You Scored Your Dream Job, but It's Not Working Out. Now What?

by Eileen Hoenigman Meyer

Article content is provided by HigherEdJobs.
It's deeply unsettling when you nab your dream job only to discover it's not a fit. Whether it's the position or the institution that doesn't suit you, this predicament is doubly worrisome: now you have to both dislodge yourself from the ill-fitting role and establish a new professional aim. It's difficult to problem-solve your way out of an uncomfortable job and to find the clarity that strategic goal-setting requires.

While it's hard to keep your feelings of loss and worry from interfering with your ability to move forward, know that you can recover from this. It will take time and energy to forge your realignment, but career trajectories are seldom a straight shot. This was not the opportunity you were expecting, but it's an opportunity nonetheless.

Here's how to get some perspective to fuel your reinvention.

Decide What's Salvageable:
Analyze your situation. Is it the job itself that isn't a fit? Did you miscalculate how much you would like the role? Is the lack of fit environmental? Do you find that you're on a toxic team or positioned in an ill-fitting institution?

There are ways to refine your skillset if you're concerned that the work doesn't suit you. You can find a mentor, enroll in trainings, subscribe to publications, or get other resources you need to fill in training gaps. Also, you may have room to devise your own systems and create processes that serve you better than those you found in place. As you work through the existing structures, make sure to be open and honest about what you need.

Also, be as patient as you can with the logistics of your situation and as strategic as possible with how you carry this emotional weight. While it's understandable to feel frustrated, you don't want to lead this delicate initiative with charged emotions. Take care of yourself, call on your support system, and make sure that you're getting what you need during this transition.

Deal Breakers:
Tammy Perkins, chief people officer with Fjuri Group, explains: "Professional deal breakers for me are toxic environments and unethical leaders."

If what you thought was your dream job is uninhabitable because of either, or if you identify other deal breakers, it may be time to forge an exit strategy, even if you're new on a team or at an institution.

Perkins notes: "I believe that you internalize your external environment. Some people amplify stress and it multiplies when it becomes how you operate. I've worked in high pressure situations with leaders who spin out and vibrate stress, create panic or pressure when it's unnecessary and it becomes contagious. The opposite is also true. A positive attitude and outlook spreads to others. Ultimately life is too short for us to spend time doing something we don't love. You have to find your sweet spot somewhere else-where you can add the most value and feel most passionate in your job."

An ominous professional culture can look polished and inviting when you interview, and the dysfunction can become clear only after you've left your previous position and accepted a new role. You may feel trapped now that you've made this commitment, only to find that the culture you've entered is not a healthy one. But you're not trapped. This is not your fault, and this is fixable.

Forge a Plan:
A key step in forging a new plan is to find clarity in the situation. Reflect, without considering the avalanche of "what-ifs." Imagine, for a moment, that you can make a consequence-free decision. If that could be the case, how would you move yourself forward?

Ask yourself: What do I need? Can I make this position work or do I need to pursue a new role? At many institutions, you can transfer internally after six months. Is there another position or team that could be a better fit for you, or do you need to start a job search from scratch? Take the time to figure out what you need.

Move Forward:
Once you have some clarity about how you want to handle your situation, it may prove a good move to tag in your human resources colleagues. At some institutions, the HR team can offer guidance while at other institutions, HR has a more hands-off role. Perkins explains: "This depends on the company culture. Is HR viewed as a business partner, policy police, or a transactional pair of hands? If HR is respected as an influential partner in the organization, they can act as the mediator or coach to both the employee and manager on a better solution."

Set a meeting with HR and explain how your onboarding experience is going. If you sense that the HR pro with whom you meet is open and available, then you've found a helpful ally.

If you sense resistance, then don't go too far down that road. It's a good strategy to pursue all available resources, and your HR colleagues can be powerful partners.

The Power of Agility:
Don't give into fear. This situation challenges you, but it certainly doesn't sink you. How you handle this situation matters. You get the chance to prove to yourself that you can overcome this.

Perkins explains: "Today, agility may be more marketable than loyalty. I'm a firm believer that if you stay at a company you don't love just to show that you are loyal or committed, it's like staying in a bad relationship." It may be difficult to dig your heels in and forge a new path, but you know some new things about yourself now. So, use those to guide your next endeavor.

Your Reinvention:
Like so many things in life, your imagined goal turned out differently than you expected. That's confusing and worth lamenting. But it still teaches you something about what you want and don't want. Use that awareness to fuel your reinvention, and don't let this get you down.

Perkins advises: "Optimism is a force multiplier and negativity is a deal breaker. Hiring managers and recruiters listen for patterns such as negativity toward previous employers or managers. How does the candidate talk about their former company, bosses, and co-workers? If you describe this experience in a negative way, it will appear like you are carrying baggage. Let it go. Character, grit, and determination are built through trial, error, and practice. Leverage this experience as a learning opportunity and a setup for a powerful comeback."
Photo: nd3000/Shutterstock