Opinion: When your dream job turns into your worst nightmare

If the realities of a job don't match the hype, employers have some explaining to do

Opinion: When your dream job turns into your worst nightmare

We’ve all been there – a wide-eyed 20-something over the moon you’ve landed your first proper job. Yes, the pay isn’t great and yes, the hours are a bit rubbish but, hey, it’s a big step towards your dream role.

Then the reality sets in and the rose-colored glasses come flying off. What you thought was an elite position in your ideal industry isn’t all it was made out to be – and it’s depressing as hell.

But when your dream job slowly starts turning into your worst nightmare, who do you turn to? Who do you blame? Is it the HR manager that sourced you? Is it the algorithm that wrote the job advert? Is it your own nativity and over-eagerness?

The highs and lows of internships

During university, I was lucky enough to land a few internships at some pretty big publications (which shall remain nameless). While most of them were great, two really stuck with me for opposite reasons. In the first, I was given rewarding work interviewing people, even writing a couple of features under the watchful eye of a great mentor. It was a testament to the sort of difference allyship and coaching makes in a fledgling career.

Then came my second internship. It was more “high status” but much less rewarding. Tea runs and photocopying – once I was jokingly asked to rearrange the store cupboard and sort out the pens. And while I was happy to be in the same building as some of the most talented editors in the country, it was a hugely deflating experience and not at all what was promised.

Welcome to the world of the overinflated job spec.

In certain “status industries”, such as writing, advertising and TV, hundreds of applicants apply for one role. The competitive nature of these jobs means that, sometimes, what’s promised on paper and the realities of the role don’t match up – leaving candidates upset and demotivated.

The reality of ‘glossy jobs’

While the issue is a longstanding one, it really came to the fore thanks to research by Lisa Cohen, an associate professor of organizational behaviour at McGill University, and Sandy Spataro, a professor of management at Northern Kentucky University - authors of the study “Glossing Over: How Magazine Fact Checkers Use Conditional Self-Presentation to Straddle Glamour and Dreariness in Their Work.”

In their groundbreaking research, the pair analyzed the realities of the “daily grind” in “glossy jobs” compared to their initial expectations. The report found that people living in this “glossy work” are tempted in by fancified adverts before being confronted with the true nature of the role – leading to burnout and low morale.

But just one look at Netflix you can see where the issue’s come from. Emily in Paris, The Devil Wear Prada, The Girl in the Green Scarf, Sex and the City – these are all unrealistic portrayals of what an entry level position into a legacy company looks like.

And it all begins with job adverts – specifically the language employers use.

Hiring the best person for the job means understanding the realities of the job on offer. If you overflower the ad, not only are you misrepresenting the nuances of the role, you’re alienating the right candidates. If it’s an admin job – say that. If the hours are long – make it clear. If it’s 90% making tea and 10% making notes – write that down.

Honestly, for the most part, a lot of the same people will still apply – but at least you won’t be accused of pulling the wool over your new hire’s eyes. And they’ll appreciate you all the more for it.

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