It sounds like an actual nightmare: It’s your first day at a new job, and nothing is adding up. The person you interviewed with is nowhere to be found. The paperwork you’re signing doesn’t align with the benefits you were promised. You realize that the workload or your responsibilities are going to be much different than you expected.
Your first thought is, What did I get myself into? And how can I get myself out of it?
This can be a terrifying position to be in. While you’re definitely not alone, there are red flags to watch for during your first week at a job that, well, just aren’t normal.
First, let’s take a look at some of these red flags. Then, we’ll talk about what you should do if you find yourself in this headache of a situation.
Red flags to watch for when starting a new job
1. You’re expected to dive in on the first day, alone
A big red flag when you’re starting a new job is if they expect you to be able to dive in right away. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be doing any work at all, but if you’re given an assignment without much direction, are left alone to do it, and you have no idea what you’re being asked to do, this could be a sign that something isn’t right.
According to Alison Green, the Ask a Manager career advice columnist, it usually takes around four to eight weeks on the job for the pieces to "start to fit together," and much longer to actually master the job. And what’s perhaps most important is your new manager being clear about expectations of the learning curve, which will help you gauge where you should be with the job and when.
2. You have a different manager than you thought
You went through the interview process with one key contact who you thought was going to be your direct manager. What do you do when, on your first day, this person is nowhere to be found? What if it turns out that person has left the company, or the department structure was miscommunicated to you during the interview process?
Because a higher-up manager may be in charge of interviewing and hiring for a department, you may have been misled that this person was actually your boss. Then, when you arrive, you realize that an employee with a title closer to your own will be your direct supervisor. This happens all the time and can really throw off new hires.
While this isn’t always a big red flag, still be cautious. It’s worth questioning why the actual structure wasn’t communicated to you before your first day. And if the person you were talking to has left the company, it’s definitely worth considering whether you vibe with the person taking over for them, even in the interim.
Read more:6 Signs It's Time To Leave Your Job
3. Your benefits have changed
Another red flag at a new job is if the benefits have changed from what you agreed to in the hiring process. Even if something has changed within the company since you accepted an offer, it’s not acceptable for a company to make changes to that offer without your knowledge.
If this happens, try talking to HR or your manager, showing them your in-writing offer that states certain benefits and pay. If the offer was made over the phone, this could be an issue or if HR tries to argue with you about the benefits you were promised.
This isn’t a situation you want to be in, and a stable, accommodating company should never put you in it.
If this is you, what should you do?
Now the question is, what should you do if these red flags exist for you when you start a new job?
The truth is, there is no one right answer to this question. Your right move will depend on a variety of factors that are specific to both your career, the position, the problem, and the company.
However, there are important considerations to make when figuring out your next steps.
First of all, you need to consider your own happiness with the job. It may be hard to tell right off the bat whether or not you’ll be miserable, or whether, despite the red flags, you think you can make the best of it for a while.
Even though there is a well-known “rule” across industries that you need to stay at a job for at least a year, there are absolutely exceptions to this. Ultimately, it’s your decision, and you won’t be forever unhirable if you leave a job sooner for good reason.
This is another area which Alison Green has discussed at length. As she told Inc.:
“There are times when it’s reasonable to leave a job after a short period of time—like when you were offered a job doing X but have ended up doing Y, when the terms of the job change significantly (location, pay, etc.), when your health or safety is at risk, when you’re moving to a different state, when a health crisis (yours or a family member’s) requires you to quit, and even when you’re miserable and it’s clear that’s not going to change.”
These are all examples of when it’s reasonable and even smart to leave a new job. Think about it this way: If you’re unhappy, you won’t perform tasks as well as you should or with the care that you should, and the company will end up not being happy with you either. It’s a lose-lose situation to continue to stay in a job where you haven’t been satisfied or excited from the very first day.
Another recruiter and CEO of WorkItDaily, J.T. O’Donnell, wrote for LinkedIn that “It’s not how long you stayed, it’s why you left…” because leaving a job right away definitely sends the message that something was wrong.
As such, Green also says you should do everything you can to avoid leaving a job too soon more than once, as this could start to be its own red flag to your potential employers.
Make sure you are really sure leaving is the only way to solve a problem, even if it’s your unhappiness. It’s a big decision to resign, so make it carefully.
Hopefully once you’ve been through this bad situation, you’ll be able to spot red flags even sooner in the process.