It would be great if everyone were making a living at their dream jobs. Or if that job you loved so much when it was new, and you were still learning and feeling challenged and excited to show up on Monday morning, were as shiny and happy forever. But sometimes reality gets in the way, and a job just isn’t the right fit for you, or you outgrow it. What next?
Signs This Isn't the Job for You
Before you start down a path you can’t reverse (there are very few ways to claim “backsies” on a resignation letter), it’s important to know whether this is just temporary malaise, or something bigger. So when is it time to quit? Here are some of the telltale signs you’re ready to move on.
You don’t feel challenged.
If you feel like you could make it through your to-do list without disturbing your sleep, you are probably not challenged enough by your work. Other symptoms: having to stretch out projects to fill your day and look productive, or spending a lot of time messing around/checking social media/shopping online. If you don’t have enough to do, or tasks that engage you, it can be easy to fall into bad, time-wasting habits.
You feel miserable.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a big one. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you about stress. Everyone has a grouchy day or two if work is stressful, but if you find yourself in a long string of them, it may be time to start over somewhere else. This is especially true if you start losing sleep, or find yourself getting sick more often than usual. If you’re that unhappy that even your body is saying “blow this popsicle stand,” it’s time to pay attention.
You can’t work with your boss.
Lots of things can change about your job: tasks, priorities, projects, even your salary and benefits. One thing you’re unlikely to change: your boss. If you find yourself butting heads because your styles are so different, accept that you’re unlikely to change how this person works.
You can try to amend your own approach in the name of harmony and productivity, but sometimes there is just no way to make two people compatible—especially if your boss is overbearing or non-communicative. This is a person you will be relying on day-to-day guidance and performance reviews, so this is not an enemy you want to have. And a coup is unlikely, unless this person is incompetent and on the verge of being fired, so the best option is to remove yourself.
Your performance and morale are obviously suffering.
Can barely contain that eyeroll when Sue starts talking? Feel irrational levels of rage when Andy sends yet another round of ten emails when one would do? Leave early because you just couldn’t take the day any longer? Chances are, your unhappiness is showing to any and all around you, and if you’re letting that anger and frustration affect your work, that’s a problem. It’s better to get out before your tasks (and your rep) starts to decline.
Your 8 Steps to Freedom
So you’ve got all the symptoms—what do you do next? There are some best practices you should follow once you decide to call it quits—and some things you definitely should not do.
1. Don’t quit in a huff.
There are exceptions to this, like if you’re asked to do something that is illegal, or if you’ve just won the Powerball. Otherwise, keep your job for now. This is two- fold: a) It’s easier to search for a job when you already have the security of one; and b) unfair or not, many employers prefer to hire someone who doesn’t have employment gaps.
2. Consider taking on a side hustle.
This can be a good distraction from a day job that is slowly sucking your essence, giving you something new to focus on. (Just don’t spend your regular work time setting up your new business, or that could open up a whole bunch of other unpleasant issues at your already unpleasant job.) It’s also a way to start feeling out what you want your revised career path to be. Have you always felt like your heart was somewhere else? This is your chance to start figuring out if you have a passion project, and whether you can channel that passion into a viable paying job.
3. Build your professional network.
The last thing you want to do is find yourself in the middle of a new job search, and realize that you’re totally unprepared. There are plenty of under-the-radar things you can do to get yourself ready for your imminent search for a new and better gig. Start by beefing up your networks. Some of the best opportunities come because someone’s old college roommate is looking for a team member, and does your friend know anyone who would be a good fit?
If you start expanding your reach on sites like LinkedIn, or following/interacting with influential people in your field on social media, you are raising your profile and opening yourself up to potential opportunities.
Plus, your network might be an essential source of support as you cope with this job you hate. Maybe some have been in that place, and have tips on how to get through it. Maybe others will have valuable insight into what you can do to make your waning time at the job more productive and useful for your future endeavors. Either way, don’t underestimate the help your network can be as you get ready to make a major transition.
4. Clean up your own social media.
Potential employers can be sneaky, and might be creeping on your Twitter or Facebook profile to see what you’re like. Make extra sure that you don’t have any stray “I hate this place” notes posted out of frustration, or cringe-inducing inappropriate photos that you may have posted while not realizing you’d be hunting for a job anytime soon.
5. Think about what you want to do.
You may just want a similar job in your field because you hate your current job/boss, but what if you’re unhappy at work because you’re on the wrong path altogether? Time to do some deep thinking about what you want to do next. What do you want to achieve in the short term (1-2 years)? What about longer term? If you don’t know what you want your next move to be, your job hunt may not be especially productive, or you could end up in a job you despise just as much as your current one. Make sure you’re clear about what you want to achieve once you’re out of this job.
6. Redo your resume.
No matter how recently you’ve updated your resume, now is a great time to rewrite, revise, and revamp. If you have the time, start from scratch, and make sure you’re building the strongest possible resume for the current job market. The goal is to have your resume ready to go (and adapt as necessary) for any opportunities that come up.
7. Don’t check out mentally.
Once you make the decision to walk away, it can be tempting to put in less effort, or not care about how your performance affects others at work. Even though it can feel like a major effort, it is definitely in your best interest to keep up a good face at work. You don’t want your reputation to suffer, and in the event that you need a reference from one of your current colleagues, you really don’t want them to say, “He was great most of the time, but totally checked out by the end.”
8. Resign in style.
When you give your notice, do not use it as an excuse to get your anger/frustration/disgust off your chest. Delivering sick burns may be entertaining on your way out, but remember that the world is a small place, and your industry might be even smaller. You never know if, five years from now, the person reading this letter will be in a position to help your career. Write a clear, professional note that illustrates your intentions, your last day, and thankfulness for the opportunity in the first place. And if you have to fake that last one a little, that’s fine. You don’t have to pretend that your crappy job was the best job you’ve ever had, but a neutral, professional tone is a bare-minimum must.
Whether you’re itching to get out the door or just want to make things better for yourself in the short term, the key is looking ahead. Setting goals, and even doing the prep work (resume, job search, network building) can help improve your day-to-day while you plan your escape.
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