I’m sure we’ve all had them. The jobs that stick in our minds as being the ‘worst ever’ long after receiving our P45. Bad feeling can develop for any number of reasons – an intense atmosphere, a bully in the workplace, we may feel underpaid or overworked, or just hoodwinked about the scope of the role. Whatever the cause of our discontent, the bad taste in our mouths can linger long after we have moved on. Some jobs do just suck but, remember, there’s always something to be learnt from a negative experience.

Here are four lessons from my worst job ever.

#1 Know what the role is

My worst ever job was a brand new, never-been-done-before role, and turned out to be far more experimental than I’d anticipated. The job was with a well-established and prestigious company, who I naively imagined would have mapped out more of a direction for the role in question. Uh-uh. Wrong. My main beef with my job was that I simply did not have enough to do and, despite all my best efforts, could not fill my time with the allocated workload. As I’ll explain later, I tried and tried to build responsibility, but the scope was actually very narrow and there really was no room to widen it.

In reality, the actual work turned out to involve one task, which wasn’t very challenging and didn’t take very long, leaving long periods where there was simply nothing to do but stare out of the window and twiddle my thumbs. If I were reading this, I’d question the proactivity of the writer – surely, there must have been something else to do? Did you look hard enough? Unfortunately, yes I did, and no, there wasn’t. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m a ‘doer’, so you can imagine this lack of work drove me insane. One other girl and I were shut away in an office, away from the main hustle and bustle of the office, tormented by the hive of activity and interaction that was evident on the other side of the glass.

I must have asked about what was expected during the interview, but my inner optimist saw the lack of substance as an opportunity to shape my new job. Excited about the prospect of working with this well-known company, and unwilling to rock the boat, I sat tight and let the company interview and select me, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to interview and select my next employer.

What’s the lesson?

Don’t assume. Instead, make sure you are as clear as you possibly can be about what a role entails before you take it on. Probe the interviewer to understand what you will be doing on a day-to-day basis, the results your performance will be measured on, and how your role can evolve. If someone is already doing the job, talk to them or, at least, look them up online. Your interview is your chance to make sure this job in this company is right for you, just as much as the company uses the opportunity to ensure you are right for them.

#2 Don’t deflect career unhappiness into other areas of your life

Here’s what happened to me. I was bored out of my skull, extremely unhappy, nothing to do for most of the day. So what did I decide the answer would be? Food. Not a clever move. Lunch seemed to be the only thing to look forward to, and I made much more of it than I should have done. As a result, lunch made a lot more of me than there should have been. Once home, in the evening, depressed by the prospect of the next day, I continued to comfort eat, making my weight problem worse and worse. In four short yet extremely long months I ballooned, putting on more than a stone in weight and setting a scary and lasting pattern for the next 20 years of my life.

What’s the lesson?

If I had the opportunity to advise my younger self, I’d urge her to focus on other projects and activities, allowing her to advance outside of the nine-to-five. Work is a really important aspect of our daily lives but, whilst it is not fulfilling your dreams, it’s a good idea to ensure it isn’t all-consuming. I must have been job-seeking during this time (I’ll come on to that later), but I wish I had taken up other interests to distract myself from the depressing hours spent in the office. Whilst your brain isn’t fully engaged in one pursuit, it has room to fulfil another, and I could have achieved a lot with that available headspace. I wish I’d pursued another interest, like running at lunchtime, something I did the following year. One day, I even ran past the Queen in her carriage on the Mall.

#3 Explore other avenues before you quit

I must have been fairly desperate to knock on the door of my boss’ office and ask what else I could do to help, but I mustered the courage on more than one occasion. The wider team were bustling with enterprise, and I felt sure there must be something else, anything else, I could do to get involved. Unfortunately, I was shut down on each attempt, and my role never did evolve into anything more.

I took to wandering the open plan floor, getting to know the movers and shakers, trying to get an insight into their activities, hoping it would lead to more work. Nothing doing. It seemed like a closed world, with no welcome to outsiders.

What’s the lesson?

Although it didn’t work for me, I can say hand-on-heart that I did my best to make the best of a bad situation. If you are in a bad job, I’d encourage you to explore every possible avenue before you quit.

#4 Know when to call it quits

I must have decided fairly quickly that this role wasn’t for me, as four months later I had started a new role. Less than a mile down the road, the new job was a world away from my worst role ever. I had wide-ranging responsibility, a boss who embraced professional development, and the opportunity to learn every single day. More than that, I was busy! Busy and energised. I even took up running at lunchtime.

What’s the lesson?

Sometimes, jobs just don’t work out, and no amount of hope or anguish will change the outcome. Once you have made the decision to move on, move on.

So, that’s my worst ever job. What was yours and what lessons did you take from it?

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire is a professional CV writer at Giraffe CVs. She has 15 years of experience gained delivering interview-winning CVs and cover letters for professionals at all levels, helping individuals to stand out from the crowd in a highly competitive job market.
Lis McGuire
Lis McGuire