When you find out that you’ve gotten a new job or a big promotion, it’s usually a really exciting time. Your world is suddenly full of possibilities, and you’re eagerly anticipating a new office, a new team, a new raise, and new opportunities.
But unfortunately, it doesn’t always quite so exciting once you’ve actually stepped into the new role.
So when you land a new role and discover you’re not loving every single day at work like you thought you would, what should you do? What should you do when you get a new job and discover that you don’t like it?
First: remember the early days in a new job are always hard
Whenever you are new, anywhere, it pretty much sucks. No matter how extroverted you are or excited about your new role, it is really hard to be the new kid on the block.
In fact, for a lot of people, the first 3-6 months on any job can be downright awful.
And it may have nothing to do with whether or not this job is actually a good fit for you.
When you’re new on a team, there are all these established social norms that you just don’t know about. Everyone has a rapport that you’re on the outside of. You don’t get the “stuff” that other people just know innately. There are jokes you don’t get, and unspoken rules about things like how quickly to reply to emails or where to go for help. So there are lots of moments of feeling left out, like an outsider, or like someone who just doesn’t get it.
You’ll make mistakes. You’ll be corrected by people. It just happens, and unfortunately it all usually serves to make you feel kind of stupid and like maybe you were wrong to have been so excited about this job. And that doesn’t feel good.
Unfortunately, the best cure for the discomfort of a new role is time. The longer you’re there, the more aspects of the culture you’ll pick up and the more integrated you’ll become with your new team. The less you’ll get corrected, and the more often you’ll know exactly what to do.
(The caveat here, of course, is that if you’re in a really unhealthy work environment, sticking it out probably won’t help. If your boss is screaming in your face every day or you don’t have the skills to do the job you’re being asked to do, then leaving sooner will be the best for all parties.)
However, most companies just don’t have very good onboarding processes, and so in most cases new people are left floundering until time and exposure take their natural course and you get more acclimated. Even with lots of onboarding help and support, there is just a lot to learn before you’ll feel like you are up to speed and really shining in your role.
So the first thing to do when you’re struggling in a new role is to realize that this alone doesn’t mean that it’s not going to work out.
If you’ve been in the role less than 3 months, don’t decide yet that this job isn’t a good fit
Once you’ve gotten your expectations in line with reality, it’s time to look seriously at how you can improve your situation.
In the early weeks, you’ll feel left out and you’ll struggle to get up to speed. Once you’ve acknowledged those hurdles and the normal “new job” growing pains, it’s time to look at what you can do to improve your own situation (along with being patient and allowing your own growth to happen).
Here are a couple of things you can do to ease an uncomfortable transition into a new role:
- Talk to your manager. It never hurts to be candid with your manager about how you’re feeling. As long as you aren’t hopeless or just complaining for the sake of complaining, it can be valuable to share your experience with your boss. They can help give you some of the insider cultural information you need (eg. where to look for help, general email rules, expected office hours, etc). If you’re struggling with something specific, they can offer insight about people or policies that you might not yet have insight into.
- Try to make one good friend on your team.Even if you’re feeling really left out, I guarantee there is one person in your new office who is going to be nice to you. You just have to find that person. Make a point to take a new person out to coffee every day or to connect with someone 1:1 in another way to build relationships. They will all grow over time, but once you find someone who is nice and friendly to you, invest in that friendship. Having an ally will not only help you feel less isolated, but they can also be a valuable resource of information for you.
- Get really clear on priorities and success in your role. Getting a win or two under your belt will work wonders for your confidence. Talk to your manager and your team about what the most important work there is for your team right now, and make sure you align your efforts with those key priorities. If you can find out how success is measured and help your team secure a win that they really value, you’ll be part of the team faster, since you’ll demonstrate that you understand their goals and are invested in the group’s success.
- If you’re managing a team, connect with people 1:1. Coming into a new team as a manager is especially challenging and isolating. Some people who you’re leading might know who you are, but most of the people on your team likely weren’t part of your interview process and don’t really know anything about you. So you are starting completely fresh and have to build trust. Make a point of not only getting to know the individuals on your team, but letting them get to know you too. Share stories that show your authentic self and be transparent, while also asking them lots of questions about their work and their history; it’s one of the fastest ways to build rapport and trust.
3-6 months in? Try this exercise
Once you’ve been in your new role for a few months, if you’re still not liking it, try this exercise.
- Make a list of everything you like about your job. Write down everything that first made you excited about accepting this role. Write down the things — even the little things — that you like to do at your job. It can be big stuff (“I love my manager, she is really invested in my success”) or little things (“The food at lunch is great”). Write as much as you possibly can.
- Make a list of everything you don’t like about your job. Be really specific here. Write down what frustrates you, what didn’t live up to your expectations, where you feel like you’re falling short… Write down as much as you can, so that you can really hone in one what isn’t working for you.
Not only is this helpful for getting a clear perspective on where you stand — for example, writing all the things you like about a job might remind you of all the positives, even if you’re still struggling with 1-2 big things day-to-day — but it can also help you formulate a plan for the future.
If there are mostly positives and just a few big negatives, then you’ve got a clear set of goals to work on. If you’re still feeling isolated from your team, for example, now you can work hard on that to move that over to the “positive” side of your list. And you’ll also have your whole list of positives to remind you when things get hard that there are actually a lot of things you love about the role.
If there are mostly negatives, dig deep and find out why. Here are a few likely possibilities for where your new job negativities could be stemming from:
- You had different expectations for the job. If you didn’t do a very good job researching the company or asking questions during your interview, it’s totally possible that you could enter a new job not fully understanding what you’d be expected to do. If that’s the case, it’s not really your employer’s fault — but there are still things you can do to try to change your expectations, slightly alter your goal, or improve your skills to match the job you ended up with.
- You were given different expectations for the job. Sometimes, hiring managers make promises that they end up not being able to keep. If you were told you’d be promoted into management after 6 months but the company ended up shifting direction and your management role no longer exists, then you don’t really have the job you thought you were going to get. It’s now up to you to decide if you’re willing to shift direction along with the company, or if you’re willing to put up with the job you’ve ended up with, even if it wasn’t the one you were promised.
- Your positives are outweighed by unexpected negatives. Lots of people get excited to take roles at big name companies where they’ll have a great title and lots of money, only to realize that didn’t fulfill what they hoped it would. They miss the rapport and authority they had on a small startup team, or they don’t like the long hours expected at their big corporate gig. The thing you thought would make you happy didn’t actually make you happy, or came with other factors that outweigh the benefits.
What to do if you still hate your new job after 6 months
For most people, the 6 month mark is when their new job stop feeling so new and foreign, and things begin to fall into place. The discomfort starts to fade, and even though there are still hiccups and new situations, it becomes a bit more like a job you can envision having for the next few years.
It’s important to remember here, too, that no job is 100% perfect all the time. It is just a job after all, and there will always be conflicts, challenges, and missed opportunities. Don’t give up on something just because it is hard; you have to rise to the challenge too.
But if you are still really unhappy in your job after 5-6 months, it’s time to start thinking about what to do next.
You should first talk to your manager about your concerns. This is where your list-making exercise will come in handy. The more specific you can be when talking to your boss, the more they’ll be able to help you.
If possible, it’s almost always best to first see if there’s some way you can alter your job to be a better fit for you than to just quit or leave right away. If it’s clear that it currently isn’t working out, then see if there’s something you can do to make it better.
Can you join a different team?
Step out of management and into an individual contributor role?
Shift your responsibilities to better match your skills?
If, however, that’s not possible or you know you absolutely have to leave this job, then put in your notice.
Before you leave, make sure you have a good story for what you’ll say about this role. If it was your fault for not understanding the role and the culture, then be honest about that. You want to be able to tell future employers that you won’t make that mistake again.
Spending less than a year at a company is a red flag for most hiring managers, so you want to address that right away and put their fears at ease.
Take what you learned and be better in the future
Every challenge is an opportunity to learn about yourself and become better. Whether you stay in the role or you move on, you will learn from the experience of being uncomfortable in a new job. Use it to better inform how you interview, how you pick jobs, and how you approach your work in future situations.
Have you ever started a new job and hated it? Share in the comments how you overcame the challenges or how you decided to leave.