||The Wall Says
It's Time To Go
By Nick Corcodilos
That Ache Is Your Career Telling You Something
Unfortunately, the act of changing jobs is usually
reactionary rather than planned. Most of us are so busy doing our jobs that we simply
don't have time to contemplate, much less pursue, a new job with another employer. When we
do make a change, it's often because some immediate event forced change upon us. These
kinds of events include, but are certainly not limited to, a downsizing, a disagreement
with a boss, an unexpected job offer or a failure to get an expected raise.
Until one of these events occurs, we tend to grin and bear surprisingly high
levels of discomfort about our careers, our jobs and our future. Consequently, we rarely
stop to recognize legitimate "change signals" or to ask the question, "Is
it time for me to go?"
If you're experiencing career
discomfort, I want to poke you where it hurts so it'll hurt a little more not to
antagonize you, but to encourage you to figure out exactly what's causing it. If you can
do that, you might be able to start planning your next career step, before circumstances
step on your career.
The Writing On The Wall
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You probably know what I'm talking about. You see the
writing on the wall, but like most busy people, you ignore it so you can get on with the
daily chore of slaying another dragon at work. But it's time to start reading the signals
your career is sending you. If you decide these signals are not so serious and your
discomfort is more imagined than real, maybe you'll relax a little and enjoy your job
more. If you're in considerable pain, maybe I can help you isolate the specific signal
that's tormenting you. Then you can make some specific decisions and take control of your
People tend to go on interviews for the same reason a mountain climber climbs a
mountain: because "it's there." Headhunters deal with that by having more than
one candidate available for the client. But they also devote considerable effort to
helping the candidate isolate the reasons that led him to consider a change. That's how
the headhunter develops his "pitch" to sell the position to the candidate. (I
don't use that word pejoratively; a pitch can be very honest and sincere.) That is, we
play the role of "the shrink," trying to make a connection between the new job
and a person's needs and discomforts. Unless we can get into the person's head and figure
out what's really bothering him about his job or career, we can't motivate him to consider
a new job seriously. It's part of our job to know what the writing on the wall might be,
even before we meet the prospective candidate.
Let's look at some examples of the most common writing on the wall. It's up to
you to decide whether it represents a compelling reason to consider changing jobs or
The Wall Says: You're the top dog.
You know you're at the top of your game when everyone
including people outside your own department and from other companies comes to you
for help and advice. In itself, this realization might make you want to keep your
job rather than leave it, especially if your company recognizes your expertise and
supports and rewards you for it.
On the other hand, if your boss treats you like a proprietary asset and
restricts your movement in your professional community, it could be a sign that he doesn't
know how (or want) to develop you further. Are you allowed to attend professional
conferences and mingle with your industry cohorts? Does the company pay for relevant
continuing education, or does it discourage you from developing skills beyond your current
Likewise, if you feel unappreciated and lonely and you sense that you're held
too responsible for the success of projects around you, that's a bad sign.
Like it or not, being needed doesn't make you grow. Living on the pedestal can
make you complacent, and it can also make you very bored. If your efforts to expand your
expertise and to learn from greater experts meet with resistance, it may be time to go.
(If you're not making such efforts on your own, shame on you. You may soon take a tumble.)
The Wall Says: You're on your own.
Every good worker needs a good mentor to guide,
promote and pay attention to him. Good people don't keep working for employers who ignore
I remember watching a film about Japanese management practices back in the late
1970s. It showed a team of employees toiling away in a bullpen-type office, where there
were no walls, no cubicles. Everyone worked out in the open. The only closed office
belonged to the manager, and it was surrounded by glass. While his staff worked away, he
sat with his feet resting on his desk reading the newspaper. The only time he got up was
when an employee came in to ask for help. Then the manager dropped his paper and embraced
whatever problem the employee was grappling with.
The narrator pointed out that employees rarely requested help with their actual
work. Mostly they needed advice and guidance with larger problems, including career
direction and personal challenges. One fellow needed advice about whether to ask a woman
to marry him, for example. The thrust of the film was that a manager's job is to be a
mentor, and although the manager spends most of the day with his feet up, his role is more
important than any work being done in the office. His job is to enable his employees to
take whatever steps are necessary to ensure their continuing value to the company.
If there isn't someone in your company who is helping guide your career and
professional development, it may be time to go.
The Wall Says: You're ahead of your
Just like product lines and technologies, skills and careers ebb
and flow. Sometimes you find yourself thinking ahead of your company, and that can be
frustrating. Bear in mind that it takes a corporate body longer to grow and change than it
takes an individual. When you're evaluating your company's progress in the industry,
what's important is not whether it is always on the cutting edge, but whether the company
encourages or squelches the ideas of its more progressive employees.
Good companies have different ways of incubating change; make sure you
understand how your company does it. It may be frustrating to have your ideas welcomed but
not immediately acted upon. However, what really matters is whether the company embraces
new ideas that contribute to its success.
If you believe your company's failure to implement your ideas is a signal to
seek greener pastures, stop and ask yourself whether you're presenting your ideas
effectively, and whether they're sound, profitable ideas for the company as a whole. It
may be that you need to sharpen your own ability to judge the overall value of new
If, however, you find that you're always ahead of the company and no one is
listening to you, it may be time to go. Remember that in a fast-paced business world we
measure time not in months or years, but in product cycles. If more than two product
cycles go by and your company's position in the industry keeps slipping and your efforts
to prod it are ignored, don't make the mistake of thinking things will change any time
The Wall Says: There are too many
If business has learned one thing in the last 10
years, it's that Henri Fayol's notion that every manufacturing enterprise must be broken
into clear and distinct functions doesn't work very well. Keeping engineering,
manufacturing, sales, finance, human resources and administration functions separated
except at the highest executive levels is dumb. Cross-pollination of perspectives, ideas
and skills enables a business to profit from what is today known as "our greatest
asset our people."
Your greatest growth potential will be realized through exposure to many
disciplines within your company. I can't tell you how many times I've seen profound
problems resolved quickly and simply when workers in disparate departments were allowed to
put their heads together to find ways to do the work together. There is no MBA
program that will "grow you" like the experience of working with people with
skills different from yours.
If your contact with other departments or functions in your company is limited
and you feel stuck in a corner, it may be time to go.
The Wall Says: Stay just the way you
This signal is painfully simple. If you haven't had
the opportunity to learn or do something new in six months or more, it may be time to go.
There are two main types of fallout from this situation. The first is obvious: without new
skills and experiences, your value will not grow. The second is downright sad: your
company will turn into a collection of overly specialized workers whose main concern will
be their jobs rather than the company's business.
The Wall Says: Only the rich get
I frequently get e-mail from people thanking me for
my exhortations to seek a level of compensation that reflects their contribution to their
employer's profitability. Of course, this "profit connection" is not easy to
calculate or to communicate. It takes a lot of discussion between the employer and the
worker, and such discussions typically happen only when you're being hired into the higher
echelons of management. Nonetheless, the underlying concept is critical and it's profound:
if I contribute to the bottom line, I should share in the profit.
It may not be easy to come up with exact profit figures and it's harder
still to agree on what represents a fair share of the profit but it's not
impossible to determine that your work is contributing to your employer's success. If your
company is doing well and you have contributed to that success, you should be sharing in
the wealth. If you're not, it may be time to go.
More and more employers are realizing that some type of profit sharing is the
best way to pay people. This approach not only helps control costs and expenses; it
engenders loyalty and responsibility for the company's success. An employer who isn't on
this track doesn't deserve to have the best employees.
The Wall Says: Come hither.
When headhunters start calling you, it means one of
two things. Either you have "arrived" professionally and your worth is known
throughout the land; or your industry is expanding at a profitable enough clip that it's
willing to pay a premium for your services. Either way, you win.
Should you change jobs because the headhunters are calling? Not necessarily. But
you should recognize this as a signal that you need to take stock of how your life
and professional community are changing. Ignore signals that your worth is increasing and
I promise you, you will soon be kicking yourself.
When the calls start coming, take time with your employer to reassess your
position, your levels of responsibility and authority, your pay and your equity in your
current company. If your employer is using a yardstick to measure you that's different
from the one the headhunters are using, it may be time to go. Your industry may be telling
you things have changed and it's time to test your worth.
You Say: I don't want to get up this
If you wake up day after day feeling that you don't really want to go to work, it may be
time to go. This is the most nebulous of signals because any (or many) factors may be
triggering it, but it's the one that's most in tune with the vicissitudes of your work
life. Ignore it at your peril. If a week or two on vacation fails to quiet this signal,
recognize that it's your career telling you something is very wrong.
It may be time to go. Read the writing on the wall.
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