When Your New Job Isn’t What You Thought It Would Be

Stressed out woman working at laptop

New job isn't what you expected

A lot goes into accepting a job offer, and in most circumstances, it’s not a decision that’s made on a whim. Throughout the interview and negotiation phases, you do your due diligence as a job seeker, looking closely at the company culture, getting to know the team and supervisor you would be collaborating with and learning about the company’s mission as a whole. So by the time you formally accept the position, it’s because all of the data you have gathered by that point has indicated this job will be good for you professionally. 

After all, no one takes a job with the expectation that they will quickly discover it wasn’t the right career move. 

There are a lot of situations where you take a job in good faith and it ends up being different from what you expected. Maybe you spent weeks interviewing with a hiring manager, only for them to transfer or resign before you come on board, leaving you to report to someone you've never met. Sometimes the job and team you’re working with are really great, but the overall culture is different from what you anticipated, or a project you were expecting to work on gets canceled. Then, there are rare unfortunate situations where you find yourself in a toxic work environment. No matter what the case is, it can feel disappointing, discouraging or, in some cases, unbearable. 

Ways a job can change

When you figure this out early on in your tenure, you’re faced with a difficult decision: do you stick it out for the sake of your resume or do you start looking for new opportunities for the sake of your career satisfaction

It’s a decision that doesn’t always have an obvious answer. So, if you’ve found yourself in a job that isn’t what you thought it would be, here’s how to move forward. 

Assess the situation

What is it that you don’t like?

Feeling dissatisfied with work is, unfortunately, pretty common. In fact, more than 50% of US workers report being unhappy in their jobs. However, there are a lot of variables that can go into that unhappiness, and some are easier to work through than others.

Carefully look at the situation and try to pinpoint exactly what it is you don’t like. Oftentimes one aspect of a job can be so difficult that your negative feelings then seep into all of the other, unrelated, parts of your job. If you’re able to get down to what you’re really unhappy with you will be better able to decide if it’s something that can change or not. 

Here are some examples:

  • Your supervisor’s management style
  • Schedule flexibility
  • Workload
  • Company or team culture
  • Availability expectations (such as answering emails late at night)
  • Upper management
  • A long-term project
  • One or two daily tasks
  • Organizational policies
  • Your stress level

This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but you may actually have a little more control than you think in some of these situations. For example, you may be able to advocate for a more flexible scheduledraw some boundaries around your working hours or get reassigned to a different aspect of the long-term project you’re working on.  

When the work environment is toxic

A toxic work environment can have a lot of different looks, but chances are high that you will be able to feel it in your gut if it’s not obvious. In most cases of a toxic work environment, it’s better to start searching for a new position, whether at a new company or through a transfer, than trying to stick it out. 

👉If you are in a situation where you feel unsafe, there is no need to assess—report any behavior to upper management or HR (if you feel safe doing so) and proceed from there. 

Address the job hopping myth

You’ve probably been told that a resume that leaves you looking like a “job hopper” will cost you jobs in the future. While there are times when a colorful employment history could make a recruiter hesitate to reach out to a candidate, this is not a hard and fast rule. Don’t let the fear of looking like a “job hopper” keep you in a position where you are unhappy. 

If your resume has a few short-term positions on it, you can address any questions surrounding them head-on in future interviews, and your explanation will likely satisfy a recruiter or hiring manager. You risk more by showing up to a job with so much anger, resentment or apathy that you damage relationships or end up being let go. 

📖Read more: Reframing Job Hopping During an Interview

Analyze the options

Once you’ve pinpointed what it is about your position that you don’t like, you’ll want to analyze your options based on that factor (or factors). Making a pros and cons list for choosing to stay or leave can help you zoom out a little bit to see the big picture. 

Here is an example:

Situation: You like your job and the company, but your boss is a micromanager

Staying In The Position
Pros Cons
  • Making contacts at the company and possibly having the option to transfer to another department or team after a few months
  • Doing a job you enjoy that will further your skill set for your next role
  • Not having to jump back into job hunting yet
  • Being less likely to have to explain your length of employment in future interviews
  • Gaining experience in working with difficult people, which will be important throughout your career
  • Feeling frustrated at work more often than not
  • Needing to find some way to make the situation more manageable personally and professionally (which may mean having a difficult conversation with your boss)
  • Possibly developing a poor relationship with your supervisor, which could result in a bad reference or being let go down the road
Pursuing Other Opportunities
Pros Cons
  • Likely ending up with a job you also enjoy, but with a boss you work well with
  • Decreasing your stress level on a daily basis
  • Leaving the company on good terms
  • Having the flexibility to take your time in your job hunt since you’re already employed
  • Risk of harming the positive working relationships you’ve established
  • Possibly having to explain your length of employment in future interviews
  • Taking on the stress and work of job seeking
  • Leaving an otherwise great company where there are opportunities for growth

Make a decision and follow through

If you decide to stay, have a positive attitude and make the best of it

Choosing to stay in a job you don’t love is a really difficult choice, but you are likely doing it for a good long-term reason. By making this choice, you are committing yourself to the position so you need to ensure your attitude reflects that, even if it’s really tough. Decide how long you want to stay before you start looking for another job (maybe six months to a year), and find ways to make that time a little more enjoyable. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Join a committee with a mission you like so you have a project you can be passionate about
  • Go out of your way to make a work-friend (but don’t trash-talk the company with them)
  • Look into the company’s advancement programs or transfer policies to give you something to work toward
  • Find an in-house mentor who can help you navigate the company and serve as a reference if/when you decide to leave

If you opt to leave, do it professionally

Remember, neither you nor the hiring manager went into this partnership knowing it wouldn’t be a great fit. Everyone had the best intentions and you need to treat them with respect when you resign so you don’t burn any bridges. Give ample notice so they have time to redistribute your work or find a replacement, offer to help make the transition as easy as possible and be sure to express appreciation for the opportunity. 

Feel empowered, not discouraged

It is definitely disappointing to find yourself unhappy in a job you were excited to take, but don’t get discouraged. Focus on the fact that you were able to get this job in the first place, that your experience and personality are so great that this company wanted to bring you on board. When you look at it from this perspective you will feel more empowered to make the best of the situation and confident that you’ll be able to find another new (and better) position in the future. Not every job is the right fit, but that doesn’t take away from the value you bring to an organization. 

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