evaluating your career: should you stay or should you go?

With the smashing success of Netflix’s Stranger Things, The Clash’s 80’s hit “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” has made a comeback. If the song is a constant refrain in your life for a different reason, it may be time to take stock of your career.

With the dawn of 2017, it’s the perfect time for personal and professional reflection. A new year offers a chance for a fresh outlook and renewed energy – if you doubt that, check out gym attendance the first three weeks of any January. There’s no better time to consider your options or – if yours are limited – create new ones.

evaluating your career

the way we think about careers is changing

If you’re facing this conundrum, rest assured you aren’t alone. The way we work is changing. Today’s workforce lasts a little over 4 years in a job. The era of sticking with one job for life is all but a distant memory. While retiring seniors held one or two jobs in their working lives, the numbers are higher for their younger colleagues. Statistics suggest that the average person will change careers 5-7 times in their lifetime.  Some of these changes may happen after only a year or two of (or months after) taking on a role. Other statistics are more dramatic, claiming the average person will change jobs 10 – 15 times in their working lifetime.

new expectations and the rise of contract jobs

Job hoppers are no longer considered flaky, unreliable or disloyal. Even seemingly engaged, happy employees troll online job sites and consult their networks frequently to see what else is out there. Moreover, the nature of work itself has been redefined by an increase in short-term, contract jobs over full time, steady (and secure) work with accompanying health benefits and vacation time. Increasing numbers of graduates report an inability to find steady employment, and are often forced to take several part-time or seasonal jobs to reduce their debt loads while they wait for ‘the one’. In effect, they’re being conditioned to consider short-term employment normal. Older workers ‘restructured’ out of long-held positions are resorting to contract or consulting work. They’re often unable, in spite of their skills and experience, to find permanent employment to carry them past the previous signposts of retirement into the era of the new, improved, work-‘til-you-drop senior citizen.

company loyalty vs. pursuing new job opportunities

A recent Monster Canada survey found that employee loyalty is highly regarded (74% of Canadians believe loyalty is helpful to their career), yet 40% of Canadians have had at least four employers since graduating. Their struggle is to find employers that are willing to invest in them by offering them permanent employment. Interestingly, staying with a company long term is not always seen as a good thing, particularly to men (18% compared to 14% of women).

According to a Global News report, a minimum of two years at a job is ideal; less than that may raise alarm bells while five or more years might lead a recruiter or potential employer to wonder if you’ve continued to learn new skills or kept existing ones fresh and updated.

Why not just stay put? You know your colleagues; they know you. You know the routine, what to expect and certainly your job. So why move?

advantages of job hopping:

  • You get a better idea of your industry because you’re gaining multiple perspectives from a variety of organizations.
  • You get a better handle on different career paths, learning from the ground up. The bad news is that because you’ll likely start at the bottom in a new career, you’ll pretty much remain there without a solid go-forward strategy.
  • You bring fresh energy and a sense of purpose to an existing team because you’re always the new kid on the block.
  • You live in a constant state of ‘first date’, excited by the possibilities and secure in the knowledge that if you don’t like it, you can always leave.

Before you resign yourself to staying in a position that’s getting you nowhere fast, or throw caution to the wind and leap into the unemployment abyss armed only with faith and a four leaf clover, consider if you’re committed to the often lengthy looking for a new job.

before you hand in your resignation:

  • Ask yourself some hard questions and answer them honestly. Why do you want to leave? Are your work relationships with superiors or peers problematic? Do you miss the challenge of life on a learning curve? Have you hit a wall in terms of your salary or opportunities for growth and development? If money were no object, what would you be doing? Is fear holding you back from changing jobs if you’ve gone as far as you can in your present position?
  • Make sure jumping to a new job is in your best career and lifestyle interests and not something to relieve boredom. Aim for a step up as opposed to a lateral move, unless moving laterally holds the promise of future growth, a better salary or is a new career move that invigorates and excites you.
  • If you’re struggling to make a stay/go decision, consider taking a break. Use some vacation time to research, interview, network and think things through. Or maybe you’re unable to decide because you’re burned out. In that case, taking some quiet time for reflection may be just what the doctor ordered; you’ll come back refreshed and inspired. You’ll remember what it is about your current job you love or be clearer in your motivation for wanting to leave.
  • Research the industry you’d like to transition to. Make sure you understand the challenges, trends and vocabulary so you can speak about it intelligently and with knowledge, especially as you begin to network with people doing what you want to do.
  • Review your skill set honestly. Bring your transferable skills – hard and soft – to the fore, enhance them and add new ones based on your research and networking.
  • If you’re hoping to work in a new field you have little experience in, prepare to live on less or find ways to supplement your income because the odds are you’ll start at the bottom and have to work your way up.

We’re built to work. From our earliest hunter-gatherer communities, to the current service-driven economy, humans take fulfillment from working. Work helps us learn about ourselves and others, our place in the world, what we like to do, what we’re good at and what we envision for our future. Regardless of survey results, some things are consistently true, like the importance of finding meaningful employment that brings you joy and satisfaction. It’s the passion that counts, regardless of what you do. Remember, as attributed to Confucius, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

At the end of the day, you have one life. Make it great. Whether you choose to stay where you are, or decide to leave your job or embark on a new career, there’s no right or wrong decision. Your job and career are what you make of them.

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