February 27, 2018

When It’s Time To Say Goodbye: Knowing When to Leave Your Employer

Posted by AGU Career Center

Starting a new job is exciting – the validation that comes from knowing your skills and abilities are valued, the excitement of learning new things and meeting new people, the possibilities of all the great things you will accomplish.

Over time, you gain confidence in your abilities, acquire new knowledge, and grow. At some point, you start wondering if you’ve grown all you can in that particular position.  Maybe it’s time to move on – but how do you know when it’s time?  That is a question only you can answer.  One way to answer the big question “Should I change jobs?” is to ask yourself a number of smaller questions, and see how those answers build up to reveal the answer to the bigger picture, and the big question.

One of the most important indicators that you should stay is if you are still passionate about what you are doing, and still excited to get up and go to work (at least most mornings).

  • Do you look forward to going to work in the morning, and find yourself thinking about projects in your down time?
  • At the end of the day, do you go home with a sense of accomplishment, or a sense of relief?
  • Are you proud of what you’ve done, or just happy to have gotten through the day or the week?
  • Are you continuing to learn new things, expanding your areas of knowledge and improving your soft skills or do your day-to-day tasks just feel routine?
  • Do you feel appreciated and respected at work?
  • Do you feel engaged at work or do you find yourself daydreaming about what else you could be doing?

If you can answer positively to these questions, then at the very least, you can say that the work itself is a good fit. There are other factors at play as well. While it can be easy to determine if you are a good fit for the job from your personal perspective, sometimes it can be beneficial to step outside of yourself (and your job) and think about how those around you think about you and your work. Think about the views of your friends, family and coworkers.

  • How do you feel about your co-workers? Are you a valuable part of the team, and do you enjoy working with them? Do you consider some of them friends?
  • What do your family and close friends say about your work? Sometimes, we’re too close to see something clearly ourselves.  It may take an outsider to reflect back what they’ve heard from you.
  • Have there been significant changes in your personal life? Maybe other things in your life have changed, so the reasons you took this position no longer exist.

Another factor to be considered is if your job has changed since you started.  Professional responsibilities often shift, and not always in a way that matches your interests and long-term goals.

  • How do you feel about what you are doing on a daily or weekly basis?
  • Is there anything you wanted to accomplish in your current position that you haven’t yet? Do you still want to do that? Is it a real possibility? What has kept you from doing it so far, and is that likely to change?
  • Where do you see yourself going in the long term? Are your current responsibilities moving you in that direction, or further away from it?

Sometimes, the choice to change is not up to you.  Your organization or industry may be shifting, and change may be forced upon you.  Be sure to think about external, as well as internal factors.

  • How do you feel about your organization? Are you proud or embarrassed when someone asks where you work?  How have they changed since you started working there?
  • How is your industry/company/department/project doing? Are there any warning signs that might indicate changes are imminent?
  • Are people being let go, or are highly-placed people leaving on their own?
  • Do you feel like you’re out of the loop? Maybe you aren’t getting assigned good projects, or are getting left out of meetings?
  • Do you see a long-term future with this organization? Do you have a clear path of advancement, or would you be happy in that position for the rest of your career?  Is that feasible?

Sometimes it’s easy to tell when it’s time to leave – the movie ends, the lights come up, and the usher starts sweeping up.  The signals in your professional life can be much more subtle, so it’s up to you to be on the lookout for them, and decide when it’s time to start looking for the next feature presentation.

Lisa M. Balbes, PhD, has been a freelance technical writer and editor at Balbes Consultants LLC for over 25 years.  She is the author of Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers (Oxford University Press).