Hate your job? Here’s how to fix it.

When we’re in a terrible job we think we’re the only person who is in a terrible job, and everyone else loves their job, and everyone’s life is great, and our life is terrible. But, in fact, every single person, no matter where they are in their life now, has had a job that they hated.

The only people who don’t have jobs they hate are people who don’t take any risks and end up having terrible careers, because part of a good career path is having moved through a job that you hate.

Here are three steps to make a horrible job good.

1.  Befriend the best-networked person in the company.
The problem with a really terrible job is that it doesn’t have the three things that are most important in a job, which are engaging work, manageable goals, and control over your results. So what you need to do is create your own engaging work with manageable goals. So do that by deciding that you’re going to be friends with the person who is most able to help you get this job. Look around the company and decide who’s got the most potential.

The worse the company is, the quicker it will be to find this person, because people with huge potential don’t stay at terrible companies, so odds are, there’s only one to find. Find your one person, and then each day do one thing to get closer to that person.

There is a wide range of steps you can take that, usually in the how‑to‑get‑a‑mentor category. Even if you don’t want this person as a mentor, the best way to get someone to pay attention to you is to let her know that you admire her and want help from her. So act like you want a mentor and your job will suddenly become meaningful because you might actually get a mentor.

2.  Look for the most terribly managed areas of the company and fix them.
A tell‑tale sign of a horrible job is that it’s a horrible company, and a tell‑tale sign of a horrible company is that almost every single thing is managed terribly. Usually what has happened when things are so terrible is that someone ruined a project and then dumped it.

So in the terrible company there are dumped projects everywhere. You should pick one up and start fixing it. Even if you can only fix it a tiny little bit, on your resume it’s going to look really good. It will say increased efficiency 20 percent, increased revenue 21 percent, decreased staffing costs 30 percent, because it’s really easy to have this type of achievement when you’re dealing with complete stupidity at the onset.

Melissa is great at this. Before I knew her well, she saw that pictures on my blog were terrible. I don’t have any terrible photos to link to to as examples because she volunteered to replace them with photos she liked. Now I pay her to edit photos I take and also photos that other photographers take, like the one up top, by Tamara Bell.

Melissa turned photo editing into a business, and it all started because she figured out a job for herself that no one else was doing.

3.  Start rewriting your resume.
At a horrible company there’s no accountability, and when there’s no accountability you can do nothing all day which opens up your schedule. The first thing you should do with your open schedule is to start job hunting, but do it in a systematic way.

Go find the job that you want and make lists of all the bullets they say that they want from somebody who’s qualified. Move all of those bullets onto your resume and say to yourself, “How can I make these bullets true on my resume?” So each day is a game to try to make one of those bullets true by doing things that nobody cares

33 replies
  1. Steven Ormrod
    Steven Ormrod says:

    I really like this post. Basically, if you think you have a crappy job, it’s up to you to fix it.

    Number one is a concept I haven’t seen advocated before. One question I have is how to develop natural rapport with someone who may be a completely different area of the company as you are.

    Number two is one I’ve heard many times. If you want to make a name for yourself, attack the biggest problem that everyone else avoids. Even if you don’t fix it, people will see it, and you’ll gain notoriety.

    Number is three pretty cool. Slick even. This is much better than the trite advice of just dumping bullet points from a job posting into your resume in order to get an interview. This way, you’ve using it as a guide for what to work on for your own professional development.

  2. Gary
    Gary says:

    Sneaky. Insubordinate. Underhanded. I LOVE it! I instinctively know to volunteer for the worst job in the place; a little improvement looks huge. The mentor thing? I was hip to that. But the resume trick is solid platinum! See on their job description what they want, put it on your resume, and get your ass in gear learning either how do the stuff, or at least developing the appropriate vocabulary! Thank you, madam, I would’ve paid for this stuff; you hit this on out of the park…. even if it is very SHORT! I’ll forgive you this time, due to that magic nugget. GS

  3. Crystal
    Crystal says:

    Great advise all around.

    I have to say this, though: I am disappointed that you did not give a link to Melissa’s new photo-editing “business”. You really like her, and you like the work she does for you. Most of the time you seem to be her mentor, althouh those roles are often reversed as well. You want her to succeed, right? She obviously has AMAZING talent, as evidenced through the link to all of her photos on your site. I’d love to see her get a well-deserved Penelope “bump” once.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Here’s how the Melissa economy works. People call her out of the blue because they know her from my blog. And then she does a great job and they tell friends.

      So Melissa doesn’t have a web site per se that is her business. It’s all word-of-mouth for her. And it’s actually a good lesson in online marketing. That not all companies need a web site.

      Here’s another example of a company that works very similarly to Melissa – all word of mouth:



    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks, Ru. Insight into how I get a post written: I write seven points and my editor cuts the worst two. In this case, he cut four. Anyone who thinks blogging would be a fun life, remember that it includes throwing out more than half of what you write.


  4. Christina
    Christina says:

    Loved this:

    “The only people who don’t have jobs they hate are people who don’t take any risks and end up having terrible careers, because part of a good career path is having moved through a job that you hate.”

    I graduated from grad school in 2010 and my first job was at a corporate educational publishers. Thought I’d love it, I’d dreamed of working in publishing for years, but instead, it felt like corporate cubicle world, I had zero impact on the products we were building, and I spent most of my days browsing the internet. I left that job after two years to join an educational tech startup as a writer & editor. That job only lasted one year, since that startup recently went under, but this week, I have an interview for a job at another startup that I really, really am hoping to get.

    But the question I’m currently facing is: How do I talk about that horrible job? Does it sound bad to say in an interview, “I didn’t feel I was doing anything and it wasn’t the direction I wanted my career to go into, so I readjusted?” I have no problem talking about my last job in interviews, but talking about that first job, where I did nothing and hated it, is the challenge… (which is why I loved that sentence — it gave me some hope that at least I didn’t manage the situation terribly; I moved through it…)

    • Terry
      Terry says:

      It was your first job and you were there for 2 years. You are 90% home on those facts alone. I’d focus your comments on the positive reasons why you left — what you wanted to do — not on what you couldn’t or didn’t do. The summary for your first job? You wanted to do more.

  5. Kate
    Kate says:

    Penelope, I am a 27 year old woman. I have been teaching in public schools for 4 years but now I want to break into the private sector- was thinking about an oil & gas company, as a corporate trainer or maybe as an entry-level tech. I have no idea how to do this. Can you please help me? Is there life after teaching?

  6. Kyle Jones
    Kyle Jones says:

    I liked this post because of the message it provides. Take the situation and make the best of it. Find ways to increase your own ROI on the job and make it your own, while you are there. This is great to remember and is great advice.

  7. Dave
    Dave says:

    Suggestion #2 needs a little bit of a boundary, I think. I’ve fallen into that trap many times and the best observation I ever heard, early in my career, as a group of us were complaining about management was that ALL companies are F—ed up and you just have to deal with it.

    I have worked in probably half a dozen dysfunctional small organizations and found the source of much frustration is this belief that fixing the problems you see in a way that benefits the organization will translate into improvements for you. It is often a huge waste of time and effort to embark upon organizational reform UNLESS you have the support of senior management. You will find yourself in a no-mans land where your reform efforts are an affront to your superiors and if you fail to actually make improvements, your peers don’t respect you either because ultimately, nothing changed. So people need to choose their battles carefully in this area. Reform is tricky and can set the reformer up for more disappointment.

    Suggestion #3 sounds like the best plan to me…just understand that the new organization will have it’s own problems and your job is to work around them, not change them.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Good point, Dave. Just like you can’t fix your spouse – you have to learn to deal with the spouse. You can’t fix a company. You can’t get people to change to accommodate you. You can be accommodating or you can move on. I think the trick is knowing when to accommodate and when to move on.

      Of course, I’m a black-and-white thinker so I’d say move on to a new job if you’re not learning and stay in a marriage if there are kids.


  8. Steve
    Steve says:

    Great advice, Penelope. I know the feeling – I’ve had a couple of jobs years ago that I wasn’t a fan of (but the less said about that, the better)… ;-)

    I would also add networking to #3, as in go out and network as part of your job hunt. The only thing is that you have to be careful that your current employer doesn’t find out…! :-)

  9. Angie
    Angie says:

    What should the last sentence say? Totally left me hanging … “So each day is a game to try to make one of those bullets true by doing things that nobody cares”

    • Bimala Raut
      Bimala Raut says:

      Georg, I think you have to make another way to fix it…Obviously there is way to fix ….Otherwise, no.3(in this post) obviously works..LOL!!

      Please Don’t mind..Just kidding!!

  10. Bimala Raut
    Bimala Raut says:

    Actually, Number 3 is very cool..Though I like all the ways to fix the jobs you hate. Really nice post. Loving your articles one by one to read….Thanks for sharing it.

  11. Lukas
    Lukas says:

    Had numerous jobs that were not going well. In my last one I had an asshole boss who was insulting towards me and as I couldn’t switch teams, I decided it was best to just leave and startover somewhere else. Now I’ve got a pretty decent job and I can tell it was one wise decision. Coudn’t have fixed my old job anyway :)

  12. Neil MacVicar
    Neil MacVicar says:



    Much of a writer I am not.I tend to repeat myself.That’s my job. I repeat myself all day. Repeat,repeat,repeat, then repeat the repeats I’ve already repeated repeatedly.I work on line two.Line two features heavily in this book.In fact you could say the main ingredients of this book are line two,line two and line two.I hate line two.I want it destroyed.I get it destroyed.It takes time and a lot of thought but I get there.Other ingredients in this book are Topiary Conversions,old farts and Sunday lunch at lunchtime on Sunday.
    The main characters in this book are myself,the Ned,Sam and Sandy,an obese lady,an idiot cannibal,John and Jim,Mr Jepson,SCRIGGLYMINSH and last but not least my wonderful wife,Mrs MacX.
    Mrs MacX doesn’t know I’m writing this.I say writing but much of a writer I am not. I should say JOTTING.Mrs MacX doesn’t know I’m sitting in our house jotting down everything that happened on scraps of paper.She doesn’t know I hate line two and want it destroyed. I want it to blow up and collapse in a heap of twisted metal legs and melted rubber conveyor belt.I don’t know if my fellow workers want the same.It’s not as if I can ask them.You’re not allowed to chat idly about destroying the company in company time.Outwith company time we get two breaks.That’s it.Two breaks of ten and twenty minutes in an eight hour shift and the last people you would want to talk to on these breaks are your fellow workers and the last thing you would want to talk about is the company so you can see it’s a bit of a conundrum trying to recruit co-conspirators.And of course the big flaw in my plan to destroy line two is that either I’ll get sacked and have no money or the company will just move me to line one.I know nothing about line one.It can’t possibly be as bad as line two can it? And what’s so bad about line two I hear you ask.Let me tell you about line two.
    My training lasted around three minutes.Push this,press that,lift this,stack that.On and on and on it goes for the entire shift.Push,press,lift,stack.Push,press,lift,stack.Push,press,lift,stack. It never changes.It can’t change.

  13. Alberto
    Alberto says:

    Interesting article. Actually I just started rewriting my resumee. I also recommend you the concept of job crafting. In brief it means to create a new way to work in our job.

  14. Mitesh
    Mitesh says:

    What if you’re like me, don’t have any qualifications and the best jobs I can get is working in a local grocery store. I hate my job yet I don’t have skills to get a well paid professional job. I sincerely regret not studying harder at high school, as its been one crap job to the next.

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