Usually, getting a new job is exciting. After all, you survived a long interview process, you’ve said goodbye to your old gig (and all the things that drove you crazy about it), and you’re ready for an exciting new opportunity. But then, you get there and you realize that you hate this new job. What do you do?
Well, first, you breathe. You’re definitely not the first person to take a new job, then realize it’s a mistake. It happened to me, for example, and I had no idea what to do. I felt ashamed that I had made such a bad move.
But here’s the thing: It’s OK to be upset, frustrated, or disappointed with a new job. You can’t know everything about a company from the outside, and while you’re putting on your best face during an interview, there’s a good chance they are too. It’s also helpful to remember that there are things you can do to make your situation better—you just need a proactive plan for yourself.
I spoke with Cristin Downs, executive coach and founder of the Women Leaders School, to get her advice for figuring out your next steps. Here’s what she recommends:
If you think the problem is the job, you’ll notice red flags right away
Some of the red flags might have even been there during the interview process, but you ignored or missed them because you were excited. But now that you’re here, you’re realizing they’re a much bigger deal.
For example, are the work hours terrible? Are your manager’s expectations unreasonable? Does management reward overwork, even if it means no one goes home or signs off until late at night? Does the company encourage people to keep working when they’re sick? Are there company policies or people who make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe?
“I remember being introduced to one of my new employees on my first day at a new job, and the executive handling the exchange told me afterward that the woman’s best friend was in the hospital, dying,” Downs said. “She finished the comment with, ‘she’s not usually such a downer’—that was a red flag.”
Ultimately, if you don’t feel respected at work, if the job or the company doesn’t align with your core values, or if Sunday nights bring you to tears, it’s unlikely to get better—and you might want to start looking at your options to leave.
Be honest with yourself about what you’re feeling
New jobs bring change: You’re meeting new people, you have a new manager, you’re using new software, and you’re learning new workflows. Heck, the company culture and values are probably different too. Plus, the new job might feel like a stretch of your skills. This leaves a lot of room for self-doubt or imposter syndrome to set in.
So ask yourself: Do you like what the job could be but hate the fact that you feel unsure of what you’re doing? If so, there might be things you can do to acclimate faster, such as talking to your manager and colleagues and asking them for help.
If the job is good, your team should want you to succeed, and ultimately, you’re going to settle in and be glad you stuck it out.
Figure out how quickly you need to act
As tempting as it is to just quit, acting impulsively might hurt your career and your finances. Sometimes, the best course of action is to figure out ways to make the job survivable while you look for something else.
For example, if you’re feeling lonely or ignored by your colleagues, try reaching out to a trusted work friend at a former job or a coach. “It helps to have someone else to talk to, and those relationships can help you process what is happening right now,” Downs said.
But if the job is toxic and harming your emotional and physical health, there’s no such thing as quitting too soon. You just need to figure out how to do so in a way that you can afford.
Tap your internal networks for help
In other words, reach out to former colleagues, managers, and work contacts and see who’s hiring.
If you don’t think you can stay at your current job while going through a long interview process for a full-time role, ask about contract or short-term work to hold you over financially and get you out of the unhealthy workplace as quickly as possible.
“[Short-term work] has worked for my clients and given them much-needed income, and quite frankly the confidence, to quit and look for something else,” Downs said.
Consider reaching out to your old employer
Asking for your old job back might feel a bit like trying to get back together with your ex, but depending on why you left your old gig and your relationship with the company, it can be an option—especially right now during the Great Resignation.
To many large companies, Downs said, “getting an already trained employee is like Christmas morning.”
Just be sure to be honest with yourself about the reasons you left in the first place. Do you really want to go back or are you just desperate to leave this new company? If the idea of going back makes you feel like a failure, you might want to avoid it, but if it feels like going home to a team you were sad to leave in the first place, reach out. If they haven’t filled the role and you were in good standing, they might take you back.
Update your resume and start applying
Whether you go back to your old job, find a new one, or quit to freelance, remember that you are under no obligation to include every job on your resume. If you weren’t there very long and find a new job right away, it’s OK to leave it off—especially if the short stint at this job isn’t experience you really want to highlight anyway.
That said, if you stay at the new job you hate while looking for something else, it’s best to leave it on your resume for right now. You can, however, remove the months on your resume, and then if you get the job interview, be honest about why you’re looking so soon.
In general, though, the Great Resignation as well as the trend toward job hopping for career advancement have made some employers a little more comfortable with things that would have previously bothered them about job candidates.
Learn from the experience
The good news is that you will get through this, and one day, the experience will be nothing more than a memory and a learning experience.
I look back on the job I regretted taking as something I could learn from. Now, when I apply for roles, I take the whole idea of “interviewing them while they interview you” a little more seriously and look for red flags that might suggest I’ll end up being unhappy in the role or at that company.
In the end, we spend way too much time at work to be unhappy—so it’s OK to be picky when looking for your next opportunity.