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When I entered the professional workforce, I started in Market A for two years at Company X. Within 3 months, I hated it, but I knew I was getting good experience, building my resume, etc. Also, I had excellent performance evaluations and reputation, and it felt nice to be really good at something. Near the end, it became obvious that market A was shrinking, and company X would be with far less work to do. I took it as my cue to jump ship, and accepted my first offer in Market B, from company Y. I did not burn any bridges at Company X beyond them being sad that I was leaving.

I've worked at Company Y for 9 months. I loved it for 6 months, at which point the "shiny" wore off and now I'm miserable. The work is more interesting to me than it was in Market A, but I have so little experience, I struggle constantly, and Company Y has a "sink or swim" mentality. The feedback I get is negative more often than positive, I think I'm sinking. This is a rude shock to me, as I'm a hardworker and (usually) bright enough to figure things out; I'm accustomed to excelling at whatever I put my mind and muscle to.

I contacted a friendly former employee of Company Y, now working at our direct competitor, Company Z, pretty much to have someone unconnected but familiar with the company to commiserate with. Suddenly, I'm being invited to interview with Company Z for a position in both Market A and Market B. Had I known it was an opportunity rather than a shoulder to cry on, I probably would have whined less.

I think it is ok for me to interview and "keep my options open" and see if the position and company would be a better match. Hey, maybe I could even be good at my job again! My gut, however, makes me feel terribly guilty. My boyfriend is adamantly against me even considering switching jobs after the short duration. Given my lackluster performance, I probably haven't earned my keep yet, obviously there is a lot I could still learn in my current position, and the short employment would look bad on future resumes. He also made the point that work generally sucks, that's why they have to pay you to do it, and I'd probably find myself as unhappy at Company Z as I was at both Company X and Y. He thinks my misery is the standard variety shared by most wage-earners. I argue that maybe I just suck at Market B even though I like it, and Company Y might be as grateful to have me off their payroll as I would be to be told, "good job!" again, even if it's back in Market A.

My questions to the crowd are:

  1. Assuming I conduct myself professionally (not bad-mouth Y and tactfully rephrase what I already said over beer if directly asked, stay mum at work, use my own time and resources) and would consider an offer if it were a good match, is it against professional etiquette to interview?
  2. How much would I be shooting myself in the foot with a 9 month employment period?
  3. How do you tell the difference between standard, everybody-has-it work misery and what is worth leaving for? I'm particularly interested in the sage advice from well-seasoned workers with many years of experience under their belt...
  4. I have made meek attempts in the past, but I think it would be appropriate for me to have a more aggressive talk with my bosses to say, "I'm unhappy, do I suck, if I do suck then please help me improve, if I don't suck please be nicer to me and say 'good job' more often, and BTW let's establish some appropriate workload boundaries so I can actually have a life." Should I do this now, after I interview, or only once I have an offer or rejection letter in hand? Obviously I wouldn't share a rejection letter :-)
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    What are the restrictions for joining a competitor, as listed in any sort of employment contract or non-compete agreement you may have signed? – jcmeloni Oct 20 '13 at 13:51
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    Your post is way too long, with too many questions. You are less likely to get good answers the way it is currently written. – Masked Man Oct 20 '13 at 14:34
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    You are miserable in company X and Y. You are miserable in market A and B. Why would company Z in both markets A and B lead you to believe you'd be happy there? Obviously, you need to discover a Market C that you actually have an interest in and would find enjoyable. Maybe even an entirely different career field. Do you have a history of really enjoying things then after they are no longer new and exciting they lose their luster? If so, maybe counseling is called for instead. – Dunk Oct 23 '13 at 22:08
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My opinion, only:

  • Answer 0: Don't listen to your boyfriend. He does not run your career, you do. You need to do what is right for you. A husband is someone to listen to (as is a wife), because you are now a team, but a boyfriend doesn't have enough "skin" in the game to be setting rules. He can be a trusted adviser, but not an authority.

  • Answer 1: It is never against "etiquette" to interview. You are always managing your career. The employer never "owns" you.

  • Answer 2: It is a ding, to be sure, but sometimes jobs just don't fit, and one 9 month stint in a string of 3-5 year stints isn't going to hurt you that much. This job won't matter, but the job after that might look at it oddly. Be sure to do a great job at this new position, if you take it, and try to make it a lengthy stay.

  • Answer 3: Work is not supposed to make you miserable. Work is supposed to be difficult, challenging, stimulating, and profitable. If you are getting negative feedback, then you probably need to have a real good evening by yourself, evaluate your work, and decide if you are being legitimately criticized, have unreasonable expectations placed on you, or are just a round peg in a square slot.

  • Answer 4: Don't seek an offer you don't intend to take. The "I have an offer somewhere else" card only works once, and it leaves resentment on their side and regret on yours. I've never seen that scenario end well. Most of the time, the employer just sees that as a longer-than-normal notice period and starts looking for your replacement as soon as possible.

Summary - Figure out if you want a different job or not. If yes, pursue it. If not, figure out how to meet the expectations they are placing on you. Sitting in the middle will tear your guts out.

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