Skip to main content

Unhappy with your job? Ask yourself this tough question

Written by: Janice Burch
Published on: Jan 31, 2019


Are you at the burnout stage of your career, ready to seek a new challenge, or just get out from under a negative situation?

As a career coach, I ask questions about my client’s work history and job performance in order to best prepare them for the job search, career transition, promotion, or a tough interview. One question I ask of those clearly at their breaking point in a current position to help them get in front of a potentially bad reference: “Based on what you did over the last week at work, would you hire yourself?”

Why is this important? As you prepare to change jobs, you may still have time for some emergency triage to preserve that job reference – even if you are in a slump and falling down on your responsibilities.

For these clients, we develop strategies to quickly improve their odds for a positive performance, which can equal an improved reference, more opportunities, and confidence as they step forward into a job search and new career.

Keep bringing your “A” game

My father held executive positions in the engineering industry and, before that, played high school and college basketball. When I would complain to him about one of my first jobs in high school, a veterinary hospital position where one of my duties was cleaning animal poo from cages, he would tell me to get over it – and that I should always bring my “A” game to any job, no matter what it was, and no matter how others around me might behave or perform. I was hired to do a job and as long as I am collecting a paycheck, I need to deliver. A wise man, my father, who instilled a strong work ethic in all of his children.

But delivering can be hard to do if you find yourself in the “slump” stage of a job, right? It becomes easy to obsess over all the reasons you dislike your job – maybe it’s a micromanaging boss, less-than-glamorous tasks, a colleague taking credit for your work, unreasonable last-minute client requests, or a lack of adequate pay or support. Humans often look outward before looking inward at what responsibility we have for a difficult situation. But it’s vital to look inward as quickly as possible, especially if you want to ensure you have a reference to lean on as you move forward in your career.

Don’t read this wrong– these are very valid reasons for wanting to leave a position when you are no longer happy – and you should, especially if you have exhausted all channels to rectify a tough situation. It is imperative though that you try your best to set yourself up for a smooth exit and decent reference from the employer, especially if you have spent significant time in this job.

Burning bridges by slacking off during a pre-exit slump could come back to bite you in a big way: at worst with an early termination, and at best with a poor job reference. And employers are checking. Many companies hire third-party agencies to perform candidate background checks, including contacting your listed references. A lukewarm or outright negative response, or even change in the tone of voice from a reference – “Oh, yeah, her… ummm” – can tank your chances for a job.

Here are a few other questions to ask yourself regarding your current situation as you begin your search for a new position. If you answer “no” to any of these, do some triage now for your own sake – it will be worth the effort.

  • Are you doing what you can to meet the needs of your clients?

  • Are you honestly trying to live the mission statement and company message through your responsibilities?

  • How often are you delivering value to your team and helping the group reach goals?

  • Are you hitting the quotas set by your team or management? If not, are you seeking help for this issue or just riding it out?

  • Are you still willing to help out your boss or supervisors, asking if you can take a load off of their plate after completing your own tasks?

  • As a manager, are you truly treating your staff and direct reports in the manner in which you would want to be treated, helping them develop the skills they need to help guide the company’s success?

The best time to go is when you are at the top of your game. Even though you may be on the way out, try your best to rack up accomplishments and responsibilities for your resume, and play out your last weeks or months on the job as if it were an interview for your next job. Try to show your value right up until the very end.

I promise: You’ll be happy you did.

Regarding references, be sure to consider these points as well:

  • Do not list references on your resume. This should be a separate coordinating page that you share with your interviewer onsite, or send later as requested with a follow-up letter.

  • Be sure to check in with the references you want to use: Call them and ask. This is especially important with any older references you may have. You don’t want the hiring manager calling them only to hear, “I am sorry - remind me again?” Or worse!

  • Treat your references page with as much respect as your resume. Cultivate it throughout your career, be sure it is accurate, and work smart to ensure you move on from your jobs with employers, colleagues, clients, and vendors wishing you would stay.

Janice Burch is an executive career coach, resume writer, and co-founder of Pro Resume Center.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on the Pro Resume Center blog.