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Hit The Ground Running

Souring On Your Dream Job? Here's What To Do (In This Order)

Taking these five steps can help you avoid acting rashly or just stewing in misery.

[Photo: Flickr user Holly Lay]

You did everything right. You found the company you’ve always wanted to work for. The job was a perfect fit and you aced the interview. Finally, after a weeks-long hiring process and far too much waiting, an offer comes your way. You negotiate a great compensation package, take the gig, and start what you consider to basically be your dream job.

Long story short, it isn't. For any number of reasons, the reality of the position falls far short of your expectations. Now you aren't sure what your next move should be. Do you just tough it out? Start the job search all over again? Something else entirely?

First, take a deep breath, then take these steps—in this order.

1. Look For Ways To Improve Your Situation

The key here is to start small, then work up from there if you need to, always keeping an eye on what you have it in your power to do, and what the likely outcomes might be. If you can make changes that leave you happier, you won't need to take drastic measures on the one hand or simply stay miserable on the other.

Many employees who decide a job isn’t right for them simply try to ride it out. That's a bad strategy. It will make you even more unhappy and can turn you into a negative force at work. If that happens, you probably won't be able to salvage the situation and turn it around.

So start by building stronger relationships with the people around you—even if that doesn't initially look like the source of your frustration. Positive work relationships can improve your work experience immediately, and possibly more than you might suspect. Next, write up a quick list of the other things that will make your job more enjoyable—and focus on the changes that can be made right away while still allowing you to deliver results in your role.

Then choose the right time to sit down with your boss, and be forthright: Explain that there are a few ways you think you could be more productive on the job and become a more valuable employee overall. The key is to present your proposals as good for both of you.

Most reasonable bosses will want to work with you toward a more fulfilling and rewarding job experience. A smart boss knows that when you become more productive and satisfied at work, their job managing you gets that much easier.

2. Invest In Your Skill Set While On The Clock

Most jobs offer opportunities for professional development, even if they aren't easy to spot right away. So learn everything you can while on the job—even if it includes a lot of grunt work. Ask for work assignments outside the scope of your daily job responsibilities. See if there are courses that your company offers or might be willing to pay for or subsidize. Find a mentor in the company and spend time taking advantage of their experience so you can expand your skill set.

This is usually the stage where many people throw their hands up. Finding a mentor or taking a class or two often feels like puttering around the margins and avoiding the issues that nag you the most. But if you're starting to think that your job really isn't right for you and are thinking about leaving, you should at least head out the door with a skill set far superior than the one you came in with—and use it to land your next gig.

3. Now Think Big Picture About What You Really Want To Do

Say you've spent time on the clock trying to make adjustments and boost your expertise but still aren't satisfied. Okay! Now's the time to work on determining what exactly it is you were meant to do all along. Cast a wide net. Start talking to friends, family, recruiters, and job coaches to get you started. Attend professional seminars. Research industries and jobs you think you might be interested in.

Then, as part of your networking, ask for shadowing opportunities at workplaces where you can get an understanding of some new roles and responsibilities you may be considering. Once you've built up a rapport with someone, it's really not outlandish to say, "Hey, I'd love to come in one morning and look over your shoulder for a couple hours," or, "Mind if I sit in on your weekly team meeting sometime?"

If you're happy in your industry but unhappy with your job, focus on the other roles available in your field. But make sure you aren't just setting yourself up to trade one unhappy experience for another. Consider switching industries—that may be the best option for finding something that really suits you.

4. Fight The Urge To Quit Before Lining Up Another Job

If you decide to leave your current job, don’t walk in one day and quit without having another job in place. That may feel satisfying for a day or two, but it brings up a whole host of problems soon afterward.

As you probably already know, most employers still prefer hiring employees who are working. While you can spin any story in your favor, the bottom line is that you are unemployed. And that fact often raises questions in a prospective employer's mind. You don't want to have to answer them.

5. Leave Like A Class Act

After giving it your best, deciding that it just won't cut it, securing a new offer, and finally giving your two weeks' notice, you still have one more thing you need to do. The last two weeks you spend on the job after quitting are the most important two weeks of your tenure.

That’s because people will always remember how you left a job—sometimes more so than how you spent your time on the job. You want to work hard and be productive during your final stretch, and show the other employees and your supervisors that you understand what it means to leave a job as an upstanding professional. Your good name is at stake—and so are future job recommendations from the people you leave behind.


Don Raskin is a senior partner at MME, an advertising and marketing agency in New York City. He is also the author of The Dirty Little Secrets of Getting Your Dream Job.

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