Do I look like an unreliable employee if I’m job searching after six months on the job? Elaine Varelas weighs in

If you're unhappy in a new role or facing an untenable situation at work after just a few months, is it wise to start looking for a new job? Will future employers think you're unreliable or flaky? Elaine Varelas explores the options.

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –Boston.com

Q: I work in a small, well-connected industry where word quickly gets around. Due to an untenable situation at my current organization, I’m looking to move on—the problem is, I only started in May. How do I present myself in an interview when asked why I’m leaving my company after only working there for six months? What consequences will I face if my current employer finds out that I am interviewing?

A: Looking for a job while you’re still working does invite the risk of your current employer finding out and asking you about it. You mention that you’re in an untenable situation, which could mean many different things, but it sounds like the risk of the job search is likely worth no longer being in a difficult situation. In a small, well-connected industry like yours, people may already know that your company has a reputation for being a difficult employer, so it may not come as a surprise to anyone that you’re looking for a job after only six months. At this point, it’s important to craft your messaging and prepare a well-organized job search.

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You ask how you should present yourself in an interview when your resume clearly shows a short tenure at your current organization. Focus on emphasizing that the job simply wasn’t the right match for you. Don’t badmouth the company or any specific colleagues; instead, convey that you’re looking for a role that is more closely aligned with your skills, a culture where you can do your best work , and an overall environment where you can succeed. These conversations may inadvertently reveal the shortcomings of your current employer, but you don’t frame it that way. Reinforce the positive qualities you’re seeking, not the negative ones you’re looking to escape.

The obvious consequence of this job search is that your employer may fire you if they learn that you’re trying to leave anyway. Alternatively, they may try to change things to keep you; depending on your specific situation, this may or may not be likely, and you may not think the change is possible. In a worst-case scenario, they may refuse to give you a good reference. In that case, you have the option to ask a former employer or a sympathetic colleague. It’s ultimately up to you to decide how untenable the situation is and if the risk is worth the reward. If it is, make sure that you’re actively pursuing a quick and successful job search—the longer you’re in the market, the higher the chances that your employer will find out. No matter what, you should start putting aside some money, in the event that you find yourself unable to find a new job or unable to withstand the difficult situation any longer. To ensure a seamless transition, prepare a targeted and efficient job search.

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You also sound concerned about appearing unreliable to prospective employers if you’re job searching after just six months in a role. Again, you control this perception based on how you frame your decision to make a move. You don’t want to make it sound like you’re mad you didn’t get a promotion, you can’t get along with colleagues, or you were making other unreasonable demands. Simply saying that the role or organization wasn’t the right match for you should be good enough. Be as specific as you can about the company you want to go to—talk about what makes them an attractive employer, always focusing on the positives of the future rather than the negatives of the past. Do your homework, too—it’s even more important now that you go to a company where you can stay for a longer period of time. One six-month stint on your resume is acceptable; multiple six-month stints starts raising questions about you as an employee.

Your mantra as you engage in your job search should be “It wasn’t the right fit for me,” followed by a detailed discussion of all the aspects of the new organization you’re most looking forward to. Don’t lie about your reasons and don’t criticize your current employer.

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