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How to Turn Your Worst Job Experience Into Something Great

Take the positives from the situation into future jobs and leave the rest behind.

by Miranda Martin
January 15, 2020 | Work

If you wake up every day dreading going into work, it's a red flag that your job might not be right for you. Nobody loves every second of their work day, but it shouldn't make you feel miserable.

If you are miserable, it’s time to change what you're doing into something great, however that might look for you.

Decide what the problem is

The first step to making a change at work is making sure you know what the problem is. Serena Johnson, career coach at her company Ladies Who Do Cool Sh*t, suggests writing out what you want to change.

“Before you start looking for something else, be really clear about who you are and what you want from your career experience," she said. "Think of what would be your perfect relationship with your boss, if you actually don’t like working at a desk...

"This will give you clarity about whether your job problems are something easy you can tweak, or if it's a larger problem."

If you are considering leaving a position because of something that has the potential to change, ask your boss about it before making a decision to leave. If it can’t be changed, you can always leave after trying.

[ICYMI: Do You Have the Sunday Scaries, or Do You Just Hate Your Job?]

Leave if you're unhappy

If you’ve taken the time to figure out what the problem is at work and it isn’t solvable, know that you can leave and start somewhere new.

Illustration of someone looking through a magnifying glass. Rewire PBS Work Worst job
Do some internal investigation into what the problem is with this job, and what you want out of your next one.

You have one life — to spend it miserable at a job because you feel like you owe somebody something or that you don’t know where to go next, as overwhelming and frustrating as that might be, it is not a reason to stay in something you’re unhappy with,” Johnson said.

Kelly Will, Head of People and career coach at She Will Build, said about half of her clients come to her when they realize they're miserable in their job.

“It is very common, so know that you are not alone," she said. "The first step is an immediate acceptance and honoring of your feelings, your sadness, your grief, your disappointment, because the sooner you can say, ‘It’s okay that I’m really sad or angry right now,’ that’s going to help you get through it better."

It’s OK if you don’t know what to do right away, as long as you start doing something to change your situation.

“Whether it’s a coach, an accountability group, or something else, start taking action, because with action comes clarity," Johnson said. "If you’re worried about figuring out what you’re going to do next, first just start taking action towards something.”

Put a positive spin on the experience

Will suggests brainstorming the positives of the situation and adding them to your resume as soon as possible.

“You’re going to reframe (the job you didn't like) as an opportunity," she said. "It was an opportunity for you to learn and grow, and you’re going to find small wins and big wins within that experience somehow.

"Take a look at the work you did and see how you faced challenges... Reframe the whole experience to see it as an opportunity for learning and growth.”

Revising your resume includes thinking about where you want to be in the future. What's in your resume should help you prove you're qualified for that role, Will said.

Reframing your negative experience as a positive won’t just boost your resume, it will change how you talk about the experience in interviews, too.

“When you can reframe your story and build that perspective of opportunity, learning and growth in the current experience that you’re struggling through, you’re going to be able to consistently tell that story time and time again, and really own what you bring to the table, despite the challenging situation you’re in,” Will said.

Don't end up in another bad situation

The best way to make sure you don’t land in another toxic situation is to use what you've learned to look for red flags during your interviews.

“Make sure you are clear about what you want," Johnson said. "You need to interview the organization — interviews are a conversation about who is a good fit.

"If you left a toxic work environment and you realize you and your boss didn’t have the same preferences on communication, in your interview, ask how they prefer to communicate. If it’s not in alignment with what you need, then it might not be the best fit for you."

This is the time to be selfish about what you need. Future you will thank you.

“Research companies, look at their social media and what they’re doing in the world, see if they give back," Will said. "There is no place more important to be your own advocate than in your career, and the very first opportunity to do that is asking questions in interviews.

"Don’t be so desperate to escape the bad situation that you enter into another one."

Will shared a trick to decide which jobs to apply for, based on how much of the work you’ve already mastered.  The target zone is knowing you could do 70 percent of the job immediately, and learn the other 30 percent within one to six months. She calls this the “confidence quotient.”

“Don’t apply for any jobs that don’t hit that target, because you’ll be shaky in an interview,” Will said.

[Read: Pro Tips to Slay Your First Days On the New Job]

Set boundaries at your new workplace

Once you’re in a new job, boundaries are key to making sure you avoid repeating history.

For example, “if you felt like someone was prying into your social life in your last position, make sure to have those conversations early on in your new position to clarify where you feel comfortable and where you don’t,” Johnson said.

Realize that your old work environment might have done some emotional damage that will take some time to repair, Johnson said.

“Recognize that coming out of a toxic work situation has residual effects, and it will take a minute to trust and lean into something new, so give yourself time to do that.”

Miranda Martin
Miranda Martinhas written for FloSports, Ms. Magazine and more. You can contact her at [email protected] or visit her website to see more of her writing.
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