When you’re in your twenties, it’s very hard to find a rhythm that works for you in the world of work. Take me for instance. I was a happy, bumbling, stereotypical semi-alcoholic student who did try at uni but didn’t really try hard enough. I ended up with a cheeky Desmond (2:2, for those not in the know), a burnt-out liver and no concept of self-organisation and then was thrust unceremoniously into the hustle and bustle of working for a recruitment firm in London. I was in waaay over my head and only survived eleven months. My next job was working for a massive media agency, where I was the complete opposite – bored, starved of creativity and counting down the hours until I could go to the pub with some of my colleagues.

It can seem as though things are happening at a blistering pace when you first get a job. One minute you’re sweating over the first interview, making extra sure not to spill your Costa coffee down your shirt, then the next you’ve signed a contract, the next it’s your first day, the next you’re in training, the next you’re presenting in front of clients ohGodohGodohGod. It’s ok to feel a bit overwhelmed when you first start, Lord knows I did.

My recruitment agency’s approach to blooding a newbie was to sit them down, pick a client, and get them to call them. This is with no prior experience of recruitment, no knowledge of your market, no candidates to talk about and no idea who they are. Up until this point, I had struggled to make phone calls to anyone who wasn’t an immediate family member, so my first phone conversation was a something of a blabbering, mumbling mess that made me sound like I was either very drunk or having a stroke. My line manager and director exchanged more than one glance. Sadly, this set me off on such a bad foot that ultimately my confidence never really grew from that point, and I handed in my notice within a year, two stone heavier and considerably less happy. This is a perfect example of how you can feel overwhelmed by a professional environment.

When I eventually left, my line manager took me for a pint and asked me where I thought it had all gone wrong (lol, savage). It was only after eleven months that I was able to say that actually, if you’d stopped and taken the time to listen to what made me tick, I would have done some research on the market, the person I was talking to, and given them something resembling a beneficial phone call, as opposed to using them as some kind of social guinea pig. I would have felt useful, not useless.

That particular company, as with many other recruitment agencies, monitored how long you spent on calls each week (“7 hours or you’re dead to us”) and so they largely focussed on quantity, not quality, and this always seemed fundamentally flawed to me. Had I worked at my own pace, who knows how much more successful I might have been (probably still not very, to be honest. I just wasn’t destined for that job, perhaps demonstrated by the fact that the first candidate I placed was hit by a bus. She survived it though J). So, if you feel overwhelmed at work, don’t do what I did and just try to crack on and hope it’ll resolve itself – talk to your manager, express your issues, and if they’re at least half-decent at their job they’ll help you to work at your own pace until you feel comfortable pushing on.

By contrast, my job in media was completely different. The size and scale of the operation really excited me – I saw the names of clients that would be recognised in every country around the world, Managing Directors who had appeared on TV shows and the sight of 800 people arriving for work every morning in the London office alone and was blown away by it. “Oh yes,” I thought. “Now this is a place where things get done.”

However, I came in at about the lowest possible rung of the media ladder – the weirdly-titled “Executive” role. While the real executives were lunching with billionaires, I was number crunching and writing year-on-year analyses. Now, don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that you have to work your way to the top, and so you should. But I stuck with that grind for my entire time there, as it takes around 4 years to get to a more hands-off management role, and I found myself becoming so incredibly bored that I frequently wanted to test the structural rigidity of my desk with my own face.

In the end, I actually ended up leaving for unrelated family reasons, but, for the few months before I did, I remember thinking about what on earth I could do. I loved the company, its ethos, the people and the bigger picture, but I hated my day-to-day responsibilities. Additionally, the salary was crap, which should never be the main reason for leaving but was certainly a factor (over half of my salary was being paid on rent. Thanks, London).

I tried to use the wisdom of one of recruitment’s more confused principles of CV analysis to guide me. This was:

You should never move jobs too much because you’ll look disloyal. Also, you should definitely move jobs because if you don’t you’ll look like a plodder.

Cool. Thanks for clarifying.

Taking money out of the equation for a moment, let’s make an assumption – most employees want to progress up the ladder and take on different responsibilities. This isn’t always true (I learned first-hand that some of the guys in IT and Tech Support really like numbers and reeeeally dislike people) but, on the whole, I would argue that most people want to feel like they’re developing and growing within a company. Even with its ethos, even with its clear development structures put in place by HR, even with all the will in the world and even with my eagerness for loyalty, ultimately my company couldn’t progress me fast enough.

So, as this was the case, I looked at other roles. While I never made the jump, many of my colleagues did and few, if any, ever regretted it. While one should certainly be cautious around the idea of being considered a bit of a job hopper, there is no shame in making yourself happier by jumping ship to somewhere where the structure is more fluid. Additionally, there is no shame in moving across to a different company that has the role that you want right now, if you think you can do it.

Just always make sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons – money isn’t always the answer, and if your current company should offer you more money to stay then you must always ask yourself if it will actually make you happier. It’ll usually amount to an extra £50-£100 a month, and is that really all it will take to change whatever issues you have with your current job?

We live in strange times where the Baby Boomers are in the high-up roles, and their professional lives were governed by the principle that you stayed loyal, worked your way up, and “Could be in the hot seat in a few years’ time, big guy” (I’m pretty sure that’s how the 80s worked). Things are so different these days, and it’s ok to feel overwhelmed or, indeed, underwhelmed. Just don’t sit in silence and think it’s what’s expected of you – go and do something about it.


Maybe start your own company…?


M . Underhill