I skipped out of university an optimistic graduate, thinking I knew everything there was to know about the working world – all from my measly 6 week placement in the summer of 2004. It’d be exactly the same – just with a bit more responsibility and a few extra digits on my pay cheque as the years go by, right?

Well, kinda. But kinda not.

It’s been ten years since I landed my first full-time, 9 to 5 job and I’ve discovered there’s a lot more to work than first meets the eye. Although most of the jobs I’ve had have been varying degrees of great, I’ve also had a few that have made me desperately unhappy – which is not the one.

I’ve learnt some pretty valuable lessons along the way and here are the things I wish someone had given me the heads up on when I was starting out.

1. You will have bad bosses – but it’s OK


Someone pretty smart once said that people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers. This is truer than true. I’ve had a couple of particularly toxic bosses. And they made my working life a living hell. When I was too young to know any better, it broke me. Quite literally broke me.

But there’s only two ways to effectively deal with a nightmare manager – cut and run, or plan how you’re going to manage them.

Leaving a job because you can’t handle being bullied by your boss, because they are incapable of noticing when you do good work, or because their lack of support or interest in your development leaves you in tears every night on the bus home –  is not a crime. There are other jobs. And better bosses.

But if you like everything else about the job, don’t let them ruin it for you. Manage your manager. Work out how they do things and why. Discover where they’re coming from and what motivates them. And then communicate in a way they’ll listen and understand. Adjust your working style to fit in around theirs, while still being mindful about getting what you need from them – it’ll just be via a different route. Managing your manager is one of the greatest lessons anyone will ever learn at work, and will make your life and career so much easier.

And if you’ve got a good manager – learn everything you can from him or her, appreciate them every single day and enjoy spending your working hours with someone who values your contribution. They’re rare.

2. Trust your gut instincts in an interview

britney no thank you

You know that funny feeling you get when something just doesn’t sit right? I’ve had that a number of times in interviews, despite being really positive and enthusiastic about the job beforehand. Sometimes it’s bad vibes from a potential manager, sometimes you learn more about the role and find out you’re not keen, sometimes you don’t get a positive impression of the organisation. Or sometimes something’s not OK and you just can’t put your finger on it.

Listen to your gut instincts. I can count about two or three jobs I’ve gone for where I’ve had that funny feeling, ignored it and accepted an offer – and it’s always been a bad move. And while those jobs weren’t a waste of time, I could’ve been WAY happier elsewhere.

As my brilliant dad always says, you’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you – so you have every right to turn a job offer down if it’s not right. And since I learnt to listen to my instincts I’ve done just that, a good handful of times. It might seem stupid to go to all the effort of applying, preparing for an interview and taking time out to attend the interview, for you to change your mind. But you never know unless you give it a go.

And of course, if you’re in desperate need of a job because you can’t pay your rent or buy yourself a cheeky Dairy Milk to scoff in front of X Factor when you fancy it – ignore all of the above. Any job is good enough if it’s only to pay the bills.

3. TripAdvisor it


If you’re a rubbish decision-maker like me, job searching is complicated. Scratch that, if you’re a rubbish decision-maker AND a perfectionist with high standards it’s a veritable nightmare. What if the role looks good but the pay isn’t great? What if it’s just a bit too far away? What if the organisation isn’t what you’d usually go for? 

In a particularly fraught job search, my long-suffering boyfriend came up with an ingenious system to help me decide whether to apply for a job or not. (The men in my life are all kinds of wise.) It’s based on TripAdvisor. Stick with me on this one.

I wouldn’t go to a hotel or restaurant that has been rated below four stars on TripAdvisor and with that principle in mind, I shouldn’t go for a job that has been rated below four stars either. Let me explain.

You list the five most important things about a job for you. My five are the organisation (I work in the third sector so it’s got to be a cause I believe in); the pay (obvs); the role (I want something where I can use all my skills that will also challenge me); the location (I don’t want a 5 hour commute); and the people (this applies more to the interview stage but you can get an idea of things like the team size and the average age of current employees with a little LinkedIn stalk).

When faced with a job advert mark each area from 0 to 1.  0 for rubbish, 0.5 for OK and 1 for great. Tot up your scores and if it comes out at under 4 you step away from the application and move on.

Basically, you can’t have it all. You just can’t. There is no perfect job – and it’s taken me a long time to realise that. But the best you can hope for is that most of the boxes are ticked – and to accept that if a job falls down in one area, it makes up for it in others. 

What do you wish you knew about work with the benefit of hindsight?

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