The Clash summed up the fear many potential job seekers feel. "Should I stay or should I go now? If I go, there will be trouble. And if I stay, there will be double." Clearly knowing that there would be double the trouble if you stay in your current role makes a move very compelling. However, career decisions are rarely that cut-and-dried. So, how do you decide if it is time to make a change? Consider these factors.
1. What long-term impact will an immediate change make? People often make job changes because it makes sense in the short term. However, your career is not a sprint. It is a marathon. This means that eating a hamburger in the first mile may taste good at the time, but is likely to haunt you for many miles after. The same is true for decisions made based on immediate gratification. If you build a track record as a "job-hopper," or someone who always chases money, your resume is likely to repel future employers. Most candidates never get a chance to explain their logic for moving -- a resume that implies job-hopping is often overlooked in the initial screening process. You have to own every decision you make, so pause to think about how you will explain this decision in five years and again in 10 years. If the answer does not enhance your professional image, you may want to reconsider.
2. Does it stack up? Weigh the pros and cons of your current role versus a new role. To adequately measure the two opportunities, start with a list of your career goals and priorities. Without a list of your specific values and needs, it is not possible to determine the true merits of each role. For example, the new role may offer free lunches and massages. However, if you are really looking for more challenge in your work, massages and lunches are meaningless (though very nice), given your priorities. It is easy to get swept away in a "new is better" type of thinking. Unfortunately, if the new doesn't really address your true motivations for a change, those perks should have little weight in your decision making.
3. Can I stay? Once you have an outline of what you are seeking, consider asking your current manager or employer if there is room for change in your role. Of course, this assumes you are an employee in good standing and your requests are reasonable and relevant for the business. For example, if you crave a 100 percent work-from-home arrangement, and your current role requires significant in-person time with clients, remote work is probably not a viable option. However, maybe your employer would consider one day a week. As a manager, I can tell you that I have made many adaptations to roles to match the evolving needs of great employees. I would not make changes for average employees or under-performers. Of course, consider if you have seen your employer deal with similar requests in the past. If it has not gone well for others, you may want to tread lightly.
4. Do I need a new image? Sometimes the only way to be viewed in a different light is to walk into a new room. If your challenge is that you are ready for a promotion, but your company does not take you seriously for a more senior role, you may need to change the scene. For example, let's say you drank way too much at the company party and required some physical assistance to your hotel room. (OK, you had to be carried there while you yelled, "This is the best party ever.") Even if this happened when you first started the job as a sales representative right after college, you may never live down the reputation as "the guy who needed to be carried to his room."
It is pretty tough to overcome skeletons in your closet, especially in a company of tenured people. With a new opportunity, you are who shows up for the first interview. If the new you walks and talks like a manager who commands respect, that impression will stick. When what you need most is a makeover to reflect the more experienced and wiser you, making a change is often the best course of action.
5. What about my network? For most people, getting jobs and staying employed is fairly easy during the first 10 to 15 years of work. Workers in this phase are in the upswing of their careers, typically have fewer restrictions on their lives outside of work, are more adaptable to change and have not priced themselves out of the market for their skills. Fast-forward to when you have 15 to 25 years of experience. At that point, many employees have family demands that limit or restrict their ability to work and relocate. Often employees get a little more comfortable in their roles and may not continue to grow and challenge themselves. However, compensation needs often increase. At this point, and for the years to follow, most new opportunities come from networking versus applying for a job with no connection.
The need for a network continues to grow exponentially the longer you have been in the workforce. With each role, you have the opportunity to build a network of other professionals who know you to be a good person, a hard worker, a loyal colleague and an excellent part of the team. You also have the opportunity to destroy that image if you act immaturely, lack professionalism, demand unreasonable things, have too much unwarranted pride and a bad attitude.
Make decisions that will enhance your network. Handle changes professionally. Don't leave others holding the bag just because it serves your immediate needs. The hiring world has never been smaller. You and your past manager are only a couple of LinkedIn connections away from any future roles. Savvy hiring authorities leverage the easy access to past employment to hear about a candidate's reputation before they even get to a formal interview. A great rule of thumb before you decide to make a career move is to ask yourself, "Would someone I respect professionally understand and agree with my timing for a job change?" If you can honestly answer "yes," you are most likely making the right decision.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.