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How to Leave a Bad Job Successfully

No matter your best efforts, you will have at least one bad job in your career.

Your job may have started off well, but you get a new boss, or you are moved to a new work team. Or, you had a great interview and didn’t notice the red flags about the organizational culture or the poisonous politics in the workplace. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided to move on.

Like many things in life, there is an intelligent way to leave a bad job. Follow these five tips below to keep a lousy job from ruining your chances for a great new one.

Check Yourself – How Could You Have Contributed to the Situation?

It is time to be brutally honest. How much of the bad work situation is your fault? Are you not putting in the effort to excel in your job? Have you made an honest effort to work with your boss and teammates?

How can you improve your work habits and become a better team player? No matter how good a professional you are, you can continuously improve. It may be too late for your current job, but your new skills and attitude will make you an asset in your new career.

Document All Your Successes and Positive Influences

You have had successes even in the worst jobs with a mean boss. Documenting your accomplishments and positive influences will be difficult, but it is a great way to help you heal in a toxic environment.

I was in a job where I had anxiety from the minute I entered work to the minute I walked to the Metro station to go home. I often skipped supper and went to bed early so I could forget about work. Documenting my successes and positive influences helped me put my work in perspective and allowed me to project a professional image in interviews.

Tie up Loose Ends

It is hard to be a professional when surrounded by angry colleagues and vindictive bosses but being professional is the best way to help you in your new job. Finish your projects or at least leave them in a good place so the person after you can move the projects forward. Document your best practices and leave them for your colleagues (while also taking copies for yourself of your documented best practices).

In interviews, you may be asked how you left your boss and colleagues as you move on. I’ve had interviewers tell me how they appreciated the care and attention I took to complete my projects and share my knowledge with my former organization. That is the actions of a true professional.

Recruit Your References

Unless you worked in a highly toxic workplace, you had at least one or two work friends. People who valued your contributions and had your back as you had theirs. You may have also befriended managers and colleagues outside of your primary office. Please keep them in your confidence as you execute your plan to leave your current job.

Ask your work friends if they would be willing to provide references for you. Now, please don’t do like what one person did where they recruited a friend to pose as their former boss. That is unethical. Instead, have your work friends testify to your excellent work ethic, professionalism, team player skills, and the success of your projects.

Protect Your Reputation

Former employers usually only give basic information about employees, such as dates of employment, job title, and salary. However, no federal laws prevent employers from disclosing any information about past employees. Some states have laws on what can be revealed, but employers can say whatever they want if the information is factual and accurate.

However, employers cannot say anything defamatory about an employee. Therefore, I recommend using a professional firm to check your references. Some job seekers ask friends to call and pretend to be a prospective employer checking a reference. I prefer a professional firm because they provide documentation that can be useful in sending to the employer’s Human Resources department or attorneys if a former employer is defaming you.

If you know that the former employer will reveal negative information, at least you can be prepared to address the negative information in the interview. Also, have your recruited references provide positive references to diminish the impact of the negative reference.

Don’t Let a Bad Job Derail Your Career

Whether fleeing a toxic work environment or taking your career in a different direction, having an exit plan keeps you focused and positive.

It is tempting to leave a bad boss in a bind because of how unfairly they treated you. But your reputation is more important than any fleeting satisfaction you will feel in doing to your boss or organization what they did to you. Living well by having a successful career is the best revenge.

The key to a successful career is knowing how to plot your journey to eliminate or minimize the bad jobs and find a great job that fits your talents and potential.

Dr. Bill Brantley works in the U.S. Navy Inspector General Office as a Senior Training Specialist where he is leading the project to build the Office’s first learning portal for nearly 1,000 employees in the enterprise. He has been a program manager for the Emerging Leader Program and Supervisor Certificate Program at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He also managed the Executive Coaching and the Career Coaching Programs. Dr. Brantley was awarded the 2019 Emerging Training Leader by Training Magazine and is an IPMA-HR SCP, a Certified Professional in Talent Development, an ROI certified professional, a certified data scientist, and a Certified Professional in Training Management. He is a certified Project Management Professional, a certified agile project manager, a certified professional in business analysis, and is certified in Disciplined Agile. He has completed over 200 hours of coaching training from the Neuroleadership Institute, the American Confidence Institute, emotional intelligence coaching, and the Global Team Coaching Institute. Dr. Brantley is an adjunct faculty member for the University of Louisville (20+ years) and the University of Maryland (8+ years). He is the author of the “Persuasive Project Manager” (2019) and “Four Scenarios for the Future of the Federal Government” (2019).

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