Deciding When To Leave Your Job

Posted: September 30, 2013 in Decision Making
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Job SearchIt is no longer the norm that employees stay with the same company for the bulk of their adult lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure in the U.S. in 2012 was 4.6 years. Over a career spanning 40+ years, that’s a lot of change for the average American. It’s interesting to note that the average for many other countries is considerably longer than in the U.S., according to this chart. I’ll let others debate the possible reasons for that.

The purpose of this post is to consider some of the factors that go into the decision to pursue presumed greener pastures elsewhere. If the average worker changes jobs every 4.6 years, the inner debate about whether to do so occurs almost as frequently as presidential elections. What are the drivers, and how do you decide to stay where you are or to move on to something else?

As I look back to my earlier adult life, career changes were mostly tied to moving up the ladder or pursuing things I was newly prepared to do. My resume from the early years has far too many short-tenure positions listed if I honestly look at it from a hiring manager’s perspective. Anytime I see a resume with a string of two-year positions, it is a giant red flag and there had better be good explanations for me to consider investing time and energy in adding such a person to my team. If you have an internal short-term timer that seems to go off every couple of years causing you to look for another job, then you probably need to explore what’s triggering that timer more than you need to explore more job opportunities. The answer may tell you something important about yourself.

Now that I’m 56, I like the fact that I just celebrated my 10th anniversary with my current company, Humana, and I genuinely hope to celebrate a 20th anniversary with them before retiring. I’m in my third role and department during those ten years, but each has been a definite positive career move within the company that benefited the business as well as me. I don’t categorize such changes the same as the job hopping between employers many experience.

When you think about reasons in the past why you’ve left positions, I suspect some of your reasons are in this list:

  • You needed a higher salary or better benefits.
  • Your family or personal situation changed significantly, necessitating a career change as well.
  • You were bored with your current job.
  • You didn’t get along well with your manager. (Maybe you’ve heard the adage that people come for the job, but they leave because of the management. It isn’t always true, of course, but it certainly happens.)
  • You disagreed with the business practices that you had to follow.
  • You had poor relationships with your coworkers.
  • You didn’t see any opportunity for advancement.
  • You wanted a change in location or environment.
  • You followed a special someone to another city in order to be with him/her, requiring you to be open to other career choices.
  • You completed an educational or experiential milestone which qualified you for something else.

All of the above reasons are understandable. Put several of them together and it’s a near certainty that a change in direction is imminent.

A danger exists, however, in thinking that all or even most of your reasons for dissatisfaction with your current role will vanish when you take that new job elsewhere. They may or may not vanish. How can you be certain? What do you have to base your decision on – a couple of brief interviews, some first impressions and promises not in writing? That’s risky. Except for the known changes of salary, benefits, proposed type of work and location, other eerily familiar frustrations may rear their ugly head and end the honeymoon with the new place sooner than expected.

When I leave a job, I make sure that I am not just trying to get away from something I don’t like, but that there is at least an equal force pulling me toward something I’m excited about doing. I joined my current team because I’m excited to devote my full-time efforts working in social media, not because I was trying to get away from my previous circumstance. That’s important. To bounce around from place to place running away from things would make me feel like an old-style pinball reacting against some push that sends me flying in one direction, only to soon be pushed by some other negative force in a different direction. I don’t want to be a pinball employee. There is value is facing and enduring difficult circumstances, although I’m certainly not suggesting that leaving such situations is always the wrong thing to do or evidence of taking the easy way out. Still, we need to be proactively in control of our career paths and not reactionary, haphazardly bouncing between roles.

For many major decisions in life, I have done the simple, calculating, decision-making action of drawing a vertical line down the middle of a page, listing on one side the benefits of making that choice and listing the negatives in the other column. Occasionally I’ve listed my current job in one column and the potential new role in the other, detailing the advantages of each. It’s amazing what putting such factors in black and white can do to clear up muddled thinking. You may find one list considerably longer than the other. You may find the items on one list of far greater importance than the other side, even though the quantity of items may be fewer. You may find your heart leaning toward one side and your head toward the other. It’s usually best to follow your heart. If you’re facing a tough decision right now, you might include that simple tactic among the steps that help you decide.

In a different context recently, I cautioned some friends who are facing a major decision to be mindful of what questions they ask in the decision-making process because the answers could lead them in radically different directions. For example, if the main question asked is “Which option benefits me the most right now?”, then the answer may be significantly different than the answer to the question “Where am I most needed?” or “What is likely to be most beneficial for my family in the long run?” The questions imply wildly contrasting motivations and result in significantly different answers.

I’m no career counselor. I’m not in talent management. I’m just a guy who has pursued an honest work life in various fields of interest since my first job 40 years ago. I don’t know if I’m at my final employer or not. I hope so, but I’ve learned never to say never in that regard. It’s possible someone could come along tomorrow and make me an offer I can’t refuse. It’s possible that unforeseen changes ahead cause me to choose to seek out something else. Regardless, if the time comes when I’m facing that decision again, I’ll make sure the motivation for the change is more about the excitement and potential of what is ahead than any frustration connected with what I leave behind.

Those are some of my thoughts about deciding when to leave one job for another. Tell me something about the factors that go into your decisions at such times.

  1. Kristy Bolin says:

    Thanks Jeffrey! We buzz users at Humana are glad your career path led you to us!

    My early career resume screamed “job hopper”. I call it my young and stupid moment(s). I would leave a job every few years for what I thought was a higher salary, more prestige, etc. In hindsight what it really meant was more responsibility, more headaches, and the same issues that drove me away in a new environment. I also had a bit of a travel bug… was always ready to “go see the world”…. and used career moves to do that. After growing up in a small town, I had the opportunity to live/travel all over the US in my first 10 years of employment. I became addicted to the change in venue, thus addicted to my work.
    Fast forward a few years, I am now “settled”, “responsible”… all the things my mother wished for me in my 20’s. I am the sold breadwinner in my home, have a supportive spouse, and two amazing children. The career decisions I make today support a healthy work/life balance while supporting my challenge driven career personality. When lack of challenge in my current position, coupled with minimal opportunity to change positions within the current infrastructure to seek a new challenge come together, it is time to look for a new position. The pursuit of challenge, coupled with the opportunity to join an organization that believes in supporting the health of the whole person, led me to Humana. I genuinely enjoy working with other amazing individuals who share my passion, and hope this is where my “hop” ends. That being said, I wouldn’t have traded the ride for anything. The experience I gained, people I met, and adventures I had are priceless…. and will make great stories for my grandchildren one day 🙂

    • Jeff Ross says:

      Thanks, Kristy, for your excellent account of your career path. I’m glad we’ve both landed in a very good place. I agree that something was gained at all the stops along the way.

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