I recently advised someone who was in their first role after graduation but wasn't enjoying the job after three months in the position. This person was considering leaving as they were so unhappy, but they were worried they wouldn't be able to get another role due to leaving so soon. They were also concerned - as this was their first experience working in a big company, they assumed all other jobs at similar types of companies would be the same and thought they might be better just to "stick it out".
When I think back, I have left two jobs within three months of starting them during my career (including my very first job after graduation) - and don’t regret making either decision. Here’s an overview of those two experiences, which I hope others in a similar situation will find useful.
The “highly flattering first job offer after graduation” role
After interviewing at a large national recruitment agency chain for marketing or public relations opportunities (what I’d studied) immediately after graduation, they actually offered me a job to join them instead, working in their Marketing recruitment team, which would involve placing candidates into marketing jobs.
This was my first full-time job offer, and I was naive back then. This situation was a classic case of me as a candidate being inexperienced, flattered to be asked to join this large company, impressed by their shiny waterfront offices, opportunities for national travel and strong salary package, and letting people sell an opportunity to me as opposed to really taking a step back and considering whether it was what I actually wanted.
They had offered me a trip to Sydney within 2 months of joining to attend their national training programme (another aspect which had wowed me at interview). After around 6 weeks of sitting in a large room full of agency recruiters who worked from 8am to 7pm or later (core contractual hours were 8am - 6pm), were constantly on the phone aggressively scouting for new business, sounding horns or hitting gongs when they closed deals, talking about the huge commissions they received from clients and discussing candidates, I realised I could no longer ignore the sinking feeling in my stomach. There was a certain atmosphere in that office which made me feel uncomfortable, out of place, and my inner voice was screaming for me to get out of there.
One morning I asked to speak with the manager, thanked them for giving me the opportunity, emphasised what I’d learned during that time, apologised profusely and explained I didn’t want them to invest their money in sending me to Sydney when I knew this role wasn’t aligned to what I was looking for. They were disappointed, and frankly a little annoyed, but they appreciated me not wasting their time and taking a free trip to Sydney when I’d known I was intending to leave afterwards. It felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders when I walked out of there.
Lesson learned: When interviewing and considering job offers, stop and take a moment to consider whether, if all the benefits and perks were stripped away, the core work would still be something you’d want to do and is aligned to who you are as a person. You may not always get this right, but at least you’ll know you put some serious thought into it.
The “completely wrong fit yet higher compensation” opportunity
I’d moved to London and was working in a great temporary role at a management consultancy, which was meant to have been a 6 week assignment but had stretched out to 9 months by that point - but with no opportunity of being converted to permanent and frequent worry of the job ending and leaving me only one week’s contractual notice to find a new one. This was early in the global financial crisis so it was a pretty uncertain time in general.
One of my friends was working at an investment bank and she mentioned offhand there was a temporary role available there, and she was happy to recommend me. I remember thinking there was no harm in going along to the interview, and she seemed happy there so it felt like it could be a good next opportunity for me during what I then assumed would be a 2 year stint in London trying out a variety of different roles and companies.
After interviewing for the role and being offered it, I found out the compensation was one third higher than I’d been receiving. I think, originating from a small town in Australia I was wowed by the prospect of working at an investment bank, as they seemed to me at that time to be incredibly high powered, international, in demand employers. Plus - the money would fund even more cheap travel opportunities throughout Europe which was a focus for me at the time!
Fast-forward to 6 of the longest weeks of my working life later, during which my colleagues barely spoke to each other, looked at me extremely confused when I bounded in smiling and greeted them with “Good morning!” each day and literally ran to the bathrooms and back out to their desks again as if someone was timing their rest breaks. I suddenly discovered that inner voice was well and truly still there, and once again wanted me out of there.
Similar to the situation years beforehand, I thanked them, explained the role wasn’t right for me, offered to close off all my projects and stay an extra week to help them find someone new - and then left that job and moved into an HR role at a phenomenal non-profit where I was paid less than half what the bank was paying me, had to budget within an inch of my life each week, but absolutely loved every part of the role and what the company stood for and am close friends with both of my managers to this day. I still tell people now about the amazing work this company was doing, as I had a genuine passion for the cause and still do after working there.
Lesson learned - Compensation really isn’t everything and should never be your only driver for making career changes. Just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it will or should work for you. Prestige means nothing at all if it means nothing to you.
Some people worry by leaving a role early in their employment they will damage their chances of getting another job. I believe I was able to move into new roles successfully after these two situations by being:
Honest - with myself about what worked in those roles/companies for me and what was missing
Authentic - with new hiring managers I spoke with next about why I left those roles so soon and why they just weren’t a good fit for me
Positive - about what I learned in both of these jobs, as despite them not working out for me, there are always interesting things to be learned in new roles and I was able to take some great things from each of these experiences
Considerate - leaving the jobs sooner rather than later, and before the employer had invested too much more time, money and effort in me
Open - to trying new roles next which may not have ticked my ideal boxes in terms of compensation or benefits, but felt right to my “inner voice”
Sian Havard is Founder at Milkshake Group, a Brisbane, Australia based consultancy which coaches people around the world looking for awesome careers in tech, and partners with startups looking to create world-class talent strategies. Find us at www.milkshakegroup.com