By Jaclyn Westlake
You’ve accepted a great new position at a fantastic company and can’t wait to get started. But, when you arrive for your first day, you discover that the amazing job you’d interviewed for is nothing like what you’re facing now that you’ve actually been hired. You’ve been catfished.
For anyone who hasn’t watched Nev Schulman’s riveting documentary or subsequent TV spin-off, catfishing refers to the act of purposefully presenting false or misleading information or creating a fake identity to fool another person.
Full disclosure: I was catfished by my first full-time job. Shortly after graduating college, I accepted an admissions counselor position with a private university. I was so excited to find such a great job so shortly after graduating; I couldn’t wait to work with eager students as I guided them through the admissions process. I envisioned myself reassuring nervous parents, decorating my first-ever cubicle, and building lasting relationships with my co-workers. Sure, I was a little idealistic, but this was also what the hiring manager told me I would be doing.
When I arrived for my first day of work, I was led to a storage room and handed a phone, a sales script, and a long list of phone numbers and told to start making calls. I didn’t even have a working computer. Turns out, I had inadvertently accepted a job as a cold caller.
When your new job pulls the old bait-and-switch, it can be frustrating, disheartening, and embarrassing. Navigating this situation can be tricky, so let’s take a look at six things to do when your new job catfishes you—from someone who’s been there.
1. Remain Calm
If your first couple of days on the job are a little turbulent, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your new role won’t work out in the long run. Your new boss could be having an off week, or the HR department might’ve dropped the ball on coordinating your orientation. While a temporarily distracted manager or a disorganized recruiter aren’t ideal, these challenges are surmountable. Remind yourself that you’re going to need some time to get used to being in an unfamiliar environment, working with people you don’t know, and juggling new responsibilities. Changing jobs is incredibly stressful, so do your best to stay calm throughout this transition.
2. Give it a Chance
Few things in life turn out exactly as we expected, and jobs are no exception. You’re going to need a little time to reconcile the idea of what you thought this position would be like with reality. In the meantime, give your new role a chance. Try getting to know your new co-workers by asking them to join you for coffee, impress your boss by volunteering for an upcoming project, and make yourself feel at home by organizing your new workspace.
It can take up to a year to feel totally settled at a new company, but you can typically tell whether or not you’ll be happy after the first few weeks. If each week is a little better than the last, you’re on the right track. But, if you find yourself dreading work every morning for days (or weeks) on end, this may not be the job for you.
3. Talk to Your Boss
If you’ve given yourself enough time to get a feel for what this job is going to entail, and it’s vastly different from the role you thought you were interviewing for, it’s probably time to have a conversation with your manager.
Start by sending her a message to request a meeting at her earliest convenience and follow-up with a calendar invitation. Once you’ve confirmed a time, you’ll want to prepare your talking points. Pull up the job posting you applied for (if available), track down the description for your role, or draft an overview of what was discussed during your interviews. Then, make a list of what you’re actually doing on a daily basis so that you can specifically and confidently address discrepancies.
The purpose of this meeting is to get you and your manager on the same page—not to accuse her of catfishing you. There is a chance that you’ll decide to stick it out in this position, and you won’t want to damage your relationship with a hostile confrontation.
Start off by letting your boss know that your intention is to gain a better understanding of what this role will actually entail, as you were under the impression that your job would look different. For example, “When we first met, we spent a lot of time discussing social media strategy, and I was under the impression that I would be managing the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. When will I be taking this on?” or “During my interview, we agreed that I would be responsible for sourcing and prospecting new sales opportunities, but not for closing new business. But since coming onboard, I’ve been asked to focus on closing new business and managing existing accounts. Did something change?”
If your manager is receptive to what you have to say and seems to be invested in your happiness, you might be able to salvage this job. But, if she’s defensive or dismissive and shows no interest in aligning your actual position with the role you thought you signed on for, it’s probably time to explore your options.
4. Explore Your Options
Once you’ve determined that you’ve officially been catfished, it’s time to start preparing to move on. If you’re only a few weeks into your new position, you can probably build up your job search momentum pretty quickly. The great news is that you already know how to successfully apply, interview, and secure an offer.
If you turned down another offer to accept this job, you might be able to salvage that opportunity. Try reaching out to the hiring manager you were working with to ask if the position is still available. Say something like, “I wanted to reach out to you to ask if the [insert title] was still open. If it is, I would love to be reconsidered for this position. Since we were last in touch, I’ve given this opportunity a lot of thought. While I initially said that I was most interested in joining a larger company, I now realize that I am most effective when I get to work with a dynamic, tight-knit team like the one at [insert company name]. I know I’d make a great addition to your department, and would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further. Would it be possible for us to connect on [insert date] around [insert time]?”
Once you start interviewing, you may run into some tricky questions about why you’re looking to leave your new job so soon. A simple, concise response like this should do the trick: “Unfortunately, I didn’t take as much time as I should have to learn everything I could about the company and culture before accepting my current position. I’ve since realized that this role isn’t a good fit for me, and am now seeking opportunities with organizations that value employee engagement and collaboration. That’s why I’m so excited to be interviewing with [insert company name].”
As you start interviewing and considering new opportunities, keep in mind that you’ll want to be extra diligent about learning everything you can about the companies you’re interviewing with. Be sure to ask specific questions about turnover and company culture during your interview, get your offer and job description in writing, and check out sites like Glassdoor for reviews from real-life employees.
5. Jump Ship
It’s perfectly fine to leave a new job after just a few weeks. Sometimes, things just don’t work out. Whether you decide to walk away before you’ve found a new position or you’ve accepted a great offer with an honest and transparent organization, jumping ship as soon as possible is totally justified.
While it’s a best practice to give at least two weeks’ notice whenever you quit your job, if the environment is too toxic or you’re absolutely miserable, you should be able to leave without giving any advance notice (just be sure to read up on your state’s at-will employment laws first).
Regardless of how much notice you decide to give, do your best to keep things professional and cordial. Let your manager know that you appreciate the opportunity, but since it’s not at all in line with what you thought you were signing on for, it’s best for everyone if you part ways now. Keep in mind: You could easily be burning bridges in this situation, so don’t quit that day and walk out the door just for the sake of doing it.
Most catfishing incidents can probably be chalked up to poor communication and misunderstandings, but if you feel that an employer intentionally pulled a fast one on you, committed fraud, or breached your contract, seeking legal guidance may be a logical choice. If anything, consider writing a Glassdoor review to help others avoid a similar experience in the future.
6. Move On
If you were only at a fishy company for a few weeks (or even a couple of months), you probably don’t even need to include that employer on your resume. Recruiters and hiring managers are much more likely to gloss over brief gaps in employment these days—just be prepared to explain if you’re ever asked about it.
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up. Every experience—good or bad—is an opportunity to learn and grow. You’ll now be even more diligent about finding the right role for you moving forward!
After a couple of weeks at my “admissions counselor” job, a tense discussion with my manager, and more than a few tears, I decided to move on. I left without giving any notice (which is a story for another time) and dedicated my time to finding a job with an honest, transparent organization.
Within a couple of weeks, a family friend reached out to me about an entry-level recruiter opportunity at her company. Feeling a little wary, I asked her tons of questions about the culture and work environment before deciding to apply. Getting to talk to someone that I trusted, who could vouch for the company was a huge relief, and it gave me enough confidence to ultimately accept an offer for a job I ended up loving.
Looking back, recruiting was a much better fit for me than a career in higher education would have been, and I’m genuinely thankful that getting catfished helped to push me in the right direction. There’s always something to be learned if you look hard enough for it. There’s no question that discovering the job you were thrilled to start is not at all what you expected is a major letdown, but know that you can walk away if things don’t work out, and you’ll be just fine.