How to Learn From Your Experience When Leaving a Job

You won't get better without reflection and thought. After you leave a job, spend some time reviewing what you've learned so you'll be even better in the future.
Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #448

Listener Quentin writes in:

"I’ve just left my job. I followed the advice in your episode on how to leave a job, so I’m leaving a good impression. What else I should do to wrap up myself?"

Quentin, your timing is perfect! Because while you search and search for a job that isn’t going to be taken over by robots within six months of your start date, you have an unprecedented opportunity to milk your former job for everything it’s worth.

Long ago, early in my career, I disagreed with a senior person at my job. I was informed in no uncertain terms that he had “30 years of experience” and thus he must be right.

Nope. I was right. He had 30 year’s experience, but it was one year, repeated 30 times. Experience only counts if you learn from it.

When leaving a job, while it’s still fresh in your mind, it’s the perfect time to use it a learning experience. No, really. Breathe. In… Out… And now say to yourself, “It wasn’t a mistake, it was a learning experience. It wasn’t a mistake, it was a learning experience.” Also, polish that oil lamp you got at the garage sale and a Genie will come out. BOOM! But seriously, you actually can learn from your experience. Set aside an hour or two for reflection and get down to it.

Make a list of all the relevant events

Start by getting a piece of engineering graph paper with a wide first column, and five narrow columns. Visit GetItDoneGuy.com/engineer to download a free PDF. In the first column, list all the major failures and conflicts you can remember from the job. No one but you will look at this, so you can abbreviate. You’ll list things like “conference hotel,” “corporate logo fiasco,” “landed the huge deal,” “the promised raise,” and “whipped cream incident.”

Some things are unknowable

Now consider each item in turn. “Conference hotel.” My friend attended a conference. Wanting to have everything prepared, he asked the front desk, “I’m planning clients up to the room. Can I make arrangements to get them let into the elevator?” The clerk asked, “Are you with the conference?” “Yes,” he replied. “We’re sorry sir, if you’re with the conference, then you’re not allowed to have business guests up to your room.”

Yes, this actually happened. If he hadn’t been at the conference, it would have been fine. But somehow as a conference guest, he couldn’t. And that wasn’t stipulated anywhere in any of the paperwork.

Put a checkmark in the first narrow column. Label that column, “WTF” which stands for “What the frack?” Any time an incident was caused by something you didn’t know, but no reasonable person could possibly have known, it gets a WTF checkmark. 

Read WTF items and remember them for the future. But don’t beat yourself up for them. There’s no way you could have known.

Some things are your fault

Next is “corporate logo fiasco.” So it’s true, you jokingly told the graphic designer “why don’t you just use a silhouette of Taylor Swift eating a banana as our corporate logo.” The graphic designer took you seriously, and Taylor Swift was not amused.

This gets a checkmark in the second column. Label it “my bad.” These are things you need to consider seriously, and decide how you’ll change your behavior next time. In this case, the solutions is obvious: make sure to tell people when your suggestion is a joke, and just to be safe, only joke about celebrities for whom the statute of limitations has expired.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.