I work for a small company (fewer than 10 employees) that is not well managed. We are short-staffed and over-worked; I am having to cut corners in ways that are inappropriate and are leading to missed deadlines and avoidable mistakes. I'm worried about how this will reflect on me in the future.

Given that I've already worked at this company for around 18 months, how do I explain the shortcomings in my work to a future employer when they ask me for details? The honest answer would be that it was a result of bad management – I can't lie to them, but I can't point fingers either.

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  • @JoeStrazzere I realise that my question was probably a bit broad. I've edited it to be a bit more specific. – Tempest16 Apr 17 '17 at 21:26

Having been in this exact situation as well as additional situations with other companies I encourage the following to consider in order to make the best decision:

  1. Do I have enough experience to be hired elsewhere at a place of my choosing?
  2. What is my threshold for tolerating the current work environment at?
  3. What exactly am I learning (good/bad/general info) at my current employment and is there more to learn?
  4. With the above three in mind, what is the goal of my career and what would be the next steps?

A person learns even from bad experiences. You are learning alot about your limits as well as the proper way to do things and what happens when the proper way is not followed. You are also gaining a very important understanding of the people that own and run things have their way and if you want to have a job, you have to adhere or move on to somewhere else. But you are also learning there is a give and take and until you are in a position where you are being pressed it's hard to say the level of what you will put up with for a pay check and experience and what you will not put up with.

The situation you mention is actually very common, especially among small shops. There is a high employee costs and unless there is a massive product sale, the return on custom one off projects for paying clients is not a huge margin...thus having less employees is in the long run the cheapest even if corners are cut. But then quality and reputation could slip. This is very important when looking for a job that fits you as well. If you understand the company goal and your own goals you can line those up better so you don't end up somewhere that you hate or that you feel unappreciated for what you bring.

Unfortunately or Fortunately depending on how you look at it, this is something you have to learn for yourself and no one can tell you what your limits/goals are. Try to formulate your current experiences into constructive understanding instead of "bad management" so that you can articulate it as constructive in future circumstances. It could always be worse, use it as an opportunity to learn yourself and move on to another place when the time is right. That will also show that you don't just give up and jump ship, but transition with notice to the benefit of all(past company, new company, and yourself).

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  • Even better, a person learns only from bad experiences. :) – Neolisk Apr 17 '17 at 21:00
  • well you could say people "should learn" but I was coming from the optimistic view of someone wanting to learn... – mutt Apr 17 '17 at 21:19
  • @JoeStrazzere: It is how any brain operates, or any system with learning capability, including neural networks. Positive experiences don't correct our thinking pattern, negative do. Too many positive learning, and you won't survive a negative experience. – Neolisk Apr 17 '17 at 21:29
  • @mutt: Nothing wrong with how your worded it. I actually upvoted your answer. Commented just to strengthen the point. – Neolisk Apr 17 '17 at 21:34
  • @JoeStrazzere: It's actually from dynamics systems theory. See Negative feedback. Quote: Whereas positive feedback tends to lead to instability via exponential growth, oscillation or chaotic behavior, negative feedback generally promotes stability. – Neolisk Apr 17 '17 at 21:45

how do I explain the shortcomings in my work to a future employer when they ask me for details? The honest answer would be that it was a result of bad management – I can't lie to them, but I can't point fingers either.

You are correct - don't point fingers. Just saying "bad management" would make a potential employer wonder what "bad" means to you and if you would conclude the same about them.

Instead, focus on why this company is "no longer a good fit" for you.

You can point out why being shorthanded caused problems. You can talk about the impact of being forced to cut corners.

You may want to tread lightly on the "over-worked" aspect, if you feel you must bring it up at all. It's a short drive from saying "I'm over-worked" to being considered a whiner or someone who simply doesn't want to work hard (even if you are over-worked by a lot).

If you are working 80 hours a week or such, you might want to talk about work/life balance but in general that's a phrase to avoid. Instead, ask questions about the working culture and see if you can get a sense if the pace, volume and intensity of the work meet your needs.

In general when asked, talk about some of the problems you encounter without blaming management. Any interviewer with a clue will understand how those problems came about (it's virtually always about management) without being told.

Be ready to answer the inevitable question: "So then why did you stick around for x months?" Perhaps you wanted to work hard and try to see if things changed for the better, but have only recently concluded that your efforts were futile.

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Disclaimer: Below is based on my personal experience - onto my 4th job now, 8+ years as a full-time software developer. 1 job at a small company (<25), 1 job at mid-size (~200) and 2 companies with over 1000 employees. It is also aggregated from dozens of interviews I've been to, which includes companies of different size.

Advice: Work for a large company (>1000 people). You are more likely to get a good manager (but not guaranteed). Reasoning is this - a small company with a bad manager can still survive. As they start scaling their bad management with more employees and higher value projects/clients, management flaws become more evident, so they have to improve or lose business. Don't expect perfect though, it will be just good enough for their size and area of business to stay competitive.

How: You don't need to explain bad management to your future employer, big or small. Remember, interview is a process, when they are trying to uncover as many bad things about you, in order to 1) reject hire or 2) pay less than you deserve. Your objective is evade their questions as much as possible. Don't lie, but don't tell your whole life story either.

Focus on positives. Select questions for which you will provide a positive full and detailed answer. Give a brief positive answer to other questions. Avoid giving negative answers, and absolutely avoid giving details on those answers. If they start throwing in a lot of questions that make you uncomfortable, try to shift the topic with a positive vibe. If they insist, don't work for them, you'll regret it later anyway.

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  • Downvoters - please leave a comment. The above answer is based on my 8+ years of professional experience as a software developer, I also started at a small company and at some point of my career had the exact same bad management problem, had to leave and to explain why I left to my next employer. – Neolisk Apr 17 '17 at 21:38
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    I downvoted because it's a primarily opinionated answer which gives the OP unsolicited (bad) advice. The idea that large companies don't have bad managers is patently absurd. Interviewing is a process wherein withholding important/useful information breaks down the system to the detriment of both the employer and employee. You want to sell yourself, but if you're spending the whole interview evading the questions, you're not going to see much success. – Chris G Apr 18 '17 at 0:26
  • @ChrisG: Any answer is opinionated on this website. I did not say that large companies don't have bad managers. I said that small companies are much more likely to have bad managers, simply because they can afford to have them. You want to sell yourself, but not sell yourself short. Look at politicians - what are they good at? Evading questions - tremendous success, tons of money. Same with top level managers. It works, like it or not. – Neolisk Apr 18 '17 at 0:46

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