Here's What to Do When Your New Job Is a Bad Fit

(Kemberly Groue/U.S. Air Force photo)

Red flags were popping up everywhere, and I'd been there only a week. The partner who'd hired me had gone incommunicado. And all her promises to put me immediately in front of the firm's most important clients to do the interesting, varsity-level work for which I thought I'd been hired were proving completely empty.

Andrew, the person to whom I reported, instead assigned me to one of his mundane pet projects. And it became clear he was a manager who preferred to keep his subordinates firmly under his thumb. On the way to a meeting he'd scheduled, for which he was running a half-hour late, he turned to me, with great satisfaction, and said, "I don't mind having people wait on me."

What had I gotten myself into? I was only months removed from active duty and lacked any frame of reference. Was this what the private sector was all about?

Often, yes. And it can easily throw military men and women, who have come to expect a level of honesty, transparency and forthrightness that is often lacking in the civilian world, for a loop. So what can be done about it?

Do Your Homework

Don't put yourself in a bad situation in the first place. In my zeal to get a job, I shortcut my due diligence. That was a mistake. Decide what you need from a role and seek evidence through the recruiting and interview process that you can reasonably obtain it.

Ask questions like, "What, exactly, are the criteria for success in this role, and how have people with backgrounds similar to mine met them? May I speak with one of them?" Had I asked such questions, I would have learned those criteria were ill defined for my role and that no military veteran had ever worked for Andrew. I was the first. That wouldn't have necessarily been a deal-breaker, but it was critical intel I missed, and I walked into a situation woefully unprepared as a result.

Talk to Someone

Human resources (HR), legal and other support functions typically reside outside the formal reporting chain and can be great places to go for confidential advice on your situation. People there can provide you the context you probably lack and equip you to better navigate your new role.

I failed to seek such advice. I chose instead to query Andrew directly on why my early experience with the firm failed to resemble what I thought I had been promised in my interviews. He resented the perceived challenge and heaped my plate even fuller with mundane tasks. In retrospect, I should have gone straight to HR, whose professionals would have likely given me the advice I needed to manage the situation far more effectively.

Don't Be Afraid to Punch Out

Too many job changes, in too short a period of time, can paint you as a flake. And no one wants to hire a flake. At the same time, gutting it out in a role that's a poor fit can be just as damaging to your prospects. You may have a false start or two when you first leave the military, and that's OK. I certainly did.

Andrew's firm was one, which I left after eight weeks. Even if you ask all the right questions and perform the proper due diligence, you can still get it wrong. If you're in a bad situation -- where unethical practices are tolerated, people are routinely mistreated, or the fit is so poor that your odds of success are unacceptably low -- get out, quickly.

If your tenure spans only a few weeks or months, you probably won't even need to put it on your resume. When you decide to get out, have something else already lined up, if at all possible. Keep your contacts and your resume current. Keep on networking. And don't allow yourself to rush into another bad situation because you're desperate for a paycheck.

Any way you slice it, the job hunt can be miserable -- but not as miserable as dragging yourself to a job you hate every day. Stepping into the civilian world can be like emerging from a spaceship on a different planet. So do your homework, don't be afraid to talk to someone and don't be too hard on yourself.

I promise, you will get it right.

Dan Bozung is a former Navy helicopter pilot. After numerous false starts and years of disappointment, he finally got it together and today leads a midsized manufacturing business outside Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the forthcoming book, "This Civilian Sh*t Is Hard: From the Cockpit, Cubicle, and Beyond." Learn more at

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