Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When To Take A New Job

Whenever you read about the "most stressful life events", you always hear about deaths of a family member or friend, marriage, divorce, sickness, moving and changing jobs. All are about change. Change stresses us out. Change makes our hair fall out, eat ice cream, drink, bite our nails. Change makes you work. Change means learning new tricks, not perfecting old ones. Change means new people, new places, and new patterns. It's hard. Status quo is easy. Doing what you have been doing is comfortable. In some cases, the status quo is good. Healthy family and a great marriage, a nice place to live - these are things that you would like to continue as is. Those are things that only appreciate - they don't always depreciate.

A new job is different. First of all, let's be clear about what working is. It is renting your skills to someone for pay. You are selling your ability to perform a given set of tasks for a rate that you and your employer determine. In economic terms, you are not only selling your skills and work ethic, but also paying an opportunity cost that can be defined as "what you would be doing, learning, or earning somewhere else". When considering a job switch, you have to think of it as an investment. You are making an investment in your place of employment every bit as much as they are investing in you. As in other investments, you have to ask yourself "Am I earning as much on my principal here as I could be somewhere else?". Also up for debate are the risks presented by the unknown of another position. Now, sometimes you are at a place in your professional career where you can honestly say to yourself "I know it's time to go, things can't possibly get much worse." That's easy - get a new job. As long as you don't take a job that pays so much less that your peace of mind gained isn't equal to money lost, you always win. It's when you aren't miserable, when you aren't terribly paid, when you are challenged to an extent, when you are growing that you have to ask yourself the following questions:

1) Am I growing faster than I could grow elsewhere? Is the knowledge I can gain here available anywhere else?
2) Am I making significantly less than I could or should given my background and the positions available elsewhere?
3) What are my real goals for working? Money? Prestige? Titles? Personal growth? Pride? Societal impact?
4) What is it that I really don't like about my current situation, and would be it better or worse elsewhere?
5) Am I thinking about leaving because there is a problem that I don't want to face?

If you can answer these questions honestly, and you find yourself saying things like "I have learned a lot here, but haven't learned a lot lately", or, "Man, I had no idea someone with my experience level could make xxxx", or "I like what I am doing, but my boss causes me so much stress that I can't see myself here in the long term", then you can probably begin your job search in earnest.

The key in technical jobs is keep yourself on the right part of the skills to market expectations continuum. Essentially, it's your responsibility to keep your skills ahead of the market - you have to have the skills that are current, but also display the ability and initiative to stay ahead. Some jobs give you that for free. When they don't, either you do it yourself, or find someone else who can let you do it for pay.

In the end, if you keep yourself current, and you work hard and smart, you can move and even if it doesn't work out, you can just move again. Obviously you don't want to be a job hopper, but if you are clear and honest with yourself with respect to your goals and reasons for moving, you won't have an issue with that. So, I guess what I am saying is, move if you really should move, but otherwise look at your situation and figure out why you are moving.