We all get content at times, especially at a job that pays decently well and comes with a good group of co-workers. Maybe your job isn’t what you really want to do for the rest of your life, but you start convincing yourself, “This is fine—it’s not my dream job, but it’ll do for now.”
And there’s nothing wrong with feeling content or comfortable at your job.
But keep in mind that being “content” can easily lead to complacency—and that’s the danger zone. Complacency tends to generate excuses (“I’ll put up with this just for a few more months,” or “I just don’t have time to do a job search right now”) and leads us to settle (“This job will do for now,” or “Maybe I don’t need to be a VP [or fill in your blank dream job here]”). Worst of all, complacency will eventually lead to fear. And fear holds us back.
I have seen too many smart and talented friends and colleagues who have stayed in just-OK jobs. When they do decide to move on, they’ve been out of the job market for so long that they can’t even take that first step to update their resume—let alone apply for jobs. They’re gripped by fear of re-entering a different job market than the one they last recall.
They have almost forgotten what it’s like to go on interviews. They feel inadequate compared to their peers and think the train has already passed them by. These feelings of fear can quickly get overwhelming, and the easy way out is often to postpone the job search, to ignore the matter at hand—and to spend more time in a less-than-dream-job.
So, if there’s one piece of advice I could give to anyone who wants to advance professionally, it’s this: Do not get complacent. In fact, make time to regularly check in with yourself about your career happiness and goals and consider whether it might be time to leave your job and make your next move.
What are the telltale signs that it’s time to seriously consider leaving your current job and pursuing the next thing? Here are seven strong signals.
1. You’re Living the Status Quo
If you’ve been at the same company and position without any advancement or promotion for the past three years—and you want to continue moving your career forward—it’s time to look elsewhere. Even in a large organization where promotions are tough to come by, you should be able to make some sort of upward movement within this time frame.
2. You Don’t Get Feedback
If your direct manager doesn’t provide feedback on your performance—or the feedback is generic and thus difficult to take action on—it’s pretty tough to learn what it takes to move up within your organization or grow as a professional. The best managers are engaged with your career development and regularly offer advice and guidance—and if yours doesn’t, you owe it to yourself to look elsewhere.
3. You’re Not Learning
If your learning curve has flattened out or you’re really not feeling challenged, this may signal a need to move on. You may not be learning something new every day on the job, but you should be improving upon your core skills and picking up new ones. You often have to take this into your own hands, of course—asking to be involved in a new project, signing up for courses you’re interested in, or attending a relevant conference or seminar in your discipline, for example. But if these possibilities don’t exist at your current job, it’s a sign that the company is not serious about investing in your career development.
4. There’s a Constant Exodus
Do you find yourself going to a colleague’s going-away drinks way too frequently? Does everyone around you seem to be constantly updating their resumes and LinkedIn profiles? When you start noticing a pattern of disgruntled employees (especially the good ones) seeking exits and frequent departures, this usually indicates there are better places to work—and you probably have options. No, I’m not encouraging anyone to blindly follow the herd, but take it as a warning sign, and ask your departing pals why they chose to move on. Their responses may be applicable to your situation as well.
5. There’s Regular Restructuring
If your company is regularly announcing a re-org or shuffling management around, this may indicate leadership issues or a shaky strategic direction. (A friend told me she has had four different bosses in the past year—this can’t be good.) Re-orgs can provide an opportunity to step up and shine; but more often than not, they signal turbulence. And more importantly, they create a challenging environment for your career development needs to get any attention. Your priorities, focus, and progress will inevitably be impacted.
6. Headhunters Want You
Those annoying emails and calls from recruiters may not result in a new job—but don’t ignore them completely. A heavy volume of inbound calls and emails may indicate your industry is “hot” and companies are hiring (read: a great opportunity to move up in position and salary level). I usually consider these conversations as market research to see who’s hiring, what roles and functions are in need, and the average salary range for comparable jobs.
7. It Feels Like Time to Go
Beyond these warning signs, don’t ignore what your gut is telling you. No one knows your work environment better than you do. And if you get the sense that you might be better off somewhere else, heed that inner voice and go exploring.
Given that many of us spend over 40 hours per week at our jobs, you owe it to yourself to regularly evaluate your career situation. Even if you're perfectly happy at your current job, make it a habit to check in with yourself (or with a trusted buddy, if that’s helpful) at least twice a year. Not only is it a good opportunity to review your accomplishments (and get in the habit of regularly updating your resume!), but you’ll also force yourself to gauge the market conditions within your industry.
Best of all, going through this process will mean you’ll either find more satisfaction out of your current job—or you’ll discover new opportunities and move on to the next big thing.