SPIE Career Center

Watching For Red Flags: When is it Time to Consider a Job Change?

Dave Fecak
Recruiter and Writer of Job Tips for Geeks

The decision to seek new employment opportunities is usually one that is triggered by a specific event that is beyond the employee's control. It could be something as simple as a lower-than-expected pay raise, being passed over for promotion, or conflict with peers and managers that caused an immediate reaction to brush the dust off of the resume and start a job search. Others who never witness a triggering event may just continue in their jobs, relatively satisfied, but without giving much consideration as to how their current employment situation will impact their long-term career goals.

While few professionals will equate a missed promotion and a low raise as positive milestones in their career, many employees fail to detect the more subtle signals that should spur the exploration of new opportunities.  The individual that was sleeping through his/her career and was never roused by the series of nudges that might suggest a job search may be thankful for the eventual slap in the face.  Job satisfaction is something everyone desires, but you should never sacrifice future employability to get it.

For those of you who have been simply maintaining the status quo and doing your job without really thinking about your future job prospects, here are some of the more subtle signs that should make you at least think twice about your current employment situation. 

  • Stuck in the mud? Some employees find themselves on the same project with the same people using the exact same set of skills for very long periods of time. While this may make you a master of a specific piece of technology, it probably hurts your marketability and could stunt your long-term growth. Variety in project technologies and personnel is not only essential to your mental health and in keeping the job fun, but it is also crucial to what your career options will be in the future.  Do you truly have five years of experience in your job, or do you have one year of experience repeated five times?  Are you learning on a regular basis, and are you any better at your job than you were five years ago?
  • Are we keeping up with the Joneses? Every so often, it is probably wise to do some research into what other companies are paying for people with your experience and skill set. Comparing notes with the person in the next cube is only helpful if there are significant discrepancies within the organization. The trend of underpaying employees tends to be a corporate-wide (or at least department-wide) epidemic, so chances are all your neighbors are infected as well. Find a good source of information outside the company, like a former co-worker or websites and surveys specific to your geography and skills.   Even if compensation is not a major concern, you owe it to yourself to at least be aware as to whether or not you are paid market rate.
  • Am I top dog? It's a great feeling to be considered the best at what you do with any company. People come to you for answers, and your sense of self-worth and importance are great ego-boosters (not to mention the fact that your job security is solid). But as the 'top dog', who will teach you? Michael Jordan is widely considered the best basketball player of all time, and it probably felt great to be him when he was winning championships.  Until you actually are Michael Jordan, the next best thing would be playing on his team and learning his moves.  If the Michael Jordans of your industry are not on your team, find out where they work.
  • Room at the top? After working for the same company for several years, you may never notice that you've reached your full potential there and have nowhere to grow. Are your responsibilities the same as they were the day you were hired, and is that acceptable to you?  Maybe your company does not generally promote from within, or even worse, maybe they just don't generally promote you.  Consider where you could potentially be in five years if you stay at your current company, and whether or not that position is aligned with your personal goals and ambitions.
  • Time machines?  Some companies are always pushing to stay current with technology or the newest developments in their industry, while other firms may use the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' philosophy.  Both approaches could result in large profits and successful endeavors, but unless you are 100% certain that you will be staying with your employer until retirement, there is some risk to the employees of a company that does not embrace change.  What would be the career prospects of a typist working for a profitable company that never transitioned from traditional typewriters to computers?  Be mindful of decisions your company made to either implement or ignore something new, and look for any patterns in these actions.
  • Revolving doors? Do you find yourself constantly being introduced to new hires that are backfilling the jobs of your former co-workers? This could be sign of a fire and you are simply the last one to smell the smoke. When a company has problems, employees that are in the know will take action.  Pay close attention to several employees leaving around the same time, or multiple management departures.  If the carpet is worn near the exit door you may want to pay closer attention.

Professionals who are protective of their career should always be aware of potential threats to their future prospects.  Maintaining your own employability should be a concern during your employment and when evaluating new job opportunities.  Being loyal to your employer is quite admirable, but company loyalty must always be second to a commitment to your career goals.

Dave Fecak is a recruiter, blogger, writer, and technology user group leader that has spent the last 15 years helping companies attract, evaluate, and hire talent.  His Job Tips For Geeks (link http://jobtipsforgeeks.com) blog and book (link http://jobtipsforgeeks.com/book) feature content about resumes, interview tips, technology industry trends, and anything related to helping tech pros maximize their careers.