There’s nothing quite like the excitement of a new job. The potential for new challenges, better titles, more money, an expanded network, and all that’s shiny are just a few of the things that drive us to chase new professional experiences.
Putting first-day nerves aside, new jobs are the best way to shake ourselves out of a career slump or slumber. The mere thought allows our imaginations to run wild with possibilities. But what happens when the newly scored dream job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Or when the hopes you’ve been quietly storing up dissipate in an instant on your very first day?
Like many working women, I’ve had a misstep or two along the way with surely more to come. I’ve accepted the wrong job and regretted it immediately, only to find myself hyperventilating on the train home thinking of how I was going to find the courage to tell my boss I wasn’t coming back. Ever. This heart-sinking moment and the awkward series of events that followed were brutal, but here’s the thing—they didn’t have to be that way. Now that I’m safely on the other side, I have a clear view of the right way to handle a sudden boss breakup. I’ll break it down below in the hopes that you can emerge relatively unscathed, should you find yourself in a similar situation.
Realizing you’ve made a mistake in accepting a new role is difficult to wrap your head around—not just because you have to break the news to your boss, but because you’re probably already emotionally invested in your position and its potential. Lauren McGoodwin, former university recruiter and now founder and CEO of Career Contessa believes the key to surviving this gut-wrenching moment is staying calm. “It’s always good not to panic—that’s general life advice, but [in a situation like this] you want to be able to have conversations and make decisions without emotions clouding your judgment or having an influence over what you feel or say,” she explains. “For women, this is particularly important because others are often quick to label us as emotional.”
Decipher between new-job jitters and something more
It’s natural to feel anxious when you start a new role. Not only are you stepping into a different environment and culture, but you’re also being introduced to new expectations, processes, and people all at once. It’s a lot. But in this instance, it’s important to differentiate between new-job nerves and something deeper. “Is it an excited type of feeling, perhaps the feeling of being a little overwhelmed? Or is it a nagging dread that sits in the pit of your stomach, giving you signs that maybe this isn’t right?” asks Emma Isaacs, Founder and Global CEO of Business Chicks. “Almost everyone experiences varying levels of self-doubt when they start in a new position, but as your confidence and competence increase, these feelings subside. That nagging dread in your stomach though? It’s unlikely to pass.” In this instance, Emma suggests speaking to someone you trust and respect. Someone who knows you well and will be able to view the situation without emotion and deduce whether it’s workable or unsolvable.
Mentally prepare for an awkward conversation
For those sitting at home wondering if they can stomach going back to work tomorrow, it’s time to make a pros and cons list. Once you’ve worked through your list, make your decision reflecting on the facts you’ve laid out there. Then, acknowledge that if you decide to leave, the next step is going to be awkward, uncomfortable, and a touch cringe-worthy. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it, but you don’t want to bury your head in the sand, assuming everything’s going to go smoothly when you resign. Accept that the situation is going to be tough, that you likely won’t get a great response from your boss, and prepare yourself mentally for the conversation with that in mind.
Read the fine print
Once you’ve made the emotional decision, consider the practicalities of quitting. Take time to read through your contract. “You may be contractually obliged to see out two weeks, but they’ll probably just ask you to leave then and there,” says McGoodwin. “If they do, you need to write a formal resignation letter, they need to accept, and the whole thing has to be written down and trackable.”
Don’t drag it out
When your mind is made up, try not to drag it out any longer. “Be honest and upfront straight away,” says Isaacs. Once you’re ready, approach the person who hired you and tell them you’d like to have a conversation. Avoid doing it over the phone or via email if you can. It might feel like the easier option, but you owe your hiring manager the courtesy of telling them to their face. “The key is in how you word it all,” says McGoodwin. “It’s not that they or the company are wrong, it’s that together you’re not a good fit,” she adds. McGoodwin believes this is the best way to leave on good terms. “You need to explain that you’ve gone in with the best intentions but out of respect for them you wanted to cut their losses and your losses before either party has invested more energy into it.”
Know the three or four reasons why you’re quitting and be ready to explain them. It’s important to show that you’ve thought through your decision and you’re not being flippant or impulsive. “You can expect your new employer to be a little frustrated that you’ve come to this conclusion so it’s important to acknowledge that you’re sorry it’s worked out this way. If there’s no doubt in your mind that you need to move on, then stand firm on your reasoning” adds Isaacs.
Learn from it and move on
One of the key fears I had after going through the sobering experience of quitting within a week of starting, was “what if this happens again?” Leaving a job after a few days and dealing with the backlash and questions from co-workers, friends, and family knocked my confidence in a major way. The last thing I wanted was a repeated situation down the line. Thankfully there are a number of things you can do to avoid reliving the experience in your next role.
“Meet the team in person in the office space you’re going to be working in,” McGoodwin explains. Do your best to avoid interviews at cafés or off-site venues as these don’t provide an opportunity for you to see the culture and conditions of the organization.
“Looking on sites such as Glassdoor can be useful too,” Isaacs says, “and be proactive with your questioning during the interview process—it’s perfectly acceptable to interview your prospective employer as much as they’re interviewing you.”
It seems obvious in hindsight, but as McGoodwin says, “You don’t win any awards at work for sticking it out if you know it’s not the right fit.” It’s important to keep perspective of the big picture—and for McGoodwin, this includes the fact that careers are really long. What feels like a major event now will eventually be a blip on the radar. “You make mistakes and you learn from them,” she says.
Reflect on what went wrong
There’s no need for embarrassment or shame in this situation—things just weren’t what they seemed and you’re probably just as disappointed as your boss is that things didn’t work out. When you have some time to reflect, take a minute to think about why you said “yes” to the role in the first place and why it didn’t match up to your expectations. This will help guide you into opportunities that are a better fit as look for your next gig—and it will also keep you from jumping into another role that might disappoint. “I’ve often found that when people are unhappy in a role there can be a tendency to jump into the first opportunity offered to them just as a way to get out regardless of whether or not it’s the job they really want,” says Isaacs.
Put together a game plan for the future
Telling parents and loved ones that you’ve quit a job after just a few days isn’t easy, but remember that their reactions are likely coming from a place of concern and confusion—not anger or disappointment. “Their biggest worry will be around what you’ll do next so having follow-up answers pre-prepared will help,” says McGoodwin. “Don’t just drop the bomb that makes them think you don’t have a job—let them know you have a game plan and explain why the job wasn’t the right fit for you.” In this instance, it could be as simple as saying, “Here’s how I’m going to go about my job search differently in the future knowing what I know now.” Remember, you’re not responsible for other people’s feelings or reactions, so take every interaction with a grain of salt.
Lift your spirits
Need a mood booster after all the stress and disappointment of quitting what you thought was your dream job? Take some time to write down all the things that are amazing about you so you don’t get trapped in a negative cycle of thinking you’ve failed. As McGoodwin explains, “It’s important to remember you’re not a flake and you’re not someone who can’t work a full week of work—you’re making a conscious decision not to work a job you know you’ll hate.”
The Confidence Club at the Girlboss Rally is full of empowering, IRL workshops designed to help you find your voice and tackle any negative self-talk. To save your spot, register now at.