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By Emily Parker


You’ve probably wanted to make this change for a while. Here’s how I did it.

This is the first installment of our quarterlife career change series, created in paid partnership with TalentPool, the new way to hire and get hired.

"I work to live, I don’t live to work,” I repeat to myself as I descend the grubby escalators down into the pit of cosmopolitan hell (i.e. the London Underground at rush hour). I cling to the words, my eyes flicking from corny advert to corny advert as I observe the heads-down, Whatsapp-lit, vacant expressions of my fellow glum commuters.

Christmas is over and we’re all back to work again. It’s a natural time to reflect on where we are and whether it’s where we really want to be.

As I cram into the overcrowded carriage of the Northern line, close enough to see each pimple and popped capillary in the sallow skin of my neighbour’s face, I look around. I take in the other commuters’ shoes, briefcases, shirts, ties. I’m scanning, assessing; trying to work out who they are, what they do and where they work. I ask myself, “do they like their job more than I do?”, “how are they feeling about going back into work today?” and “have they found the job they’re meant to be doing?”

Many of us spend our 20s wondering whether there is something better out there than what we’re currently doing, and the feelings of failure that come along with this can wear you down.

When we asked on our Instagram, 82 per cent of you said you have thought about quitting your job. We’ve all had that feeling of being unhappy at work, but how do we know whether to quit, when it’s the right time to quit and how we should do it? I’m 27 and I’ve already changed careers twice since graduating. This experience has taught me two things: 1) no job is perfect, but 2) if you dread going into work everyday, and thinking of your job makes you desperately anxious or unhappy, it’s probably not something you should continue doing.

Moving jobs is always easier than you think it’s going to be.

The difficult part is working out whether or not what you’re doing is something you should stay in or not. The barriers between where we are now and where we’d love to be can feel so daunting that we shy away from even entering into the thought processes that might lead us there. This is trapping a huge number of us in a strange sort of job paralysis. When we asked you - our Quarterlife readers - whether you’re doing a job you love, the majority of you (85 per cent) said no. And yet it takes the vast majority of us as long as two years to quit a job that is making us unhappy.

Too many of us are getting stuck in the wrong jobs and it’s making us miserable.

Moving careers twice in my 20s has taught me how, and more importantly, when, to quit a job. Here are the five biggest lessons I learnt in the process.​

1. Keep one eye on the market.


Throughout my 20s I’ve been in the habit of browsing jobs on LinkedIn every few months or so. If you always have a grasp of what’s out there, then you can better assess your own position. You might even apply to a couple of things to go through the process of tailoring your CV, interests and experience to specific job roles. Then you’re more aware of your gaps and where you want to develop your own skill-set at work.


Top tip: this doesn’t have to mean tonnes of work or endless trawling through job sites. Companies like TalentPool make the process of finding opportunities streamlined, quick and personalised. You fill out a profile and you’re then matched with jobs that fit your profile at startup and SME companies like Deliveroo, Monzo and Patch Plants. I spoke to George Thomas, who moved jobs recently using TalentPool, and he said, “in my month or so of being on TalentPool I was shown three jobs. All of them sounded very interesting and I applied for all of them”. Scoping out the market doesn’t have to drain your time, energy and enthusiasm.

2. Decide whether quitting is the answer.

A job can make you unhappy for a number of reasons. It can be a workplace culture that doesn’t suit you, a difficult individual that you’re struggling to work with, or a feedback and progression structure that you don’t feel confident in. Maybe you’ve been waiting longer than you should have for a promotion. Or perhaps the specific role you’re in isn’t bringing out the best in you, or even the industry itself isn’t what you thought it would be, and isn’t something you see yourself being fulfilled in long-term.

The first step is working out what it is that’s making you unhappy, and then, based on that, working out whether that is something that might change in time or not.

Top tip: it sounds silly, but writing everything down can be cathartic and can help you get some clarity on how you’re really feeling about your job, as well as helping you track the situation as it progresses.

3. Decide when is the right time to quit.

Once you’ve worked out what it is about your job that’s making you unhappy, things start to feel a little clearer. The second step is checking in with yourself at daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly intervals to reassess how things are going. Set out things that need to change for you to stay, whether that’s a promotion, an improvement in training or support or even a softening in a manager’s harsh or unhelpful approach. Think of ways you can adapt or change yourself to help things along, whether that’s working harder with a difficult character or communicating with your manager to tell them what’s been bothering you and how you’d like it to change.

If you don’t see any improvement across the time period you’ve set for yourself, then you’ll know it’s time to quit. Most people say you should have a buffer of around nine months to a year of salary saved to give you wiggle room and security, so if you’re considering quitting, why not take a look at monthly expenditure and work out how much you can put away each month to give yourself that buffer? If you can’t afford to save, you know you’ll need to line up another job before you quit.

Top tip: make a calendar for a fixed time period. After work every day, draw a green dot in the days you’ve enjoyed work and a red dot in the days you haven’t. After the time has passed, look back over the calendar. If there’s significantly more red than green, that might be the proof you were looking for that it’s time to quit.

4. The majority of people don’t land on their perfect career in their 20s, and that’s ok.

It’s a bit of a lottery for most of us getting a job after education. We’re in a mad scramble, desperate to get something - anything to stop us feeling like Gavin & Stacey’s Stacey Shipman in her PJs talking about her breakfast when Pam tells her she needs to get out more.

We spend our “lost year” applying for every job that sounds bearable, whilst knowing very little about the real working world. It’s no wonder most of us don’t land the right job first time round and there’s nothing wrong with moving around a bit in our 20s to try out lots of different environments, roles and industries. We’re more likely to find something that makes us truly happy that way, and lots of the skills we pick up along the way are transferable anyway.

Top tip: never look sideways at friends and peers. We all progress at such different rates in our 20s that looking at what our friends are doing during this decade and comparing ourselves to them is always misleading at best, and damaging to our own self-esteem and career path at worst.

5. Don’t be afraid to quit.

If all that’s holding you back is the thought of having to quit, don’t let it. The relationships you build at work don’t die because you decide to quit. If you’ve had a positive experience and made a positive impression, you’ll always have the option to go back if you decide to down the line. I’ve left two jobs in my 20s, and both times I was shocked to find that my workplaces couldn’t have been lovelier - not only humbly congratulating me on my new role, wishing me well and reassuring me I’d always have my job there if I wanted it, but even putting on champagne parting celebrations complete with speeches and presents.

Top tip: always respect your place of work and leave things on a positive. However unhappy you might have been in the job at times, they’ve still employed you and invested in you for a period of time, and you’ll have made bonds and relationships there you won’t fully appreciate until you leave. For your own sake as well as your employers’, it’s always best to leave on a high. Do things the right way. Be honest, respectful, work your notice period with full vigour, and part ways with a friendly handshake, or even a hug.

Above all, I’ve learned that too much looking back or forwards can be unhelpful. Having career goals and expectations of yourself can be motivating, but the here and now is just as important. If you’re learning, enjoying and fulfilled by your job, happy days. If you’re lacking in any of the above, and you have a feeling that’s not going to change, don’t be afraid to take a sideways move, or even to start again on a new ladder, taking forwards everything you’ve learned and achieved.

Our generation is going to be working for many years, so there’s no hurry. Most people’s careers don’t peak until they’re in their 50s, and the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is that careers are a marathon, not a sprint. So, if you’re not loving this particular mile, don’t be afraid to take a different, more scenic route for the next one.

The next piece in our career change series will focus on how to find a job you love. Look out for it next Monday, and feel free to to set up a TalentPool profile here, even if it’s just because you’re curious and want to see which roles you get matched up with.

This article was created in paid partnership with TalentPool, the new way to hire and get hired. DISCLAIMER: we use affiliate links.

Image by Emily Parker


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