Knowing When It’s Time to Quit

Posted March 8, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Career Moves

Gone are the days when we graduate college, get a job, and stay in that job most of our lives. Many of our parents will retire with 30+ years tenure in their companies, and often in their respective jobs. Years ago, this was not only the norm, it was the desire. Today, the average American worker stays in a job only 4.4 years – enough to inspire Fast Company to write an article titled “The Four Year Career.

With that knowledge in mind, the question of whether or not you’ll leave your current job is effectively a moot point. You will likely move on to another position – perhaps in approximately 4.4 years. The question, then, becomes this: how do you know when it’s time to leave the job you’re in?

First, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are you still learning? If you have additional skills or knowledge you can acquire, be strategic about it. Ask this question critically. What is it you have left to learn? And how can you go about learning it?
  • Are you happy? As feminine as it may sound, happiness means everything. Are you excited to go to work in the morning? Or at least, do you enjoy your time there? No one is saying you have to have a job you’d continue to do even if you won the lottery, but happiness is relative. Is your job making you better or worse? If you’ve reached the point where your unrest or unhappiness in your job is creeping into other parts of your life, it’s probably time to think about your next move.
  • Are you valued? No one wants to work day in and day out at a thankless job. To excel in your job or in a company, you must be valued by your superiors and your colleagues. And just like in romantic relationships, if you don’t feel valued, get out of it!

Then, think critically about the following:

  • What skills do you need? Perhaps you’ve rested on your laurels a bit too long and need to brush up on industry news or skills before you enter the job market. Be honest with yourself about who you’ll be competing against for jobs, and be sure you know your stuff.
  • What are you looking for? Part of what contributes to the low tenure in America today is our tendency collectively to feel like we have to take “any job.” This simply isn’t true. To be truly successful in your career, you can’t just say, “I’m looking for a position as a Project Manager.” You have to be able to slice that up, and serve it on a platter so you’re clear on what your next steps will really be. So maybe, instead of “Project Manager”, you know you want to be a “Project Director in a Fortune 500 company, managing at least 20 individuals in an IT department that emphasizes innovation and systems growth.” See the difference? Know what you want.

And last, but probably most important, you must be confident, calm, and clear in your decision making process, and ultimately in your decision to leave. If the prospect of leaving your company is making you physically ill, it’s probably not time to leave. If you’re waffling daily about the idea of applying for jobs, think harder about the questions above before you move. Think with the end in mind – when you decide to leave, you should be able to walk into your boss’ office and say, “This decision is for me, and for the health of my career. I feel entirely confident in my decision.” Be confident in what you decide. Be calm in why you’re making the decision and be clear, with yourself and others, of your needs and boundaries surrounding your choice.

Maybe now is the time, and maybe the time is 4.4 years from now. But with these critical questions, you’ll be able to better identify when is the right time for you to move on to the next position.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."