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How to know if it’s time to leave your job

Determine whether your current employer fits into your long-term goals.
By Sarah Ovaska-Few

Knowing when it’s the right time to switch jobs isn’t always easy.

Sometimes, if you’re feeling unfulfilled in your current job, you just need a few things to fall into place to reignite your passion, such as getting a new group of clients or being selected for a high-profile project.

Making a current workplace a better fit is often easier than starting over with a new employer, said Judi Lansky, a Chicago-based career consultant.

“It’s always easier to bloom where you’re planted,” Lansky said.

But at other times, job dissatisfaction can’t be resolved where you are, and a new job may be the solution to your career woes.

Professional career consultants say it’s worth examining why you want to leave to determine the cause of your frustration and ensure you don’t end up in a new spot with similar dynamics.

Here are some ways to figure out whether you should stay or go—and some steps to take while you’re making up your mind:

Dissect your dissatisfaction. You may know you’re unhappy at your current job, but why you’re unhappy isn’t always clear.

Carol McLachlan, a U.K.-based career coach who specializes in coaching accountants, recommends drilling down to discover the source of your frustration: Do you find the work you’re doing mundane? Is the office culture a bad fit?

Pinpointing the source of your discontent can help you determine whether doing things differently at work (such as requesting more challenging projects) will ease your frustrations.

Create a five-year plan. You should have a five-year vision for where you want to be, McLachlan said. Having a tangible goal will help you focus on your next move and not get waylaid by switching to or staying in a job that doesn’t fit into your ultimate plan.

Find your environment. Know what type of work environment you flourish in before you begin any job search, said Lisa Andrews, Ph.D., a Washington, D.C.-based career coach. You could thrive most at a large organization, a small business, or something in between. Being able to narrow your focus will help once you launch a job search, as it’ll keep you from applying for jobs that are a poor fit. 

Give your current workplace a chance. Be careful not to leave your current employer too quickly. The solutions to your workplace headaches may be right in front of you.

Andrews recommends sitting down with a supervisor and talking about the frustrations you’re facing. Work with him or her to come up with concrete steps to solve the problem.

Also, brainstorm solutions on your own. For example, if the problem is that you’re feeling overlooked, come up with projects that will showcase your initiative and leadership skills.

It can also help to get some perspective on whether your complaints are realistic. If you’re upset because of a missed promotion, for example, examine what you have done and whether you have accomplished enough to merit one. As Andrews noted, promotions aren’t guaranteed, and workplaces expect to see you put in time and effort before moving up.

Keep track of successes. Lansky recommends documenting your work accomplishments. By spending a few minutes each week writing up a brief summary in a journal or in a file on a personal computer, you’ll have a way to see what you’ve achieved at a glance.

That’ll come in handy for annual reviews, as it’ll make it easier to list what you’ve done for the organization.

It’ll also prove helpful if you do decide to search for a new job and need to give examples of your accomplishments during the interview process, Lansky said.  

Update your information. It’s always a good idea to have an updated resume, so you’re ready to respond if something like a networking event or job opportunity pops up.  

Don’t ignore your LinkedIn profile, either. Most recruiters and firms use LinkedIn as a preliminary tool to screen applicants, Andrews said. Having a clean profile with your skills and work history spelled out will go a long way in making a good first impression.

Be discreet. If you do decide to look for another job, keep your search quiet.

It should go without saying, but don’t ask people in your personal and business networks for job leads, especially if you’re planning on staying in the same niche, Lansky said.

Career moves aren’t easy to navigate, especially if you’re debating whether to find a new place of employment. But a close examination of your goals and the opportunities your current workplace can provide can help you make a decision about whether to stay or go.

Sarah Ovaska-Few is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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