Wednesday, September 5, 2012

so you hate your first job

Preface: I received a Facebook message last night from a very talented friend of mine looking for some advice. Three months into her first job, she has realized that it is not for her. It's not what she expected, and she knows in her heart it's not right for her. She knew - as many of you might since I've been so transparent about it on this blog - that I left my first job after only seven months, and she was looking for some advice on what to do, knowing that only working somewhere for three months isn't exactly a high point on a resume. I responded to her message happy to help, and then realized that my advice to her could apply to many more people that hate their jobs, so I decided to post it here. 

These are the steps I took when I finally knew in my heart I was headed down a path that wasn't right for me. I hope it helps any young people out there that are fresh in the workforce and already feeling trapped. 


You, my dear, have come to the right place. I know EXACTLY how you feel. When it was all said and done, I actually stayed close to about 7 months at my first job, but I was about 4 months into it when I realized it wasn't the right place for me. If you've told anyone how you feel, I'm sure many of them have said Wait it out. Give it a year, and if you're still unhappy then move on. Well, the problem with that is... IT'S A YEAR. In my opinion that's way too long to be unhappy. But that's just kind of something you have to decide for yourself. If you DO want to start looking for another job, here are some things I suggest. 

1. Decide what it is you don't like about your current position. // Is it the structure? The monotony? The tasks themselves? The only way to make sure you don't move backwards in whatever else you choose to do is to be really honest with yourself about what you hate about your current job. You may find that everything you hate about project management is really advertising in general (ie. the deadlines, the pressure) in which case you may want to look outside of that realm. For me, media planning was too much money to (sometimes arbitrarily) play with and too much pressure (literally I'd get heart palpitations, and I'm not afraid to admit it.) I also didn't feel like I had enough freedom to come up with ideas. I felt like I was always executing on someone else's ideas. That's certainly not the agency's fault - I think anyone in an entry-level position isn't going to get to come up with the home run of an idea that you can build a campaign around, but I knew that it might be possible to make a bigger impact somewhere smaller. I knew that whatever I did next, I wanted it to be a much more flexible structure (ie. not TWO supervisors plus TWO direct reports, which inevitably makes you feel like you're simultaneously walking on eggshells and being pulled in four directions) and something that would allow me to be creative. Knowing what you don't like is the first step. 

2. Think about what you do like! // (Kind of obvious, right?) Once you know what you don't want to do, think about what you really do want to do! Look at this as an opportunity to start over - to get a fresh start knowing what you know now. And hey, shoot for the moon because you never know where you could end up. Want to do social media for a nonprofit? Want to be an assistant editor for a fashion blog? Want to be a personal assistant for Emma Stone? (Okay, that one was for me.) Who knows - the sky is the limit. Seriously, think long and hard about this one because if you make this move it won't be easy and you want to make sure it's worth the trouble. I decided that I wanted to do something related to social media because that's what I was passionate about, and so once I made that decision, it was a lot easier to focus my attention completely on looking for a job in that field. (I'll also say that luckily for me at the time, not having experience in social media was kind of irrelevant because NO ONE had experience in social media. Is there a new field or position on the horizon that you might want to do? That's a possible strategy for trying to downplay your lack of experience.)

As a caveat I would say also explore whether what you like to do could be found at your current company. If you're really at the end of your rope but LOVE the company you're working for, it could be as easy as talking to someone in HR or a supervisor about what other opportunities there are in different departments. If I didn't know that I wanted to move back to Jacksonville so badly, I definitely would have gone this route because I adored McKinney as a workplace. Plus, at that point, you really have nothing to lose. 

3. Once you've narrowed it down and you know you definitely want to leave, start updating your resume. // I know it's in your head that you've only been working there three months, so you're thinking, Isn't this going to look bad to a potential employer? And it might - but only to some. I always thought to myself, if I prove to a future employer that I can be valuable to them and that I'm the best candidate for the job, then they won't care. And if they ask about it, just know that you have a good reason for leaving. Make sure you can articulate in an interview why it was a good move for you and why this position is different. You want to absolve their fears about investing in you only for you to leave unexpectedly. You just kind of have to have the confidence and attitude that you're valuable. 

Also, sit down and think about all the skills you've honed in your position in your short months and how that can be applied to the new position you're interested in. For me, having an understanding of audience targeting and segmentation, managing big budgets on my own, and having experience with advanced analytics were all really valuable in applying for my new job because they didn't have anyone on the social team with that background and they knew I'd be a well-rounded asset for them. Finding a new job won't happen right away, so with every day at your current position, think about what projects and opportunities you can be a part of before you leave that could be great fodder for a potential interview. (It will also help the days go by faster too because it will feel like you're working toward something better.) 

4. Use your network! // This is a biggie. Once you know the type of positon you're looking for, there are tons of ways to go about looking for jobs. You can use the typical methods like looking on, Talent Zoo, etc. but I personally think that that the best way to get a job is to work your network. All three jobs I've had since college I got by making connections inside the company. When I was at McKinney looking for a new job, my boyfriend told me there was a girl in Jacksonville that knew everyone when it came to social media, so I got her email address and sent her a copy of my resume, telling her I was looking for a position in that realm. I spent a long time making it personal and sincere. She didn't even know me that well but she happened to be on the American Marketing Association board with a social media manager at an agency in town and she knew they were looking for someone before they ever even posted about the job. She passed my resume on and I was the first candidate across their desk so I had a leg up. 

You never know who is going to know someone or who is going to help you, so I would suggest sending personal emails to anyone and everyone that you think could help you out. Even if a small fraction pass your info along, that could be what you need to get your dream job! (I also believe strongly in doing that for other people since it has helped me out so many times. I love getting messages like yours or passing along a resume I think is strong because it makes me feel good to know I'm kind of paying it forward in a way.) 

I would also add that connections can be made in the most unlikely of ways as well. Use social media to connect with people in the field you want a job in and form real relationships. Those connections could prove to be useful as well. I got my first job at McKinney because I followed their blog religiously and one night I read a post by one of their Senior Account Planners that spoke to me. I did some stalking on LinkedIn to get the format of the agency's email addresses and just sent him an email, hoping it would get to him. He ended up agreeing to a lunch meeting when I was in the area and gave me a nice recommendation with their HR department. Which leads me to the point...

5. Work every single lead! (and try to stay sane.) // The job process is a very uncertain one as you know - it can take two weeks or it can take months. So while you're doing all of this, keep it quiet and just keep working every lead you possibly can. I probably started putting out my feelers four months into my stint but didn't find the right job until about five months in. With interviews and everything I finally left at about seven months, so it's definitely a process. Keep your head up and look for things with your job that you do enjoy. Power through and focus on the fact that you'll be happier soon! I know how much it sucks to know you're not in the right place for you, even if the agency itself is really great (mine was!)

I'm happy to help you look over your resume or give you feedback on any opportunities/positions. The biggest part is going to be knowing what questions to ask this time around so you don't find yourself at a place you hate. 

Every day there are people in their thirties and forties that wake up and realize the career they've built doesn't bring them any sort of satisfaction. From the beginning they got caught up in climbing the ladder and didn't get out even when they knew it wasn't for them. You may hear people tell you that 3 months in is too soon to get out, but I would argue that it's the PERFECT time. If you listen to your heart and move around while you're young, you won't have to wait until you're 30 or 40 to start over. You'll have set yourself down a more satisfying path from the beginning. 

And for what it's worth - in case you're feeling even the slightest bit the same way I did - don't feel like you couldn't hack it. There are A LOT of people in advertising (or any industry for that matter) that are unhappy but they convince themselves they love it because they don't have the courage to get out or be different or walk away. (It must also be said that there are also A LOT of people that thrive on the chaos and the pressure and love it. I'm certainly not discounting them.) There's just a difference between not being able to hack it and simply not wanting to hack it. 

Life is simply too short to do anything else than the things you love.

Good luck!


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