Let’s take a few minutes to think about one of the most significant professional decisions you will make in your life. When should I stay and when should I leave? If we are really honest with ourselves and each other I think we might admit we all spend way too much time thinking about this issue. Perhaps it is a sign of the economic times or maybe it is a trait of the younger generation of workers, but it seems that there is constant emphasis on getting the next job. It seems that everyone thinks the grass will be greener at another company and that the best way to get ahead is to leave.
Let’s take a look at some of the facts. Last week’s Harvard Business Review blog had a very interesting discussion on this issue. The most important point from the whole piece is the statistic that only about half the people who switch companies are better off 24 months after they make the move. In other words half the time the move does not work out. With those odds it makes a lot of sense to be absolutely sure the best career move is not within your current company.
Before going further, I agree that there are times you need to look for a different place to work. Obviously, in today’s world, where there seems to be constant downsizing taking place, it is important to remain nimble and be ready to move. If the company tells you they are upset with your work and you don’t seem to be fitting in with the culture, it might be a good time to move on. If you have been passed over for promotions when you honestly feel you were the better person for the job this might be a signal.
My concern though is with the vast majority of others who just seem to be constantly seeing ghosts. They get good reviews and are told they are valuable and yet they just feel they are under-appreciated. They think they should be getting promoted faster or they are constantly comparing themselves to others who they feel are being more appreciated. So my question to those thinking of leaving is always whether they were directly told to leave. If not, they need to make sure they are correctly reading all the signals.
The quickest and easiest place to get ahead is often at your current company. It is important, as the blog suggests, to get solid and honest feedback on what is needed to get ahead. Sometimes it is just necessary to wait for the right time and opportunity. At other times some work may be needed on skill development. It is often easier to do this within an environment where you are known and there is support for your career growth. It is interesting that people are willing to take great risks by moving to another company but are often hesitant to take even the slightest risks within their current company by talking honestly with their bosses or others who may be able to help with their career.
Perhaps the most important thing to guard against is the romance of the interview process. When looking outside the recruiters and those trying to lure you to their company always say nice things and talk big. Talk is cheap. It is extremely important to understand what is going on and the motivation behind the sweet things everyone is saying. The proof really comes in the financials of the offer. Today money talks, not promises of a bright future. This always needs to be accurately balanced with all the costs of leaving. Too often the current situation is undervalued and the new position is overvalued. It is really important to seek counsel when making these big decisions as it so easy to get caught up in the process and not clearly see reality. By factoring in the 50% chance of failure it makes the thinking clearer and perhaps sets the bar a little higher for how green the grass needs to be before making a move.