Job Hopping Due to Hostile Work Environments

Question:

I have had 4 legal assistant jobs in the last 7 years working for divorce attorneys in small firms. The reason I’ve hopped from job to job is because of harsh, abusive and hostile environments (divorce lawyers are the lowest of the low). I have fantastic administrative skills and I’m an excellent employee, but I can’t get any interviews because of the job hopping reflected on my resume. I’m a hard worker and desperate to get back into a larger, more professional law firm again. How do I explain that the moves were for my sanity without speaking negatively about former employers? Thank you.

Signed,

Administrative Assistant


Answer:

Dear Administrative Assistant:

You don’t say if you have been fired or resigned or if you are still employed in the fourth of those small contentious work environments. But the short answer is: Describe your fantastic administrative skills in your resume and investigate several larger more professional law firms to learn of their working environment (you don’t want again to get into another one that is “harsh, abusive and hostile”). When you investigate, seek to know as much as you can about the office manager and head attorneys. Join the local and national legal secretaries’ association. Be active in it and become known as a can-do young professional. Then follow the customary procedure for applying for work. Don’t talk about the past except to say that you have gotten a lot of experience in different settings.

The longer answer raises some issues you probably already have considered and dismissed. For example, I would be interested to know if you have analyzed your role in and how you reacted to the “harsh, abusive and hostile environments”? Did you do nothing to provoke that? Did you respond in kind? Did it escalate? Were you unable in all four firms to bring even a little sunshine? And did that harsh treatment affect your relationships away from work? How could it not? Don’t you now need to change occupations and to find one in which you feel you can give more of the cheerful caring side of your personality?

Another example, you say “divorce lawyers are the lowest of the low.” Apparently these four have caused you to brand all divorce attorneys as bad, badder and baddest (please excuse the spelling). Why then now don’t you look for a job in the kind of legal office that employs attorneys of a higher ethic; ones that defend civil rights and ones that do pro bono work? What your question implies is that you have soured on the kind of work you have done and/or are doing. All of us must work to keep the wolf from the door, but we don’t need keep making the same kind of mistake again and again.

Of course from this distance, I don’t know all that went on. It may be that your placement of blame on those who employed you is completely justified. Maybe divorce attorneys are money grabbing low life. If so, is it not now time to say that you want to work in an employee-friendly environment and for an organization that is helping this world be a little better? Can you take time to think though what kind of contribution you want to make in the next few years?

Probably you prefer the short over the long answer. My hope for you is that you might find a workplace that values your abilities and respects you as a person, and that you can feel that same way about those who employ you. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and is that not something to work for?

William Gorden