How to Avoid a Job You'll Hate

By Joshua Spodek '93CC, '96GSAS, '99GSAS, '06BUS of the Columbia Career Coaches Network

You could have learned in the interview why you'd hate your job with this practice. Learn it and make your interviews productive.

If you’ve ever left a job you expected to love but ended up hating it, these words likely ring true for you:

People join good projects and leave bad management.

Leaving jobs is painful and expensive. You can learn about future managers in your interview, but few people do.

Without learning about your future managers, coworkers, and colleagues, you'll choose jobs based on what the company does, your title, your pay, the company's growth, and other things that don't affect your daily experience. In other words, "good projects."

But what affects your daily experience?

The company's vision and market share matter, but, for most people, not as much as your manager.  Or the firm's management in general.

VIDEO: Watch Spodek speak more about this here.

The misery of a manager who doesn't understand you, challenge you, give you responsibility and ownership of projects, or otherwise support you will override the value of almost anything else you like at your job.

People leave what they consider "bad management." The manager may be competent or even outstanding, but may not match your style. The result is the same: It feels like management you want to leave.

How to use "People join good projects and leave bad management."

The most valuable way to apply this phrase is in your interviews, typically where you first encounter the management.

Take advantage of the interaction to learn about the management. Specifically, your future manager.

What should you ask?

I suggest two perspectives: one learning from your past, the other learning from successful role models.

To learn from your past, think of every manager you couldn't stand and who made you want to leave a great project. As I say in the video above, I'm writing this post because a manager just annoyed me and important issues are on my mind.

Ask about the issues that led you to leave projects you first liked.

Did a past manager not support you? Then ask the interviewer if your manager-to-be supports the staff. If the manager is interviewing you, ask him or her how he or she does so.

Did a past manager not challenge you? Ask the interview how your manager-to-be challenges staff.

Was a past manager never available for you? Ask!

Get the picture? Ask about what you care about.

To learn from successful role models, consider the CEO of a large firm—a Fortune 100 company, for example—considering an offer to join a different firm. What will he or she ask?

He or she will want talk to everyone he or she will work with—from board members to salespeople, to people on the shop floor. He or she knows if the people aren't ones he or she likes working with, leaving isn't worth it.

It's the opposite of desperation, among the least desirable traits a candidate can show.

He or she shows discrimination, patience, and other qualities that make him or her more desirable.

Is asking these questions too risky?

Clients I advise to ask such questions often wonder whether the questions are too risky. "Shouldn't I get the job first, and then find those things out?"

Not asking is riskier!

The greater risk is ending up with a job you hate.

I suggest you practice asking meaningful, probing questions in an interview for a job you don't care about if you haven't done it before. Pay attention to the interviewer's reaction.

My book, Leadership Step by Step, and my coaching practice are built on the long established principle that practice makes perfect.

My clients and students consistently tell me that interviewers take them more seriously and ask what they can do to make things work better. So far, no unwanted reactions.

Discriminating questions show you care, you're experienced, and you're comfortable. They get the interviewer talking and sharing too.

When should I ask?

For most, the challenge isn't what to ask but creating a context where asking feels comfortable.

First, adopt the perspective that you want to find out if you'll like the job, not that you're desperate. With that perspective, you'll find opportunities throughout the interview.

Next, most interviewers give you the chance. They ask: "Do you have any questions for us?"

Most use that question to show off what they know about the company, not seeing that doing so presents them to be like everyone else. Acting like a commodity leads the company to buy you for the lowest possible price.

That question is your time to ask. You don't have to take my word for it. Try it yourself. Schedule a throw-away informational interview and do it.

You'll be amazed at the results.

And you may never feel compelled to leave the management of company you hate.


Joshua Spodek, bestselling author of Leadership Step by Step, is an Adjunct Professor at NYU, leadership coach and workshop leader for Columbia Business School, columnist for Inc., and founder of

He has led seminars in leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity, and sales at Harvard, Princeton, MIT, INSEAD, the New York Academy of Science, and in private corporations. He holds five Ivy League degrees, including a PhD in Astrophysics and an MBA, both from Columbia, and studied under a Nobel Prize winner. He helped build an X-ray observational satellite for NASA, co-founded and led as CEO or COO several ventures, and holds six patents.

Learn more about the Columbia Career Coaches Network.

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