How Bad Jobs Can Prepare You for Your Dream Job

A supervisor who micromanages, lacks management skills, or shirks responsibility or concern for employees. 

A position with unclear job duties, unrealistic expectations, or limited opportunities for growth. 

A department full of pessimistic, unfriendly, conniving, or uncooperative staff members.

A company that doesn’t value its employees as much as it values profit or social status.

A salary that hardly pays the bills. 

The list of what may constitute a bad job is longer than a checkout line on Black Friday... and equally as stressful. I’m positive you could contribute a few of your own examples of what it means to have the workplace woes. You’re probably also well aware of the negative impacts a bad job can have on one’s physical and mental well-being. While a past or present job may have thrown you enough frustrations to last a lifetime, good truly can and will come from the bad. The next time your job makes you feel like a human punching bag, remember these 5 ways your bad job is preparing you for greatness.

1. Building Motivation

What’s one thing a bad job can do really, really well? Motivate you to seek a job or career trajectory that will actually bring you joy and fulfillment. While a stressful or unsatisfying job can mess with your emotions and zap your energy, it can also give you the drive to map out your ideal future. Try to focus on the latter. It’s okay to feel unmotivated for a little while - after all, having a bad job can take its toll - but in order to reach a satisfying place in your career, you need to start planning your next moves sooner than later. Don’t get stuck in a job rut; find and harness the motivation to make a change. 

There are many small steps you can take while you’re still employed in your bad job that will help you transition to something better. Talk to your family, friends, or a career counselor about the kinds of jobs you believe may bring you satisfaction. Connect with people who work in positions or at companies that interest you. Perfect your resume and cover letter writing skills. The more you accomplish for your future self while you’re still working at your bad job, the more your motivation and preparation will grow. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to put in that two weeks’ notice and kiss that no-good-job goodbye.

2. Figuring out What you DON'T Like

A bad job can help you learn a lot about yourself and what’s important to you at work. Your personality, career field, and individual experiences with a company and/or position will shape what you’ll end up learning when it comes to your workplace wants, needs, and non-negotiables. If working in an environment where your coworkers keep to themselves, leaves you feeling frustrated and isolated, you might be the type of person who craves collaboration. If sitting behind a desk all day drives you up a wall, a job on-the-move may better suit your personality. Regardless of the reasons why your job just isn’t cutting it for you, what’s most important is that you don’t find yourself in the same situation next time around.

As you start your next job search, write down each reason why your current or previous position wasn’t right for you and how it could have been improved. As you read job postings, compare your notes to the listed job duties and information on the companies’ websites. If a potential job or company has similar qualities or duties to your bad job, you’re probably better off continuing your search. If you feel like you just have to apply and see what happens, take the interview should you get an offer, but proceed with caution. In the end, do what’s best for your career and personal happiness.

3. Learning to Ask Insightful Interview Questions

Since you’ve learned so much about what you don’t (and therefore do) like, you’ll be able to come up with some strategic questions to ask hiring managers about their position and company. Specific and relevant questions will help you decide if a potential position will or won’t be a good fit for you. Remember that interviews should be a two-way street. Hiring managers should give you the opportunity to ask questions toward the end of your interview, and if they don’t, that’s a red flag in itself. But if and when they do, this is your big moment to have your most nagging questions answered, so don’t squander it! 

Before each interview, make a list of questions that really get to the core of what you need to know about the particular position, environment, and company goals and values to determine if the job will meet your needs. It’s perfectly okay to bring your question list to your interview and whip it out when it’s your time to lead the conversation. If collaboration is important to you, ask about opportunities to work as a team with supervisors, coworkers, or committees. If having a communicative relationship with your supervisor is a must, ask how he or she prefers to communicate with employees to find out just how highly they regard ongoing communication. If hiring managers struggle to answer one or more of your questions, it’s probably safe to say they can’t meet your needs in those areas. If you find too many of their answers are troublesome or you struggle to develop rapport with your interviewers, the work environment simply may not be the right fit. Don’t settle, your perfect fit will come along.

4. Developing Resilience

Every time you endure and overcome a challenging work experience, you build your capacity to handle future obstacles. Resilience is a quality that must be developed over time. By showing up to a job every day that dissatisfies you or downright makes you miserable, you’re actually developing some useful lifelong resiliency skills – patience, emotional strength, flexibility, and the ability to hold yourself together while you manage the seemingly unmanageable. Consider your work challenges to be teachable moments and use your learning to shape how you respond to the challenges and stresses ahead. By the time you find your dream job, you’ll be better prepared to handle the curveballs.

Think about some of the work projects, tasks, and situations you’ve found to be difficult or dissatisfying, especially those that you had to face or experience on more than one occasion. How did your response to those duties or situations change over time? Did you become more acclimated to them even if you still found them unenjoyable? Did you learn some helpful life lessons? How are you stronger today than you were back then? Recognizing your resilience can not only illustrate for you how far you’ve come but fuel your self-confidence. Your growing resilience may even redefine what you consider to be a "bad job" as you build upon your ability to manage mayhem and bounce back from setbacks.

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5. Grooming Your Qualities as a Future Boss

I once heard that people quit their jobs because of their bosses, not their companies. A bad supervisor-employee relationship or lack thereof, can make completing projects and meeting company goals and expectations a serious struggle (but probably makes you even more resourceful and resilient!). Chances are you’ve thought to yourself “I’m never going to treat another person like that!” at least once.

While having a bad boss - or even coworker - is never a positive experience, it can shape your vision of the leader you would one day like to be. Think about the behaviors or qualities of past bad bosses or coworkers. What did they do or not do that negatively impacted your feelings toward work or your ability to effectively do your job? What quirks did they have that just made your skin crawl? As you move up the hierarchy and assume leadership of others, don’t lose sight of those supervisor traits that made want to jump ship. Role model professionalism, support your employees in their development, and regularly communicate and ask for feedback from coworkers and subordinates. Being a great boss takes time and experience, but remembering how bad bosses affected your own career is a powerful learning tool. If your dream job requires you to lead, remember that your ability to effectively supervise and train others will not only impact your employees’ happiness - it will surely impact yours.

See Also: Are you a Good Boss?

The next time you’re having a really bad workweek, remember this - your bad job doesn’t have to be permanent. You have the power to improve the job you have or leave it for the job you want. When your coworkers are being catty or your boss is M.I.A., reflect on the many ways the job is making you stronger, helping you develop your skills, teaching you valuable lessons, and giving you the experience and perspective you need to obtain the job of your dreams. You’re destined for bigger and better things!

What was the worst job you ever had? How did it help you along the path to your dream job? Share your story in the comments section below!


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