The Startup
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The Startup

Go With Your Gut: It Saves Careers (And Lives)

A person wearing a hoodie in a shadow, standing on a boardwalk at night.
Photo by Paul Garaizar on Unsplash

I had an amazing conversation with some incredible tech industry professionals this morning during a “Career Conversations: Combating Imposter Syndrome” InVision event I hosted. So many exceptionally talented people have been laid off in the past several months due to the pandemic. It’s absolutely heart breaking.

I read a story this afternoon, and it got me thinking. Going with your gut instinct can be important in so many situations, including those concerning your career.

My Friend’s Dog Hates Murderers

A friend I used to work with had the most gentle, sweet dog on earth. He took her for a walk one night and she happily greeted the few passersby that they came across. Then all of a sudden, she completely lost it, teeth barred, snapping like a hungry wolf at a guy who got close to them going the opposite direction. My friend was obviously mortified because she had never EVER done anything like that before. He started apologizing profusely, holding her back with force, and then really looked at the guy. He said he got this creeping feeling down his spine, and loosened his grip on her a little so there was a bit more distance between them. The guy didn’t say anything, just made a wide circle around them and kept walking.

The next day, he flipped on the local news, and there was a story about a grisly murder. They had caught the guy, and when his face flashed up on the screen my friend said he literally fell onto his couch. No joke, it was the guy that his dog had tried to eat the night before. The police estimated that the murder had been committed about 30 mins after he ran into the guy.

So two lessons there. Number one: Dogs are awesome. Number Two: You should always go with your gut if you feel like something is off. Even if your gut instinct is wrong sometimes, it’s better to be safe. You never know when the guy your dog is trying to eat may be a psychotic murderer.

So how does this apply to interviewing for jobs?

Avoiding Toxic Work Environments

People are scrambling right now trying to find job opportunities. It’s a really scary, stressful, overwhelming time. I’ve been in a tough financial spot in the past, I know how it feels, and it’s AWFUL. It sucks all the life out of you. When you’re in that headspace, while you’re interviewing, your entire demeanor and the way you present yourself can go off balance.

Try to remember, even though it’s REALLY tough when you’re out of work and just need a paycheck to pay your bills, you’re interviewing the company just as much as they’re interviewing you. If you get a really bad vibe from the hiring manager, whether it’s a red flag about the organization’s policies or process, a creepy “taking a pass at you vibe”, or the feeling that the environment may not be one where diversity is celebrated, listen to that gut feeling. Getting a job in a toxic work environment doing something you love is not better than getting a job doing something you don’t love in a positive work environment.

It’s Ok To Fire Your Interviewer

For example, when I was fresh out of college, I went to an interview for a research position with a well known company. (I had a psych degree and the job sounded fascinating. I was in my early 20’s, I’d get to travel, it paid well, it just sounded like a great gig.)

The first round with the recruiters went well. Then they set me up with a meet and greet with the hiring manager. The guy, about 20 years my senior, blatantly hit on me throughout the interview in a gross, unapologetic way. I excused myself partway through, saying the job didn’t sound like a good fit, and that I didn’t want to waste any more of his time. He looked extremely annoyed and offended and I didn’t care. That was NOT an environment that I wanted to work in.

Paying Your Bills With A Random Job Improves Your Self Confidence During Dream Job Interviews

I still needed to pay my bills, so I wound up getting a random job working customer service at a local cell phone store. Oddly enough, while that job wasn’t even remotely close to what I wanted to be doing for a living, it was what later launched me into the tech industry, startup life, and eventually led me to my true love, UX. (That journey is a story for another day.)

If I had taken the job working with slime ball gross guy, would I have been doing exactly what I wanted right out of college? Yes. Would it have been worth it? Absolutely not.

When you’re applying for jobs in a climate like this one, and you get in a position where your gut instinct tells you to run but you feel like you don’t have any other options and you’re backed into a corner, remember that there are other jobs out there. They may not align with your dream job, or what you love doing most, but they will pay your bills.

And taking one of those jobs doesn’t mean you’ll be trapped in a career you don’t love for the rest of your life. It means your bills will be paid and your stress level will be decreased while you continue to apply for jobs that you really will love. It will take the pressure off, and allow you to be more yourself during interviews. (And as you are job searching, check out, it’s a great resource!)

Don’t put yourself in a terrible position doing something you love. It’s likely that a terrible boss isn’t going to give you a stellar recommendation or mentor you in a way that will propel your career anyway. And I won’t even go into the impact job stress and toxic work environments can have on your health. In this economy, no one in the world is going to question your resume if you wind up doing an odd job that’s not related to your career for a while.

Recent Graduates: This Is the Worst, But Don’t Give Up

And for those of you who are just entering the job market, I’m so sorry that you’ve been put in this dumpster fire situation to start your career, but the same advice is true for you. You don’t have to land your dream job right after school. Don’t get down on yourself or discouraged thinking you’re not talented enough, or good enough to make it in your chosen field. The world is burning right now, and jobs are scarce. I don’t want YOU to feel pressured into a terrible work environment either. Life is too short for toxic work environments, especially when everything else in life is so stressful right now.

Go With Your Gut

So. The moral of this story: Go with your gut. Whether you’re avoiding being murdered, or avoiding a terrible job experience, it’s just good practice. And if your first impression was wrong? It’s ok. Better safe than sorry. And don’t be afraid to do something random for a while while you keep pushing toward your chosen career. Who knows, you may wind up stumbling into something you love even more like I did.



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