A little over a year ago, a mid-career professional came to me in a panic. He had been out of work for over a year. Here's what happened...

Years Of Hard Work Down The Drain

He spent 15 years of his career with the same company. During that time, he had worked hard to get promoted. His personal goal was to become a partner in the firm. He felt if he kept exceeding expectations and could point to a string of successes he delivered for the business, the leadership team would make him one of their own. However, he eventually started to notice he wasn't getting anymore raises or promotions. He confronted the leadership team and inquired about becoming a partner. To his shock, he learned they didn't feel he was partner material. He was angry and humiliated. He felt they had taken advantage of his eagerness and desire to impress them. So, he up and quit. He wanted them to suffer. He walked out without thinking through the ramifications. Fast forward a year later, and due to a lack of references from burning a bridge, he couldn't get hired.

Resentment Oozed From Him In Interviews

When we started working together, he specifically wanted to improve his interviewing skills. He was convinced his performance in interviews was costing him job offers. After reviewing his answers, I could see he was right. Sadly, the resentment he still held for his former employer was evident when he answered common behavioral questions. It was clear he took no responsibility for what had happened. While he never directly threw his former employer under the bus, his explanation of events had enough negative emotion in their delivery that it was easy to conclude he was feeling burned. In HR, we're trained to avoid candidates who do this. Why? There are two sides to every story, and each participant plays a role in what happens. Translation: if you can't learn and grow from your mistakes, how will you be able to evolve as a professional?

We worked together for several months to get him comfortable sharing what happened. Specifically, I needed him to be able to  calmly articulate how he was accountable for his actions and what he would have done differently if he could go back in time. In his case, seeking feedback from the leadership team earlier in his career about making partner would have helped manage his expectations better. And, when he was told he wouldn't be partner, he should have stayed put and looked for a new job so he didn't burn bridges and ruin his professional reputation. Eventually, he landed a new job with a smaller organization. The owner was burnt out and had mentioned in the interview process he was ultimately looking for a partner. All was good. Until...

Don't Make A New Employer Pay For An Old One's Injustice

My client's first several months on the job went well. I rarely heard from him. He was able to jump in and take a lot off the owner's plate. The owner had be ill and needed to be able to take time off. My client's success in the role even enabled the owner to take a much needed vacation. As the owner's health improved and the workload leveled off, my client was feeling really good about his accomplishments. So much so, he decided to approach the owner about the partnership. The owner told him it was too early to discuss it, but that he was really pleased so far with his performance. Instead of accepting the owner's feedback, my client took it as a sign of history repeating itself. He decided to start tracking his performance and presenting it to the owner on a weekly basis by email as a way to bring up the partnership regularly. In his words, "I don't want to keep working so hard, only to find out I'm not going to get my partnership...again." After several months of this behavior, the owner pulled him aside and told him he was in jeopardy of losing his job. The owner found his nagging behavior aggravating and unnecessary. This is when the client reached out and updated me on his situation. He wanted me to tell him how to convince the owner to let him keep his job and give him the partnership. My answer was simple: "Stop making the new owner pay for the old employer's behavior." My client was trying to short-cut his way to a partnership because he still couldn't let go of the resentment he held for the old employer who denied him of one.

Be Where Your Feet Are

My advice to my client was to take a deep breath and realize how far he had come. He had gone from being out of work for over a year, to working in a new job he loved, that paid well, and had growth potential. I encouraged him to remember the phrase, 'be where your feet are.' Instead of obsessing over the past and worrying about his future, I told him to focus on having gratitude for where he was today. When he realized the tactical error he was making, my client agreed to back off for six months and just enjoy the feeling of making a contribution and being compensated well for it.

6 Steps For Making Peace With Your Resentment

As a career coach, here are the six steps you need to work through to put resentment towards former employers behind you:

  1. List out specifically who you resent and the details of the actions they took that hurt your feelings.
  2. Identify how you think they have negatively impacted your career.
  3. Take ownership of what you did that contributed to this happening so you can ensure you'll act differently next time around.
  4. Determine at least one way this negative experience has made you stronger.
  5. Remind yourself that your next employer isn't your previous one.
  6. Seek help when you feel history might be repeating itself.

By actively working to get rid of your resentment, you'll be able to stay positive and proactive in your new role. Don't carry a negative past with you. If you do, you could run the risk of affecting your ability to make smart career moves.