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When Is It Time To Move On To The Next Job?

I don’t know if it’s a rash of spring cleaning but it seems everyone I speak with these days is wondering if they should make a career move. It’s not that their current jobs are going badly. It’s more a sense of “what’s next”? It used to be that being with one company for 5-10 years was an asset. Today people are worried that staying that long in one place is a negative. They wonder if they will be viewed as risk averse or too loyal or stuck. As someone who used to oversee hiring and professional development, let me give you the real world way of thinking this through.

Great reasons to stay right where you are

  • Regardless of the number of years, if you are still be presented with growth and advancement opportunities you are among the lucky. If your resume says that you were at company ABC for 12 years and moved from the lower ranks up to director or VP during that time, that is a good story. There is no guarantee that switching companies will provide the same investment in your development.
  • Even if you are in a flat organization that doesn’t have slots to move you up but you are learning loads of great stuff and participating in critical parts of the business, life is good. It’s important to think more about your value and portfolio of capabilities than the titles.
  • When you have a fantastic boss most people are inclined to stay. That works up to a point. See below for the down side. But study after study shows that employees will stick around if the boss keeps you engaged.
  • The culture of the company and/or the brand is just so damned appealing that you can’t imagine any place better. Productive cultures that match your needs are very, very hard to find. Culture is one of those “it” factors that employers are paying greater attention to these days. That said, not many companies have appealing cultures.
  • If you are being paid above market value it may be tough to do better elsewhere. If the salary is a key determinant for you make sure you understand your value relative to your peers out in the world.
  • You may be struggling in your current role and want to jump ship. Consider sticking it out to get to the other side. The learning will be huge and ultimately increase your worth. If you have mentors helping you through the tough time, definitely take advantage of them and stay.
  • That old work-life dilemma? If your job is less exciting these days and you can do it more efficiently and get out of there to have a personal life, you might just want to hang out there for awhile. Especially if it coincides with family needs; new babies, elderly parents, illness. It really is okay to coast for awhile because your life needs more of you. Contrary to your worst fears, having some years where you are not working 14 hour days will not crater your career.

And reasons to think about moving on

  • If you are bored to tears and have been for a very long time chances are it isn’t going to get much better. You may have lost interest in your field or function or company. I don’t recommend leaving without a plan…times are too tough right now. Instead take the time to come up with a new game plan for yourself. It might be just a new job some place else or a more dramatic career shift. But if you are bored then you have time to do lots of research.
  • You may not see a future or more opportunities with your current company. Either the powers that be don’t see you as someone they want to invest in or the place just doesn’t have a serious program for employee development. If you have been told point blank or you can read the tea leaves that “you are a great contributor but we don’t see you moving into a bigger role” then it’s time to leave. But before you do, really, really listen to the feedback and do something with it. Chances are it’s more about you than it is about them and that will follow you anywhere.
  • Back to the boss issue. Sometimes sticking around because you have a great boss can backfire. If you become the valuable right hand your boss may inadvertently block you from new opportunities. You are too important to him and he can’t function as well without you. The mutual dependency may limit you. A better gauge when it comes to thinking about a great boss is: Have I learned all I can from this person? If you sense repetition or boredom in your work the answer is probably yes.
  • Things just feel shitty in your position and in the company. You hate Monday mornings, you don’t respect enough of your colleagues, you are still waiting for a decent boss, you don’t think the executives are focused on the right stuff. This one is a no-brainer. By the time things feel this awful you have stayed way too long at the party.
  • As difficult as it is to plan careers these days, if you have a clear end goal in mind for yourself and where you are currently has served its purpose then it might be time to plot your next step. You’ve saved enough to start your own business, the door is now open at your dream company, headhunters are calling with some interesting opportunities, that overseas position is now possible. All good reasons to move on.
  • Sometimes we take new jobs with stars in our eyes. We imagine this is the perfect fit…until we are there long enough to realize it is not. Fit is actually a very important deciding factor. The values, culture, leadership, market reputation, colleagues…is it a group you are proud to be associated with? Does it reflect your own way of operating? If you have isolated yourself from the mainstream and sit on the sidelines with some disdain, chances are you are working in a club in which you do not want to be a member. Run! It will never work out. Do better research before you take your next job.

This is a deeply personal decision and there are no right answers. Here are the big considerations when thinking about leaving your job: are you growing, are you interested, do you like hanging out in this place? Notice I didn’t mention money? Of course money is a factor but it doesn’t usually trump these other issues. More people say no to opportunities with much more money if the quality of their work life will be less than they have today.

So listen up all you leaders. If you want to keep your best people don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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