This is one of the most common questions we get when we work with people at all stages of their career, but it can be particularly hard to decide early in your career. It’s rare that we find ourselves staying in the first job we get, and so at some point, it’ll be time to move on. And this isn’t only applicable for younger workers; we all face the decision whether to move on or stay in a job, and it’s almost never simple.
There are always compromises to be made, and different trade-offs that are important at different points in our lives. This will hopefully be a helpful guide for you to evaluate whether or not it’s the right time for you to move on from your current position or double down where you are.
Look at what you’re doing every day.
This should be your first step when it comes to figuring out whether or not it’s time to move on. Evaluate the work you’re doing and ask yourself if you still enjoy it. Sometimes just as important as whether you enjoy it is whether you are growing new skills. Asking yourself, “Is my job developing me to take on more responsibility or earn more in the future?” (If that’s something you want.)
A good way to answer that question is to ask yourself whether or not you have the opportunity to solve new and unique problems or whether you are just solving a different version of the same problem over and over. The company may be comfortable with you solving the same kind of problem you’ve mastered, but it could be a serious issue for you if you are looking to challenge yourself, grow your skills, and develop a more varied professional portfolio.
One way of thinking about this is to try and determine what you can add to your resume based on the role that you have, or the last year you spent at the company. If you find yourself unable to add new capabilities or successes for the last year or two, it’s likely time to talk to your manager about whether or not you’re stagnating.
Change within your current role.
Don’t assume that you need to leave your company or even your current job if you are getting that itch to move on. Within your company, it’s often possible to work with your boss to make your work more learning and growth oriented rather than grinding on with the same thing.
Signaling to your manager that you believe you’re ready for more and varied work is one way to try and get noticed as a high-potential employee. By sharing that you’re looking for more responsibilities and areas to learn, you are showing that you are not only invested in your job, and doing it well, but that you think more about the big picture of your organization and how you can contribute to it. Many of the best companies invest more in employees they identify as “high potential.” High potential (Hi Po) employees are often offered opportunities for additional training or coaching and are made visible to the company’s executives. Hi Po’s are usually at the top of the list when the company is considering who to promote.
Make sure you’ve made an impact.
If you do find that it’s time for you to leave your job and company, there are some practical things to take into consideration. We’ve found that it is hard to get something real done in a company and to see the impact of your work if you don’t stay longer than 18 months, so really you should do your best to stay for 18-24 months. It’s easier to get hired for your position when you can point to accomplishments and demonstrable successes in previous positions. It’s hard to have those if you didn’t stay to see a key initiative through.
If you’re young, this time frame is also helpful because it counteracts the stereotype that you might be a job hopper. Staying for at least two years and seeing projects through will help you tell the full story of your success and make you much more attractive to your next company.
If it’s a situation that you really need to get out of and can’t stay for the 18-24 months, be able to point to projects you started. And perhaps most importantly, come up with a narrative you are comfortable sharing in interviews that doesn’t trash your old company (because that always makes you look worse than the company) and explains why you’re looking to move on quickly.
Phone a friend.
It’s okay to ask for help. Develop a mentor relationship and don’t be shy about getting their honest opinion. It can be helpful if this mentor is someone at your company so they can fully understand the context of what you would be moving on from and to. If not, someone with the wisdom to understand your situation will do.
It’s imperative that this mentor is someone you trust, someone that won’t go immediately to your supervisor and let them know you’re thinking of leaving. Someone who will give you honest, constructive advice and will also be frank about what your next options are. Sometimes the grass isn’t as green as we think at the next company, and it’s helpful to have someone who has been there to help us know what might be around that next turn on the road that we haven’t taken.
If you don’t have a mentor, a career coach can be an invaluable resource. Sometimes our mentors, friends, parents, and/or significant others can be a bit too emotionally invested to give us practical career advice. That’s where a coach comes in. They have the expertise and unbiased perspective to help you evaluate your situation from a different perspective.
Deciding when to move on from a job is an important personal and professional decision, and each case is different. We hope these guidelines are helpful as you think through your own choices, and if you are still struggling, reach out and we can help.