Hate Your Job? Follow These 6 Steps

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By Alison Green

Most people have moments of frustration with their jobs. But if you've been unhappy for months, that's not normal or healthy – that's a flag that you should be thinking about making a change. But sometimes it's not that simple. You might be convinced you won't be able to find a job that pays as well; you may worry that you won't be qualified for other work; or you might simply be having trouble getting the mental energy to launch a job search while you're still mired in a job that makes you unhappy.

When you're feeling stuck in a job that's wrong for you, here are six steps that can help you get un-stuck:

1. Ask yourself what would need to change for you to be happy. Would it take getting a new boss? A switch away from a project with a difficult client? Some relief in your workload? A raise? Not every problem can be fixed (or is likely to be fixed), but quite a few are surmountable. Simply getting clarity on whether or not that's the case can be useful in helping you think about next steps. And if you're not even sure how to figure out this question, consider talking it through with a trusted mentor, who might be able to help you determine if asking for a change would be feasible.2. Be clear-headed about your bottom line. Spend some time thinking through what things matter most to you at work and what trade-offs you are and aren't willing to make. Figuring out your bottom line can either push you to realize you need to leave or help you get more comfortable with staying for a while. For instance, if you hate your manager but love the work you do, you might decide that you'd rather keep that job even if your manager is part of the deal. Or maybe you'll decide that you're willing to do less interesting work if it means getting a new boss. There are no right answers here. The idea is just to get really clear in your own mind about what matters most to you.

3. Don't put off job searching if you know it's really the right decision. Even when people have been miserable at work for a while, they often worry that they won't be able to find another job that will pay as much, involve the same great commute or match their benefits. Or they worry about having to get used to a whole new job with new co-workers and a new manager. And what if the new job has similar problems or is even worse? Plus, job searching takes time and energy, and it can feel easier to simply stay put. But unless you're very close to retirement, you're going to have to change jobs at some point, so why not get a head start on it now and be miserable for less time?

4. Try launching a casual search. Launching a job search doesn't have to be a massive production with hours each night writing cover letters. It can be as simple as just looking around at what postings are out there, or putting out feelers to people in your network. If launching a full-scale search seems too daunting, try these smaller steps instead. You might start getting useful data about the market that will push you one way or the other. Even just taking small steps to move on can sometimes make an unhappy job more bearable.

5. If you do decide to search, be discreet. If you hate your job or your boss, you might be tempted to tell your boss you're job searching, thinking that you might get the satisfaction of being begged to stay. But if you reveal that you're planning to leave before you have an offer in hand, you risk being pushed out now – before you're ready to go. So don't proclaim your job search to your current employer.

6. Don't quit without something lined up. If you're itching to get out of your current work situation, you might be considering just resigning before you've secured a new job. But job searches can take a lot longer than you expect them to, and you might find yourself out of work for months, or even a year or more. Moreover, it's generally easier to get a new job when you're still employed, because employers tend to prefer employed candidates.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.
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