After the Great Recession, workers were afraid to leave a good thing — if they had one, that is. Americans across the country expressed fear in surveys, saying they worried about ending up in “dead-end crap jobs with crap wages.” Even as investors like Warren Buffett reassured them that there was no need to feel pessimistic about the economy, employees persisted in believing the sky was falling.
But there’s no arguing that it’s now an employees’ market, not an employers’: The Job Opening & Labor Turnover Survey, which assesses the volume of job listings that are advertised and remain unfilled, is at an all-time high, standing just shy of 7 million in April 2018. Since the 2016 election, more than 3 million jobs have been added to the U.S. economy, which has boosted employees’ wages — and given them more room to be choosy.
If the economic upheaval of the past few years left you unsure, you may have failed to notice signs that your own career was hungry for some change. If that’s the case, you’re in a good spot to shake up the staleness now.
Your Career’s Calling
While some advocate switching jobs every three years, that advice needs to take into account several factors: How long have you been in your role? How long have you been with your company? Are you gaining access to the opportunities you need? Are you building skills? For many who’ve reached the mid-career stage, seven years is the recommended maximum amount of time to spend in a role.
Waiting too long to move on can bring its own consequences. People who have stayed at a company for a long period of time are sometimes viewed by hiring managers as stagnant; they believe these “lifers” haven’t kept pace with the marketplace overall because they’ve been focused on one company’s nuances, routines, and processes. Some also question their motivation, wondering if these applicants only looked for greener pastures once it became clear they weren’t going to earn a hoped-for promotion or raise.
But your day-to-day routine and feelings can often give you signals of their own indicating that you’ve overstayed your welcome:
Do you feel like your career prospects have hit a wall? When you started at your company, you likely had dreams of growing into a specific role or taking on leadership duties. After you’ve been there for a while — and your skill set and fit for the business have become apparent to everyone, including you — it’s easier to determine whether you’re likely to ever achieve that dream. Do you have strong advocates within your network? Does your boss proactively talk about your career path? Are you assigned high-profile projects or given opportunities to tackle new tasks? If the answers to these questions is “no,” that doesn’t bode well for your future at your current company.
Are you bored? You may be an accounting ninja, but have you grown bored with your daily tasks? Even if you’re acknowledged by everyone as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to financial forecasts, that doesn’t mean much if you have to talk yourself into going to work every day. Are there specific tasks you find yourself dreading? Have you delegated as many of the “blah” tasks as you can? Do you feel like you’re learning new skills and building your résumé? If you’ve been doing the same tasks, day in and day out, for years, it’s not shocking that it may start to feel rote.
Is your boss your biggest obstacle? Perhaps you feel that your career prospects in your current role are strong — if your boss would just get out of your way. If your boss doesn’t seem to listen to your ideas or is possessive, not wanting to “let you go” to explore opportunities that may be better long-term fits for you, those are red flags. Does your boss come up with excuses to not provide you with professional development opportunities? Have you received acknowledgment or a raise for high performance? Do you feel important, both to your company and to your boss? If not, another boss may get you where you want to go.
Do you feel that you’re well positioned within the industry? Is your company respected within your industry? Is it struggling financially or seeing a mass exodus of clients or employees? Getting off a sinking ship can be a liberating feeling. But this question can also raise another: Are you still engaged in your industry? If you’re spending all day developing email marketing campaigns but daydreaming about event planning, that may be all the information you need to determine whether you need to make a career change.
Shaking Off the Cobwebs
If your answers to the questions above reassured you that it’s time to start exploring other opportunities, you still need to do a little homework to ensure your career shake-up isn’t a downgrade.
First, consider whether small tweaks would resolve your concerns. If you simply dread a task that eats up a quarter of your week, could it be moved to another position or team? If you’re looking for management experience, would your boss allow you to shift some of that newly “open” time to training the new person and supervising his work on that specific task? For strong employees, these kinds of solutions are options that simply necessitate a conversation.
Second, determine what’s bothering you beyond a cursory glance. The worst possible outcome is to leave a negative situation for a worse one. Is your micromanaging boss holding you back? Ask questions during interviews to assess your possible new manager’s approach. If possible, reach out to current employees to hear what they like — and dislike — about the company. Check out reviews on sites like Glassdoor to try to develop a balanced view of what you’d be getting yourself into.
We sometimes let our fear — of the economy, of failure, of the unknown — overtake our best judgment. While the economy is in a positive place, it’s a good time to take a step back to determine whether you’ve allowed our fear to let your career grow stale. Your career — and your confidence — will thank you.