It’s all too easy to lose yourself in your daily tasks at work and ignore the larger question of whether or not you should be doing them in the first place. But the warning signs you’re in the wrong job could be creeping all around you: maybe your role has subtly shifted into something you no longer recognize, maybe your relationship with the boss isn’t what it used to be, or maybe you’ve taken on four roles when you’re only being compensated for only one. Whatever the case, here are the 20 biggest red flags that are screaming for you to throw in the towel immediately. And remember: once you start getting courted by your company’s competitors, always avoid giving these answers in your interviews.
According to Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, a key way to tell that you’re in them wrong job is that “You dread Sunday nights and the end of the weekend, in large part, because you do not look forward to Monday mornings and the return to work.”
If your weekend’s barely begun and you are already feeling anxious or frustrated that Monday morning is approaching, it’s a good sign that you are not in the right job. Also, be sure to check out these cold open business emails before networking for a new job.
That dreading of work might lead you to actually skip work or take personal days off more often than you used to. Sometimes these might be for legitimate reasons, but more likely, they’re excuses to get out of having to come in to the office. “You may call in sick when you are not or you just disappear during the day,” says Cohen. “When you don’t like your job you find ways to avoid having to do it.” Now, if you’re officially on the hunt, you need to spruce up your online profile, and here’s how to choose the perfect LinkedIn profile picture.
No brainer: You hate it. “As simple as that sounds, many people still have a belief that work is called ‘work’ for a reason and that you really shouldn’t be expected to like work,” says Jessica Sweet, career coach and founder of Wishing Well Coaching. “It’s true that every minute of every day won’t be thrilling, you should have an overall feeling of enjoyment, excitement about your trajectory and synergy with your skills. If you don’t, you’re probably in the wrong job.” For more great career advice, here’s how smart men get ahead at work.
“It’s funny (in an often not-funny way) how perceptive the people around us are to our pain or discontent,” says Jenny Foss, a career consultant and recruiter who runs the career blog JobJenny.com. “Often, even when we think we’re masking our unhappiness, our closest friends and family members sniff out trouble well before we’re sharing any details.”
The people closest to you can often sense that you are distressed before you even consciously recognize it, and they can be your best early-warning detectors that you’re in the wrong job. “If your people are noticing you’re ‘not you,’ don’t discount their concerns,” adds Foss. “Instead, hear them out and spend some time reflecting what’s causing their concerns.” Now, if you are overly stressed at work, you should also check out these workplace stress-busters.
When your full-time job sucks, you are likely to seek release through other means. “It’s a natural human reaction to avoid challenging issues or roadblocks,” says Foss. “Instead of hitting them head-on, we often ignore them, bury our frustrations or anesthetize ourselves with unhealthy habits like overeating, over-indulging in alcohol, dulling the pain with drugs or through escapism hobbies like gambling.”
If you’ve gone to happy hour beers every night of the week and been drinking more than usual, you might have a drinking problem—or more likely, there is a void elsewhere in your life and you are trying to fill it. “Choosing these methods is much like choosing to live with a toothache because you’re afraid of the pain of yanking the tooth,” says Foss. “Toothache pain never goes away. The yanked tooth may hurt a lot for a bit, but then it heals. Which would you rather?” If you are drinking too much, here’s a handy primer on what your boozing habits say about you.
A good job gets all your brain’s cylinders firing. You get pulled into your work so fully that you’re in “the zone,” fully putting yourself into the task at hand. A gig that’s not a great fit causes the opposite effect: You turn your brain off and go about your task as a subhuman robot. “You carry out your job in a robotic manner, without the passion and zeal to learn,” says Carina Rogerio, career coach at Executive Coach International. “This could indicate that you know your job very well but at your core, you do not like to do it.”
It might be that you are overqualified for your position and can do it in your sleep, or that “it is not aligned with your values and passions,” as Rogerio puts it. “Sooner than later this job will be perceived by you purely for its material needs.” You should also try inspiring yourself out of your slump with these quotes about success.
Even if you don’t actually feel like a robot at work, you might ask yourself: Do you try to do your work efficiently or effectively? As Tim Ferris puts it in The 4-Hour Workweek: “Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible.”
If your focus is on getting your work done as quickly as possible, but at the end you don’t feel any sense of having moved closer to your goals, you might want to go into a different line of work. For more great career advice, here are some proven ways to get a promotion.
“This is a sign that you are either bored or not passionate about the work you are being given,” says Rogerio. “What you may not be aware of is that the more you do that, the more you are disrespecting yourself: if you give yourself no reason to be proud of your work, at some point you will start to be bitter.” Luckily, we also have advice from a leading C.E.O. on how to fight procrastination.
If your job is a good fit, you should be fighting the temptation to work late each day to get one more thing done. But when you’re in the wrong job, you’ll find yourself looking at the time in disbelief that you are still so far from five. If the afternoon seems to crawl, it might be time to start polishing your resume. And for more great career advice, read about the one skill that successful people share.
A little constructive criticism is valuable. But if it seems like every task you finish gets a correction or even a reprimand from your boss, this might not be the job for you. “It may be that you either are in over your head or you simply have no interest in the content of your job,” says Cohen.
It may also be that your boss is just one of those people who is never satisfied—another good reason to consider a different gig. If you do have problems with your boss, here’s advice on how to deal with them.
If you start hearing about decisions after they’ve been made or are somehow the last to learn about a new revenue-driving project, it’s a good sign your position in the organization may be slipping and you’re in the wrong job.
“Your boss has removed you from the distribution list on important emails or has made it clear that you are not invited to meetings where you will have access to other colleagues and important initiatives and developments,” says Cohen. “When your boss no longer confides in you then you need to re-examine the relationship. Something significant has changed.”
On the other hand, if you dread the arrival of your boss to your office door or happily go a day without speaking with him or her, that’s also not a sign that you’re going to go far in the company. “A sign you’re in the wrong job is that you avoid face time with your boss,” says Mike McRitchie, a career and small business strategist with CriticalPath Action. “You feel your boss is always taking credit for your work. You don’t feel valued.”
“If you and your boss speak completely different languages in terms of how you relate to the world, but you see that your boss relates well to others on the team,” says Wishing Well Coaching’s Jessica Sweet. “If you’re feeling like the odd man out—you’re the creative in a room of techies—you might not be in the right career for you.”
Nobody’s good at everything and everybody’s good at something. A good job (and smart boss) dedicates your energy to your strengths, and what you do that others on the team can’t, while reducing the time spent on your weaker areas. “Ultimately our work should align with our strengths,” writes Marla Gottschalk, industrial and organizational psychologist and career consultant. “If you feel that your weaknesses have taken center stage, it’s unlikely you’ll stay energized for the long haul. Have a conversation with your supervisor now—and don’t wait.”
If you’re frequently feeling drowsy on the job and considering how you might be able to fashion a bed under your desk, it’s a pretty good sign that you aren’t as engaged in your work as you should ideally be. “When you can barely stay awake and you get plenty of sleep, it is usually work that is the problem,” says Cohen. “It is not nearly stimulating enough and a real sign that you desperately need a change.” Now, it also wouldn’t hurt to know this trick to power through your afternoon slump.
“A sign that you are in the wrong job is when you start the blame game and focus on all that is wrong in the job,” says Rogerio. “You start viewing the job and the company as evil, and you a victim. Clearly, you are unhappy at work. Consider moving on: internally or externally. If you remain, you will become a compulsive complainer, which is not productive for you or the team.”
Private negative feelings about your job will inevitably become public ones as you share your frustrations with coworkers or just throw a little shade on your boss behind his or her back. “Without knowing it, you make a decision to make the place wrong and you right and by talking around you are gathering agreement to confirm and justify your beliefs and actions related to it,” says Rogerio.
While this might feel good in the moment, as if you are blowing off steam, in the long run, it will make the workplace toxic and make you look bad. “Not only are you potentially becoming a negative person to be around with but more importantly, you stopped seeing yourself as a possible element to change the equation,” adds Rogerio. “Unless you challenge yourself, taking that road will lead nowhere good.”
If your to-do list just keeps getting longer, with deadlines coming and going, but you can’t seem to wrap up projects, it may be that you are in over your head, or you are just not feeling energized by the work. “Everything seems pointless and your level of motivation is at an all-time low,” writes Gottschalk. “Are you dealing with looming deadlines with a blank screen continually staring back at you? Have you simply stopped caring? These are telling signs you’re in the wrong job.”
A good job should challenge your skills and have you pushing yourself, learning new skills in the process. If you’ve learned all that you are going to learn in your current position, and don’t expect that you will be learning anything new anytime soon, you’re in the wrong job. Head for the exit.
It may be that none of these red flags apply—that you have a great relationship with your boss and find the work engaging. But if at the end of the day, the paycheck you’re taking home doesn’t pay the bills and you’re having to scrape by, that’s a good sign that you’re in the wrong job and want to look for something else.
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