Why Competent People Quit

Would you believe that in this rather tough economic climate, I have now personally heard from no less than three people in the last two days who have quit their jobs? And I might add that in all three situations, these people are competent professionals who don’t quit employment easily or often.

So what’s going on out there? I know that all three individuals read my posts, and rest assured I won’t be giving away your identities or exposing you to the minions of the internet! However, there are some lessons to be learned and some truths to be exposed in all three situations. Perhaps in the interest of helping others without injuring those concerned, I can share and gloss over to some degree a little with you the reader.

All three situations have some relevant and critical features that link them together, but the most striking is that all three individuals elevated their concerns to the right people instead of just announcing that they were quitting out-of-the-blue. In other words, there was a chance in all three situations that by bringing attention to significant problems, all three might have retained their positions if change had come about. Unfortunately, no change of significance did happen, and the result is that all three made a personal decision to seek employment in other places.

In two of the three situations, the jobs that people quit were ones that they had recently accepted. Didn’t these two do their homework? Didn’t they know what they were walking into? The answer actually is that both did in fact do some research and the jobs they were promised and the situations they would work in differed from the ones presented by the employer at the interview stage. No amount of planning, research and preparation can prepare you for a job if the job itself morphs into something different, or there is a significant change in hours, the job description, the location etc.

In one of the situations, the person resigned from a job to take the new position, and after three weeks on the job, the employer actually cut the position itself but retained the employee, and created a new position that differed substantially from the position the person had agreed to take when leaving their former employer. The result in that case was that the person told me that they felt they were doomed to fail in the new position because they were honest enough to admit they didn’t have the skills required to perform that job at a high level. So rather than accept a higher salary for a short time and then get fired, they took the high road and resigned.

Another factor involved in one persons decision was the attitude of the person to whom the employee reported to. That’s a hard thing to gauge at an interview. In this situation there is a history of people accepting the job which she did and then the position becoming vacated and advertised for. Sooner or later I suspect but will never know, if those in more senior positions from that company don’t draw the conclusion that it isn’t the applicants that are the problem but the supervision they are receiving. Perhaps that’s where the change is needed.

I am very interested in staying connected with these three individuals. Aside from being competent employees with personal ethics, skills and self-motivation, they are all professionals. Each of them will, if they include the positions on their future resumes, have to explain why they resigned and opted to look for work elsewhere. What will they say? I can tell you that all three will refrain from bad-mouthing the previous employers while at the same time being honest.

The injustice is that when you leave a position for reasons that are entirely justified, you still have to hope and trust that the new employer you are being interviewed by believes your story. And this element of doubt; that, “You’ve got to believe me” feeling, is unfortunate. The reason? Well the employer doesn’t HAVE to believe you do they? There are some people out there who quit jobs for very poor reasons, and in those situations the employer is entirely in the right and the employee is the problem.

So from the view of the new employer, they have the unenviable job of discerning which of the two you are; the disgruntled applicant who quit with poor justification or the applicant who quit their last job for reasons that were entirely justified.

When speaking of why you resigned from a position, good general advice is to be honest, succinct and to keep calm and in control as you are speaking. Your answer or reply should also end on a positive note. Any feelings of anger, revenge, and although it’s a strong word – hate, should be reigned in. In fact, doing a mock interview with a professional to answer this one specific question is a good idea. The question, “Why did you leave your last position?” or possibly even, “How would you describe your previous employer?”

Crafting an answer that is honest, doesn’t belittle the previous employer, and shows your professionalism, ethics, reasoning and good judgement is going to serve you well.

Who Are You? Vs. What Do You Want To Be?

I’ve written previously about the topic of career direction and coming to a clear idea of what it is you’d like to be doing in the future. Knowing what kind of employment you’d like makes it easier for others to be on the lookout for jobs you’d be interested in, leads, contacts and mentors have a better understanding of how to help you move forward.

That being said, when someone asks you, “What do you want to be?”, doesn’t it make you feel somehow inadequate here in the present? The reason perhaps behind the feelings that emerge is because the person asking the question is implying or stating quite plainly that where you are and where you want to be aren’t the same place.

I made this mistake once when I asked a client who had obtained a job as a Dishwasher, what he really wanted to be. “A Dishwasher” is all he said. “Oh I know that’s what you do now, but looking ahead, what do you really want to be?” “A Dishwasher. I’m happy doing this”. You see I had imposed my own set of values unintentionally, believing that like me, he only saw the position of Dishwasher as a step to something else, such as an entry level in the restaurant business, and one day he’d like to Prep, Cook and then perhaps run the kitchen and maybe one day the business itself. Not everybody aspires to the same things.

So when we ask a youth, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, it is stated in the question that they are not fully grown, and there is a gulf between the now and the future mature adult. What would the response be however, if well-meaning people stopped asking “What do you want to be when you grow up”, and started asking, “Tell me about yourself”, or “So how are you doing?” Asking someone to tell you about themselves doesn’t have to be a single scripted response like in a job interview. And subsequent open-ended questions are good techniques to draw them into a conversation.

Taking the time to find out who someone is, what makes them happiest, what fuels their enthusiasm, and of course what their existing skills, education and experience is forms a good foundation to knowing the person. It is upon a foundation then that conversations can turn to the future. So asking, “What do you want to do when you grow up” actually dismisses the present and the past, and there is an expectation in the question that it should be answered with something different from the present.

People can’t move forward really if they are content and happy with their present. Take the person in their existing job in an office. If an opening comes up for a senior position, why is it that all the people one step below that position don’t apply? The answer may have more than one simple answer, such as some who want the job aren’t fully trained in their present role yet, the educational requirements aren’t met, or it could be that some folks have the training, have the expertise, the education and the opportunity, but they fail to apply because they are happy in their current role.

This is a hard concept for some to wrap their head around if they themselves see the position as a highly coveted career, and they would apply in a second if they could realistically compete. Envy the person however who is so satisfied with their current position and how they perform in it, that they can turn down additional responsibility and income and lose no sleep over it. After all, how many times does a person get to take a step back in an organization without being labelled as an under-achiever if they realize the job they had was more fulfilling? You can be sure that the water cooler discussion would certainly be lively about someone who reverted to a job they once held.

Suppose people walked around with a sign on their forehead that said, “Happy with my present job”, “Doing demeaning work”, “Ambitious and destined for better things”, “Stuck” or “Stalled in my Career”. If this were the case it would be easier to know where you were starting from and who needed any help you might be in a position to give. Thankfully, we aren’t that transparent, but it means we have to take the time to ask the questions, probe without being pushy, and encourage people to be honest and open if they are to truly reveal where they are today so we can either just congratulate them in their happiness, or aid them moving forward.

Sometimes we are so programmed to be the helpers, we want to move others forward to places we expect and assume they want to be when in fact they have already reached either a long-awaited plateau or the destination they were striving for. It’s like we assume people are going on a lengthy quest when in fact they are just heading out to the corner store for a bag of milk. But a quest would be so much more rewarding and fulfilling! To whom?

Who you are? Who you want to be? What do you enjoy doing today? What would you like to be doing one day? Ask the right questions.