Before You Quit Your Job

by William S. Frank, President/CEO of CareerLab®

Before you change jobs or careers, try tuning up what you’ve already got. It isn’t easy to jump from job to job—nor is it always a good idea. Sudden career shifts are often painful and financially disastrous, as in the case of the geologist who turned an $85,000 career into a $12,000 job by selling life insurance.

Where career is concerned, incremental change—change in small steps—is usually best. The late Jeff Baer, Vice President of Operations for TeleCheck Services, Inc., a division of First Financial Management Corporation, said, “Before looking across the fence, look in your own back yard.”

Andrea Price, former Director of Human Resources for Wolf Camera, and past President of the Colorado Human Resource Association says, “If you’re contributing and able to continue growing, if you’re adding value, if you’re energized and interested, then time in a job is irrelevant. There are always ways to grow without leaving.”

Some people change careers to find the perfect job. That may be possible, but no job is ideal for long. Even the best jobs must be reinvented, because your favorite boss leaves, the company merges or suffers financial problems, or your have conflict with a co-worker. All jobs require care and feeding. So why not start right where you are? If that fails, you can always look elsewhere.

Price says, “Although I’ve been with the same small company for 15 years, I continue to keep it interesting and keep myself motivated and inspired. Besides fine tuning our existing systems, I constantly try to look at what other people are doing, at the practices out there. I try to stay on the leading edge and keep a vision. Rather than simply maintaining, I look at how I can add value to our future.”

Jobs usually fail around personal relationships, and this is where you can do the most productive work. Fight the tendency to run away, to think “it’s them,” instead of “it’s me.” If there’s a problem, realize that without knowing it, you may be part of the problem. Baer said, “We give up something very valuable when we blame other people or hold others responsible for our situation. What we give up is our freedom to control the situation.”

It’s difficult to be objective about yourself: that usually requires outside intervention. Find a friend, minister, psychologist, or career counselor to serve as a sounding board. Baer said, “When you don’t have any ideas about what to do, that’s the time to use a professional.”

Try to improve relationships with everyone in your work world: your boss, peers, subordinates, consultants, vendors, and customers. Talk with your boss more, and attempt to resolve outstanding issues with co-workers. Change your attitude. Apologize, if necessary, and become more assertive, or less assertive, whichever is called for.

Baer said, “Career discussions are often prompted by crisis, by symptoms and problems, but a career should be viewed as a positive journey, as something to be built. If you only give thought to your career when problems arise, then you’ll be involved with career first aid or career surgery.

“A career should be like a business. You’re the president, the board of directors, and the staff. You need to plan ahead. You don’t know exactly what’s coming, but you can prepare for some likely eventualities.

“That leads one away from the mentality of working for a boss; you’re working for yourself and your boss is one of your customers. You realize that no matter where you are, you’re always going to have customers—and not all those customers will be your best friends. Use your talents, abilities, and resources to serve the customer. You don’t do that because you like the customer, necessarily. You do that because that’s your business. Who said there’s a law that you have to love your boss? It’s best to be thinking, ‘My career is my business.'”

These tips are helpful, but suppose these career enhancement techniques don’t work. Then what? When is it really time to leave? There are times when it’s better to leave than to stay. So if you see any of these seven symptoms, think about floating your resume:

    1. The corporate culture is wrong. No amount of changing yourself will fix it. Example: You’re very ethical, the company isn’t.
    2.  Your skills are too badly out of date to be recovered. Technology has passed you by, and termination is on the horizon.
    3. You’ve burned too many interpersonal bridges, and you can’t mend them, even with help.
    4. The company is in a fatal downward spiral.
    5. The relationship with your boss is irretrievably broken, and intervention by outside consultants hasn’t helped.
    6. You’re so stressed your physical health is at risk.
    7. You’re ready for challenges the present company cannot possibly offer—and you’ve got a pile of cash in the bank.

Career change sounds like a lot of fun, perhaps an easy way to fix problems, but proceed with extreme caution: before you attempt a 3-1/2 gainer off the 10-meter tower, check to be sure there’s water in the pool.

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