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My problem is basically as above: Went to a big 4 but recently got fired for underperformance within a few months of joining (couldn't handle the over work). However, every one now thinks I'm pro because I am ex big-4.

How should I balance expectations when applying to future jobs? I'm open to taking a salary cut for better work/life balance, but the general expectation here is that no one goes down on their salary unless something is wrong with them. So this is what I tell recruiters - I'm leaving the big4 because I'm looking for challenging work, but somewhere it feels like lying.

Are there any other strategies to handle my situation (post getting fired) better? I've savings, there is severance on the way, and I don't have major financial commitments, but self esteem has taken a hit. There is also a sense of guilt as it feels I'm lying when I don't want to.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Aug 5 at 6:26
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    @RaduMurzea It refers to Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, I believe. – Tuma Aug 5 at 9:24
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    @Davor Read Tuma's commen and check for the possibility that you may be wrong. Anyway, there is never anything wrong in adding extra clarity – David Aug 5 at 11:35
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    @Davor That's the problem! Each sector has their own "big four"! The term "big 4" has been used for Consulting firms before any of the "FAANGW" (W for whatever) were even founded. In any case, it's the IT sector "misusing" it – David Aug 5 at 12:01
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But you are a pro.

Always remember that. A recruiter at Bigcorp looked at you and went "you know, this is a pro I'd like to hire"

Working a bazillion hours a week isn't what makes the people at Bigcorp pro, it is the ambition and innovation. The bazillion hours just burn people like you out.

So present it like that, if they ask you to give a salary indication: "I liked the challenge and I liked the technology but the compensation was geared toward working a 80-hour week and now i'm looking for a better work-life balance" Or, as per Emilio's suggestion below: "... but the culture demanded an 80-hour work week and I'm looking for a better work-life balance." if you want to keep your cards closer to your chest.

90% of hiring managers will understand and I don't know if you would want to work for the remaining 10%.

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    This is a great point. You got hired. That was an great accomplishment. Own it. There's nothing harmful about the truth, even though it never feels good to get fired or laid off. I was recently told that there is a pretty huge turnover rate at these big players, for a simple reason. Their expectations are that you will make them a priority. If you are not willing to push your personal life into the background, they don't want you. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Aug 2 at 16:47
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    Great answer, but I wouldn't phrase it as "...the compensation was geared..." unless you want to signal your willingness to take a pay cut very early, because that's what that is. Alternative: "... but the culture demanded an 80-hour work week and I'm looking for a better work-life balance." – Emilio M Bumachar Aug 3 at 13:58
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    Why do people claim that this is a good answer? It totally misrepresents the situation. Nowhere in the question it is written that OP worked 80 hours a week or that this was required. Moreover, it is very unlikely that anywhere in the industry the compensation was geared toward working a 80-hour week. Usually even higher level managers understand that it is unrealistic to think that the average person will work even above 35 hours per week. The job might be hard, but not because of 80 hours a week, but rather because of constantly changing requirements and learning new things every day. – Salvador Dali Aug 4 at 2:59
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    Maybe I am part of the 10%, because I don't see why getting a job and then getting fired is an achievement. It may not be a disadvantage in this case, but definitely nothing I would count in favour of the candidate. – Chris Aug 4 at 5:44
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    @everyone just to play devils advocate: those hiring interviews are also very flaky. You can randomly get a few questions you practiced a day ago and you already have high chances, the interviewer might be in a good mood (got a promotion yesterday) and decides to ignore a few drawbacks. Humans are humans. But what is usually very strange is to be fired after a few months. Because here it is not up to a few whimsical humans to fire you. The corporation has to go through the bureaucracy to fire you. Just to collect all the anti-suing docs about firing can take 2-3 months. – Salvador Dali Aug 5 at 2:14
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How should I balance expectations when applying to future jobs?

I would position this as "the amount of hours required to accomplish what was expected was way more than I anticipated." Everyone typically understands when you are overworked, you are going to burn out, and eventually not meet expectations. At that point, you either quit and move on or are let go.

Just because you don't want to work to death doesn't mean you are not a professional.

Are there any other strategies to handle my situation (post getting fired) better?

Make sure you understand the expectations from a time and output perspective. You definitely do not want to get into another high performing / sweatshop situation.

but self esteem has taken hit.

This is natural, but do not let it impact you too much. Every person has limitations, and this process you went through is part of learning yours.

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The first step is understanding what actually happened. Because there is a difference between "I had to put in a lot of hours because I wasn't ask skilled as expected" and "I had to put in a lot of hours because the workplace expected it due to being Big Four."

This may require a lot of self-examination which you might not be up to doing, but it will help you understand what you are looking for in a position. I'm going to tackle "I wasn't as skilled as expected" first.

The key to growing in your career is being honest with yourself about your skill level while also understanding that you will very likely improve over time. I've been a software engineer for about 40 years and the me from 40 years ago doesn't hold a candle to the me today. There were times, early in my career, when I struggled quite a bit, but eventually I found my thing and my career took off like a rocket. But if I'd stuck with what I was doing most of the first ten years of my career, I'd have grown increasingly unhappy and likely been unable to retain a job. Which is why understanding your passion is so important. If you aren't enjoying your work, you are very likely to underperform relative to your peers. If this is you, you need to find a workplace where performance pressure is a bit lower and you're able to find a mentor and grow your skills. This is remarkably easy to do.

The second possibility seems like it may be closer to your situation, but the uncertainty is why I decided to answer. Working in a sweatshop is no fun, even if the pay is fantastic. I make phat a year, and while I don't mind putting in hours (it's 6:30PM on a Friday, I started at 6:45AM, and I'm getting just a bit weary of my hours of late, but I know that will change), even I hate working entirely too much. And I'm a chronic workaholic. The harsh reality is that some "highly competitive workplaces" can expect a lot of hours and some even pay far better than others. The even more harsh reality is that professions in fields which involve deadlines and "heavy seasons" (retail, tax filing, software ...) are just plain like that. When I was at the company where I worked the longest, every release some department was completely hammered -- months on end of heavy hours. Because of my role in my department, I typically logged huge hours for 3-6 months at a time every 2 or 3 years. I absolutely loved it, but I'm ... a chronic workaholic.

The good news is that there are honest answers which can address both situations, and sometimes you don't even have to give an answer. Just about anything can be explained with "my previous position wasn't a good fit", with a bit of "I'm looking for better work-life balance" tossed in for good measure. Companies will tell you about training opportunities, and a company with a tuition reimbursement program can be very helpful in terms of demonstrating that the company values learning.

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    This is what I suspect "big-4-ness" really means. It is a trick to see who are easiest to make put in extra hours just to look cool. – mathreadler Aug 3 at 13:09
  • It's more than that. Every industry has companies which attract top talent. And for all of those companies, there are people who are a) willing and able to put in a ton of high-quality work, b) able, but not willing, and c) just not able. I worked at a company where just having them on my resume opened a lot of doors, and it was definitely well-worth having been there as long as I was. – Julie in Austin Aug 6 at 16:43
  • Trust me... It's a trap. – mathreadler Aug 6 at 16:45
  • @mathreadler - Well ... having worked for one of the largest and most prestigious companies in my area for a while, it was worth it. It might have been a "trap", but since then I've been able to get jobs based solely on having worked where I did, doing what I did, for as long as I did. If that's a "trap", sign me up for more "traps". – Julie in Austin Aug 7 at 18:36
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I recently quit a great paying job at a large company. I did it to move across the country to find better opportunities, as well as better weather.

I told recruiters what pay I expected at the current role and not what I was previously getting. What I was looking for was $10k less than that previous job. If a recruiter pressed me on my previous compensation, I told them and continued on to say that I didn't want to miss a great opportunity simply because of a wage difference.

As far as reasons for leaving, I said I wanted to work on a different project, as well as mentioning the climate change. Don't lie to the recruiters, because they will find out or guess one way or another, but make sure to tell them something that will essentially distract them from a possible negative in why you are leaving. Stating that you are looking for a better work-life balance comes off as both a negative and positive (which most recruiters will understand), but stating that you don't want to continue working 60-80 hours a week comes off as negative. It's taken as criticism of the company as well as them wondering why it took you 60-80 hours to get your job complete. Some recruiters will understand it's the company dumping too much on their employees, and some will think you are just a lazy/slow worker. They forget that slow/lazy workers don't spend 60-80 hours at work.

As Borgh mentioned, you are a pro. Getting hired at one of these companies is tough. The fact that you got in there at all shows how good you are. Just because you couldn't keep up with the uber-OCD or hyperactive people they like, it doesn't mean you are bad at your job. What it does mean is that you are more normal than their average employee and not willing to literally kill yourself to make others rich. This is a good thing. The fact that you even tried to work for one of these companies shows that you are willing to work hard and are more than likely to be a high performer at any other company. I have a friend that used to work at what was essentially a technical sweatshop. He is much happier in a different job. He also felt like a failure after leaving the job, but eventually realized his worth as well as the unrealistic expectations of that former position.

It might feel like a failure, but failure is often just a reminder that you aren't ready for that task and there are always more options to keep trying. Feeling bad for a while is natural. Getting fired hurts, even when it's for the best, including maintaining your sanity. Just try to realize it was their unrealistic expectations that got you fired, not anything you did. If they hadn't fired you, you'd shortly be burnt out and worth less to other companies. Not worthless, just less inclined to work hard for someone else after such a bad experience. Been there, done that.

Take your time to make sure your next position has realistic expectations. Since you have some money in hand and on the way, you don't have to jump at the next job and simply hope it's better. Take some time and make sure you actually want to be there.

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