Knowing the right time to leave a job is one of the most difficult decisions anyone can make. Weighing the relative costs of leaving a familiar position with the benefits of trying a new career can be a daunting exercise.
How do you know if you are doing the right thing? What if your new role is a disaster? What if there is no scope for career development? What if you can’t do the job? What if you hate your new colleagues? Or, worse, what if your new colleagues hate you?
This tidal wave of career cognitive dissonance, confusion and sleepless nights can leave you drowning in a sea of worry. So, rather than take a leap of faith into unknown territory, you may retreat to safety and choose inaction.
But accepting the status quo means stifling your ambition and denying yourself the chance to explore dream career opportunities.
So how do you know if it is the right time to make a career move?
Why Do We Hesitate When Making A Career Change?
At a basic human level, everyone suffers from crippling self-doubt.
Sticking with what you know, even if your current work situation is no longer ideal, is the easy and comfortable choice.
Taking on a new job disrupts your sense of safety and leaves you feeling anxious because it holds a mirror up to your true self, your strengths and your weaknesses. It is a litmus test of your overall value, your skills and experience. By working in an unfamiliar environment, you gain a clear insight into how well you think you perform vs how well you actually perform as an employee.
Accepting a new position, or a promotion, means more work. It involves more time at the office learning a new role, dedicating time and energy forging new office alliances (or identifying potential adversaries) and treading carefully around office politics.
Is Your Loyalty Holding You Back?
Reluctance to leave your current role may be motivated by familiarity and connection.
You may genuinely love your job and have strong ties to a particular organisation. You may have worked with your employer and colleagues for years and made lasting friendships. You may even have developed your role from scratch and feel hesitant to hand over the reigns to anyone else.
If you play an integral role in an organisation it can be difficult to leave, even though you may be ready to move on. Inevitable sentiments of company loyalty, solidarity, guilt and shame may come into play and you may feel like you are letting the team down.
In truth, remaining in a position which no longer provides you with any intellectual challenge or job satisfaction is defective thinking.
A healthy career is one that boasts a broad range of experience.
If a better opportunity comes along, or if you feel that it is time to try something new, never allow yourself to stay in a role out of duty, responsibility or fear of the unknown.
Is Your Boss, Your Office Or Your Resume Stopping You?
You may be at the point where you hate your job and it takes every ounce of strength to get up in the morning and go to work.
Maybe your boss is emotionally or psychologically manipulative or you work long and thankless hours. Perhaps your colleagues are useless and actively take credit for your projects, or you may have zero options for career development.
Even though you are desperate to leave, you may not feel that it is possible in the circumstances either because you feel a strong sense of obligation, think that the company will collapse without you or because of financial considerations.
Another alternative might be that you only discover the true toxicity of your work environment shortly after starting the job. Having only been in the role a few months, you may feel that resigning in less that 12 months will reflect badly on your resume and make you seem flaky to future employers.
Contrary to corporate propaganda, leaving a job in less than 12 months, or having a gap in your employment history, does not automatically result in a black mark on your CV.
This is something can be easily resolved with future employers by explaining at interview either that there was no infrastructure to support your previous role, that you did not see a future with your prior organisation or that you wished to take the opportunity to travel overseas.
In general, a good rule of thumb is to change jobs every two years. It takes at least 3 months to learn a new role, 6 months to feel as though you are beginning to get on top of that new position and 12 months to feel like you are confident in the performance of your duties without close supervision. After two years, having acquired all the knowledge and experience you can from a given role it should be time to consider moving on and gaining experience elsewhere.
Having experience in a range of industries is an attractive asset to employers. It shows that you are adaptable, confident, motivated and willing to take on new challenges.
When To Make A Move
Whether you love your job or hate it, there are always clear indications that it is time to leave.
Usually your emotional and physical health are the best metrics in determining the right time to resign.
Other indicators include:
- You are not getting as much out of your job as your employer is getting out of you. For example, you may be working overtime or taking on extra responsibility without increased salary incentives.
- You no longer look forward to going to work.
- You are only there for the money and have no professional development or job satisfaction.
- You feel that your boss is taking advantage of you, is manipulative or pathological.
- You find that your colleagues are, or have become, unpleasant to work with.
- Your organisation looks like it has no future. For example, it could be a startup that is headed towards bankruptcy or is being poorly run by management.
- You do not like the values of the company you work for, or they do not align with your own.
- You are working in a toxic, or highly competitive, environment.
- You find that your performance is suffering and that you have stopped caring enough to do your best work.
- You find reasons not to go to work, to leave work early, or to arrive late in the morning.
- You notice that your health is suffering. For example, chronic stress, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, weight loss, brittle hair, nausea, high blood pressure, heart palpitations.
- You are working with bullies or psychologically manipulative managers.
- You are constantly stressed about work and regularly check and respond to emails after hours.
- You do not fit in with company culture.
- You are overdue for a pay increase that is unlikely to come through.
- You feel unappreciated, unnoticed and undervalued as a team member.
- A better opportunity arises in the form of a promotion or an exciting role in a different company.
- You have been in the same role for more than two years.
How To Leave A Job The Right Way
Always try to leave an employment relationship on good terms.
You may require a good referee report from your supervisor in the future or need to be re-employed by the same company down the track.
Once you have made the decision to leave or take up a position elsewhere, notify your employer that you will be terminating your employment contract.
The best way to do this is to have a face-to-face chat explaining your decision and the notice period you propose. This gives your manager an opportunity to negotiate with you. It may mean you are asked to train a new staff member to replace you, or that you finish up a project before leaving.
Resignation Template Email
After you have had an informal chat with your manager, follow up your conversation with an email stating your intention to end your employment relationship.
Subject heading: Notice of termination of contract – [insert your name]
Dear [insert name of your employer]
As discussed, I have decided to terminate my employment contact with [insert name of the company/organisation that employs you] with effect from [insert date you wish to end your employment agreement]. Please accept this as 2 weeks [or 4 weeks notice] of such termination.
As you know, I have enjoyed working at [insert name of the organisation that employs you] and love the type of work available here. I would, however, like to explore what opportunities there may be for me to develop my professional skills and gain experience further afield [For example, you may wish to work overseas, in a different industry, or in a different role].
I would be happy to consider future freelance work from [insert name of the organisation that currently employs you if you wish] when I am able.
Thank you very much for the experience and opportunity to develop my interest and skills in this industry.
I greatly value the friendship, support and professional development that I have received working with you.
I look forward to staying in touch.
[insert your name]
Your employment relationship is a two-way street. Employers want to invest in you and create incentives to retain good staff due to the valuable work you produce. But most of us forget that our careers are equally about acquiring an arsenal of skills and experience that we can leverage, build on and add value to each new organisation we work at.
The trick to having a long and successful career is to balance gaining all the experience you can in each job before moving on, with staying in a job too long and becoming stagnant.
The only question left to answer is, where is your career path taking you next?
Do you change jobs often? How do you know when it is the right time to leave? Let us know in the comments!