I'm in a tough situation. I took a new job six months ago after a year-long job hunt, and I signed a confidentiality agreement that prohibits me from discussing the company's business, including its financial state, with outsiders. But because I work with financial data, I can see clearly that the company is struggling, and it's likely that I will be out of a job soon. I need to job hunt, but because I can't share the reason for my job change, I'm worried that employers will view me as a job-hopper for switching jobs so quickly. What do you advise?
I understand your concern, but waiting to look until you get laid off—if indeed that is in the cards—may be a bad move, because there's a good chance there would be little or no severance money available. And even though being laid off is certainly preferable to being fired for cause, it's not the very best way to present yourself to employers after a fairly short tenure on the job. So I definitely think you should be actively job-hunting now.
You have signed an agreement that prohibits you from discussing the company's financial difficulties, but you may not be prohibited from discussing the agreement itself. Reread your confidentiality agreement and see whether it includes wording preventing you from discussing the fact that you've signed it.
If it doesn't, then you can say to prospective employers, "I wish I could say more about my reasons for leaving. Certainly it has been a lovely assignment and I have terrific relationships with everyone in the company, but when I took the job I signed a confidentiality agreement that makes it impossible to share more of the specifics."
If you're not certain what you are and aren't allowed to discuss under the agreement, invest in one visit to an employment attorney to make sure. And while you're there, ask the employment attorney whether you could also say to a prospective employer, "Circumstances have changed since I accepted the position. It's a shame, but it's appropriate for me to make a move."
Despite your brief time on the job, you should be able to talk about at least one or two very specific accomplishments—projects completed, new customers signed on, or products launched—to show that you haven't been treading water during your six months of employment. Talk about how much you've learned and how you can apply that to the next assignment.
Above all, be upbeat and forward-looking, to show that the disappointment of taking a job in a company that turned out to be struggling isn't getting you down. After all, the luckiest of us never stop having learning experiences, right? Good luck, Fran!