A few years ago, when tech jobs were sparse, nobody had the balderdash to speak of leaving their current jobs to pursue brighter opportunities.
To have an IT job at all seemed like a gift, one not to be treated carelessly.
Yet, by most accounts, the market has changed for the better and in the years that have passed, a somewhat restless IT workforce has emerged.
Many know the market is rife with opportunities, but are nervous that theyll make the wrong move at the wrong time, and find themselves back in a precarious employment situation.
There are good and bad reasons to leave a job, as well as good and bad times, experts told eWEEK. Why you want to leave is as important as what you are leaving for, if not more so.
Most importantly, they said, its hard to undo a bad choice, so do your research, and always err on the side of caution when things dont add up.
1. You know its not your fault
From Dilbert cartoons to happy hours at the bar across the street from the office, discontentment and disgruntlement in the workplace is a tale as old as time.
Most people have at one point or another complained that they werent making enough money, or their work went underappreciated, or they felt their career wasnt going anywhere.
But, experts told eWEEK, none of these are good reasons to quit a job unless all other options have been exhausted.
Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology in Menlo Park, Calif., a provider of IT professional services, encourages IT professionals to err on the side of caution when changing jobs because they felt frustrated at their last ones, especially when that frustration is due to a lack of promotions.
“The real look-in-the-mirror honesty test is as opportunities have presented themselves, have they been presented to you? If they havent, why not? Have you tried to interview for other opportunities,” said Lee.
Most experts also cautioned against leaving a job for more money, warning that such a move may not take all factors into account.
“An employee has to assess whats important to them. Its more than promotions and money,” Robert Messina, managing director at Spherion Professional Services, a recruiting and staffing firm based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., told eWEEK.
“Do some self-assessment and ask what you have done to make yourself more marketable for promotions both internally and externally. If the answer is nothing, what makes you think the results will be different somewhere else?”
IT pros are encouraged to have an open dialogue with their superiors about what theyd like to be getting out of their jobs, and what can be done to ensure they can meet their goals.
“Its incumbent on the employee in the employee review but also throughout the year to sit down with your boss and say, here is where I am and here is where Id like to be,” Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing at Yoh Services, a provider of talent and outsourcing services based in Philadelphia, told eWEEK.com
“Work with your boss, network through an organization and let them know what you could be doing for them.”
Yet, if all the self-assessments, career planning and conversations with managers havent led to any changes or more opportunities, most agree this would be a good time to move on.
“If you can honestly say youve done all of these things and your company is not recognizing this, thats the time to look,” said Messina. “But, I cant stress enough, you need to do things all along to make yourself more marketable, too.”
2. The change will allow you to progress along your desired career path
Every workplace advisor underlined the importance of professionals creating a career plan for themselves.
“In this day and age, corporations are not like they were 20 years ago in that you create your own career path now,” said Dean Lucente, vice president and recruitment expert at Yahoo HotJobs.
A plan for your career can be like a map, where you work backwards from when youd like to retire and what position youd like to have by then, figuring out the steps you will have to take to get there, said Yoh Services Lanzalotto.
“Lets say you want to be a CIO and thats the last job youd want to have. Youre 35 and youve got maybe 20-30 years left to get there. What are the jobs you want to be in to get into that role? The reason I recommend that map is that it makes it easier for you when these opportunities come up,” said Lanzalotto.
Lanzalotto reminds people that IT professionals with the right mix of job skills will always have job opportunities, but those with a good plan will know when its time to jump into one.
When things Get Stagnant
“Great talent in the IT marketplace will always have opportunities thrust at them. But, its not so much when it comes at you, but how you analyze and assess it, and if its the right time and place,” he said.
3. A stagnant workplace
Workplace stagnancy comes in more forms than lack of promotions; many job environments can also hit a plateau after a period of growth and expansion, leaving its employees wanting more.
In many cases, what employees wants from their job is more than what employers can offer.
“Good reasons to leave a job are when you see a ceiling develop above you, and theres an inability for you to develop your skills or move ahead,” Messina said.
“A lot of times theres a disconnect between what employers think is important to employees and what employees do. If this departure gets big enough, it can be a good time to make a move.”
Theres no one specific number of years an employee should go without a promotion before realizing that their job might be a bad fit, but there are ranges.
“I think the magic number is four to six years without any change in responsibility and without any room for promotion or advancement, with the exception of the VP level where there is little change,” Lanzalotto said.
“You should ask yourself: Do I want to do this for the rest of my career, especially if youre getting marginalized or feel bored. If you dont find something else, your boredom will end up affecting your job performance.”
In some workplaces, promotions seem impossible to come by as employees see managers and directors brought in from outside the ranks. At a certain level, the worker knows theyve run out of attainable rungs to climb.
“The highest levels of workplace retention are in environments where there is a clear investment in the career track of individuals. It brings people in and when you can see what development roles are laid out for people,” Kevin Young, VP of EMEA Sales for SkillSoft, a provider of content and technology for IT professionals.
One of the most frequently cited concerns by IT professionals is stagnancy in the technologies they work with on a regular basis. Many experts agree that idling tech work was a legitimate cause for concern.
“Technology is changing at a 9 to 12 month clip. If youre in technology and youre still working on the same technology you were working on 18 to 24 months ago, and you havent been exposed to something new, it might be time for a change,” said Lee of Robert Half Technology.
In these cases, the IT worker can risk damaging their career options by staying in one place too long, as the relevance of their skills decline.
“Theres such a thing as not being in a job long enough but also allowing yourself to be in a job too long. As technology changes, to only work in one type you may end up outdating your skills,” said Messina.
Yet, before resigning, techies are encouraged to investigate their options within the company.
“You might want to spend some time understanding what your companys overall technology strategy is, if theyre not able to communicate with you,” Lee said.
“What are the new projects? New purchases? New technologies? If they have no plans to extend themselves from a technology perspective, it may be time to consider doing something different. But, first see if there are new technologies at your company that you can try to get exposure to.”
4. Youve made a bad move
It happens to the best of people. A worker will bide their time and patiently wait for the “right” opportunity to arise and when they jump on it, theyll end up falling flat.
Theyve made a bad move, and they cant undo it. Anyone who has gone through it can attest to this haunting experience.
So, how long do you have to wait before you can flee the scene? Is it even okay to? The answers vary.
“A lot of times, people will say that 90 days is a good time to leave if you think youre in a bad fit,” Lanzalotto said.
“But I think thats not enough. Unless theres outright fraud on the part of the hiring manager or youve been deceived, you need to give the new environment more time.”
Others felt adamantly that the professional should leave as soon as possible—the faster, the better.
“If youve made a bad-fit move, you need to leave quickly, in less than a year,” Messina said.
“It would be very hard to sit in front of me when I am interviewing you and tell me you left a job because it was a bad fit, but you waited two years to do so. You get about one pass on this; after that, you start to get looked at suspiciously.”
The concept of “one pass” came up often, wherein hiring professionals all agreed that professionals could have one blip on their resume, but a second instance raises eyebrows.
An Offer You Cant
“If youre expectations are not met within a reasonable amount of time, you can get away with one short stay. More than one, and its an alarm bell for me as an employer,” said Young.
Their advice was to choose wisely. Sometimes leaving a new job as soon as you get there is your only option; but in every other case, erring on the side of caution would do little harm.
5. The new workplace offers something you cant refuse
Sometimes, even a content, happy IT worker cant say no because the offer is too good, the opportunity too vast or the company too promising.
Lee reminds tech professionals that even when the grass seems greener on the other side, theres never really a good reason to leave a job that fulfills you.
“When you look at a new opportunity, there are several things to consider. One, if youre talented and contributing where you work, theres never a good time to leave. That said, never, ever, burn a bridge.
“Two, dont be so tantalized by technology. When youre looking at another opportunity, ask hard questions: how many people from the department have been promoted in the last year and to which positions? What is their environment? Do they work in teams, individually? What is it ultimately that you are looking for?”
If the offer one couldnt refuse was a salary so large, it made their eyeballs pop cartoon dollar-signs, Messina offers this insight.
“There are a lot of badly paying organizations with good retention. These places have a positive management climate and great benefits and growth opportunities and people there feel like they have a career,” said Messina, reminding workers to be wary of exchanging growth opportunities for better pay but the possibility of stagnancy.
One-upmanship is common in competitive IT environments, and as a desired employee looks to depart, they might find themselves surprised by the presentation of counter-offers encouraging them to stay.
Many suggest that the departing worker not let it lure them back in once theyve made their decision.
“Employees should not be deceived by this apparent flattery,” said Steven Batisto, executive vice president of Phoenix-based Anderson Philips Associates.
“If a person is worth $X yesterday, why should they suppose that they are suddenly worth $X+Y and a reserved parking space today? The truth is nothing has really changed — except that the employer realizes that they are suddenly faced with the inconvenience and expense of finding a replacement for the employee.” Batisto said that buying additional time with a counteroffer is cheap compared to the disruption of work and lost productivity that an unplanned departure will probably result in.
When its time to write a resignation letter, doing so unprofessionally can be very detrimental, even if you dont see the immediate need to keep on terms with your former coworkers.
“Its important that you exit a company the right way and not burn bridges,” Lanzalotto said. “In reality, when you leave a company is really when you start networking the most, as the folks you worked with will eventually move on as well.”
Furthermore, these days, hiring professionals are seeing more and more “boomerang” workers: those who leave a company but come back a year or several years later in a better position with more depth of experience.
“There are a lot of benefits to the company if you come back and many do not take enough advantage of what we call alumni marketing. In the boomerang environment, you know what to expect and you have more to offer,” said Lanzalotto.
6. You want a culture change
Sometimes, the reasons, even good ones, people leave their jobs are less tangible.
“People who feel marginalized or unappreciated in a job will eventually decide its time to leave. Sometimes, people dont leave jobs, they leave companies or industries,” Lanzalotto said.
In other cases, there has been a climate change thats irrefutably changed the way work is handled.
“Changes in management climate happen more often than youd think, particularly in big companies, who go through CEOs at a faster pace than smaller ones. Theyre the people who set the tone for the company, and you may not like whats changed,” said Messina.
But, the most desired culture change is to an environment which will better support a professionals growth plan.
“Companies that are not investing the time and money to turn mid-level employees into senior management will lose them. Great companies have management development, and their employees stay onboard,” said Messina.