Why You Took The Wrong Job

The decision to join a new employer and the process leading up to the move can be fraught with emotional attachments, irrational fears, and incomplete information.  Since job searches in technology often include self-interested third parties of varying influence (e.g. recruiters, founders, hiring managers) acting within a highly competitive hiring environment, the job seeker can be pushed and pulled in several directions, sometimes based on half-truths and distortions.  The result of the job change (or the decision to refuse an offer and stay put) in many circumstances is buyer’s remorse, where regret can be felt rather quickly.

First let’s look at the more common reasons that candidates regret taking a new job, and then explore one rather simple solution to avoid the mistake.

  • You overvalued salary without considering other details of the job and package.  There is obviously much more to a job offer than pay, but when numbers are discussed job seekers become distracted from any red and yellow flags that were concerns prior to the offer.  If your new position includes a longer work week and an employer with a lower benefits contribution, that 20% raise could actually be a compensation decrease when calculated on an hourly basis.  The value of work-life balance and additional money is complex and will fluctuate over the course of a career.
  • You made an emotional decision over a rational one.  Perhaps you were drawn to a less than ideal job due to loyalty to a friend or former co-worker that is employed by the company and needs your help.  Fear of taking on new responsibilities and making decisions to stay in a comfort zone will keep some from ever feeling challenged and fulfilled with a new position.  Emotional decisions can even be tied to compensation, as individuals tend to have attachments to certain numbers.  That 95K job might come with better benefits and plenty of upside, but if that 100K job is your first making “six figures” you may be irrationally swayed.
  • You focused on short-term gains instead of long-term.  Entry-level candidates who typically have no savings and significant debt will often go to the highest bidder, placing little weighing on other factors such as skills and career development. Taking an offer without consideration for how a job will allow learning and growth can negatively impact your future marketability (and compensation) for years to come. In some cases the higher paid big company job may lead to boredom, where the lower-paying startup could consistently challenge you and allow you to show tangible accomplishments to potential future employers.  Items such as sign-on or relocation bonuses provide instant gratification for job seekers, even though they are only one-time payments.  A short-term gain can even be satisfied by a job title for some, where the simple act of adding “Senior” on a business card might influence a decision much more than it probably should.
  • You ran from the job you had instead of pursuing the job you want.  Any port in a storm.  The decision to accept an offer becomes relatively easy when your current position is making you miserable.  Spats with co-workers or bosses can hasten job searches that may be based on questionable rationale.
  • You were made promises during the hiring process that the employer couldn’t or didn’t fulfill. Hiring managers or recruiters often dangle a potential carrot in front of recruits that they may not be able to deliver.  Often the bait will include a tasty new project that would look very attractive on your résumé, or an expedited path to a leadership position.  These promises are dangerous for both sides, and accepting positions based on an uncertain future rewards is questionable without detail of the promiser’s track record.  I frequently hear anecdotes from candidates that were hired as the next-in-line CTO but quickly realized that would never come to be.
  • You were talked into something you clearly never wanted in the first place.  Experienced recruiters (both agency and internal) can be quite skilled at manipulating candidates and overselling an opportunity, and successful entrepreneurs must be effective in getting others excited about investing in their endeavor.  Recruiters may prey on your fears, however irrational those fears may be, to get you to accept their offers and reject counteroffers or the offers of other employers. Company founders implore recruits to help make their dream a reality, and could ignore whether the role or environment are a fit for your goals.  When money is added to the mix, candidates can be their own worst enemy and can talk themselves into jobs that they would never have taken otherwise.

One effective method to avoid taking the wrong job

A job search has lots of moving parts.  One way to potentially avoid taking the wrong job is to create a defined and relatively static target job opportunity that you are willing to take, and to lay the details out before starting a job search.  In my book I encourage job seekers to write specifics about the dream job, and I also have them draft an equally important list of dealbreakers (defined as details of a job that would be unacceptable under any circumstances).

These short lists typically include minimum salaries, maximum commute distances, work hours, desired technologies, industries, company size, and almost any imaginable detail of a job or company.  Search criteria should be prioritized where trade-offs are possible, as most seekers would be willing to commute a couple extra miles for more money or benefits.

The value of creating a physical list is that you will regularly refer to it when being pitched new positions or while evaluating offers.  Share the lists with someone who knows you well, such as a significant other or family member, and ask them to hold you accountable to what you’ve written during your job search.  This person is your designated driver who must be willing to talk you out of a bad decision if you get tipsy from all the love you are getting.

When job offers arrive bearing fancy titles and large salaries bundled with promises of future rewards, delivered by trained salespeople who know how to spin, it is common for a candidate to disregard their initial search criteria and dealbreakers – which directly leads to accepting offers based on the mistakes listed above.  By employing a little self-discipline and using a couple easy lists (and a designated driver to keep you honest), you should be able to prevent yourself from taking a job based on the wrong reasons.

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  1. Mike S.

    This made me chuckle, since I was just through a job negotiation. I see at least a few of my mistakes on the list – though nothing that burned me, at least not yet.

    One area where I’ve had a problem is negotiating with respect to bonuses. In the past I’ve had family members and colleagues fail to receive bonuses that were verbally guaranteed or even guaranteed in writing but the writing had some intentionally obscure legal language that still allowed the employer to escape the requirement.

    The representative of the employer may believe he or she is negotiating in good faith, but many candidates negotiate under the assumption that all compensation that is not salary does not exist.

    • fecak

      Depending on how bonus is worded, ignoring bonus (and stock options) is usually the absolute safest bet when evaluating offers. Employers that I’ve worked with are often willing to provide some data (official or anecdotal) more often than not in recent years.

  2. Dubliner

    Great article. I’ve experienced this myself recently when I’ve accepted an offer for a new job for which I had a feeling that I would regret it and unfortunately, I was right. For several reasons, I was running out from the previous job (instead of effectively looking for what I really want to do) and the information about the job and company that was given out to me during the interview process turned out to be unrealistic. So I have made a bad move. It only took me less than 3 weeks to realize that. The way the company is organised and the stuff I have to deal with gives me little space to progress in my career and there is no real benefit for staying much longer apart from not having a “gap” on the CV. I am trying to come up with the best escape exit. I am still with this company for 7 months and I don’t know if I should stay at least a year (and suck it up) or I should start paying attention to recruiters and have a look at the market (and this time I will be way more careful). Maybe this could be treated on a new article.

    • fecak

      Thanks for the comments, and your situation happens to lots of people in the industry at some point. I’m not sure there is any value of staying one year instead of 7-8 months, as it is still a relatively short stint no matter if you stay a year or not. Some of that advice would depend on how soon you lasted at your previous job(s). If you have a track record of leaving, sometimes it might be best to stick it out a little longer.

      • Dubliner

        I’ve stayed at my previous job for about 4 years, and I have moved because I got bored and my team was sold to another company. I didn’t want to relocate to another country. I guess I have plenty of reasons to justify my short stay at the current company.

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