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How to know when it’s time to go.

Career Affirmation: I can walk away from a job or company that no longer serves me.

Kimberly B Cummings

By Kimberly B. Cummings

Not every opportunity is a great one. This may be an unpopular opinion that perfectly fits into the “millennial mindset” that many other generations frown upon, but I’m going to say it anyway: You don’t have to stick it out. If you are unhappy, feel like your growth is being stunted, or learn there is a proverbial glass ceiling at your job that does not support your growth, you do not have to stay.

Like Jim Rohn once said, “If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.” Sometimes, leaving a job can seem like an easy decision. However, I want you to be strategic and allow this to be a conscious decision, not just because you are frustrated, feel underemployed, undervalued, and underappreciated, which are all valid reasons, but because you are consciously choosing to embark on a job search to ultimately find a career for yourself, rather than just another job.

Before some folks tear me to shreds for encouraging you to leave your job, I will share that I believe it’s important to exhaust your options and have a strategic career conversation before leaving. I also do not advocate leaving a job before you have another one lined up unless it’s an extremely dire circumstance or you have six months to a year’s worth of savings and you like playing Russian Roulette. Before submitting your letter of resignation, it’s important to have honest conversations about your career trajectory with your manager or skip leader.

  • Ask for feedback about your performance from your manager or skip leader.
  • Understand the trajectory of your career at your current company.
  • Understand the current climate of your industry and how that would impact a job search at that time.
  • Ensure you have built strategic relationships with mentors and sponsors who can advocate for your next career move, regardless of whether it is internal or external to your current company.

Before making a career move, I stress to my clients that the work needs to begin well before any moves are made. This theory is one of the main reasons that I wanted to write this book! Too often, we try to fast track the next move because we’ve reached a certain place in the current role where we feel we can no longer be happy. If you are already at that place and know it’s time to go, I will not advocate for you to stay.

“You can create a career that rewards you with opportunities, rather than waiting for someone in your current company to tap you on your shoulder and indicate it’s time for you to rise.”

It wasn’t until I was preparing for my fourth professional move that I felt myself make a truly strategic career decision. Earlier I had shared that I was performing well — basically overperforming. I was also in classes to complete my Master of Science in counseling that required an external internship, all while innovating various ideas and strategies that the career-development office was working toward executing. I exceeded my goals, but my manager felt I had untapped potential and could further exceed my goals. It goes without saying that I was pissed. I was angry beyond measure. I had worked so hard that year. I could not understand why I was not being promoted when others in the office received promotions while doing less work and made fewer contributions to the office than I had in the past year.

At that moment, I felt that I had to take control of my career versus waiting to be recognized and provide an opportunity to myself. Women and people of color often wait to be recognized as high performers to be promoted and rise to the next level in an organization. I want you to switch that mode of thinking. You can create a career that rewards you with opportunities, rather than waiting for someone in your current company to tap you on your shoulder and indicate it’s time for you to rise. This is why having this book in your hands is so important. We need tactics in our careers, so we know what to do.

This was the first time I felt like I truly made a strategic move in my career and not just moving because I was unhappy or simply believed my time had come to an end with a certain employer. I was performing at an organization, doing work that I thought was meaningful, and was excited to continue to excel as a leader in the industry. I had to sit back and think, “How can I grow my career in the same field but just not at this organization?”

“It’s essential to understand when it’s time to leave and assemble a career strategy that allows you to be ready at all times.”

It’s essential to understand when it’s time to leave and assemble a career strategy that allows you to be ready at all times. You should always have options, even if you are happy in a job. Options don’t always have to look like a way out either. Each new relationship you build may provide you with options. Each task you complete in your career strategy may provide you with new possibilities. Each time you add a new skill to your toolkit, you are creating an option. That is why developing a career strategy is so important. Logging into your work computer each day with your head down, hoping that change will happen, is the farthest thing from an option. If you are on the fence about embarking on a job search, there are several reasons that you may think it’s your time to go.

Let’s examine the seven most common reasons that may serve as signals to either start your job search to get a new job or have a serious conversation about getting promoted or increasing your current responsibilities.

1. Suddenly feeling bored at work.

I’m not talking about being bored on a particular assignment or if things are slow in the office and you find yourself doing more online shopping than working. I’m talking about that feeling of being bored to your core, and you feel like you are still exceeding the organization’s goals, but your mind craves more. The example I like to give is about a mother’s feeling that her child needs more learning opportunities. She can see that her child has an aptitude for more, and she looks for additional books and resources, or it’s time for her child to go to school even though he or she is only three and not ready to go to preschool. Moms talk about seeing the “light bulb” turn on in their child and knowing they need to do more for them because watching Frozen for the 28th time will not cut it. The same goes for your career. If you are bored beyond belief because you’ve mastered your role, and this boredom is also causing overall dissatisfaction, the time has come for you to think about your next move.

2. You have been there for a while, but you feel like you finally started to outgrow your work.

If you’ve accomplished all there is to accomplish in your position, and you begin to feel constrained by your title and role, it may be time to start looking for options. Maybe you need to have a discussion with your manager about a power lateral or promotional opportunity, or maybe it’s time to start looking at job boards if you know upward movement is not a possibility for you in your current company. The key is knowing you have done all you could do within the constraints of the role you currently hold.

3. If you put in the time, but the pay still isn’t where it should be. 

Maybe you negotiated to the best of your ability, but two solid years have passed, and you are a consistent, high performer, yet you have not received more than a cost of living increase. The key is ensuring you put time into your role and you’re performing well because you cannot complain about a pay level you accepted when you were hired, especially when you haven’t put in enough time to showcase your professional value. Once you have been in a job for at least a year, observed how the business operates year-round, and you’ve mastered your job, it’s more than acceptable to start looking for money inside and outside of your company. However, having the experience and impact to back that desire to increase your salary is essential. Many professionals have had a situation in which they quickly said “yes,” and were excited about a job opportunity but realize they would be underpaid but that is not enough in this case.

4. Having a conflict in the office that is not fixable. 

This is tough. Sometimes, conflicts at work are difficult to navigate. If you’ve had a conflict with a manager or co-worker that is truly affecting your ability to perform in your job, then you may want to consider your options. However, I am a huge advocate for making sure you find a job before leaving your current job. It also helps to develop relationships with other colleagues to make sure you are guaranteed a quality recommendation, if needed. There are many types of conflicts that can happen in the office. It goes without saying that if it’s impacting your work, your ability to continue contributing, or someone is retaliating against you, you must go through the proper channels, generally through your human resources office, to document and share this. However, there may come a time when it may be best to either leave the department or leave the company to pursue your next role in an environment that supports your growth.

5. You work for a department or company you do not like. 

There is no use in working for a department or company that you cannot stand to be in for 40-plus hours per week. If you know you do not support the mission, the vision, or the work you are completing every day, it may be time to leave. Even if the economy may not be great or you feel as though the job you are looking for may be hard to come by, this must be a strategic move. Do not just pack up and quit today. Start applying for positions in other departments in your current company that could make you happy or at a new company that you feel aligns with your career strategy and has what you need to thrive. When it comes to making career decisions, consider everything involved– the people, company, your work, and the trajectory you will have when doing this work. All those factors come into play.

6. Circumstances in your personal life make your job harder.

Changes in your personal life can be even harder if your job is making it more difficult. Maybe you got married and with your spouse bought a house that is super far from work. Maybe you were thinking of starting a family and know your office could care less about work-life balance for its employees. Maybe you have a health concern, and the long hours and late nights in the office won’t allow you to care for yourself properly. Maybe COVID-19 significantly impacted your responsibilities for your family and you need to reevaluate your work situation. Those are all valid reasons, and there are probably hundreds more, that can make it time for you to start thinking about navigating and building a career that supports your current life stage. Evaluate whether you can do anything to stay at your current job if you would like to stay, such as reduced hours, an alternative schedule, or a permanent remote arrangement. Still, if your current job does not fit your lifestyle, it may be time to think about leaving.

7. You’ve found out there’s a glass ceiling at your company. 

If you’ve hit a glass ceiling at your job, and you know there is no possible way for you to get promoted, develop further, and reap any of the benefits that that company provides, you may need to explore outside opportunities where you can spread your wings. One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Barbara Ross Lee, a nationally recognized expert on health policy issues. Dr. Lee spoke at a women’s leadership dinner when I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree, and she said, “When you feel that you’ve hit a glass ceiling, find a bigger room.” There is always the option to take your next move outside of the company.

Excerpted from Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love by Kimberly B. Cummings. Copyright © 2021 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted with permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ. All rights reserved.
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Kimberly B. Cummings

Kimberly B. Cummings is a career and leadership development expert as well as an accomplished speaker and podcast host. Her mission is to empower women and people of color get seen in the workplace, make more money, and become industry leaders. Founder of Manifest Yourself, LLC, Kimberly provides organizations with tailor-made solutions to hire, develop, engage, and retain women and people of color. Her book, Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning into a Career You’ll Love, teaches professionals how to navigate the working world.