No one wants to feel regret after taking a new job. And yet, it’s something that happens often. In this piece, the author outlines steps you can take to avoid a painful career misstep: 1) Before you begin to think through your decision, outline your career goals and criteria for acceptance, laying out a roadmap for how you will evaluate each element. 2) During your interview, ask exploratory questions about employee engagement, growth potential, expectations, metrics, challenges faced, and how long people historically stay in their roles. 3) Beware of your cognitive biases as you try to make a decision. 4) And finally, before accepting an offer, make it a priority to network with employees who work for the company you’re interested in joining, and get their view of what it’s really like on the inside.
After receiving a full-time job offer to become a vice president for a rapidly expanding auto group, Jordan eagerly accepted. The company was quickly acquiring dealerships, and Jordan believed that she’d be able to work closely with the C-suite on strategic development. The CEO promised Jordan autonomy to shape and implement the corporate direction, which she saw as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Jordan and her family jumped in with both feet — her husband quit his job and they moved cross-country with their infant daughter so that Jordan could start her new position. Yet just one year later, Jordan’s starry-eyed hopes had dissolved into disappointment. She resigned, and she and her family moved back to their original home. As her executive coach, Jordan shared with me that contrary to what she had expected, the CEO was almost entirely uninvolved and had no vision of what her role could be. “He thought he was giving me high autonomy, but I felt abandoned and uninvolved,” she said.
Jordan’s example of boomeranging back after taking a new job may seem extreme, yet statistics tell a different story. A Harris poll conducted for USA Today found that about one in five workers who quit their job wish they had remained in their old position, and only around a quarter of job switchers say they’re satisfied enough with their new position to stay. Similarly, a recent study from The Muse found that almost three quarters of those surveyed reported that the new position or new company they quit their job for turned out to be “very different from what they were led to believe or thought it would be.” Nearly half of these workers said they would try to get their old job back thanks to an occurrence The Muse calls “shift shock.”
This trend has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused a lot of people to rethink their priorities and made workers less likely to stick around in an unfulfilling job. Yet finding yourself mired in regret after taking a new job can be not only emotionally upsetting, but also expensive — losing health benefits can tack an average of $541 per month onto your bills, and you might also have to dip into savings as you go through a new job hunt and interview process. The following four strategies can help ensure alignment between expectations and reality when accepting a job offer to help you avoid wishing you’d stayed put.
Structure your decision-making process
Getting a job offer is a great ego boost; it shows that you’re valuable and your skills are desired. However, it’s essential to think beyond the flattery and carefully consider what’s most beneficial for you and your career — both in the long- and short-term. Career decisions are complicated and risky, and maintaining your objectivity without a plan is next to impossible. Before you begin to think through your decision, outline your career goals and criteria for acceptance, laying out a roadmap for how you will evaluate each element. This ensures you won’t miss — or spend too much or too little time on — any piece of the equation. Most importantly, nail down your evaluation process before starting to consider the decision. That way, you’ll avoid inadvertently reworking your strategy in a way that reaffirms your biases.
Ask exploratory questions
Not every promise that’s made during an interview will be fulfilled. Some employers may optimistically paint an overly rose-colored picture of life in their organization, which can fuel unrealistic expectations on the part of job candidates about what to expect.
You can help avoid being led astray with some preemptive planning by diving deep into the culture and environment during interviews. It’s important to ask exploratory questions about employee engagement, growth potential, expectations, metrics, challenges faced, and how long people historically stay in their roles. Jordan, for example, could have clarified what her new role would entail by asking the CEO the following questions before accepting the offer:
- How often do you meet one-on-one with your senior staff?
- How often does your senior team meet?
- What would success in my role look like to you?
Beware of cognitive bias
Confirmation bias is the tendency to favor information that confirms what we already believe, like noticing and buying into stories that align with our current views. As Mark Mortensen points out, there are several types of confirmation biases, such as giving more credence to information that’s linked to a recent memory, so it’s important to identify and counter these biases before making life-altering decisions such as a career change.
One coaching client of mine who fell victim to confirmation bias was Yuri, who accepted an offer to join an HR benefits startup after being courted by its CEO. Yuri was asked to take over the finance function while the finance director was on leave. Yuri saw this as an opportunity to gain startup experience and make a big chunk of change to help pay off his law school debt. Six months later, disillusioned and disappointed, Yuri left the company. The problem was that he had convinced himself of the enormous financial potential of joining a startup, believing that the company would get acquired or go public to make his stock options worth multiples of their original value. Because he bought into what Mortensen calls “confirming evidence,” Yuri overlooked a clear warning sign: replacing someone who still worked at the company. Yuri also neglected to request details on defining his role and success criteria, and didn’t negotiate accelerated vesting of his stock options.
Seek an outside perspective
How can you understand an organization’s true commitment to employee development and determine whether it walks the walk, with a purpose bigger than its tagline? To learn whether a company’s values align with your own is difficult without first talking to people who already work there. Before accepting an offer, make it a priority to network with employees who work for the company you’re interested in joining, and get their view of what it’s really like on the inside.
Once you reach a tentative decision, discuss your decision-making criteria with people you know will challenge your assumptions, rather than relying on those who share your views. Look for individuals who have no vested interest in your ultimate choice, and tell them that they can help you most by being entirely honest.
With some thought and planful action, career regret doesn’t have to be a forgone conclusion. Lay out a roadmap for your decision making with clear criteria linked to your career goals, be aware of your assumptions and biases, and ask the right people the right questions before accepting a new position. Recognizing and discussing the realities of your role, responsibilities, and relationships up front can help you avoid a painful career misstep.