Back

How Not to Ruin your Career: Five Lessons I Learned as a Pandemic Job-HopperFeatured

Leaving a job is scary at the best of times, and with the world in a constant state of flux, we often feel lucky to be employed at all. I remember being told two things long before I was of working-age in regards to building a career: if you don’t go to college, you won’t get a job, and when you do get a job, you must stay for several years to ensure you don’t stifle your chances of getting another. Both of these are patently false. But today, I’m only tackling the latter -- the fallacy that job-hopping will “ruin” your resume and make you unemployable.

The world has changed, folks. Job-hopping is no longer the career-killer as was previously believed. Having had five different jobs since the start of the pandemic, I now see resigning as an act of self-care which can help put you on a new path to success if you’re smart about it. Here are five lessons I learned about career-building (and demolishing) during my year of hopping jobs.

Lesson #1: It’s okay to be wrong. It’s not okay to ignore it.

This is arguably the most important lesson on this list. Admitting that you made the wrong choice in accepting a new job was something I never learned from any mentor or career advice article. My understanding was that adults worked the same jobs until they retired because that was largely the work style that was modeled (or at least that I noticed). Early in my career, I remember the incredulous buzz that would stir up when a longtimer put in their notice, further cementing the message that moving on was unacceptable.

So when I started feeling like I was already itching to leave my brand new role, I ignored it. Pretending to be happy in a role that doesn’t fit you can do more harm than good. I suffered for it and so did my productivity. I wasted countless hours trying to convince myself that I should be grateful to be employed instead of acknowledging the fact that I made the wrong choice and taking actions to rectify it.

Lesson #2: Be honest with yourself about what you want in your next job.

Starting over is exhausting. I never accepted an offer intending to leave in a few months, but it kept happening. So I became resolute in the ideology that I should focus on figuring out what would and wouldn’t work for me. Knowing what I wanted (and needed) in a role and from a company and a team was a trial and error process.

Coming out of a position where I had been for nearly four years, I wasn’t entirely sure what was possible in terms of benefits. Initially, I used perks offered by organizations I wasn’t necessarily considering for employment for inspiration. While four-day-work-weeks, lavish company retreats, and gym reimbursements only made it onto my nice-to-have list, they helped clarify my must-haves and deal-breakers. Then I took a critical look at what about the companies I was leaving didn’t suit me. Taking care to examine the team dynamics, company culture, and feedback style during the interview process helped tremendously and I got better at it every time.

I decided that I would pass on any opportunities that didn’t meet my minimum requirements. The front-running necessity became a remote-first position, so I declined offers that would expect me to eventually come into the office, and for other reasons as well. I fully acknowledge that being able to pass on job offers is a luxury, but I think it’s one we should all strive to be able to afford. Saying no can feel so good, especially when you already know it’s not a good fit.

Lesson #3: Own the fact that you’re leaving early.

It’s going to come up. The question; “why are you looking to leave your current role” and you need to have something prepared, preferably the truth. The person interviewing you will already have seen how long you’ve been in the role. Do not wait for them to bring it up. If you own it and are open and honest about your reasoning, you’ll come across as responsible and trustworthy. But don’t just end it there. Punctuate this discussion point with a note about your accomplishments and the skills you acquired in your time in the role, even if that skill was to sharpen your eye for future opportunities that won’t be a good fit for you.

Lesson #4: Acknowledge the red flags. They’re there.

You may encounter an opportunity with obvious red flags, such as unclear expectations for the role or being ghosted by the recruiter, but it doesn’t have to be that glaring to raise an eyebrow. Even the most subtle warning signs are worth your attention and consideration. These warning signs you notice in the job description or interview process will only become amplified once you’re on the job, so decide before accepting the offer if it’s a deal-breaker or something you can live with long term. If you’re uncertain, you can often get the clarity you need in the interview or a follow-up email.

Lesson #5: Gather the data, but listen to your gut.

When interviewing for multiple positions, I found it helpful to track data points for each opportunity to make the process less overwhelming. Adding categories like title, salary range, even the vibe I got from the hiring manager or social pages, and weighting them in a spreadsheet according to my priority list helped me make the objectively correct choice. And then came an offer that was, on paper, the right choice. And I took the offer even though something told me it wasn’t the right fit. I decided based entirely on the data and ended up leaving that position within a few months. Intuition can tell you a lot, but it’s imperative to take the next step of getting into the practice of acknowledging our instincts.

---

Today, I’m at my 5th company since the start of the pandemic, and I like to think I’ve made the right choice, but now, I’m allowing myself the grace to reorient if necessary. My priorities and requirements for employment have shifted tremendously in that I now have them and am willing to turn down offers in a preemptive attempt to protect my peace.

Things don’t have to be the way they’ve always been, and I doubt they’ll ever be the same. So let’s normalize changing your mind, addressing vibes that don’t feel quite right, and negotiating for terms that will suit you. It’s not about finding the perfect job, but waiting for the one that’s best for you and being able to recognize it when it comes along. And if at first (or fourth) you don’t succeed, try again.

This is fuqin' BRILLIANT and so spot on!Even I have the hard time of de-programming myself from the thought of "it's going to ruin my career trajectory if I leave before 6 months". Hell! 12 months!Thanks for writing this. So many people are going to have an "a-ha!" moment after reading this. And that's just damn good writing when they do. Well done, madam!
Wow thank you!! I literally just got rejected from an interview because I had left the job I started early this year after 8 months. This made me feel so much better and is also concrete, actionable and wonderful advice!
That company that rejected you sounds weak. Did they even ask you any follow-up questions, because a person doesn't leave a job "just because"? There's a reason behind it. Maybe you realized that there was no potential of professional growth there.Or you didn't like the "red tape" and "politicking" that gunked up progress.Or it was a toxic workplace. Or you decided to take your career in a different direction. Or [fill in the blank]Just to get ahead of it next time, you could mention to the interviewer why you're leaving & why they're company feels like a better fit. But again, that "rejector company"...WEAK! Their loss, someone else's gain.Erase & replace, squirrel...๐Ÿ˜โœŒ๐Ÿพ
u said it absolutely right but i wanted to add something that by doing more and more hardwork you can save your carrier i've this thing at Most Wanted Firearms
Nope they definitely did not ask any follow ups, but that's a good suggestion. I will try and pre-emptively answer next time. Thank you!
Handle it, super squirrel!๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿพ
I too agree and resonate with you. As someone that used to work for a tech career accelerator the main thing to remember is that in Silicon Valley someone only stays in a role for an average of 18 months. These are uncertain and challenging times the price today of staying in a job that isnโ€™t a good fit is high. Gone are the days that employees just have to sit and make the best out of a bad situation.
My question is, how do you go about doing multiple rounds of interviews while you're at a new job that you desperately need/want to leave? You don't have any accrued PTO yet, and taking a bunch of random sick days shortly after starting a new job would ring alarms, no? In the past I have left jobs w/out something lined up, but that was always my last resort and it definitely makes it harder to find a new job w/out one in place.
I'm not sure what your work situation is, but it's definitely an easier feat if you're working remotely and not in an hourly position. You can prep for and take interviews during what would be your commute times, breaks, etc. A lot of the roles for which I was applying were in other time zones, so there was a time or two I had an early morning or evening interview. But I think you can also explain your situation to the recruiter and see if there is any way they can accommodate your schedule.
It is amazing how much we align here @AlysaTurner! I am also at my 5th company since the beginning of the pandemic, and I have to say I've LEARNED so much about myself, my career goals, and most of all the people I want to work with. I also kept track of the interview processes, the offers and tried o make the most "objective" decisions. What made my decision easier after all these companies, was the vibe I would get not only from the hiring managers but also the team I was about to work with. Something that Iโ€˜ve learned is to ALWAYS ask to talk to the teammates and especially those who are there more than a year to see if they still have that light in their eyes when they talk about their jobs, their managers a and the company. I have built a good gut feeling the past two years and now at my current company, Iโ€˜m more aware, more resilient, less naive, and more prepared if things or when things go wrong.
It all comes down to the vibe! ๐Ÿ™Œ๐ŸพWe learn so much more about what we want by experiencing what we DON'T want. I haven't asked to speak with active team members, but I'll absolutely be stealing that in the future ๐Ÿ˜Ž
I agree with you, and I think it's really interesting how narratives and perception play a part in our decisions.I have been self employed for over a decade and recently started my first full time job as a contractor, mostly due to the pandemic and my business going down. I would not hesitate one bit about leaving if things got toxic or I wasn't learning or growing. I turned down offers as well, by following my gut. But I guess it's been easier to do since I've always been independent/self employed, so I'm used to having to come up with plan B, C, Z :)
What an amazing post!! Thanks for sharing :)
This is amazing, thank you! I'm currently struggling with the feelings that I may have made the wrong choice now myself. Not having a "real" job throughout the pandemic was incredibly damaging to my mental health. I hate that that sounds like I identify with my job so much that I lack meaning without it. I do find meaning elsewhere as well, but I find it hard to value myself if no one else is (in the form of compensation) - I know this is an area for me to work on. The fact that I isolated myself in Maine the entire time (I'm from NYC) also didn't help. So when I got my current job offer I thought "this is everything I ever wanted / needed and life is on the right path now." It's in an industry I'm passionate about, it's a tech startup, and it's a hybrid-remote role based in NYC. I've been wanting to transition into tech (like everyone) and this company gets me there. And I really miss NYC so this seemed like a great opportunity to go back. However, since I've started I've realized that "hybrid" remote means that I'm in the office full-time with the CEO and literally no one else EVER comes in. A couple people actually live in other states and have no intention of moving back. The role itself also hasn't been all it was cracked up to be. It was supposed to be a small collaborative startup team working toward finding a new more profitable and sustainable business model. But it has become apparent that collaborative doesn't include me. Every time I have tried to bring up new ideas or help out where people were overstretched, I've been met with passive aggressive bitterness - basically saying I need to know my place. At this point I'm skittish and don't know what I can actually contribute without setting someone off. Not to mention I'm really not making much; the Elpha salary database made me realize that I'm in the bottom 10% in salary for those in my field and location and experience. So here I am, about to pull the trigger on an apartment lease back in NYC that will cost half of my after-tax salary for a job where everyone else but me is remote and my contributions are feeling quite dispensable. Also, I bought a house in Maine before all this which I own outright and can live in for free, but it still needs a lot of work. So it's feeling very irresponsible of me to go spend all this money on rent in NYC when I should be investing it into my property. It might be worth it if the job either paid more, was more rewarding, felt sustainable, or even if everyone else was making similar sacrifices to show up. But that's not the case and I fear if I follow through with this I'm going to end up bitter and resentful toward everyone there.
agree 100%. A month ago, I did a similar thing - for the first time in my career, I left after being on the job for 5 months only. Mentsl health is more important than anything!
This is great, very helpful. If I were to add an important #6 (re: not ruining your career): leave with grace, which means transitioning your projects and reassigning your works teams and provide a notice period, especially in these times where everyone is stressed out. Management should aid in this process, of course, but it's become increasingly common for people (mostly junior) to leave without a real notice periodโ€”recognize it's not technically requiredโ€”and without buttoning up their scope of works. If the firm invested in you, this seems like reasonable minimum request but set that aside for a moment: it demonstrates a minimum level of compassion for your colleagues (some who may be your friends) who will have to cover your responsibilities until someone is hired to replace your role. Explaining where you are in processes and what's left to be completed is helpful for others to get up to speed, especially when in an external facing role (you need to explain your transition and loop in a new point of contact)...
This was amazing! I completely feel you.I left a role only after 5 weeks. On my last day the CEO decided to tell me that there had apparently been 3 separate people that had held my role before me , and I had outlasted all of them.Trust your gut and don't ignore the red flags!
Love this. You've brilliantly articulated your POV. Thanks for making me feel less unsure about a whopper of a bad job decision I made.