It’s likely that in the next 12 months you’ll be thinking about leaving your job. You could even be one of the 30% of people who are looking for new opportunities right now. There is nothing unusual about moving jobs in today’s career culture. Gone are the staircase-like, linear progressions of previous generations. Now we are all subject to more ‘squiggly’ careers, with rapid change and uncertainty. Our search for value in our jobs has become much more complex.
While we still look for status, security and salary, we also want flexibility, the ability to make a difference, to grow as individuals and to work with freedom. As our psychological contract between us and our employer has evolved, we are less likely to be bound by loyalty. Instead, we move fluidly from one business to another. From full-time to part-time. From fixed-term to contract. More than ever, the ball is in our court and that’s great. But it doesn’t always make decisions about what to do next easier.
Despite the wealth of opportunities offered by squiggly careers, many people struggle to know when the right time is to move on. It can seem easier to fulfil that complex mix of personal needs in a new company than to carve out your future in the place you’re in today. However, there are inherent risks in changing companies, which can often be overlooked in our enthusiasm to find greener grass. Fitting the culture, enjoying the work and adapting to a new pace can all be challenges that overshadow the benefits of a move.
While it may be true that leaving is the right answer, I would strongly caution against it being the first answer. Before making a move, three things should be explored.
1. Work out your must haves
Your must haves lie at the crux of your happy career, regardless of where you work. They can be identified by looking back at the highs and lows of your career so far.
Ask yourself what was present in the highs and what was missing in the lows. The more specific you are, the better. So instead of ‘a great relationship with my boss’ being a reason for your high, ask yourself what specifically made it great. Perhaps they gave great direction or gave you autonomy.
Create your list of must haves and evaluate your current role against them. Where are you meeting them and where are they lacking? This becomes fuel for the important conversation you need to have next.
2. Speak before you leap
Often, a lack of confidence leads to people avoiding difficult career conversations with their employer, resulting in resignation being the first opportunity the employer has to respond. This is often too late, as the individual has made a mental shift to their new role.
However, if this is how you’re managing your career development, you’re leaving potential opportunities on the table. It is less disruptive and more cost effective for an employer to keep you than replace you and they are likely to help you meet your career objectives if you give them the chance.
If you’re planning to leave anyway, you have nothing to lose by talking to them. Schedule a meeting to talk about your career must-haves and where you feel you are lacking. Present them with opportunities you have considered for internal development to get their thoughts on.
They may not have instant answers or solutions, but an organisation that values you will support you in understanding your options and that is what it’s all about. The more options you have, the more in control of the squiggly career you become. Don’t leave without having this conversation first.
3. Explore in advance
New opportunities, both internal and external, take months to identify. Deciding you want to leave your role as soon as possible is likely to lead to poor decisions and risky leaps into the first available opportunity.
Career possibilities need to be explored and nurtured in advance of you wanting to make a move. If you do nothing else, do the following.
Think about four potential opportunities you could take next: an ambitious move, a sideways move, something you have done before and a dream role.
Identify one person you could speak to for each to find out more. Your agenda is not to land a new job, but to learn. Each conversation will enable you to narrow down on the reality of the opportunity. Is it something you want to do now that you know more? Have you got knowledge gaps you need to invest time in to fill? Is there something you can do in your current role that could bring you closer to the opportunity?
Exploring these possibilities also enables you to develop a network of people who are aware of your interests and talents and may come back to you in the future with opportunities in mind. Even after spending time reflecting on these areas, it may still be the right decision for you to move on from your business. But answering these questions will enable you to make this decision consciously and not emotionally.