Choosing that first job out of college can be a daunting process. (What if you’re wrong, and the future is ruined?) It can also feel like a big commitment like you’re choosing the path you’ll be on for most of your career. In reality, your first job is just that—a first. College grads leaving their first jobs is a very reasonable and common thing. And if you find yourself unhappy and wanting to move on, or you’ve received a very tempting new opportunity, we’re here to tell you: it’s totally okay!
It’s a first job, not a forever job
We’re no longer in a career mode where someone starts in the mailroom of a company and stays put until the retirement party decades later. Turnover and job-hopping have become a fact of life in nearly every field. In fact, Millennials have made it a defining career characteristic of their generation. But trends and reality often feel like two separate things, and you may feel pressure to stick it out in an unfulfilling job. Remember that there will be other opportunities, and you’re expected to do what’s best for your own career goals.
You don’t owe your company indefinite loyalty
They gave you your first job out of college, which is a very strong endorsement of your potential, and they chose you because you fit their needs, which is flattering. However, you’re under no real obligation to stay put for some vague amount of time just because they invested in you. You did your job, they paid you, and you’re free to move on when the time is right for you.
The one surefire way to ruin your professional reputation isn’t leaving—it’s being a jerk on the way out. Companies understand that younger employees aren’t a permanent factor. People who are just starting out are often feeling out their opportunities, looking for chances and places to advance. And sometimes a job just isn’t a great fit, even if it sounded great in theory.
If you quit (even if you haven’t been at the job for a long time), there won’t be some scarlet Q emblazoned on your record forever. Your company will move on to the next hire, and you’ll start your new job with very little friction. As long as you exit professionally and graciously (giving proper notice, offering to help with any transition tasks, not insulting anyone on your way out the door), it’s highly unlikely that your rep will suffer at all just because you left.
Change fuels growth
If you’ve found a job where you can see yourself settling for the next several years, great! You’re in a fantastic position. But if you find yourself in a job that is unfulfilling day-to-day, and has limited room for growth or a manager situation that just isn’t tenable, then you might be ready for change. At this stage of your career, it may be more advantageous to learn how to say “this isn’t for me” so you’re free to find the job that works better for your career goals.
Think of it as the professional equivalent of a high school relationship you’ve outgrown. It was good at the time, but now you have some knowledge and experience behind you, and it’s time to move on.
Staying in an unsatisfactory job can cause more harm than good
Again, you’re at a time in your career where you should be figuring out what fits for you so that you can make better long-term career decisions. Staying in a job out of a sense of obligation (and not because you’re getting valuable experience) can have physical and emotional consequences. Stress and discontent are not feelings conducive to good psychological and professional health. You are wasting time that could otherwise be spent building skills and experience somewhere else.
So if you’re thinking about leaving your first job, remember that it’s very common to have second thoughts or to want to get out before you’ve put in a set amount of time. Before you quit, it’s always best to have a game plan (or better yet, a new opportunity lined up). But once you’ve made the decision, handing in your resignation could be the best thing you can do for your growing career.
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