update: how soon can you tell if a job isn’t right for you?

Remember the reader who started a new job and was already feeling it wasn’t right for her, only two days in? Here’s her update.

As I mentioned in the comments of that post, my issue was not with the work environment or my coworkers, it was the subject matter of the work. The company only works on hospitals and healthcare facilities. (At my interview, I was told it was about 60% healthcare and 40% other types of public buildings.) I am extremely squeamish and have been known to faint at the sight of blood, but figured with hospital design there’s no blood, right? There’s not but there’s constant discussion of it and procedures and medical and surgical equipment…

During my first week, I survived without fainting at work, but the subject matter stuck with me outside of working hours. I can usual deal with bloody TV and movies by looking away for a moment, but after a day of thinking about hospitals I couldn’t recover as quickly. I started having trouble sleeping; every time I relaxed and closed my eyes, I’d picture a ER and scare myself alert. (And yes, I was and still am speaking with a therapist about this phobia.)

After a month, I was still uncomfortable and started job hunting again. A friend mentioned that his company was hiring, I interviewed and was offered a new position. Overall, I feel kind of foolish for having taken the job knowing my reaction to hospitals, but I was so enamored of the company from my interviews with them that I brushed off my concerns. 

Thanks for answering my question and I really appreciate getting all the opinions from you and your readers.

{ 41 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    I left a job after two days once–I worked a weekend shift and then resigned. It was a home health care position that you had a pass a test for. That was my conclusive proof that I can pass tests on many things that I cannot actually do, and to this day I’m deeply relieved that I didn’t kill the poor woman under my care.

  2. Julie*

    There was one job where I knew as of day 2 or 3 that it wasn’t the right fit. It was a think-tank for an organization that, while part of my culture, had very different views from mine. I’d taken the job because the institution was run by a favorite professor of mine and my grandfather had apparently been instrumental in its founding. It took about six weeks for me to actually leave, but I think it was the right choice.

  3. Jamie*

    This doesn’t really count because it was a temp job and I did finish out the week’s assignment…but the day I walked in and was given a pad and paper, no computer, and scissors and part of my job was to cut the labels off shipping boxes and file them by date/alphabetically.

    It was how they tracked packages received.

    When I suggested a spreadsheet rather than carton upon carton of old box tops you’d have thought I was broaching the subject of high treason! But I know how to suggest something politely and back the heck away when it’s not welcome….and they learned to love me.

    So much they called my agency to offer me a full time position working for them…which I was on the phone with her nicely declining before my car left the lot on my last day.

    Apparently I am VERY good at cutting out parts of boxes and I know the whole alphabet. Sorry, didn’t mean to brag.

    Actually I was only good at the cutting once they took away the box cuter and gave me scissors because, and I quote, “you’re going to kill yourself with that thing.”

    1. fposte*

      “Apparently I am VERY good at cutting out parts of boxes and I know the whole alphabet. Sorry, didn’t mean to brag.”

      I had a temp job where they sincerely regretted my departure and muttered to me how much better I had performed than the regular person who was out on vacation.

      I had walked microfiche across the building roughly twice a day. The rest of the time I read books. I figured they must mean I read better books than the regular employee.

      1. Jamie*

        Nothing like temping to show you just how low the bar is in some places.

        And microfiche? I haven’t seen one of those in years! I remember using one in college and it always made me feel like a detective – I loved those things! Unlike google when you found information there you earned it.

      2. Cat*

        I once had a temp job where the previous employee had been completely overwhelmed and convinced them the job was completely impossible. It turned out that, when you were actually doing it, it was about 3 hours of filing a day and nothing else. I have no clue what she was doing all day to have huge filing backlogs.

          1. Jes*

            I took over a job where the previous worker swore it wasn’t possible to complete the daily tasks every day. All the bosses believed her, so when I asked what I do when the daily task is done, they just stared at me and told me that I could catch up on the daily task during breaks when others were out of the office and I wasn’t interrupted. I had to re-explain what I wanted: I wasn’t saying it was too much, but that it was too little work! I needed more to do each day, not more time to catch up.

            I finally found out that the other woman was actually on the phone all day with her friends and family, so she didn’t have time to complete the task due to catching up on all the gossip of the day. (How much gossip could have accrued from the same people you talked to just the day before?!)

        1. Lacey*

          My manager at my last job wasn’t coping at all with her workload, despite the fact that the person before her was doing the job in 4 days a week and even finding that wasn’t a stretch. In fact, thats why she recommended the new manager apply for the job, because the new manager had young children and she thought it would be a good fit for someone looking for work/life balance.

          I’ll never understand why my ex-manager took 5+ days a week to do what the previous manager could do easily in 4, and its not the first time I’ve seen a wild variation in the time taken to do tasks. I guess some people just move more slowly than others.

          Plus the new manager spent a LOT of time complaining about how busy she was. That took up some time.

    2. Dan*

      Ah, temp jobs.

      I temped for the IMF over the summer after my freshman year of college. My first assignment was to alphabetize a bunch of files. For an entire week, my supervisor was over the top with her praise of my abilities.

      Finally, I had enough. I said, “Theresa, I really appreciate it any time someone recognizes my hard work, but I have to be honest. This isn’t difficult. I learned how to do this in second grade.”

      Her response: “You have no clue what kind of people the temp agency sends us. We’re just thrilled that we finally have someone who can get the job done right.”

    3. Ruffingit*

      Temp jobs. Yup, those definitely show you some interesting things. I had one where it was temp to hire and the job was finding the contact information for people who had appeared in magazine articles so the company could sell them reprints. I worked with a young woman and a boss, both of whom were just this side of crazy. It was such a strange environment, I can’t even describe it. After I left, the woman and the company were sued because of the actions of the woman and someone else who committed criminal acts on another company. Long story, but it was just bizarre. I still think of that job as some sort of netherworld/did this really exist or was it some nightmare I didn’t wake up from for awhile.

      1. Lacey*

        I had a job like that when I was at university, for about a week I cleaned house for a crazy, crazy woman.

        She was having a mad affair with a married man she called The Litigator, and took up so much of my time telling me the latest developments with her affair that I struggled to actually clean. And when I did get time to clean I spent most of my time picking up dog poo, half finished drinks with actual mould growing over the top and rotting leftover meals – I barely had time to get out the hoover. She asked me to get her 10 year old boy up and out of bed because he wouldn’t obey her. I walked to his room, started to talk, and he got up and slammed the door in my face. That was the end of that. She owned a clothing shop and decided I should work there as well, so I spent a morning following her around, not allowed to actually do a single thing, while she showed me her “magical selling powers”. I don’t think she sold anything at all. One thing she did let me do was stand in the middle of a car park outside her shop while she ran an errand, so that no-one would take the carpark while she was gone.

        I sadly advised I was a bit busier at uni than I expected to be and quit. This was 20 years ago and it sticks in my head as the most bizarre experience, she was so weird.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Wow yeah that is weird! Amazing how jobs like that stick with you and make you wonder if they were even real because of how strange they were.

    4. Leisabet*

      I once worked a temp job where I was paid by the hour to manually trawl an online directory for contacts, then put those contacts into a spreadsheet, so the boss could spam the listed people with his product. I wasn’t comfortable with this from the get-go, but I DID need the money.

      Turns out spending eight hours a day copying and pasting is enough to make someone slightly mad. At first, I made a game of how fast I could copy/paste the information. Then I made up increasingly elaborate ways to kill myself with the items on the desk. When I got an offer for another temp position a week later, they *begged* me to stay – apparently, I’d done more copy/pasting in my week there than the last temp had done in two months.

      1. TrainerGirl*

        I had a temp receptionist job in college for a mortgage company at the beginning of a refi boom. Before I got there, they’d had 4 people quit over 2 weeks. I was only able to stay for a month, since it was Christmas vacation, but when I told them I had to go back to school, they begged me to stay and offered to hire me on permanently. Apparently, I was the only person they’d found who could handle the switchboard without quitting. Flattering, but no way were my parents going for that!

    5. MarieK*

      “Apparently I am VERY good at cutting out parts of boxes and I know the whole alphabet. Sorry, didn’t mean to brag.” – HA!

      This reminds me of the time someone asked me why I alphabetized files by last name and not by first name.

  4. Anon Accountant*

    I quit a job on day 3 when I just knew it was the wrong job for me. My gut had been telling me all along to run but I’d accepted the job anyway. They lied during the interview and told me the prior accountant had left after working for over 10 years for them and there were many other lies.

    In reality, they’d went through 7 staff accountants in 8 months. The position was to be staff accountant but you were their file clerk, receptionist, plus expected to do all the cleaning at the office. The pay was terrible and I learned on my 1st day that they hadn’t paid previous staff in months and the owner seemed to think this was acceptable. I could go on and on but leaving was the best decision.

  5. Elizabeth West*

    (And yes, I was and still am speaking with a therapist about this phobia.)

    Good for you, OP. Phobias are very treatable. It may not go away completely, but it’s possible to get it to a tolerable level.

    I quit a job after three days once. It was doing fluff-and-fold at a laundry at night. The place was dark and scary, the patrons were scary, and I had to total up charges by hand, which I can’t do very well because of the dyscalculia. Plus I already had a day job and was so tired at the end of both shifts I could barely keep my eyes open. I was in my twenties and showing the first signs of as-yet undiagnosed thyroid disease, which included extreme (and I mean EXTREME) fatigue. Two jobs was just more than I could handle. And did I mention it was scary? o_O

  6. Contessa*

    My very first job ever was, no joke, telemarketing for timeshares. I lasted two and a half days–I left halfway through the third day in tears because someone was mean to me. To this day, though, I’m very nice to telemarketers.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I’m polite when I say “Could you please take me off your list? Thank you,” to charity/survey people. Did the newspaper sales over the phone for a short stint. That didnt’ last because I suck at sales.

        1. FiveNine*

          I found myself talking people out of sales when I worked at a cable/internet/phone call center, I’m surprised they didn’t fire me. I excelled at troubleshooting over the phone, and didn’t think of myself as in sales, but of course the company thinks every contact should be a sales opportunity. But we’d get people on occasion calling in asking about the phone service, which went down if the internet went down, and so I’d not only ask if they used LifeAlert or something like it dependent on the phone but I’d volunteer this information about the phone service going out when the Internet goes out.

    2. Ann Furthermore*

      I did a phone sales job the summer after high school. It was awful. I’m always polite to telemarketers now though, because I know if that’s what someone’s job is, it’s because they can’t find anything else. I always say, “I’m not interested, but thank you for calling. Please take our number off your list.”

  7. Sydney Bristow*

    I quit a job at a $40/night motel after 1 day. I fought the thought all day as I was taught not to change the sheets if they weren’t messed up too much even if a new guest was coming (I kept changing them and saying I needed the practice) and heard about the guest who had been robbed and was found strapped to a chair the next day by the housekeeper. I was completely freaked out but came home to a message from another job I had interviewed for offering me the job. Called the motel and quit right away! I probably would have anyway. I did go pick up my check for 1 day of work because I seriously earned that money.

    The worst part? About an hour after I quit I saw on the news that they’d found a dead body in the pool. I still shudder at the thought of that place!

    1. Ruffingit*

      o_O. Wow yeah, you worked at The Bates Motel apparently. Geeze, that is terrible, I’m glad you were able to leave that place.

  8. Jen*

    I once realized after a week that a job wasn’t right for me. I have mainly non-profit health PR experience. I interviewed at a financial for-profit business. They insisted that they wanted to do more feature pitching and I’d be a great fit. I took the job. Once I was done with training I realized that it was not going to be the kind of PR I like to do – it was product promotion. Write a release for this new product, write a release for this new ETF, etc. I knew nothing about any of it and after a week I realized I didn’t want to learn more about any of it. Plus, the commute was way longer than I thought it would be. Everything about the job was wrong, the atmosphere, the subject matter, the location, etc. After two months I put in my notice when I got another job offer.

  9. Elizabeth West*

    OH! I forgot one–there was a very popular restaurant near the downtown here–a little diner than had been there for years and years. Well, the owners finally retired and they sold it to someone who had NO CLUE how to run a restaurant. I got a job there and lasted two days. While I was there, a waitress screamed at the new owner and walked out, I spent three hours rearranging stuff that was already arranged and making way too many cutlery bundles because there was nothing for me to do (there were too many people in the kitchen), and I remembered how much I hated working in food service.

    I called my old boss at a shopping paper I used to work for and asked her if she knew of anything because I was dying. She said they had an ad assistant who was going on maternity leave and could I fill in for six weeks? YES I COULD. The next day, I told my supervisor I had another job and I was going to leave. He told me to come back the next morning and get my check from the owner, so I did. The poor man had no idea who I even was–he wasn’t the one that had hired me, and he was so inept I just ended up feeling sorry for him. He thanked me for working and gave me my tiny check. The place ended up finally shutting down, and they razed the building and made it a parking lot. :(

    I was at the shopping paper part-time and found another job right at the end of that tenure. I was there on 9/11; I went to work that day at 1. Someone had brought a little TV and we watched the news all day. I went out about 2:30 and got the special newspaper and some treats and we stared at the TV and nibbled chocolate chip cookies until it was time to go home. Nobody called. I was glad to be there with friendly and familiar people that day.

  10. Anonymous*

    “Overall, I feel kind of foolish for having taken the job knowing my reaction to hospitals, but I was so enamored of the company from my interviews with them that I brushed off my concerns.”

    You’re not alone, I’m in my current non-hospital-related job for basically that same reason, being enamored and brushing off concerns. It took me about 1-2 months to realize I had to get out, and now it’s been a year and I’m still looking.

    If I could offer any advice, it would be this: don’t take a job without knowing what you’re going to be doing or who you’re going to be working with. That may sound obvious but this job requires several months of training, and then only after that do you actually get a position within the company (you have to pass training, it’s a little intense but not too bad). If I had known what team I’d be on, I would not have taken the job. Oh well, here’s hoping something better comes up.

  11. Unanimously Anonymous*

    “Most blatantly obvious mismatch” for me had to be the temp job I had on the production line at a lighting-fixtures manufacturer. At first it wasn’t too bad…but then the bossheads would call for a speedup, at which point your humble correspondent ended up kinda like this…


    Of course, I couldn’t eat the lighting fixtures, they just wound up getting sent to rework. After the 2nd day, I stopped by the temp agency on the way home & told them that if they didn’t reassign me ASAP, they’d been in deep kimchi with the factory’s bosses. Of course it helped that this was an unusually good temp agency that fed me more good gigs than all the other agencies I signed up with combined.

  12. Anonymous*

    I took a job that was a horrible, really bad, terrible, aweful, no good fit once.
    I like computers and data and process improvement and computers and software.
    The job was talking to people all day long about how they felt and what they could do and warm and fuzzy bs.
    The commute was about 5 hours a day.
    The people I worked with were mostly fine, but they all liked to talk too, about how they felt, and whatever other blahblahblah.
    I actually stuck it out and while that job never got better, I did get promoted (about 10 months in) to something that is awesome and amazing that I love and fits fantastically. I got that promotion because I turned all my process and computer and data love onto the position and showed what I could do.
    So sometimes the horrible jobs lead good places.

    1. Lindsay J*

      Yes! I work with a bunch of artist-types and I am most definitely more of a business-type. My boss is so impressed with my organization and spreadsheets and databases that I am pretty much definitely next in line to be promoted, and will likely be made corporate when they open a corporate office in the next few years.

  13. Ann Furthermore*

    OP, good for you for giving it a chance to see if it was something you could make work. A month is long enough to know if you’ve made a mistake, or if it was just new job jitters that you needed to work through.

    Hope your new job is working out well!

  14. Lia*

    Right after I graduated, I landed a temp job with a multinational company. The first two weeks went well: I entered many documents, learned their software system, etc. Then, suddenly, my boss dropped a stack of documents in French on my desk. I don’t speak French. I went to her office and asked what i was supposed to do with them. “Enter the information, same as in the regular documents.” Okay, but it was in a different order, and also…FRENCH. I said I wasn’t comfortable doing it because I was sure I would make a lot of mistakes. She rolled her eyes and said “Look, you have a college degree. Obviously, you can speak French. Just do the documents.”. I went back to my cube, called my agency person, and explained the situation. Agency told me to leave and they’d pay for the rest of the day, and was completely on my side.

  15. Jazzy Red*

    OP, I think you were brave to take on this job. Sometimes things affect us much more severely than we thought they would.

    There was absolutely no point in staying on that job one day longer than necessary.

    There’s also no way to tell beforehand if a job is going to be anything like we think it will be. You have to jump in and try it to know.

    Good luck with the new job!

  16. Alexis*

    I knew a new job was all wrong for me when I was only 20 minutes into it. I tried to be professional and work though it, but knew it was a mistake. When I attempted to quit a few days later, the boss told me that she immediately hated it, too, but she was elected to the position and could not walk away. She begged me to stay, so I did. I only survived 6 weeks through the support of friends and lots of ice cream to “make me feel better.” It was the worst job I ever had. What a way to learn to listen to my instincts! It bore no resemblance to the job portrayed in the intervrview and I only wish I had left when I first tried.

  17. Crystal*

    I left a job I really enjoyed because I was trying to expand my skill set, I knew by the end of the first week it wasn’t the place for me. I stuck it out though thinking it would get better and it was just new job jitters.
    I knew the job required travel but it ended up being alot more than we discussed in the interview process, this didn’t really work so well in my one parent household, thank goodness I have a support system! I didn’t really connect with anyone there, everyone was cordial but nothing more than working relationships, I basically had nothing in common with anyone other than the fact that we worked together. I may have been able to stay but to top it off my manager was a complete OCD micromanager. Some of his best moments he told one employee that rather than leave for an out of town assignment the night before she could leave at 4 am that day, drive the 8 hours it took to get there (foregoing rest/meal time) and start training in the afternoon and scolded me for wanting to give myself two hours to get to the airport rather then one (the airport is 45 minutes away). And that was on his good days.
    Anywho, through all this I somehow convinced myself it must just be me, that I should stick it out to see if it would get better once I was more familiar and I was afraid to look like I was job hopping and unreliable to potential employers to quit after only a few months. I did this for 18 months before I just couldn’t take it, it was affecting my personality, well being and home life. Maybe it was more my issues with not being happy than the company itself but for whatever reason, we didn’t click.
    I finally decided to start looking and after only a few months landed my first management position for an amazing director whose taken a personal interest in growing my leadership abilities. I have a wonderful staff and peers whom I care about what happens outside of work.
    I did get some things out of the previous position, since I had no one to talk to I had a lot of time to learn about the work which helped me to get the job I have now and I learned what kind of leader I do NOT want to be.

  18. Anonymous*

    I came across this article by accident. Have you been tested for Vasovagal Syncope?
    It sounds very similar to what I experience. I am the same with TV and films. Not only the images, but verbal descriptions of procedures too. I have suffered with this since I was very young and only found out what it was 3 years ago.
    I found this website to be very helpful: http://www.stars.org.uk/patient-info/conditions/reflex-syncope (also called Vasovagal)
    I downloaded and filled in the STARS blackouts Checklist then went to my doctor to ask to be referred as it advised.
    So good that you were able to find a new job that doesn’t put you in that position!

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