t for her. “I realised that everything that was communicated in my interview wasn’t a true reflection of what was expected of me,” says the 29-year-old. She had been told she was to help execute the company’s vision. But in reality, there was no vision. Nicole was, in fact, expected to both strategise and execute – something she was not prepared for and felt unqualified to do. Things got so bad that she wanted to throw in the towel there and then. The only thing stopping her was the fear that such a short stint would taint her resume. In the end, she quit after two months.
Nicole isn’t alone when it comes to such concerns. After all, how many times have we been told that in a new job, we should stick it out for at least a year, or risk wrecking chances of future employment by appearing flighty. But that mindset is starting to change, and priorities are starting to shift. Promotions, pay raises and six-figure salaries factor low on how Singaporeans define success in the office, according to a survey of some 1,100 Singaporeans aged between 18 and 55 carried out by LinkedIn this year. In fact, over 70 percent cited happiness (a feeling that cannot be quantified by KPIs) and health as the barometer for work success.
Short stints on the rise
Unsurprising then, that more millennials are less tolerant of sticking it out in jobs they aren’t happy with. It’s a trend that’s been taking root over the last five years, says Tricia Tan, HR Director at recruitment firm Robert Walters Singapore. It’s down to the fact that millennials don’t just want to put food on the table, they want to feel fulfilled. “The perception of seeking a career, instead of just another job, is stronger now,” she adds. “Millennials generally receive extensive parental support, more so than earlier generations.” Without the worry of having to pay rent and household bills, this financial security means they tend to be less afraid of seeking out an “ideal career”.
Social media is also a contributing factor, suggests David Ang, Executive Director at Singapore Human Resources Institute. “The grass is always greener on social media,” he says. “Especially when you see pictures of exciting working spaces such as those at Google. To younger people, such companies have a culture and mindset more aligned to what they want.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Samantha*, who left a job she hated after three months. For millennials, having agency is key, she says. “A lot of us grew up being taught that if we didn’t like something, we should change it,” she says. “We also heard a lot less of “no” than our parents’ generation.”
The bad boss who isn’t going anywhere
Any number of reasons might propel a person out of the door. But a bad boss ranks high on this list –especially if from early on, the person doesn’t seem open to feedback or is unwilling to change. For Nicole, it quickly became evident that her boss expected her to do both their jobs, and with no help. Worse, her supervisor was inconsistent, and constantly changed her instructions. “It felt like whatever I did was not enough, and it was extremely discouraging to know that the person in charge of me was the one de-railing me,” she said. After two months of constantly bickering with her boss, she finally threw in the towel.
Poor management was also why Barbara*, 26, left her job at a public relations firm after three months. “My boss kept making unrealistic promises to clients, but refused to do anything to help out,” she said. The last straw came when her boss told a client that the firm would be able to pull an event together in under a week. “I did my best, but she blamed me for a poor turn out. That was when I had enough,” says Barbara.
In Samantha’s case, she asked her manager for help in figuring out a computer software the company was using, only to be told figure it out on her own because her manager didn’t know either. This attitude spilled over into other aspects of Samantha’s work. Whenever she approached her manager for advice, the standard response would be that she didn’t have an answer. That, coupled with a heavy workload, led Samantha to ditch the job after three months.
A bad fit
Think about why you’re dissatisfied with your job scope or why you hate the work culture. Then ask yourself if things can change. If it’s unlikely you can request for an overhaul of your Key Performance Indicators or change habits that are already ingrained, why waste time?
“I lasted three months at my first job because I didn’t like the culture there,” says Alice*, 27, adding that it was a job she took up because of the firm’s stellar reputation. “I found it very Big Brother-esque. We had to tap in and out every time we left the office, no one talked so it was really silent, and the work was just methodical and mundane.” Alice added that she had initially believed she would have more of a say in decision-making processes, but it turned out to be just a number crunching data entry job.
For Andrea*, 28, she hated being in a job that didn’t push her. “You need to see assess if the reason you want to leave is systematic or isolated,” she says. “It was clear to me after starting work that the job I was hired for did not challenge me in the way I expected. I assessed the situation, found it to be a potentially enduring problem, and decided to leave after three months.”
The point is – don’t beat yourself up about your decision to join the company in the first place. In some cases, only time will tell you whether a job lives up to your initial expectations.
Not a snap decision
The reasons for packing it in might differ, but there’s a common thread running through the women we interviewed – they’re not job-hoppers and the decision to quit after a short stint was not made lightly or on the spur of a moment. Doubt, they add, is completely normal – as there’s no guarantee there won’t be repercussions on your career down the line. And in some cases, they faced resistance like with Nicole whose parents weren’t supportive of her decision to leave the company after such a short time. “They’re very traditional and expressed their disappointment,” says Nicole. “I tried to explain why I wanted to leave, but they didn’t understand.” This was echoed by the recruiter who got Nicole the job. “She said I was making a hasty decision, and persuaded me to hang in there,” she adds.
The important thing is to find your reason, and stand by it. “As someone fresh out of school, I told myself to grin and bear it,” says Alice. “I thought that maybe I was the one with the problems, instead of the company.” It was only after she shared her problems with friends, and realised that they weren’t having similar issues at work, that she knew the company wasn’t right for her. What tipped the scales for Alice was also the realisation that the job would not help her career in the long run, as she wanted something that would hone her analytical skills, rather than just number-crunching.
For Samantha, quitting seemed like the only option when she realised her emotional wellbeing had taken a hit. She recalled being stressed at work from “running around like a headless chicken”, and then going home to cry because of the stress. “If you are this unhappy with your job, it will show in your private life as well. It’s just not worth it,” she adds. Mental health then became her priority.
Be upfront with your next boss
Nicole applied for jobs while still working at the job she loathed, but confessed to leaving the existing company out of her resume just to secure an interview. Once that first hurdle was crossed, she was frank with her interviewers about her situation. Results were mixed. “Some interviewers agreed that a good working culture was very important, but others told me that a short stint did not inspire confidence,” she recalls. Samantha encountered similar responses when she was equally honest at interviews, saying, “Some people felt like I might need hand-holding.”
But for all the women we spoke to, blanking out their short stints was not an option. “You shouldn’t lie because Singapore is a small city and everyone knows everyone,” justifies Nicole. “If you lie in an interview, it doesn’t do you any good – and if you’re found out, it speaks badly of your character.”
But some good can come out of a nightmare experience. You’re likely to wise up quicker and ask the right questions so the same thing doesn’t happen with your next gig. “You have to ask about the company’s average turnover rate,” says Barbara. “Who left, why did they leave, and why? It’s the ultimate warning sign that something is not right.” It’s a good thing she did – she’s been at her new job for over a year now. You’re also within your rights in asking why a position opened up in the first place, and how long your predecessor stayed at the job. “Had I known that the manager and the executive of the team I was hired for left within a month of each other, I would have reconsidered,” says Samantha, who’s feeling way more fulfilled at her current gig of almost a year.
As for your current boss, there’s bound to be some shock or disappointment that you’ve decided to leave. Even if there’s no love lost between you and the management, keep it professional. You never know if your new boss will call and ask for a referral. Andrea figured it wasn’t a good idea to burn bridges, so she emphasised that it was a job misfit, and that it would be better for both her and the company if she called it quits. “Whatever work I had left, I did to the best of my ability while serving notice,” she adds.
It's not going to be held against you
Paul Heng, founder and managing director of Next Career Consulting Group, says leaving your job should be encouraged - as soon as the realisation hits that it's not taking you places. "With the speed of change and the continuous disruption of existing business models, it's important to ask yourself if you are still learning at your job," he explains. "It's not about how long you've been at a position - whether it's a month or a year, if you are not growing, you should leave."
Paul says people need to think of career progression in three stages: learning, working to become an expert, and hitting expert level. Keep tabs on where you're at in your job, and if you quickly get to the third stage and there's nothing else to learn, move on.
While Paul says people leave their jobs because of bosses, work environment or unfair compensation, the biggest push factor should actually be lack of growth. "There's no better reason to look for other options than knowing that you are stagnating, or cruising."
Still, a short stint doesn't make an interviewee unemployable, says a HR manager who wishes to remain anonymous. "We hired an employee who was at her previous job for less than three months, and she's been here for more than a year," she says.
While the manager admits a previous short stint may not earn you brownie points, it's not a lost cause. "In our case, this hire's personality suited the company," she explains. "We also look out for job competency, potential for growth, and whether his or her values are in line with ours." Basically, your short employment at a previous firm isn't as big a deal as you think it is.
This article was first published in the May 2018 issue of Her World magazine.