So You Made a Bad Career Move — Now What?

May 20, 2024

We’ve all heard the horror stories: James accepted a promotion with a new company... only to get laid off a month later when the economy dipped. Lisa ignored some red flags and made a career move based on a trusted friend’s recommendation; however, a month in, the new company started breaking promises and blurring ethical lines. Evan went to work for a competitor when they offered him a huge raise, but after a few months, he realized it was a mistake — it just wasn’t a good cultural fit.

When someone makes a bad career move, it can be frustrating, stressful, even embarrassing — they might find themselves thinking, I should have known better. To make matters worse, it can be difficult to explain a short stint on a resume to a prospective new employer, especially if there’s a pattern of “job hopping.”

The important thing to remember is that it’s human to make mistakes. What’s important is what you do next — what you learn from your mistakes. Here, four of our industry experts offer their advice to candidates on how to move forward after a career misstep.

Take the time to understand what went wrong.

“Accepting a position with a new company is accepting many unknowns — sometimes with unexpected or undesirable circumstances,” says Vice President Michael Murphy. There’s always a learning curve with a new job and a certain amount of stress or uncertainty is to be expected. But if you really feel like something’s wrong and you need to make a change, Market Leader Mike Frosaker suggests, “Have a conversation with someone you trust — your spouse, a friend, or a coworker. Discuss your concerns and try to problem-solve. Then have an honest conversation with your supervisor or the owner of the company. If nothing changes about your situation, begin your search.”

By taking the time to think through your options and attempt to solve any issues within your control, you can give yourself a very clear understanding of what the issues are, how you attempted to work through them, and why resigning is the best option for everyone. This will be helpful when you discuss the situation in future interviews.

Be honest and upfront.

When it comes time to find a new job, don’t try to hide or dismiss what happened. Instead, bring it up early in the process and take ownership of the error. “Instead of focusing on why it was a poor decision and how things went wrong,” suggests Associate Max Gunther, “highlight the lessons you learned and how it helped you grow as a professional.” Executive Vice President Meredith Love agrees, adding, “Everyone wants to hire people who take responsibility for their mistakes and learn from them. It is a chance to showcase your high EQ.” Be sure to speak about the situation diplomatically and professionally, though. Love cautions, “Blaming or complaining raises red flags.”

Murphy adds that one of the major concerns for hiring managers when they see “job hopping” on a candidate’s resume is that the candidate might not be able to adjust to new environments and accommodate changes well. To address that concern directly, he suggests “giving examples of when and where you were able to overcome interpersonal conflicts and adapt to new systems or circumstances.”

Don’t make the same mistakes twice.

“Everyone makes mistakes in their career and most are not insurmountable,” Gunther says. “But not everyone learns from those mistakes.” Finding a company that is a true cultural fit and offers long-term growth opportunities that align with your career goals is not an easy thing to do. Put in the time to investigate each prospective employer — do your research on the company, the supervisor you’d be reporting to, and other employees. Ask good questions in the interview. Show the hiring manager that you don’t take making a career move lightly, and that you don’t intend to make the same mistakes twice.

Changing jobs is stressful under the best circumstances, and it can feel downright impossible when you feel like you have the black cloud of a bad career move hanging over your head. But by making the effort to understand what went wrong, communicating clearly and honestly about it with new employers, and putting in the work to ensure you don’t repeat your mistakes, you can set yourself up for a second chance at long-term career success.

We appreciate Mike Frosaker, Max Gunther, Meredith Love, and Michael Murphy for contributing their unique perspectives to this article.

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