Career Path

Worker’s Remorse: What to Do When You Choose the Wrong Job

Abrupt exits can be tricky. So can staying in a position that makes you miserable.

5 min read

Veronica was excited for her first day at a marketing firm in New York City. She had spent six months interviewing with different agencies, which resulted in her fielding multiple offers. One of them came from a company where a former colleague was on the executive team. She asked the exec, candidly, about the company culture—and received an “I love it” response. But within a week of starting her new role, Veronica was crying almost every night and realized she made a gross miscalculation. And when she called up the colleague who told her she adored the place? She too admitted she was miserable, but didn’t know how to explain it wasn’t a good cultural fit, because Veronica seemed so excited about the opportunity.

Veronica is part of a growing group of employees who are exiting faster than their direct deposit forms can kick in. Part of it is a function of the changing workforce. Millennials, who want to see pats on the back or promotions instantaneously, jump jobs quicker than baby boomers, who worry about the optics of leaving a role with fewer than five years on the books.

“Nearly 75% of companies in one survey said they have hired the wrong person.”

“A lot of it depends on where you are in your career,” says David Ginchansky, a Korn Ferry Advance career advisor. “As you discover who you are, you know what to look for more and you tend to run into these problems a lot less.”

There’s also growing pressure on companies to hire quickly, which can lead to filling positions with people who aren’t as skilled. That has led nearly 75% of companies in one survey to say they’ve hired the wrong person for a position, a mistake that costs firms an estimated $15,000 for every bad hire.

Career advisors say there’s no point in sticking it out for two years in a job that makes you completely miserable; after all, research shows unhappiness in jobs can wreak havoc on people’s lives, causing weight gain, sleepless nights, and turmoil in relationships, just to name a few. But ditching the job immediately can burn bridges, and if you jump from job to job too often you run the risk of looking flighty. Below, some tips on how to decide when to grit it out—and when to pull the plug.

Give it a shot.

If you’ve only been there for a week or two, career consultants recommend sitting tight. Even if you think it isn’t going to work out, it’s better to give it a chance—and gain some clarity—before deciding to move on. One study by German researchers found that people who are under stress can make decisions that are riskier than if they are calm. Sitting tight for a bit can help you gain some perspective and give you space to figure out what other job options you may have if you do quit abruptly.

Size up your internal options.

Sometimes an employee’s unhappiness can lie in his or her specific position, not the company overall. “We get caught up only in our own world and forget to look up and see what’s around us,” Ginchansky says. Before completely jumping ship, Ginchansky suggests grabbing a cup of coffee with colleagues in other departments to do a bit of internal networking. Within each organization, there can be particular sub-cultures and traits, and one of those may better suit your needs.

Exit gracefully.

Most sudden exits aren’t graceful, with the hiring manager having to explain the employee’s quick departure to bosses and coworkers, and the employee potentially burning bridges with anyone who helped him or her snag the job. But you can weather the outcome better by being diplomatic. When Tracy quit her job as the director of business development for an organization after only one month, she didn’t divulge the nitty gritty of what was driving her departure: a disorganized boss who called her constantly to schedule appointments and remind her of meetings. Rather, she told her boss the business environment didn’t fit her needs. While her boss was upset, Tracy’s diplomacy kept the conversation from turning into a negative discussion that pointed fingers.

Cover up and learn.

When former JPMorgan executive Alexander Lowry’s friend quit a financial services gig within two weeks of starting, he had one piece of advice for her: “Pretend it never happened.” She never listed it on her resume or talked about it again. Depending on how quickly you started—and stopped—this technique can work to your advantage, says Lowry, who is now executive director of the financial analysis master of science program at Gordon College in Massachusetts. “Just have a story to fill in the blank,” he says, adding that this shouldn’t be dishonest, but rather something along the lines of taking more time to explore your opportunities. And while it may be obvious, career consultants say it’s also necessary to debrief with yourself to learn what you can do to ensure you don’t choose the wrong job again. That way, you can sharpen your due-diligence skills so you aren’t walking away from another gig within two weeks.

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