The interviews went well. You liked the people, and the job seemed like a perfect fit. But now that you’ve been working at your new company for a couple of weeks, you’ve realized that nothing is as it appeared and you’ve made a terrible mistake.
First, take a beat and determine whether what you’re feeling is a normal "fish out of water" phenomenon that many people experience when starting a new job, says David M. Long, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the College of William and Mary’s Mason School of Business. Think about your past.
Do you often feel uncertain in new situations? This can even be with relationships, and other commitments. If yes, it might just be your normal sentiment in new situations. The second is your new coworkers. Do they communicate to you that everyone feels the same when they first start in this organization or career, and that over time it gets better?
If the answer to either is "yes," you may want to give it more time before you make a decision. But if you’re certain that the job is a bad fit or you’re in a bad environment that won’t get better, you’ve got some decisions to make. What you do next depends on your situation.
If you’re really certain this isn’t the job for you, look at your options immediately, advises Kathi Elster, partner in executive coaching firm K Squared Enterprises and author of Working for You Isn’t Working for Me. You likely still have contacts and perhaps even prospective interviews, depending on whether you were engaged in a full-scale job search and how recent it was, she says. Speak with your executive recruiter if you worked with one. While they may have a vested interest in you staying in the job, they may also be able to help make the transition out easier.
In addition, you’ll have some practical considerations, such as whether you should enroll in the company’s health insurance or roll over your retirement plan, Long says. "Any decision that has an initial buy-in cost or high switching costs should be avoided. Does it benefit you to consider the timing of your leaving?" he asks. "For example, if your current employer offers a discounted stock purchase plan at the beginning of every month, it might make sense to take advantage of that opportunity before leaving," he adds. If you have a financial adviser, now is a good time to tap them for advice.
You’re also likely to need some insight and support to keep you grounded, Long says. He recommends finding a "mentor who is more of a friend or counselor who offers calming advice and reassurance about the non-technical aspects of a job," he suggests. Because this is an emotional decision, the type of support you’ll need is likely different than what a more "traditional" mentor who offers guidance on the organization and the job duties might provide, he says.
Television producer and writer Tracy Rowland took a bad job, and "17 years later, I'm still having sweat-soaked nightmares about that job," she says. She had moved from Hong Kong and wanted to go to Los Angeles. So she landed a great gig with a new children’s network. But soon after arriving in California, she realized that she’d been the victim of a "bait and switch"—the job wasn’t what had been described, and her supervisor’s temperament was very difficult.
"She'd tell you how much she hated something, and she wanted it fixed, and how stupid you were to have done it that way in the first place, and you'd spend all night fixing it to show her the next day, and she'd be like, ‘I don't want that. Why did you do that?’" Rowland recalls.
Rowland heard from colleagues that her former supervisor had criticized her performance. Although they didn’t believe it, Rowland says she was concerned about the damage this woman could do to her reputation. Rowland says if she had to do it over again, she would have walked out the door the minute she realized how bad it was and not risk the negative word of mouth.
There are downsides to a "take this job and shove it" approach, according to search consultant and interview coach Donna Svei. A 2016 survey from Rise Smart, Inc., found that 41% of recruiters "usually" or "always" present unemployed candidates to clients, while 48% "sometimes" do, and 11% "rarely" or "never" do. So, being unemployed could potentially work against you.
Svei has found that LinkedIn’s algorithms favor the employed, so don’t be too quick to update your profile with an end date for your latest job. But even if you do leave quickly—whether you found something new or because you decided to quit—at least the stigma of job hopping is on the decline.
And while it may be tempting to burn such a short-term bridge, Svei says that it’s important to stick to the high road and remain professional. Leaving a company in the lurch or leaving on negative terms can hurt you if a future employer ever contacts the company. As Svei observes, "That can follow you for years."