"You'll be branded a jumper. Keep changing jobs, son, and you'll stall out your career before it even begins," my friend's father, a successful banker, advised. We were seated in a booth at the red leather bar of Atlanta's super-exclusive Piedmont Driving Club. My friend's father meant well, but I chose to ignore his counsel.
Instead, I continued to jump jobs at least every three years until I landed the general manager's position at Fleishman-Hillard International Communications at age thirty-two. My friend's father had failed to recognize that times had changed.
Today, the climate for job jumping is even stronger. Someone who stays with a company for more than five years, without a track record of constantly moving up the corporate ladder, is under suspicion. "Jumpers are the current corporate pinups," writes Judith Sills PhD, in her article "Lily Pad or Jump?"
"How do I know if it's time to jump?" a client asked. "First, and foremost, ask your gut," I replied. I believe the answers are always within us if we listen for them. . "I don't think I'm that intuitive," he said. When you don't trust your gut, an environmental scan and self-examination can help.
If you are currently unhappy with your work, ask yourself if the situation is temporary. In any job, there are less-than-stimulating times. When these times occur, I look for new projects to take on or create, even if they are community projects. When I was at Fleishman-Hillard and experiencing such a slump, I created a pre-Olympic project: a celebration of arts and worship that involved sixteen downtown congregations and more than forty-five events. For the next five months, the project kept me engaged and was good public relations for the agency.
Additional questions to ask include:
- Am I learning, stretching, and growing? Am I building my resume?
- Is the company invested in my career growth? Am I am being groomed to move up the corporate ladder? Do I have a career track? Do my salary and responsibilities match my aspirations?
- How much professional risk can I afford right now? (If you are going through changes in your personal life or stretched financially, your tolerance for risk may be low. This might not be the best time to swap security for the great unknown.)
- What is my ideal job environment, the environment that encourages me to be my best? Maybe it includes autonomy, a mentor, the spotlight, or a cordial work environment. Does my current job offer these factors, and if not, could it?
- Is this job fully using my strengths, and does it give me a sense of purpose? If not, how could it? (If it can't, maybe it's time to begin your search.)
If you are unhappy with your current job, ask yourself why. Instead of blaming outside people and circumstances, identify the role you played in getting into this situation, accept responsibility, and seek solutions. If you don't, you'll find that if you jump ship you'll end up in cold water. "The grass may be greener on the other side," it's been said, "but it's just as hard to cut." Let me give you an example.
There was a woman who was unhappy at work and considering leaving her job. "They don't appreciate my strengths," she moaned. "That may be true," I said, "but let's look a little deeper." After reviewing her last evaluation, we saw that the issue lay in different work styles. Her work style was totally different than her boss's. She tended to be a "big picture" thinker while her boss valued details.
Life had offered her a terrific classroom. Here was an excellent opportunity to learn how to flex her style to match that of another, a skill that would serve her well throughout her career. I asked her if she was up to it. She was.
She stayed with the company another two years and then jumped ship to a wonderful new position with a competing firm. "As much as I still hate detail, I use those skills every day in my new job," she reported.
Should you cruise along or jump ship? The answer varies from situation to situation and person to person. Ask your gut; it knows. And give your gut some help if it needs it by asking these questions.
"The Career Engineer" Randy Siegel works with organizations to take high-potential employees and give them the leadership and communications skills they need to be successful as they rise through the organization.
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