In my work as a career coach, I talk to people every day who think they need a change. The reasons vary from person to person but usually fall into one of the following:
"I'm no longer learning anything. I need to move on."
"My boss is a tyrant. He just doesn't respect me and is always putting me down."
"The company doesn't seem to value or care about my contributions."
"I can make more money at this other gig. What am I still doing here?"
"I've been here forever and just feel stuck. Unless I play politics, I'm not going to get promoted."
And on and on. Don't get me wrong. There are good reasons for wanting to change jobs or seek employment in other companies. We all go through it and certainly there are times when you really just need to throw in the towel and move in as I detailed in my, now famous post, Jumping Ship: 7 Signs to Quit.
But the question is "when" and "why" do you jump? Are you jumping for the right reasons and are you jumping to a better ship or just to a creaking tugboat that's slowly going under?
A Real Story
Let me give you an example. A little over year ago, a friend of mine called Mary (not her real name) was fed up. She'd been at a large tech company for over 5 years. Mary had a good career but felt stuck. The business where she was at had gone through several re-organizations, morale was low and the division was hemorrhaging people. She hadn't advanced as much as she would have liked and was increasingly frustrated at the company.
Now Mary had a stellar career. She had worked in product marketing in top companies like Microsoft, Paypal and Netflix for over 15 years. She had a degree from a top school. She was smart. She had options.
Then one day, Mary comes to me and she says: "I'm going to go work at a cellphone company." I must admit to being surprised. Don't get me wrong, this company has a blue chip name, is large and very well established and respected. But she was contemplating a move from a fast moving software company to a much slower, much more bureaucratic hardware company. Her reasoning was that it was a good promotion. She would get a better title, work on cutting edge new products, get managerial responsibility and it was a step up career-wise. Mary had looked at a couple of startups and also considered possibilities internally at her current company but didn't find anything attractive. She also didn't want to go to a startup given the financial risk and the long hours involved since she had a couple of young kids and wanted to maintain some work-life balance.
I was puzzled, asked a number of questions but she seemed determined. In the end, I'm her friend, not her coach. I tried to be supportive but I just had this nagging feeling that this wasn't the right move for her.
Fast forward 12 months.
Two months ago Mary was forced to take a short leave of absence due to work-related stress. She's now seriously considering leaving the company she joined and going somewhere else.
Well, for one, she was working longer hours than expected and traveling internationally quite a bit. The main team she worked with was based halfway across the world in Europe and she was forced to travel far more than she had anticipated.
Her largest customer turned out to be in Asia. When Mary wasn't traveling she was on early morning calls at 6-7am and late evening calls going up to 11pm. International travel took its toll and she hardly found time to work out or do any kind of sports. To make matters worse, her team started to loose key members due to constant reorganizations at the company. The area of the business she had chosen was cutting edge, exciting and new but the downside was that it wasn't a core part of the company's business. So when push came to shove, the company prioritized core products and underinvested in the business she found herself in.
I can't say I blame Mary for what happened. I've made my own share of career missteps. This isn't a question of intelligence, experience or education. It's a question of leaving for the right reasons, taking your time and having a clear understanding of what you're getting into when you jump ship.
What can we learn here?
You've heard me say it before: Succeed or Learn. There is no fail. (Tweet this). As hard as Mary's experience was, she's learned a great deal from it, has a better understanding of herself and what she needs to be happy and will certainly make a more informed decision next time she makes a career change.
Let's start by looking at what you should consider before you decide to make a move from your current role. Here some questions you need to ask yourself:
1. What do I need to be happy? What am I really after? (you' be surprised how many people don't even know what they want).
2. Are my current problems / challenges temporary or more permanent in nature?
3. Have I clearly and consistently articulated my challenges to my manager and to the company?
4. Have I created a list of clear and objective criteria for my ideal job / role?
5. Is this list prioritized in order of importance?
6. How well does my current situation match these criteria?
7. Does the company / does my manager understand what I'm missing? Can they address some of these gaps and if so by when can they address them?
8. What's my opportunity cost of waiting to see if the company can address these issues? What do I have to lose?
9. Do I have one or more compelling alternatives which better address my prioritized list of criteria? (note: "compelling" is highlighted for a reason!)
10. Have I fully considered all the alternative options within my current company / organization before deciding to explore outside options?
11. Have I sat down with an objective third party who can sanity check my reasons for leaving (sadly, your wife, best friend or mom doesn't usually qualify as "objective" since they have strong feelings towards you).
Now don't get me wrong: I'm not saying you should never leave. I'm just saying "do your freaking homework because if you don't you could be going from one bad job to another!" (Tweet this).
If we look at Mary's situation, she's now going to have to explain to possible new employers why she's decided to leave her current role after little over a year in the job. Things happen and we're all human. We make mistakes. You can do this once or twice but if you continue to jump around from company to company what are prospective employers going to think?
That you have poor judgement or low tolerance for setbacks / challenges.
Now, let's say you have done all this work. You've done some of the self assessments I suggested in my article on "finding your dream job." You've talked to a few people, gotten good input and feel pretty sure you need a change of scenery. What's next?
Questions you need to answer before jumping
1. Have I generated at least 2-3 possible alternative options to my current situation (avoid jumping on the first thing that comes around. The more options you have, the higher your confidence and the better you can negotiate).
2. How well do these options match the criteria I have for what I need next?
3. Are they addressing the primary reasons I feel I need to leave my current company?
4. Do these options take my career forward or are they lateral moves? (avoid taking roles that set your career back and lateral moves should be really thought through for their longer term pay off. Generally, I suggest only moving if you're going forward unless you're doing a complete career reset.)
5. What are my values? What is my personal mission statement and do any of my options align with these? (avoid moving to companies whose values diverge greatly from your own)
6. Do these new options provide me with sufficient room to grow professionally and personally? What is the growth path in one of these new companies? Where might I be if things go well in 2 years from now?
7. Am I aware of my market value? (if not, make sure you talk with recruiters or use sites like Payscale to get an understanding of what your compensation in a new company should be).
8. Have I talked to all the key people I would be working with on a daily basis? Do I feel like I could work reasonably well with them?
9. What is the managerial style of my potential new manager? Will that work for me and do his /her values align with mine? Have I talked with people how have worked with this person?
10. Have I talked to former employees of these companies? (I once pulled out of a job process after reading horrific reviews of the company's culture on Glassdoor).
11. Have I talked to or seen what existing or former clients say about this company or its products? (I've lost potential recruits who were wary about some of the negative reviews my former company had online).
12. Have I talked to people who have had this job in the company? What does the job look like on a daily basis? What are the pros and cons?
13. What's the physical work environment like for this new opportunity? Is it an open floor plan? Do people work in cubicles? Are there lots of meetings? Does this align with what I need?
14. What is the work-life balance like? If I have to travel, for example, how often am I traveling? If I have to be on client / team calls, are these early in the morning or late at night? Does this work for me?
15. How excited am I about this job opportunity? (on a scale of 1-10. I would only move on a 7 or higher).
16. How passionate about this product / service am I? (this one is particularly important if you have a customer facing role like marketing, sales, business development or customer service).
Changing jobs is hard and changing companies is even harder. You owe it to yourself to really plan it out well, talk to the right people, understand your own needs and self worth and give yourself enough time to find the best of options (usually 4-6 months on average).
Keep in mind that committing to a new job / company is like a marriage - minus the sex (Tweet this). You're going to spend at least 40 hours a week at it not to mention your commute, calls, meetings, travel and everything else. You owe it to yourself, your prospective employer and your family to do it right.
As my former coach used to say: "Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up." So slow down and jump ship thoughtfully. You'll be thankful you did!
So that's it for me folks. I hope this post has been useful. If it's been helpful please like, share and comment below.
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