I may not be one to talk about thinking before I jump. I’ve made my share of life decisions based on emotional motivators even though they weren’t particularly logical decisions. My career has not been immune to this behavior either. Certainly most hiring managers ask me the same question at the beginning of an interview: “why so many job changes?”
In my case there are various reasons for this, not all of which were under my control. When I arrived in Spain over eight years ago, my priority wasn’t really 100% on career development. It was more about personal growth for the first three years or so, and so work for me was really just a way to pay the bills and not part of a greater career plan. I did eventually get around to taking my career more seriously but you can read about that decision in my previous post about building an international career.
However, my “project hopping” has taught me plenty of lessons and provided me with a series of experiences to compare. I’ve had different kinds of bosses, each with their own style of management. I’ve worked at private companies, public companies, big ones, smaller ones… I’ve had a whole plethora of experiences. I’ve also found myself in the situation I’m sure many of you have experienced as well – the strong urge to jump ship.
There is a lot of talk out there about how Millennials are a generation more focused on finding meaningful work than previous generations. How young professionals are more likely to work for dozens of companies over the span of their careers instead of working their way up in one company like the generations before them. While I don’t personally agree that it’s a Millennial thing, but rather a question of life priorities that change as we grow older, have a family and become responsible for the livelihood of others beyond ourselves, the reality is that professionals are much more likely to have a résumé similar to mine with a series of year or two long stints at any given company than ever before.
As a more fragmented work history becomes the “new normal” for many professionals, it can be tempting to just hand in your notice when you’re unhappy at work. These changes can be easily explained with solid references and a continuous track record of achievements towards a clear professional goal, but you do need to have a focused plan before making the decision to move on (again). So with this in mind I wanted to share some of the questions I probably should have asked myself at the time, as well as a process to help you make the decision to move on or not.
Current Job Barometer
- Are you counting down the minutes ‘til you can clock out every day?
- Is someone at work making you unhappy? Have you already made an honest effort to change the situation with that person?
- Do you actually start to feel anxious and upset when thinking about work?
- Does the idea of the unknown cause you less stress than another day in your current job?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions then you might want to consider whether the pros of your current job (assuming there are some beyond a paycheck) are enough to not just to outweigh the cons, but actually to allow you to put them out of mind and stay mentally sane. However, if you responded with a resounding “yes” to a couple or if you responded “yes” to all of them, you should probably make finding a new professional project a priority. And yeses to these questions (especially number 4) means you’re health is probably being negatively affected by your job, and your health is NOT something to take lightly. If you’re just feeling underutilized, like there aren’t real growth opportunities, or otherwise undervalued, I would suggest first actively finding ways to achieve that development at your current company before going elsewhere, but I’ll leave how you can go about doing that that for a future post.
What You Need to Do Before You Jump
So it’s clear you’re unhappy at work. But before you actually give notice I suggest going through the following process as well to help you focus your job search so that you don’t just move into another equally toxic position.
What exactly is making you so unhappy?
If it’s because of a particular person that you’re unhappy, then you need to be clear about the particular traits that are making your life do difficult. Is it your boss? A colleague? If your strife stems from interpersonal problems, be sure you’ll be able to meet your direct boss and as many direct team members as possible when going through the interview process. You can even try to research and reach out to former and current employees to get an idea of what it’s like to work there.
If your problems were more based on company structure or other cultural fit issues, then be sure that you do your homework about those companies that do have an environment you’d be happier in. Do you feel constrained by big corporate bureaucracy? Try looking for smaller outfits, startups or SMEs. Don’t like working without a five-year plan and clear structure? Then start looking for positions at a Fortune 500.
Or maybe it’s your actual job that’s got you burned. This is a good time to reflect on what experience and skills you’ve gained so far in your career and whether you’re in a sector or function that best takes advantage of your skill set. Think out of the box. Talk to friends and colleagues outside your organization. They often can provide a new perspective on positions that could be better suited for your profile.
Regardless of which of the above reasons, or combination of the same, is making your life unbearable, you should dedicate all that pent up mental energy that you aren’t employing at work to better understand what you need. And most importantly, have the courage to take that important step once you’re clear about what you’re looking for. You don’t have to have your next job lined up if your current one is killing you as long as you can get by financially for a few months without it. Just make sure you have a clear idea of what’s down there before you jump.