I can't quit a job I hate - what do I do?

Head of Careers Sarah Geraghty gives her advice to readers of The Business Post Magazine.

24th Jan 2024
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Dear Expert,

I’m in my 30s and have a good job with a pension, excellent holiday leave, the lot. The trouble is, I hate my job – it makes me miserable. I’m overworked and stressed, but it feels like there is no way out. It is 100 per cent the best job I could expect in this industry for someone of my experience level.

If I left, I would have about six months with my savings before being forced to move home because I couldn’t afford to rent. I would also have a lot of trouble explaining to other possible employers why I left that job with no other prospects in front of me, or anything tied down. I have tried looking for other jobs online, but the problem is that they all pay a lot less than what I’m currently on. I’d be doing much the same thing for less money.

I have asked myself if I should try to find a mentor and navigate a way out of my situation. Or maybe I should drop everything and start from a blank slate. Perhaps I just need to give myself a kick to get going. Or is that crazy? I am so unsure of what to do.

Dear Reader,

Of course there’s a way out. You’re in your 30s. You have options. You need a plan. So make one. You say that your job makes you miserable. But what do you value in a job?

Here’s a tip. Look around your company, do a quick audit of who does what and ask yourself: “Is there anybody in here whose job I would like?” No? Then look at your friends and wider circle, and ask the same question. If you find one, arrange a coffee with that person and ask for advice on how to move from your current role into the one you’d prefer.

But before you even try that, you have some facing-up to do. Starting with what makes you unhappy. Keep a diary for a week and register every point at which you feel sad, overworked or stressed. Don’t analyse as you go. Just make notes of the precise situations causing you misery. When the week is up, go back and consider. What, precisely, made you miserable? Something said to you? Boredom? Trying to meet several deadlines at once?

When you’ve produced the evidential answers, you’ll be in a better position to question your own words. For example, “miserable” is a big negative. Is it a particularly chaotic time for the company? Is there an end in sight to the chaos? Has working from home added to your workload? Is your team understaffed or under-resourced? Similarly, there’s a difference between stress and pressure. The latter is a normal, predictable part of our daily lives, particularly as you progress in your career and gain more responsibilities.

Be honest with yourself, as you have been in your letter. How much of the “misery” is context-driven? In other words, is it the job that’s making you miserable or something else? If you’re clear that it’s the job, then, having armed yourself with evidence, ideas and solutions, arrange a meeting with your manager and come up together with a workable plan to address the issue.

You shouldn’t change jobs or careers just for the hell of it. Lots of people I’ve worked with over the last 20 months have made huge changes to their existing positions and been happy to stay put as a result. Something unexpected came up that they’ve always wanted to do or they just realised they weren’t confined to the track they were on.

Here’s the most important piece of advice I can give you: deal in data. Don’t make assertions about being miserable or stressed. Line up the relevant data. If it indicates that you must leave your current job, then you leave it.

And here’s the second-most important piece of advice. Don’t let excuses short-circuit your life. If you leave a job because you weren’t fulfilled in it, of course that’s something you can explain in an interview.

Don’t quit your job overnight in a blind panic. You need to know what you’re searching for. You also need to consider this search a full-time job. If that means allocating time at weekends and some of your excellent holiday leave, do it.

Tap into your network to hear what’s out there. Read the business supplements to see what new, interesting companies have landed. Contact them through LinkedIn, invite people to chat over coffee. What qualifications, skills and experience are needed for the roles you’re interested in?

The answer to the qualifications question is fairly obvious – get the required one. It might cost you money (probably less than a mentor’s hourly rate), but if you really want to work in that field, then you do it. For example, if you’ve been working in marketing then you can’t become a pharmacist without securing the relevant qualifications.

In terms of skills and experience, you need to be crystal clear on what’s required by potential employers. But I’m sure at this stage you have already developed transferable skills: teamwork, communication and the ability to meet deadlines. These can be used in all jobs. For example, if you have been working in sales for the past ten years but would like to move into PR, you’ve already started your development. If you’re any good at sales, you’ve got a stack of useful skills – listening, an ability to build strong relationships quickly etc.

Get your CV up to date and make sure everything in it is relevant, illustrative of your success and achievements. Make a plan. Prepare yourself.