How to Leave Your First Job After College Early Without Ruin

by Vault Education Editors | May 28, 2010

  • My Vault

Landing the perfect job directly after college is like making a full-court shot at the final buzzer of the NCAA championship. It's unlikely that you'll find the dream job you'll want to keep for the rest of your life. More likely, you'll find a job in the industry you're interested in that gives you a great view of different career paths and teaches you some basic skills, but that doesn't have the best job responsibilities day to day.

How do you leave your job without burning any bridges?But what if your first job is unbearable? As miserable as it may be, your first job is a valuable opportunity to network and build relationships that will benefit your career in the (very) long term. Even if you've decided to change industries entirely, you never know how someone you met when you were 22 could help you out in the future. So how can you leave your first job quickly--and gracefully?

How to leave a horrible job without losing mentors and contacts

The majority of professionals stay in their first job for about two to three years, according to Connie Thanasoulis, former Fortune 500 recruiter, co-founder of SixFigureStart and esteemed Vault blogger. My father always says that, wherever you are in your career, you should stay in a job for a full year at the very least. Thanasoulis agrees: "How can you significantly contribute to a position if you haven't been there a year? You spend two to three months getting up to speed, with a learning curve that is still steep." Moreover, a professional resume--particularly when you're starting out--focuses on accomplishments, rather than title or employer. No matter how famous the company/organization, it won't carry much weight on your resume if you didn't stay long enough to do anything.

If you've been unable to contribute to your employer, your co-workers and supervisors won't appreciate your leaving so early. Not only did they spend weeks--perhaps even months--training you for your new position, but they also spent months finding the right candidate before you even arrived. Having spent so much time and money on you, it's probable that an early departure will ruffle some feathers. That said, it is possible to extract yourself before a year without losing potential contacts and mentors. Here are two ways Thanasoulis says you can make sure you don't burn any bridges:

  1. Build a solid reputation for getting things done in a quality way. You begin building this reputation the minute you start interviewing...and then you support it further with your first days on the job, the first 90 days are critical to building a reputation or a "brand."
  2. Network successfully with various people in the firm. Networking is about establishing a long term, mutually beneficial relationship of give and take--with the emphasis on the give. So give to others: if they need help with a project; if they need your expertise; if you find an article that would be of interest to them...if you find a good restaurant and they like good restaurants.

Before you quit, establish a job search and interview strategy

Start your job search early and prepare an interview strategyIf you've done your best to create bonds with the people in the office but still can't bear to stay, it's time to start looking for other options. But it's not time to quit quite yet! Since time immemorial, it's always been easier to find a job if you have a job--so don't storm into your manager's office the minute you make your decision to leave. Start looking for a new job while still in your old one, and spend time considering your application and interview strategy.

Asks Thanasoulis, "How do you explain leaving so quickly in an interview? You are supposed to make well thought out, logical decisions, and during an interview you must always be positive, so what can you say?" It's hard to highlight your accomplishments and your employer's positive traits if you're leaving after less than a year. That said, it is possible to speak professionally on your one-year job in an interview. Prepare yourself for questions about why you're leaving so soon and get ready to put it in the best light. The key is to practice, practice, practice. Here are two topics Thanasoulis suggests you use in an interview to steer the interviewer away from the reality of your job mistake:

  1. The job wasn't what I thought it was: My career was going in this direction and when I accepted that job it was a perfect match for my career. When I actually joined, the focus was completely different. It was good work, nonetheless, as I accomplished x, y, and z (always focus on the accomplishments), but I wanted to ensure the focus was what I wanted. So I had to leave that job, and this is why we are speaking today.
  2. The job was what I thought it was … but ultimately I didn't want to do that job: I thought that the next logical step in my career was X. When I actually started to perform this function, I found I didn't enjoy it at all. I could do it, but I was forcing myself and that's not a healthy thing to do for eight to 10 hours a day. So I made sure I accomplished my work and I did a good job...but I was not happy ultimately. I really need to be happy with my work as it's core to me as a person. So I'm very happy to be speaking with you today.

Finding the right job the second time around

Be sure to think hard about why you're leaving your job after a short stint--you don't want to make the same mistakes twice. Moreover, not only will this self-reflection help you navigate the interview process, but it'll also help you find a job that fits you better the second time around. And making sure your next job sticks is a big deal: one short stint at a company won't hurt your resume, but many will. "If your resume is full of short stints," says Thanasoulis, getting hired "is going to be tough. People are going to think you'll leave them shortly." While "proper training can get you through these hurdles," says Thanasoulis, it'll be much easier if you suffer through your current job and take the time to find another you'll really like, where you'll stay for more than one year.

Filed Under: Education

Close button

Get tips on interviewing, networking, resumes, and more directly to your inbox.

No Thanks

Get Our Career Newsletter

Interview, resume and job search tips emailed directly to you.