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First, they notice a short period of work on your résumé, and they will ask you about that.

I want to flat-out lie because this reason for leaving is absolutely unacceptable. However, I hear of people leaving for this exact reason, or worse, being fired because they simply could not perform in the manner which was expected of them.

Don't tell me that I have no business working in the first place if things didn't work out for me when I knew less. Everybody experiences setbacks. Everybody can learn. Sometimes, they didn't know anything better than to quit.

Yes, I did my research, learned a few things, but had no opportunity to implement what I learned because I could not get hired. So, what "redemptive story" could I tell the interviewer then? I don't think "I was quite young then and was less experienced in life. I have done my research, have learned, and am looking forward to implementing them for this position" is good [enough].

I don't think they want to hear WHY it was tough for you, even if you truly were not supported, you were bullied/harassed, the expectations were too high, etc. They always think if I've done something negative, I'll do it to them, too. So no matter what, to their eyes, it's my fault. But then it's strange as to why they would call me for an interview if they saw the short work period on my résumé.

  • I will tell them a totally different story so that it doesn't sound like I quit because it was too hard. For example, I would tell them that it was not a good fit or I had a medical condition. – Mickael Caruso Oct 14 '15 at 17:55
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Describing it as "too hard" invites them to wonder if you will find this job too hard. Instead, learn to describe it as "a bad fit for my skills". You need to convince not just your interviewers of this attitude, but yourself.

Some jobs require tremendous attention to tiny details and keeping mental checklists and never forgetting anything. For some people, that's too hard. Some jobs require lifting up out of tiny details to see the big picture and the sweeping vision. For some people, that's too hard. Some jobs require empathy and compassion and seeing everyone's point of view and always striving for consensus and win-win. For some people, that's too hard. Some jobs require setting aside emotions and personal desires and doing what wins the war or makes the most money or produces the greatest overall gain. For some people, that's too hard.

Describing your old job as "too hard" is not helping yourself in the slightest. You need to do some reflection and self examination to find out what specific skills it needed that you either didn't have or didn't like using. Then when asked you can say:

It was a bad fit. It was not clear when they hired me that they needed X and X is just not one of my skills. I gave it a good try but when it became clear what an important part X was of the job we agreed I should move on.

If since then you've vastly improved your X, you can say so.

One final tip: don't meet trouble halfway. Nobody has commented or answered "you have no business working in the first place" so why are you pre-arguing with that? Who told you "They always think if I've done something negative, I'll do it to them, too"? Breathe in and breathe out. As you say, you have landed an interview. Your short job is just one part of your story. Learn how to see it positively and you will have learned how to present it positively in an interview. Focus on what you have to offer and what you enjoy doing, and not on an imaginary battle between you and the interview where you will force them to hire you even though you may not deserve it.

  • I have been told "I have no business..." in other forums. – Mickael Caruso Oct 13 '15 at 13:42
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    Well, if you are told something unfriendly and unhelpful by one interviewer, will you start your interview with the next by ordering them not to say something (that perhaps they never intended to say), putting negative ideas in their head, and souring the mood? That would be a very bad plan. Let each interview (and each online q&a) unspool as it will - don't meet trouble half way. – Kate Gregory Oct 13 '15 at 13:57
  • Could you tell me what the difference is between "meeting trouble half-way" and preparing for something hard you know you'll have to answer to? Why is it bad to "pre-argue"? I've always equated that with preparation. – Mickael Caruso Oct 13 '15 at 14:29
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    Preparation is "if the interview says/asks X, I will answer Y". Meeting trouble halfway is saying out loud with your mouth to the interviewer, who hasn't said X or even hinted at it yet, "Don't you dare say X to me! Everybody knows Y!!" The tone is argumentative and correcting and judging, and the interviewer hasn't said X and maybe never would and you may have offended them, you've certainly snapped at them, and for what? You may cause what you were trying prevent. Relax and let it come to you. You can be ready for trouble without going out to find it. – Kate Gregory Oct 13 '15 at 14:46
  • I wasn't going to tell "don't you dare..." to an interviewer. That, I know is inappropriate. – Mickael Caruso Oct 13 '15 at 14:52
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As an interviewer, my concern would be that everyone does have setbacks. Everyone can learn. But relatively few people quit when faced with setbacks, or instead of learning.

I don't think they want to hear WHY it was tough for you, even if you truly were not supported, you were bullied/harassed, the expectations were too high, etc.

Yes, I absolutely want to know that. Let's face facts here: you failed at that position. I need to evaluate if you are going to fail in the role I am considering you for, so I'm going to want to know how similar that role is to mine, and why you failed in it. If you failed because you weren't given the mentoring needed, and my company is bad at mentoring, then I probably will prefer other candidates. If my company is great at mentoring, then that is less of an issue.

If you just didn't have the skills to succeed in the role, then I can ask about those skills to see what has changed. Why is exceptionally valuable to me as an interviewer.

To some degree, I would rather have a candidate who knows what sort of things can make them fail than someone who has never challenged themselves and has no idea about what things they need to succeed.

  • That is AWESOME information to know. Thank you very much! – Mickael Caruso Oct 13 '15 at 13:46
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“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” - George Bernard Shaw

I wasn't going to write an answer here, but I think there is perspective current answers are missing.

You are not a victim. The way you have written your post comes across as, "so unfair, woe is me, it is horrible." You can't think like this because if you do, it'll lead you to the conclusions you are straw-man putting forth in your question.

Yeah, it sucks. No one likes feeling like a failure. But the reality is, nearly all of us feel incompetent at times (especially when taking new jobs). The myth is that most people feel 100% confident and great at their job and comfortable when they take new roles. Imposter Syndrome is well known and documented (especially for women). I'd suggest that if anyone feels that way they are not in a good position. We learn so much more when we are stretched and have to grow.

That being said, some questions to reflect on:

  • What did you learn? If you quit before you really tried or learned anything then... ? If you don't feel like you learned anything, at all, either about yourself
  • What was your responsibility? What can you do differently in the future? What will prevent your next job from having this problem? Even if you only have 5% responsibility, identify this, figure out what you can do
  • Why did this happen? Figure out the root cause for what happened. Not the "I want to blame someone" reason (which is our normal response - we want to blame other people. Reality is most problems/frustrating situations have some level of blame to go around). The five whys technique is good.
  • What will I do differently next time? If you need to, write down some notes.

The point is to understand at a deeper level what went on, what you learned, and what you will do differently.

So, what "redemptive story" could I tell the interviewer then?

You tell them the things you learned about it. Failure can be one of the most powerful teachers -- but only if you learn from it.

If you talk through your experience as if you were the victim, without any ability to influence the situation, who didn't try anything, you will tell a really, really not compelling story.

But.. if you focus on the things you tried, the things you learned, and what you will do differently next time? That is a compelling story. It tells the future employer, "wow, this person faced adversity and survived!"

No one wants to hear why it was hard -- and that you just didn't do anything different or try.

Of course it's entirely possible you just had a situation where you acted like a victim, didn't try to learn anything, and walked away rather than trying to learn from it. If this is the case, you want to focus on what you learned from the whole experience. Do some soul searching. Follow the above steps, but you might have more "I did X, should have done Y" as explanations.

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I think "too hard" is the wrong choice of words here. I think instead you should say, "I went into the job with no experience about X and they understood that. When I went there, I learned a great deal about X but it went at a much faster pace than expected."

  • I know that "too hard" is wrong to say. That's why I asked this question for alternate wording, – Mickael Caruso Oct 13 '15 at 14:21

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