By Kerry J. Sulkowicz, M.D.
I recently quit my job—six weeks after landing it. The place just wasn't for me, and I was miserable. I'm pretty new to working, and now I'm worried about how this will look on my résumé. Was it rash to leave? Should I have stuck it out for a year, as some of my friends recommended? — Anonymous, New York
Sometimes the conventional wisdom—in this case, the idea that you should keep a job for at least 12 months—is wrong. While quitting so soon can be a sign of neurosis, it can also be a rational acknowledgment of a misguided choice, a poor fit, or a bad corporate culture.
How to evaluate your decision? One hallmark of emotional maturity is the ability to tolerate short-term discomfort, especially if it leads to a better future. So ask yourself if your quick exit stemmed from a less-than-mature impulse—panic about proving yourself, for instance, or an overreaction to an authority figure. If you have a pattern of bailing out, that's something to look at, too. Of course, self-awareness is just part of the equation. There are other reasons that people can be unhappy in a new job. For instance, there's only so much you can learn from the interview process, when managers tend to be on their best behavior. And if the work bears no resemblance to your expectations (or the interviewer's promises) or you see widespread unhappiness around you, it makes sense to head for the exit.
In fact, it might be the courageous choice. "I would never recommend that someone stay in a job situation in which they are miserable," Jeffrey Sisson, senior vice-president of global human resources at information provider IHS, told me. He adds a cautionary note, though: "This is recoverable—once."
WHICH BRINGS US to the risks. The key to damage control is to handle the situation tactfully but honestly. I hope you told your manager the truth, apologized for the trouble you caused (especially if you were trained), and showed gratitude if he or she showed some understanding. As you look for another position, don't give in to the temptation to leave this blip off your résumé. If a future employer finds out you had a job you hid, your integrity could be questioned. And as you interview, be aware that employers might worry that you resigned so quickly because you can't get along with others or complete projects. Make it clear that this isn't the case. (But don't insult your former employer in the process.) You could even try to turn the conversation into an opportunity to demonstrate your decisiveness and your ability to learn from a tough experience. After all, everybody is entitled to a bit of bad luck.
Kerry J. Sulkowicz, M.D., a psychoanalyst and founder of the Boswell Group, advises executives on psychological aspects of business. Send him questions at firstname.lastname@example.org