My job is awful and is crushing my soul. For insurance reasons, though, I can't quit until I have a new job lined up. This week I got an offer. It's not my dream job, but it's something. The problem, though, is that obviously I never interviewed with anyone in person, but they expect to be back in the office by June. So now I'm freaking out about the possibility that I’ll hate it there too. None of the people I interviewed with seem awful, but I certainly didn’t walk away thinking I was dying to work with them. Should I take the risk or stick with the devil I know until I can meet the people I'd be working with face-to-face?
—Mark, St. Louis
Short answer: If the best thing you can say about your job is that it’s the devil you know, it’s time to quit. Some people cannot do that, because quitting means running out of money or health care if they leave—I’ll spare you the rant about how maybe we shouldn’t tie people’s ability to see a doctor to their employment status—but Mark, you are lucky enough not to be in that situation, so run away.
That said, I do understand the dilemma. Getting your hopes up about a new, less-miserable job only to learn that the new job is equally miserable or worse would be 10 times more soul-crushing. And as we creep back toward an IRL existence, none of us have a clear view of what our lives will look like—even if we aren’t changing jobs. So the particular anxiety of knowing even less than most of us about what you’re signing up for in a post-vaccination universe must be overwhelming. There are, however, ways to minimize the chances of total disaster.
Step one: Talk to employees other than the ones you met via interviews. Personal connections are easiest, but even if you don’t have a friend there, you have options. Listservs and Facebook groups within your profession are sneaky-good resources, though it’s worth framing your initial post very carefully in case the group administrator is married to your prospective boss or something. If you find any current or former employees, get on the phone with them for 20 minutes and ask all the questions you don’t think you can ask the hiring manager. If you can’t find anyone, a blind LinkedIn message to someone with the company on their profile isn’t a bad approach. (Take it from someone who once scared a stranger out of taking a job working for an unimaginably abusive boss that way.)
Honestly, though, you should probably ask the hiring manager more questions too. It’s true that they don’t have a lot of incentive to be honest about the downsides when they’re trying to hire you, but even evasive answers can be revealing. Ask what the office culture was like pre-pandemic, and then ask specific follow-ups. Tell them your concerns with your current job and ask how their company addresses similar issues. Ask about the biggest challenges in the department you’d be working in. Listen as much to what they don’t say as what they do. If they pretend everything is perfect, consider that a red flag. And request to speak to someone in the department—the hiring manager shouldn’t have fears about connecting you with someone.
These strategies will help put your mind at ease. But we both know they can’t entirely eliminate the risk of ending up somewhere you hate just as much. I once accepted an offer for what I genuinely thought was going to be a dream job, turning down other opportunities, and … I hated it. But you know what? Everything worked out fine! I worked there for a while, unhappily but with a salary and health insurance, and eventually found another gig. A regrettable job decision or two is both inevitable and, in all likelihood, harmless in a decades-long career.
What I'm saying is that even a bump in the road doesn't have to stop you from aspiring to your dream job. You deserve to be happy in your work, and if the next job doesn’t make you happy, you have my advance blessing to look again. Nobody will blacklist you for moving on fairly quickly from a job you took for health insurance reasons during a global pandemic. I promise.
So back to the “devil you know" concept. You know your current job is the devil. That means you need to get out before it saps all your energy and enthusiasm for your work generally. But the hypothetical new job isn’t the devil you don’t know, because you don’t know it’s the devil! So assuming no one you talk to gives you serious reason to doubt that it will be soul-crushing, go! If, when you return to the office in June, you find you hate that job too (and I hope you don’t!), start the hunt without compunction and follow these steps again. I’m told the third time is the charm.