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A friend of mine just started a new job and already it's clear he's not a good fit for the position. He's not performing to their expectations and frankly he's not happy either. He's not under a contract, nor is he salaried (it's pure commission). How can he professionally and gracefully extract himself from the situation and pursue other opportunities?

ETA: Whether he sticks with it or not (he's not sure yet), I figured the question was a good one. For the purposes of answering, please assume there's no way to recover and continue on (he's still looking into clarification on the expectations and so on and so forth)

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Possible related question: Should I quit because I'm not up to the job?. Also, other questions in the job-change tag might also be useful. –  jcmeloni Dec 19 '12 at 1:00
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Yeah, from other questions on here we've gleaned that it's better to leave early than late, and we should just omit this from his resume, but the question is how to go about it without ill will. –  Yamikuronue Dec 19 '12 at 1:07
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Are you then asking what (literally) to say in a resignation letter? Or, does this help? How do I maintain a good relationship with an employer after resigning? –  jcmeloni Dec 19 '12 at 1:08
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Is the position with any sort of "trial period"? He could just use this an opportunity to walk away, same as the company could just not keep him once the trial period is over... –  Rachel Keslensky Dec 19 '12 at 1:15
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@RachelKeslensky Not from what I'm told, but they literally hired him on the spot with minimal negotiation or details explained ahead of time. I suspect they sold him on the job based on faulty conceptions of what it would be. –  Yamikuronue Dec 19 '12 at 13:15
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5 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The level of diligence at extracting oneself gets more complicated the more an employee has:

  • developed close working ties with others - team members, customers, managers, etc.
  • contributed to the long term vision and progress of the company
  • required corporate support for learning to do the job

The point being, you want to be a lot more sensitive to the manager and company's needs when they have put a lot of trust in you, gotten to know you intensely, and spent a lot of money/employee time training you. The more investment in these areas - the longer and more careful the handoff.

It sounds to me like the person in question is on the less-connected end of things - no salary/hourly rate tells me that his learning curve cost only the time of another employee to train him. The company could afford many non-productive employees on commission as they loose nothing when the employee does nothing. That's a pretty lightly connected role.

In that case, when all hope is lost, these would be my steps:

  1. Book a time with the direct manager - private, 1 hour, and at an appropos time (don't kill the guy's lunch break, don't do it the day before Christmas, if possible skip a case where he's got day so full of meetings he'll have no time to breathe before or after).
  2. Complete Honesty - "this isn't working for me - here's why - I'm not good in XYZ ways, I don't enjoy it for this primary reason, I suspect you feel the same. So I've decided it would be best for all of us if I don't work here."
  3. Final feedback - "do you agree?" - seriously. I know you mentioned that the employee would have done all the pre-quitting work of eliciting feedback, asking for resources, etc. But there's often a disconnect with management of the difference of "I need X" and "I am quitting now, because I don't have X".
  4. Summary/closure - chances are good that they can't improve the job. But there's always a one last hope. I'd treat that with utmost doubt - if all hope's lost, it's lost for a reason... a few words are unlikely to change it... but you never quite know. Either way - make sure you wrap up with "so here's my notice - X is my last day" to make it absolutely crystal clear that the job is over.
  5. Handoff questions - Having made it clear, check what must be done to wrap up employment. Check the HR site and have a list ready so you seem clueful and thoughtful, but be prepared to add to it.
  6. Thank you - thank your boss for the opportunity. He took a chance on you. It didn't work out. But that doesn't mean he didn't give you a shot.

Be prepared with:

  • a note taking mechanism. For noting down any other last tasks.
  • a formal resignation letter. They are usually short and sweet. They don't even necessarily have a reason. Most important part is your name, your contact info, and your last day.
  • (it depends) - prepacked stuff - different workplaces have different policies but be prepared with whatever the norm is. At the very least, have most of your stuff organized and anything deeply sentimental already gone.

Avoid:

  • accusations - it's rare that massive job dissatisfaction is 100% the other party's fault. To keep the positive impression avoid accusatory wording - "you lied to me" vs. "the job was not as originally described" - may mean the same thing, but have very different effects.
  • apologies - it's not 100% your fault either, so don't apologize for something you couldn't know or for being a different type of person than the kind of person who is happy with this job.
  • lack of clarity - if you really think that being truthful will cause massive damage to relationships, perhaps you can simply say "I'm not sure I can be clear", but often being vague can come off as being uncertain, or confused. If you can find a non-accusatory way of stating a specific problem, you may just help with the company's efforts to hire your replacement
  • promises you can't keep - this includes the date of your last day, and any work you will get done before you leave. Don't say you'll do something and not do it, it leaves a very poor impression.
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Most of the time if a position isn't working out there's stress on both sides. An open, honest discussion can go a long way here. Sometimes you'll find that while the culture wants to challenge and push you to the extreme (or you feel challenged beyond your ability because of the work and the people around you), talking to your supervisor can sometimes reveal that people think you're doing much better than you are. Many places aren't so great at mentorship and people can come away feeling like they're doing a crap job when in reality they're doing much better than the other new person next to them.

This happened to me once when, after being in a new position for about 5 months, I basically walked into the company's owner's office and was ready to offer up my job. He assured me I was doing much better that perhaps the company let on, but that the company just has extremely high expectations, so there wasn't a lot of praise to go around for good work.

Another thing to remember is that a lot of time and effort goes into training and hiring on both the employee and employer side of things. However, if someone truly isn't working out, it's often a relief to both parties if the employee sees this, brings it to their supervisor, and puts a plan together before waiting for what might become an inevitable quitting or firing. The important thing is not to fear the quitting or firing, but discussing openly what's really going on, and trusting that you can work it out.

I've been in stressful/high speed crazy employment situations a few times. One time I wasn't performing up to expectations and I knew it. I was unhappy and was looking to actually change positions within the company rather than quit. I was also doing this inside a company culture where people didn't sympathize with hardship or challenges so much - it was a "sink or swim" kind of place.

So, I decided to talk honestly to my supervisor, even though I felt (at the time) that I might be risking my job doing so. The conversation went something like this:

My supervisor's name was John:

Me: "Hey John. I'm really struggling out here, and to be honest I'm not sure I'm very good at being a Team Lead. It seems to me that, while I could learn to be a pretty decent manager, I've certainly discovered that I don't have a passion for it, and I think it's affecting my work."

John: "I agree."

Me: "I also think that I have talents that could be better used elsewhere in the company. In fact, I'd really like to try to move into a position in [some other department]."

John: "Well, Jeff. I really appreciate you coming to me. I see you're not doing so well, and yet in terms of time in the position, you're one of the most senior Team Leads we have right now. I agree that you've got definite skills, but here's the thing: I can't move you out of your position (even if we both thing you'd be better there) without you really giving me something. What you're asking for is basically a promotion. I can't move you into a new role until I see you get your team into shape. Look at your team's performance numbers. This is garbage, and I think we both know that."

Me: "Yeah, it's not good. What's it going to take to get this fixed?"

John: "I'll tell you what. You get [performance numbers 'x' and 'y'] to [this metric], and we'll talk seriously about this."

What this conversation did for me was a couple of things.

First, it lowered my fear of just talking honestly about a problem by simply pointing out the elephant in the room. John, certainly, was feeling that he was having trouble getting me to meet my performance numbers, and I felt the stress of trying while feeling that my skills were probably better used in a technical role, even though it was my own actions in previous years that got me into a management role in the first place.

Second, it put John into a position to set a really clear goal for me: get 'x' to given metric - that's all I had to do. Since I was unhappy in my role, and by mutual agreement I wasn't living up to expectations, the two of us had a clear place to go, and a simple way to measure my progress.

Given that we both agreed upon the problem, and the goal was clearly stated, it was up to me to get myself out of the problem. My fear was assuaged when I realized that rarely (unless a company is downsizing) does an employer just flat want to get rid of someone. By opening a conversation, you can really help yourself out of things. This simple conversation, however, led me to getting out of that position and into a better one in less than 8 weeks.

I eventually left that company a year or so later, after I realized that the culture fit just wasn't there. However, I left on great terms, knowing exactly what it was I wanted in my next role, and in a good relationship with my former employer with a recommendation to boot. The good parting happened largely because I was honest with myself, and I brought my boss into a place where we could just talk it out.

People can be a lot more reasonable than we fear at times.

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If the decision to resign has been made, there are two parts to actually doing it.

One is the act of resigning - you do that just like you would in any other job by writing a resignation letter, thanking everyone for the opportunity to work with them, commenting on how great the team is, and wishing everyone the very best in everything while unfortunately you have to pursue other opportunities.

The second thing you have to do is make sure that you leave on good terms. IMHO the best way to go is to have an informal conversation with your manager and closest colleagues explaining the reasons for why you are leaving, always in a positive light. Presumably you will be able to reach a higher degree of understanding while being able to say certain things that you would otherwise not want to state 'on record' in a letter.

Unforunately not all job hirings work out. Sometimes this is the fault of the employee for not delivering on the promises, other times it's the fault of the hiring managers for not hiring the right match, and sometimes it's just a changing business environemnt. That's just life.

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+1 for addressing the second paragraph of the question. A large number of hires do not work out. It is quite acceptable to simply say "It has become clear to me that this is not a good fit" and leave it at that, if desired. –  JAGAnalyst Dec 20 '12 at 21:53
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Quitting may be the way to go, or it may not. Sometimes people take new roles in order to challenge themselves, and that can be difficult. They may make mistakes at first and find it very uncomfortable, however often they can learn and improve quickly. If this position is something your friend wants to do then he should stick with it. If it isn't what he wants to do he should have a talk with his manager and explain the situation. Maybe there are changes that can be made to improve the situation like a slightly different role, or more management support. If not, at least there's a good chance of a graceful exit that would give both sides time to ready the transition.

I wouldn't just hand in my notice or walk out without having talking to the company first, it is not professional, and also there may be opportunities missed as a result.

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All he has to do is write a short note to his manager. "Thank you for the opportunity, but I have decided to pursue another opportunity before the world ends on Friday December 21st."

Really, he has to say very little. The company doesn't pay him anything until he sells, so they have almost no investment. I expect the turnover is quite high.

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I disagree it is professional to quit a job with that explanation shortly after starting. To keep a resignation like that professional, I think there needs to be some sort of explanation other than "I'm pursuing other opportunities." Any hiring manager will rightly be annoyed at someone who does that considering they likely sent rejections out to other candidates assuming the new employee would start, stopped the interview process, etc. –  enderland Dec 19 '12 at 7:00
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While giving a reason isn't necessary, I'd expect a bit more professional courtesy than making a joke about it. You may one day need this person as a reference. However, it depends on the corporate culture. Maybe you, with your relationship to your employer, could get away with this and be perfectly fine. But in this instance, the asker doesn't seem to work at a place that would find such a statement amusing. Therefore, I'd suggest making that clear in your post that this approach might not be a one-size fits all approach that works for all. Hope this helps! –  jmort253 Dec 19 '12 at 8:12
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Given his brief tenure and his self-diagnosed poor performance, why would he use that job or his supervisor as a reference? Depending on how long he has been there, if he is considering looking for other opportunities, he should start immediately before he has to account for the time he has been on this job. If his pay is based solely on commission, the employer really isn't losing anything if he walked out tomorrow. In fact, the sooner he leaves, the quicker both parties can recover from his lack of engagement toward this position. –  Neil T. Dec 19 '12 at 9:25
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Is this a joke answer? –  tehnyit Dec 19 '12 at 13:49
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@tehnyit: yes, partially. I expected that readers would separate the joke from the answer, but it seems I was mistaken. –  kevin cline Dec 19 '12 at 17:28
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