What's Your Problem?

I am at my wits' end. I'm a recent business studies graduate with a first-class degree, but I've just been fired from my third job in a year. It's always the same pattern: I ace the job interviews, get a position, and then never make it past the three-month probation period.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

My bosses always tell me that I have the skills for the job, but not the attitude. I don't understand this - I get to work on time, put in the hours, I'm charming to everyone and generally a model worker. What's their problem? How can I make them see that I'm their dream candidate?

A You will not find what follows pleasant reading. So you may prefer to stop now, to close your eyes (and indeed your mind and MT as well) and turn your thoughts to other things. By doing so, you will spare yourself a painful period of self-examination. You'll also, of course, condemn yourself to a further period of utterly inexplicable disappointment.

Let me invite you to read your own letter as though for the first time, and to pretend that it was written not by you but by somebody else. What conclusions do you reach about the writer? Within the space of one year, he has been hired and fired three times - always just before the probation period expires. (I think it's a he, don't you?) Hiring and firing people is a disruptive and expensive business - bosses don't do it just for the fun of it. Yet not for one second does this person entertain the possibility that any part of the blame for these serial failures might lie with himself.

So don't you deduce that this is someone whose confidence level has risen from the enviable to the intolerable? Who carries such a full load of self-certainty that the concept of personal inadequacy is never remotely entertained?

Well, that's the conclusion I've come to about you. Everything fits.

Confident people tend to interview well. So do you. Business graduates with first-class degrees frequently believe themselves to be instantly qualified to take over from Lord Browne at BP. I bet you give that impression.

You say you are charming to everyone, but only others can say whether they've found you charming, and I suspect that many don't. What you project as charm, they see as condescension.

After three consecutive failures, you still don't wonder what your problem is; the problem is always someone else's. In fact, of course, their problem is you.

However intelligent you are (and I suspect you're very intelligent), however punctual and conscientious you may be, you are totally lacking in experience. You must accept this fact and behave accordingly; if you're lucky enough to be given a fourth opportunity, it could well be the start of a great career.

But no play-acting, please. Your acceptance of your need to learn must be deeply felt and total. Any mock humility will earn you yet another self-induced setback.

Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group; he is a non-executive director of WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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