How to Make the Most of a Job That’s Not a Good Fit

by Megan Van Groll ; Updated October 17, 2017

Does a wave of dread wash over you when your alarm goes off in the morning? Do you spend Sundays sulking about your week ahead, pretty much every week? The feeling of knowing you’re spending 40-plus hours a week at a job that’s not quite right for you can permeate your entire life and make you miserable, whatever the reason for the bad fit.

However, it just doesn’t always make sense to make a change right away. Maybe you’re sticking it out to see if things get better, or maybe you’re worried you won’t be able to find another job. This might really feel like the best you can get with your current skills and experience. Perhaps you are actively looking, but the job search is taking awhile. Or maybe you want to develop some tenure on your resume. In any case, you need a strategy — not just to survive, but to squeeze every last drop of career value from your current situation so that when you look back, it’ll have felt somewhat worthwhile. But how do you do that without going crazy in the meantime?

Devise your exit strategy now.
Having a jump on getting out will give you a light at the end of the tunnel to work toward. This is the time to figure out what your next move is. Is the role itself not a good fit? Do you want to have different responsibilities? If you’re not sure what your dream job is, or if you have no idea what kind of work you’ll find most enjoyable, take personality assessments. Research what others with similar backgrounds have done. (See also: 3 Ways to Use LinkedIn to Break Out of Your Career Rut.)

Do you love the type of work you’re doing but know the company culture isn’t a good fit or find yourself working under someone who isn’t that skilled at managing people? Figure out where you’d really love to work, use LinkedIn to see who in your network might know someone there and facilitate an introduction — whether or not there’s an actual job opening.

If you’re not challenged enough at work or your skills are underutilized, consider that a blessing in disguise; use that extra brainpower to dive into your job search.

Reframe your experience.
Part of any good exit strategy is reframing your current experience in a way that benefits you later. If you’re not attempting to change roles or industries dramatically, this should be relatively easy — you already know what accomplishments will make the most sense to highlight, and you might simply say you’re looking for new challenges at a different company. If you’re moving laterally or up to a new role or industry, you’ll need to do a bit more digging and reflection to draw connections between your current job and the one you want. What responsibilities do you have that are similar, or even that simply require the same characteristics and traits? If asked why you want to make a change in interviews, you’ll need to have a clear answer that conveys your motives effectively, so be very thorough about this. Surface only the most relevant responsibilities and accomplishments for your resume. If it’s not relevant to the job you’re aiming for, don’t include it.

Build relationships with your co-workers.
Don’t worsen a less-than-ideal job situation by burning bridges. Keep your job search private, and focus on strengthening the good relationships you do have at work. Go out of your way to be friendly and polite to everyone. You want your co-workers to remember you in a good light. They likely won’t be at that company forever, and there’s no better job reference than from someone you worked with. You never know who will succeed or who can be a major career connection in the future.

Work on something outside of your job.
Don’t succumb to the energy-suck that comes with not enjoying your work. Having something on the side to focus your abilities on — whether it’s a hobby, side project or volunteer work — will lift you from your funk. Active work and interests outside of your day job may even help you expand your professional network or help you build the skills you need to make the leap to a new type of role. Employers want to see that you’re multifaceted with broad interests. And anything that gets you excited about working on something will help you understand and uncover what kind of job will really make you happy.

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