When To Leave a Job

Q. When is the right time to leave a job?

A. I get asked this question a lot and it’s particularly relevant as many 20-somethings get a bad rap for changing jobs at the drop of the hat and not paying their dues. There are a variety of reasons to move on or not. The most common answers I get are, “When you are not learning anything anymore” or “When your skills are being undervalued.”

There is a tendency today to feel you should switch often in your 20s in order to explore what you want to do, make more money and…more and more often…to show employers that you are ambitious. Staying in a job too long these days is seen as a negative. This 40-something woman who has responsibility for hiring a lot of 20-somethings has some good advice on the fine line between exploring vs. expiring your options:

Get experience doing different kinds of jobs until you find that thing that you get really passionate about and then pursue that. But try not to do too many things in a period of time because it limits your choices to a certain degree. Too much bouncing will hurt you unless you truly are someone who is very gifted and learns new skill sets quickly and can find better ways to do things. I see a lot of people jumping jobs every 2 years. In your 20s it may not hurt you as much but there’ll be a point when you’ get into your late 20s where it may impact your ability to get the job of your dreams. I’ve seen people passed over for the job of their dreams, that was exactly their passion, that they were even very well qualified for, because of those decisions to just do whatever whenever.” – 40-something, working mom, Los Angeles, CA

So explore but try to find a through line to the jobs you do and be able to tell an employer what you have learned from each one.  More on how to find your passion in another post. But there are a lot of other reasons to leave a job that have as much to do with personal growth and challenges as professional. Here are a few perspectives from 40-something women:

1. When menial tasks have no meaning.

It’s one thing to get coffee or perform repetitive tasks. The first keeps the creative juices going – or at least reduces caffeine fix induced stress. But it’s also just a small thing you can do to connect with your bosses and colleagues. In today’s coffee culture, it’s not a demeaning task, it’s a way to connect and get to know someone. Maybe it’s something your boss asks you to do or maybe it’s something you offer to do. So make the most of it but don’t go overboard and start doing it unsolicited (brown-nosing?). Occasionally you will be asked to do it for others in a meeting because you are the lowest on the totem pole. Don’t get too worked up about that. It feels like you are being diminished or missing out on something as you go do this chore…but that’s just the lay of the land. Be sure that you follow up with your boss to see if you missed anything and just think of yourself as a very skilled barista. If you don’t act like you are serving you won’t be treated like you are.

The second category are the things that are cogs in the machine. They keep a business going even though they may not be the most challenging tasks. Don’t just do them mindlessly and don’t mind doing them up to a point. Ask questions about how they fit into the process…or if it’s quite obvious, just accept them but also ask to take on some other tasks that are more meaningful.

Most of the women I have talked to who work with interns and new hires are always open to questions and requests to do more. Don’t be afraid to ask and to put in a little extra time to take on a more challenging task.  And look around you. Is the job you’re in a means to an end or really a dead end …where that is the only type of work you can do within the corporation? If you can’t see the job progressing to anything more meaningful then start looking. To find out, talk to people who have been there for a while … did they move on from dong this type of task and how long did it take?

“When you look at what people in the job 5 years 10 years ahead of you in the company are doing and you can’t see yourself being happy doing what they are doing…then you should re-assess where you are. If the people 10 years out are all miserable find out why. Talk to everyone.” — 40-something, NYC

When you are paying emotional dues rather than physical dues.

When you consistently are doing chores that fall outside of anything that has to be done in the name of contributing to the business running – and if you are the only one doing them, that is a red flag.  This means tasks that go well beyond fetching coffee to as this woman shares, picking up the dog poop.

“I worked in graphic design and I was prepared to do grunt work to get my foot in the door. I delivered packages. I worked late. And everyone at my level was doing that kind of thing. To me I saw it a proving myself. The boss would also ask us to walk his dog. But then one time, it was actually Halloween night he asked me to walk his dog and pick up his poop. That was just too far. I was doing that and started to cry. I went back and told him I wouldn’t walk anyone’s dog. He fired me. But to me it was when the job crosses the line between paying your dues and taking an emotional toll.” – 40-something, working mom, Chicago, IL

Don’t be afraid of failure. The woman above went on to work for the top firm in her field. Sometimes women stay in jobs because they fear they won’t be able to get another job, or worse, they criticize themselves for not rising to a challenge. This 20-something stayed in an emotionally abusive job because she felt that quitting was failure.

“My supervisor was abusive and took advantage of my eagerness to do well because it was very prestigious. Is any job worth being physically ill over?  But there was that voice in my head that said, ‘You made a commitment”. The messages from my parents and even my mentor was “don’t quit” and ‘rise above obstacles’ and “work hard’. – 20-something

If a boss becomes emotionally abusive or takes advantage of your desire to please and eagerness to progress, no matter how great the “experience” it won’t be that good it if harms your confidence and thus ability to leverage that experience.

There are some Devil Wears Prada type bosses out there.  I have heard many a story about them. But while the tales of these bosses sometimes seem funny in their outrageousness, they can be the most harmful if you aren’t strong enough to deflect their outbreaks. If someone at your job is picking away at your confidence…. criticizing you in a negative way, in front of other people or playing on your insecurities then it is time to quit. If you need the job until you find a new one, don’t react to this type of behavior in the typical way. It only reinforces the boss’ actions. If you don’t react they won’t know how to react either and may go on to pick on someone else who does. This is their insecurity not yours.

When the ONLY thing keeping you there is fear of leaving.

I think people get really scared and are afraid of leaving the security of a good job. Take risks. That’s the time to take a risk in your 20s, professionally I think. Don’t be afraid to ask for money, for promotion or anything else… or leaving a job if you feel like I can find something better somewhere else.” – 40-something, Chicago, IL

When you are undervalued.

“Don’t’ let yourself be undervalued. If you notice you are working a lot harder than others around you, talk to your bosses about it. But know how you affect bottom line because that gives you a lot more to stand on” – 40-something, working mom, Chicago, IL

If the only thing keeping you there is money.

Many women, and men for that matter, who stayed in jobs because the money was great find themselves handcuffed to a lifestyle later in life but wondering what could have been.

You should do more career shifts in your 20’s before you start making a lot of money. Because you may do something that you don’t necessarily love.  And if you’re good at it you start making a decent amount of money and it’s harder to leave. It’s really hard to leave…. even if you don’t love it. O I would say leave sooner if you don’t love and but know you are good at it because you can always come back to it if you are good at it. – 40-something, Stamford, CT

When it’s someone else’s dream, not your dream.

There are some types of careers that involve a huge commitment…taking you away from friends and family and normal 20-something life. The job becomes your life. This advice is from a woman who was in the performing arts. She believes that if you aren’t doing it for yourself it will delay you from living your life and will take a toll on your wellbeing.

“You know it is your dream if you enjoy the process and almost don’t even care about the result. You are so passionate about the doing of it the result almost doesn’t matter. And you know it is not your dream but it is somebody else’s dream for you if you endure the process for the result.  I head that somewhere and I think it is a remarkable litmus test.  Those are thing things that get the best results because the process is the result. If you are just pacing through the process, it is not going to come to much. You become a slave to it. And you have to keep doing it to pay off the investment that others have put into it.” – 40-someithing, Cleveland, OH

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