You shouldn't quit your first job the second you stop liking it -- there are a lot of advantages, both personal and professional, to sticking it out for awhile. You’ve probably heard the professional reasons: longer tenure on your resume sends good signals to future employers, and longer-term employees often level up to more responsibility. But personally, it can also be fulfilling to sit with your first job a little longer than you would in the future because it’ll help give you experience in determining exactly what’s uncomfortable but good for your growth, and what’s uncomfortable and not worth pursuing.
So how do you know when it’s time to go?
There’s no more room for advancement.
This can be a tricky one to assess in an entry-level job -- theoretically, there’s nowhere to go but up. But there are plenty of first jobs that do have a ceiling, and if you feel like you’re hitting it, talk to your boss about your options. If you’ve mastered your current function and there’s really nothing to level into, you should probably start looking for your next step.
You’re no longer learning.
Sailing through your days on autopilot? That’s not a great place to be in your first job, which should be all about learning and skill acquisition. Look for ways to expand, or start polishing your resume for a move.
It’s negatively impacting your mental or physical health.
Let’s face it: first jobs are hard. You’re not just learning how to do something new, you’re also learning how to be on a work schedule, how to organize yourself, how to maintain your productivity, and how to balance work and life. Expect some growing pains. But if you’re consistently feeling depressed, anxious, or over-stressed, or your job is giving you constant insomnia, high blood pressure, or other health problems, you should move on.
The work environment is toxic.
Work is hard enough without having to deal with the emotional baggage of toxic coworkers or bosses. And while you should start to develop a thick skin in your first job, you shouldn’t put up with ongoing back-stabbing, mean-spirited gossip, improper emotional boundaries, or harassment. Don’t be afraid to go to HR -- and don’t be afraid to leave it behind.
You’re constantly complaining about your job -- and it’s impacting your relationships.
Are you the person who can’t stop talking about how much you hate your job when you’re out with your friends? Ask yourself honestly whether you can fix what ails you -- if you can’t, then it’s probably time to get out.
You’re not learning the skills you’d hoped to acquire.
Maybe you took this job to add some sales closing chops to your toolbox, only to find that you’re really in a customer service role. Or maybe you’re being micromanaged to the point where you can’t take on anything new. Either way, get what you can out of the experience while you start looking for a position that better aligns with the skills you’re seeking.
You’re not in the right industry or function.
Maybe you took this job because you just needed a job. Maybe you really liked the food industry on paper, but now that you’re in it, you know you don’t want to do it forever. Or maybe that taste of operations work was enough to show you that you’d rather be doing that than your marketing job. Your first job should set you up for a second job that’s at least a rung up the ladder. If you realize you’re climbing the wrong ladder, and there’s no hope of shifting within your current workplace, it’s time to move on.
You can get a promotion by moving on.
Some research shows that employees who move every two years or so get promoted faster and paid more. While you shouldn’t treat that as law -- there are plenty of advantages to advancing through the ranks -- you should keep an eye out for opportunities that allow you to advance your career. At the very least, it’ll give you fodder to ask for a promotion. And if it’s denied, you’ll know it’s time to go.
You have a bad boss.
Micromanager, unsupportive, unavailable, unwilling to teach, or downright abusive -- all are bad qualities for a boss. And if yours exhibits any of these traits on a regular basis, start heading for the exit.
Other employees are fleeing.
Turnover happens everywhere, and this shouldn’t necessarily be cause for alarm. But if you’re seeing a mass exodus of co-workers at all levels including leadership, this could spell trouble for your company. Check in with your team, and start thinking about how to step away.
You’re being undervalued.
Let’s say you’ve been in your current position for two years. You’ve never gotten a raise. When you search for your title and experience level on local job sites, you find significantly higher salary ranges than your current pay. That might be a good indicator that you’re being undervalued. Don’t be afraid to ask for a pay increase, but if you don’t get it, you might start looking for something new.
You feel like a square peg in the round hole of company culture.
You should give yourself plenty of time to absorb the company culture at your first role and to think about what you do and don’t like. Maybe the company really values you being in your seat from 9 to 5, and you need more flexibility. Maybe the promotion structure feels too rigid to you. Maybe you bristle at the fact that you’re constantly outworking your colleagues. These are all good data points that can help you ask smart questions about your next career opportunity.
You’re being managed out.
You’re on a performance improvement plan, conversations with your boss have gotten extra tense, a supervisor might even be telling you they’ll help you search for new positions. It might be time to read the writing on the wall here. Synthesize the lessons and prepare to move on -- this job may just not be right for you.
You’re just ready for a change.
There might be nothing wrong with your work, your boss, your trajectory, your pay. But if you’ve been somewhere for some time, you might just feel like it’s time for a change -- and that’s okay. That’s how you learn.