Why You’re Unhappy in Your First Job – and What to Do About It

Why You’re Unhappy in Your First Job- and What to Do About It

The following is adapted from Ignite Your Career!

You’ve graduated from college or graduate school, and you’ve accepted the job you wanted at the company you wanted to work for. You’ve been building your career skills. Everything sounds great on paper—but you’re not happy. In fact, you’re downright miserable. What are you doing wrong?

The answer is, probably nothing. Many times, you’re not the problem. Nor is the company. The problem is how you two fit together.

When you don’t fit with the culture of a company—its values and norms—everything feels off. Work becomes a struggle. If you hate your first job, company culture is often to blame, but the good news is that you can learn from your experience and switch to a company with a better culture fit for you.

Let’s take a look at a candidate I met through my work as an executive recruiter: a man who was miserable at his job but managed to turn his situation around by finding a company with a culture that aligned with his values. From his story, we’ll explore how to define your ideal culture so you, too, can find a job you love.

Culture Mismatches Lead to Misery

I worked with a candidate who was a couple of years out of school, and he was absolutely miserable at his job. He had gained twenty pounds. He didn’t feel right in his own skin, and not just because of the weight he had put on. He had always been an optimist, but he suddenly found himself being pessimistic about everything. He felt as if there were a dark cloud above his head.

As we talked about why he wasn’t comfortable where he worked, it became clear that the job was not the problem. He loved the job, and it fit the career path he had mapped out for himself. The problem was the company’s values. How they operated did not align with his own values and style.

This type of mismatch can manifest in many ways: the employee needs independence but the company micromanages, the employee is creative but the company requires rigid adherence to processes, the employee values work-life balance while the company is all about work, etc. My candidate’s preferences were incompatible with the company culture, so he needed to leave.

Together, we found a company with a culture that fit him, and he moved there. The change was remarkable. He told me, “I feel like I fit. I feel like every day when I go to work, I’m welcomed. It is like going home. I have a bounce in my step and the world is good.”

Now, he could have thrown the baby out with the bath water. He could have blamed his unhappiness on the job and given up on his career ambition. But what he discovered was that he loved his job. He just didn’t love where he was doing it.

The job wasn’t the problem. The company wasn’t the problem. A bad culture fit was the problem.

Recognizing Different Company Cultures

If you can relate to my candidate’s story, it’s time to find a company that’s a better culture fit for you than your current employer.

Remember, culture fit is how closely the norms and values of a company align with your own. Unlike hard skills, culture fit cannot be taught. So how do you know if a company is a good culture fit or not?

First, understand that there are many different types of company cultures. I believe strongly that there are no good or bad cultures. There are only good or bad fits. Some companies are very collaborative. They are so inclusive that everyone must approve things before you can move forward. On the other hand is an extremely fast-paced, action-oriented company culture, where how you get things done is often less important than simply getting them done. These companies often believe in failing and learning fast, so they make decisions very quickly.

Depending on your personality, you might thrive in a particular culture—or you might struggle.

Finding the Right Culture Fit for You

There are many different types of company cultures, but you can find the best fit for you by understanding your values and preferences. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How comfortable are you with ambiguity?

  • Do you prefer more autonomy, or do you like having a playbook?

  • Are you a conformist or a nonconformist? A rule follower or somebody who likes to push the envelope?

  • How does the company react to what you do? Do they celebrate people who push for change, or do they want to do things just as they’ve always done them?

Answer these questions and make sure your responses match up with the company’s expectations. If you and the company want the same things from your work, you’ll both be more successful.

Culture Is the Key to Workplace Happiness

Many, if not most, people don’t love their first job. In fact, almost every company has seen the best and brightest hires fail miserably due to lack of culture fit. It’s that important.

If you’re unhappy with your current company, remember that it’s not a personal failure—it likely is a poor culture fit. Take the time to explore what you want out of a job and employer. What type of company culture will you thrive in?

Once you have a clear idea of your workplace wants and needs, you can move on to a job at a company that’s a great culture fit for you.

For more advice on building a successful career, you can find Ignite Your Career! on Amazon.