How To Quit Your First Job (And Be Smart About It)
When you’re starting out in your career after graduating from college, chances are that you don’t know much about what kind of job you want. You choose a job depending on what you studied, what you think you’d like or simply whatever you get. The first job, therefore, almost inevitably fails to live up to expectations, leading to disappointment, demotivation and poor performance. In some cases, you’re unlucky enough to land a first job with a toxic environment — malicious colleagues, lack of opportunity to grow or complete misalignment with your real goals in life — and you realise that you need a change. And in other cases, even if the job itself is okay, you realise that you have a passion to pursue — one that needs your full-time attention.
However, a large majority of graduates tend to cling on to their first jobs, no matter how unsuitable.
Because they fear that leaving a job so early in their career would make them appear less valuable to new recruiters, owing to their lack of experience.
This is undoubtedly a valid concern. I’ve been in your shoes, and I know how it feels. The percentage of good jobs available for fresh graduates is low in any case, and recruiters tend to view those who quit their first jobs “too soon” (usually defined as a year or less from the joining date) as “not serious enough”. It’s not the fairest way of looking at candidates, but this is how it is.
What’s equally valid and essential to remember, however, is that you’re actually harming your career prospects far more by staying on at a job where you aren’t comfortable.
There are two reasons why. One — if you’re unhappy, you will lose motivation and end up performing sub-optimally, which will be as much of a problem area on your resume as an early exit. Two — your demotivation and unhappiness could spiral into depression, which could lead to serious health problems and a long-term inability to work well at anything.
Clearly, you’re not doing yourself any favours by sticking it out.
No job in the world is perfect, and a certain number of issues and irritants will crop up wherever you go. Often, you can deal with it by compromising to a certain extent and asking your management for help to handle issues better. If you are convinced, however, that the time has come for you to leave the job and seek other opportunities, you can do so in an intelligent, positive manner without harming your future career prospects.
The following four-step process outlines how to quit your first job the smart way— it’s the process I followed myself when I left my first job.
1. Decide what you want to do after you quit.
Since you are, after all, giving up a stable income and learning opportunities, you need to have a clear and compelling alternative pursuit that you will take up after you quit.
Is it a new job opportunity?
Is it a business you want to start?
Is there a passion you wish to pursue?
Do you want to take a sabbatical for travel or other reasons?
More importantly, how will this alternative pursuit be of greater value to you than your current job?
It’s imperative that you have concrete answers to these questions before you decide on handing in your notice — not just for future job interviews, but because you need to be sure that you’re benefitting by leaving this job and doing something else.
A note of advice here. Recent graduates tend to fear the idea of taking sabbaticals or pursuing hobbies so early in their professional career — believe me, you don’t have to. You are quitting your job because you want to do something better, and that could be a new job or a backpacking tour. As long as you are very clear about how that passion/sabbatical will help you, it’s a valid enough reason to quit.
2. Start preparation at least a month before you hand in your resignation.
It might be tempting to leave a job you dislike right away and boldly step out into the world.
Please don’t do it.
No matter how impatient you feel to start afresh, you simply shouldn’t embark on a new journey unprepared.
So before you hand in your notice, take some time — anywhere between two weeks to a month — to plan well and prepare yourself for the next phase.
How you do this will depend on what you plan to do after you leave. It’s always a good idea to save money, especially if you plan to take time off to pursue a hobby or to travel. If you’re looking for a new job, update your resume and prepare profiles on job search platforms to let recruiters know you’re out there. LinkedIn is an excellent platform for networking and job searching, with an extremely helpful community of members. Additionally, if you’re planning to switch job profiles when you resume work, you might want to take online courses to equip yourself with the skills you need in your new role.
3. Make the most of your notice period.
Pretty much every company has to give you some kind of notice period after you formally resign, ranging from two weeks to a few months depending on company policy. Typically, there’s not much pressure during this time, as they won’t be sending any new projects your way.
But don’t treat this as an opportunity to sleep on the job.
Make the most of every day you have left. Wrap up any pending projects in full, and leave some recommendations on how to carry them forward, if possible. This period is also a good opportunity for you to get recommendations from guides or colleagues you worked extensively with, and to cement any friendships or good working relationships you’ve had in office. And it’s not just for any career-related help in the future — if there are people you like and who like you, you should stay in touch with them. Doesn’t matter how much you hated your workplace — nice people deserve your niceness.
Remember — since this is your first job, how you behaved here will have a substantial amount of influence on what kind of opportunities open up for you next. You never know when potential recruiters could bump into your old boss or teammates — and you wouldn’t want them to talk dismissively of you. At the end of the day, you were a contributing member of the team — even if it didn’t work out that well for you, people should remember you as someone who appreciated the learning experience and left on a positive note, rather than as the sulky graduate who was glad to get out.
4. Be confident about why you quit and what you chose to do instead.
Whenever you sit for your next job interview, recruiters are bound to ask you why you left your first job. So it’s important to be very clear about why leaving your job was the best thing you could do.
Here, it’s essential to talk about solid reasons.
Don’t just say that you wanted to ‘pursue a hobby’ or ‘try something new’.
Say, “I wanted time out to work on a book of poetry,” or “I wanted to brush up on my web designing skills and join a creative agency,” or “I wanted to teach English to children in Vietnam”. And talk about how that experience has helped you grow as a person.
Honestly, the recruiter doesn’t care that much about what you did after leaving. But he/she does care about whether you were convinced of your reason for leaving and whether you are sure that you benefitted from the change.
At the end of the day, every company wants an employee with conviction, drive and ambition. Even if that employee took a month off after the first job to backpack across Eastern Europe. So if you’re sure about how backpacking — or whatever you chose to do after quitting — helped you improve and become a better fit for the job being discussed, the recruiter will be sure too.
I quit my first job out of B-school after a year and took time off for a month to write a novel draft before looking at other opportunities. I thought about it carefully, submitted my resignation, and used my two-month notice period to wind up my projects and to assist the person who came in to replace me. I know that leaving was the best thing I did at that point, as I wanted to devote all my time to my draft and make it into a robust novel. Giving my passion importance made me happier, and working on something as challenging as a book draft taught me how to navigate the ups and downs of creative inspiration in a calm, structured manner. I’m clear about what I did and why, and I can talk about it to any recruiter who interviews me.
It’s natural to feel nervous about quitting your first job. It’s a big step — and everything that comes after it is uncertain. You may not have a steady income for a while, you may feel like you’re lagging behind while your peers are getting ahead, and you almost certainly will be questioned — multiple times — about your decision. But as long as you’re convinced about why you did what you did, and you have a plan for what you’ll do afterwards, you’ll be fine.
Because no matter what, you always deserve to do what’s right for you.
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