Career Development and When to Leave a Job

Meeting Lucy Harding at the Procurious event recently got me thinking about my own career. I don't consider it finished yet, or anywhere near that, I hope, although I suspect it may take some different twists and turns over the next 10, 20 or 30 (he said, optimistically) years.

I can present my succession of jobs as a perfectly logical, rational and planned progression, and of course I did that when still in the world of meeting head-hunters. But in truth it was much more random than it could sound. I left Mars because I fell out with a senior stakeholder (not in my direct management line), and I hit 30, so probably irrationally just felt that if I stayed much longer I might never leave - and I didn't want to work in the same firm forever.

The NatWest sojourn came to an end because of Fred Goodwin, which wasn't exactly expected, and I got into consulting really because someone I knew phoned me the day after I left NW and said "come and help me on this project". All a bit random, truth be told.

However, in part because various friends and contacts have asked my opinion over the years, I have thought a lot about how we should consider career decisions, even if I didn't apply the theory myself in all cases. I tend to think there are three key questions you should regularly ask yourself:

1. Do you feel you are personally learning and developing in your current role? Are you gaining new skills, developing your capability, becoming more expert - with the caveat that it really helps if these are in some sense transferable skills and knowledge.

2. Are you progressing in your career, moving forwards from a seniority and / or financial point of view, with a trajectory that is heading in the right direction? (This assumes you have some ambition – not everyone does have, I realise).

3. Do you enjoy what you are doing - is it a good place to work, with decent "hygiene factors" and a bit more - which might be anything from pleasant colleagues and working environment, a commute that is manageable, technology that works, social events ...

If you answer "yes” to all three, then don’t even think of changing jobs. If you answer "yes" to two of the three, my usual advice would be to think hard about whether you should move at this exact point in time. It comes down often to that timing question in these cases; if you are progressing and learning, you might put up with a less than great environment for another year or two. Similarly, a great workplace and decent reward - but no real development - is something many people can accept for many years!

If you can only answer "yes" to one, or of course to none of the three, then really, my advice generally is to get the hell out of there.  I hear people say "it's a nice place to work" when they are not learning or progressing, or even being paid a fair rate in some cases, but sheer inertia and perhaps fear of the unknown stops them from moving, which seems a shame.

Again, some people will put up with anything for a large pay-cheque, but if you're not learning anything, and the environmental and enjoyment factors are negative, I would really question whether you should stay, big salary or not. It is a cliché, but we only get one life and one go at our careers. Unless you really have no other option (and I recognise that can be the case - I don't suppose my grandfather loved his 50 years down a coal mine), it seems a shame to spend valuable years of our lives doing something that we hate and does not develop us.

But what do you think? Anyone got better tips on how to approach these career decisions?

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