Career Transition

How to Keep a Toxic Job From Derailing Your Career

toxic role; derailing your career

Did you know that a recent Gallup study reported that 13% of employees are actively disengaged at work? Or that other studies found that up to 35% of the workforce feels bullied by a boss or co-worker on any given day? We all know what it’s like to be in a toxic workplace situation (or watch a loved one endure it). You may be in one right now, or are struggling to keep its aftereffects under control after quitting.

Here are some tips to keep it from becoming a long-term drag on your career prospects:

1) Acknowledge it.

No, that’s NOT “just the way it is” in the industry. No, you aren’t somehow to blame for not having a thicker skin. Toss away the justifications for a moment and ask yourself the following:

  • Does the workplace make you stressed or ill?
  • Does the employer flaunt their never-ending series of rules, but completely ignore violations by higher-ups?
  • Do staff routinely sweep discriminatory behavior or harassment under the rug?
  • Does the workplace tacitly enable an unhealthy work-life balance through bad management and unreasonable expectations?
  • Do managers fail to offer a transparent performance review process?
  • Are your co-workers routinely miserable? Is turnover high and getting higher?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then YES you’re dealing with a toxic work environment. 


Also read: 7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview to Get a Better Sense of Company Culture 


2) Generate outside career momentum.

Forget about the promotion path you thought you might have at this company. Without concrete action, these are just empty promises. Your job is to get out of this situation as quickly as possible, and that starts with torching any real (or imagined) plans for future involvement.

Instead, ask yourself the following: “If I were about to get fired from this job, what would I be doing right now?”

Get that resume and LinkedIn Profile into fighting shape. Don’t just rely on job postings. Actively research people on LinkedIn who have the types of roles you want, and combine it with research on sites like Glassdoor.com to gain a complete picture of how you stack up—and how to strategically position yourself.

Go through your network connections and begin setting up “meet and greet” calls and in-person appointments. Be generous. Make introductions and pay it forward, but also make it clear that you’re actively looking for a new role, and you would appreciate a heads-up about any leads.

Initiate dialogue with recruiters. Their effectiveness is directly tied to the strength of their professional networks, so you’ll find a very attentive party here!

Post regularly on LinkedIn. Because engagement on the platform brings more eyeballs to your profile, this results in more opportunities and reach-outs.

Whatever the right personal mix is for you, get your information out there and make networking a regular part of your life. The siren song of a toxic environment is the promise that you can somehow outwork or out-think your way out of a bad position. You can’t. It’s doomed. But you’re not.


Prioritize yourself and focus your efforts on finding opportunities somewhere new.


Also read: How to Say ‘No’ at Work


3) Rebalance.

Toxic workplaces throw you off-kilter in ways both anticipated and completely out of left field. You may know that your stress level is through the roof, but has the experience also compromised your decision-making skills? Are you less courageous about stepping outside of your comfort zone? It’s time to begin aggressively rooting out and counteracting the ways in which this role threw off your game.

Develop your “trusted circle. These are the people with whom you can honestly share your experiences, fears, and hopes—people who can remain objective and whose opinion you hold in high regard. My wife Erin is a key member of my circle, and there have been hundreds of times over the years where, just by explaining the situation to her, I’ve been able to see and execute a path forward. Whatever you do, don’t suffer in a vacuum.

Integrate the role within the larger context of your work history. The biggest mistakes you can make when searching for a new job are to leave this time period blank on your résumé and avoid discussing it. That’s when employers assume the worst—that you still have an axe to grind or something to hide.

Take a look at your résumé. If you have a career that stretches back a few decades, then there’s no reason for this toxic role to take up more than a line or two.

When asked about your recent experiences during an interview, start with HONESTY. While I wouldn’t recommend going into the specifics, there is nothing wrong with showing your disappointment. If the interviewer asks what prompted you to leave, remember to focus your response on your future growth and development.

FORCE PERSPECTIVE back into the situation—just because it’s recent history doesn’t make one bad experience particularly important (or relevant) to the whole story. You are stronger than any one situation, boss, or company. Act accordingly!


Looking for More Advice on Toxic Workplaces?

Check out our Organizational Culture-Focused Articles.


About the Author

Anish Majumdar is a nationally recognized Career Coach, Personal Branding Expert, and a fierce advocate for transitioning leaders. His posts and videos on disrupting the "normal rules" of job searching and getting ahead reach a combined audience of 30M professionals every month. Go down the rabbit hole of Anish’s career videos at HelloAnish.com, and connect with him on LinkedIn to receive daily career tips and advice.