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by Perri Capell | March 31, 2009

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Question: How soon can you leave a job that's a poor fit without it looking bad on your resume? Two months after accepting a new role, I find it's not a good match for my skills, strengths and values. I am now job hunting in hopes of finding another position and then resigning, but I'm finding it hard to keep working because I'm so unhappy.

Answer: Landing a new position is easiest when your background raises as few questions as possible for a new employer. If you have a history of job jumping, or spending only a few months in each position, then leaving this new role after just a few months is going to add to the impression that you're a poor risk.

But if you have a stable work history, with two or more years at each employer, and can provide a good explanation for why you left this new job quickly, hiring managers aren't as likely to worry.

"If your previous history was very stable, it doesn't matter if you leave this job after a few months," says James Seeto, group leader of global sourcing and research for Invitrogen Corp., a pharmaceutical and biotechnology company in Carlsbad, Calif. "But if you have a history as a job jumper, leaving now isn't going to help."

What a new hire expects in a new role and what that job is really like can sometimes be so different that resigning quickly is the best solution. But two months isn't very long to make that call. Be sure that you've explored every alternative with your employer before cutting ties, advises Andy McGill, senior vice president of human resources for PMA Insurance Group, a property-and-casualty insurer based in Blue Bell, Pa.

Explain that the new position hasn't met your expectations and ask if there's a way to create a job that's a better match. If you are going to leave otherwise, there's little risk to having this discussion, says Mr. McGill. The upside is that your manager may be able to adjust your duties or add responsibilities so you don't have to leave.

"Making assumptions that nothing can be done is the worst thing to do with respect to a role," says Mr. McGill. "When people have told me they need to explore other career options, my reaction has been, 'I'm glad you said that because I have more responsibilities for you.' "

The other benefit of this discussion is that, if you decide to leave, you can tell prospective employers that you pursued other options at your past company but weren't able to agree on any.

To overcome a new employer's concerns, candidates who resign from new positions after only a few months should prepare a short, positive statement explaining their reason for leaving that doesn't blame their prior company. They also should be ready to say why accepting the position seemed like a wise decision at the time. "In some respects, leaving quickly indicates that a person didn't think through the decision to join the company carefully, so you need to overcome that issue and get to the next discussion," says Mr. McGill.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues
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