What to Do When You Hate Your First Job

I received the following email last week from a recent college grad.  I’m sure many of you can relate to this scenario or might even be in it now.

Dear Ms. Career Girl,

I graduated from college back in May. I guess I am one of the lucky few that landed a job out of college without first enduring a period of stressful unemployment. Unfortunately, my job is a pretty terrible fit. I definitely cannot see myself making a career out of it.

It’s only been about 4 months since I started, but I’m ready to move on. Fortunately, this job got me in the city where I want to be and I’ve already made some good networking connections here.

Do you have any specific advice for someone in my situation? I feel like my job is nothing like what I signed up for. Admittedly, it’s my fault for not doing better research on the company or the position; but at the time I was an anxious college senior who was ecstatic just to have an offer on the table. What’s the best way to explain why I’m looking for a new job so shortly after starting my current one?

Thanks for your help.


My Thoughts


It’s funny you mentioned the 4 month mark.  I clearly remember sitting at a friend’s kitchen counter– 4 months into my first job- asking her for the same advice.  After that conversation, I drove right to the nearest gas station to buy my first lottery ticket.  I was praying that lotto ticket would get me out of my job.

The supposed “rule of thumb” is to try and stay at your 1st job for at least 1 year. But as you know, I generally don’t believe in “rules of thumb,” so instead let’s take a different approach.  Before you consider looking elsewhere, answer the following questions  in order to identify what you like and dislike, and to evaluate your expectations.

1) What do you hate about this job? Is it the company culture, the people, the ethics, the industry, the schedule, the position I have within the company?  Other?

2) What were your expectations about this job? What’s different about the job now that you are in it?  Were your expectations realistic?

3) If you could change 1 thing about the job, what would it be?

4) Are there other roles within the company that might be a better fit?

5) Do you want your boss’s job? If not, it might mean you really are in the wrong role or that the company doesn’t offer the opportunity for advancement you are looking for- both very important factors to consider.

Disclaimer: if you are in a job that you feel is unethical, you are miserable to the point of affecting your health, or you are being harassed in some way, then it’s probably time to leave.  If not…

here is my advice

  • Carefully evaluate how you answered the above questions. Is there something wrong with your job/company or is it your attitude that needs to change?  You’d be shocked at how much a simple attitude adjustment will affect your entire outlook.
  • DO NOT QUIT YOUR JOB UNTIL YOU HAVE ACCEPTED ANOTHER OFFER. A LOT of people hate their day job.  Yet they keep it to pay their bills.  In other words, proactively search for a new job, but don’t think that you are above a boring and crappy first job.  Most of us have been there.  This too shall pass. In fact, it will probably pass a lot quicker than you think.
  • The best time to find a job is while you’re still employed. Staying employed also allows you to pick the RIGHT job instead of accepting any job that comes your way (and therefore putting you back right where you started).  Having a job gives you the freedom of choice, a bit of negotiating power and a better image for prospective employers.  I also think the challenges you face during your last months of employment will build character and give you plenty to talk about in your interviews.
  • Don’t forget to network within your company. Don’t make it formal and awkward. Instead, just go to lunch, have casual conversations and ask for advice.
  • Treat finding a new job like your job. Create a spreadsheet that tracks your applications, interviews and follow ups.  Start emailing people to strike up conversation.  Build your personal board of directors.  Go to coffee with a new person once a week.  Strategically use social media. Use your lunch break to talk to recruiters or do phone interviews.  Pick a time slot of your day that you will devote to job searching and socializing with others.  Then make it a habit until you’ve accepted your new offer.
  • Be Patient. Even in a great economy, finding a new job is tough and it takes time.  Plan on a 3-4 month search at least so that your expectations are realistic. Pace it out and keep a positive attitude.  Just like dating, “the right one can be around the corner and is worth waiting for.”
  • DO NOT MENTALLY CHECK OUT OF THE JOB YOU ARE CURRENTLY PAID TO DO. Because you made a commitment to do your best and they are paying you for that commitment.
  • Be honest, yet positive, while interviewing. Most experienced professionals will understand that first jobs aren’t always dream jobs.  Express gratitude for your opportunity, craft examples of what you learned and then let the interviewer know how those lessons can be applied to the position at hand.
  • Leave the company on good terms. The people you work with now will undoubtedly pop up in your life at some point down the road.

All in all, I think the solution to hating your 1st job is different for everyone.  You need to do what is right for YOU, regardless of what the career “experts”, your parents, books or university career centers tell you.  I give so much credit to the people who know something isn’t right and gracefully make changes.

There is only ONE person that’s in charge of your career, and that is YOU. Ignore the masses, analyze your reasons for wanting to move on, make a decision and stick with it.

Good luck!

Nicole Emerick

Nicole Emerick founded Ms. Career Girl in 2008 to help other ambitious young professional women thrive in a career they love. Ironically, growing MsCareerGirl helped Nicole transition her own career from commercial banker to digital marketer. Today Nicole leads the social media team at a large advertising agency in Chicago. Nicole also served as an adjunct professor at DePaul University where she helped develop the careers of PR, Advertising and Communications students. Tweet with Nicole @_NicoleEmerick.