Should you quit your job to advance your career?

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Even the very best workplaces have their fair share of annoyances. It takes a great deal of discipline not to get sucked into commiserating with colleagues about bureaucratic nonsense, dubious management decisions and/or the questionable conduct of coworkers. While it may seem like a harmless act to let off a little steam, commiserating often morphs into complaining, which quickly spirals into gossiping, which ultimately leads to discontentment. Such actions rarely promote career advancement.

As a result of focusing on the negative aspects of the workplace, we convince ourselves that in order to grow professionally, we must leave our current employer. While leaving may lead to greater opportunities, it also may not. Bureaucratic nonsense, dubious management decisions and crazy coworkers can be found everywhere. So, before you jump ship, pause to consider what you are giving up.

Not only will you be sacrificing any seniority status you now enjoy, you will also be trading in important institutional knowledge regarding cultural norms and how work gets done, for an organization filled with unfamiliar policies, procedures and protocols. You will also lose key relationships. Not your friends and mentors, but those seemingly inconsequential internal relationships — the ones that help you navigate day-to-day tasks — will end with your resignation letter. It can be quite disorienting to be in a familiar, yet strange place, without the support of colleagues.

Still, it might be worth the sacrifices if you know you are walking into a truly wonderful opportunity. How can you know for sure? To help you assess whether you should stay or go, take the following actions at every stage of your career:

  1. Continuously engage in a "passive" job search. Review job postings regularly to ensure that your skills and content knowledge are current. Attend conferences and read industry publications to learn what is happening outside of your organization. Be sure you understand how market trends and legislation might impact your industry, organization, department and job. Information is power.
  2. Armed with a comprehensive understanding of the world around you, consider the organizational needs and priorities of your current employer. Are they keeping up with the trends? If not, it may be a good time to move on. However, if they are, align yourself with those projects seen as mission critical to ensure your professional growth.
  3. Take your annual performance process seriously. Use it as an opportunity to showcase your successes, articulate your understanding of industry trends and volunteer for challenging projects and assignments. Be ready to show how you can add value at every turn.
  4. Review your long- and short-term career/life goals and do a SWOT analysis. Consider the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats your current position has on your ability to achieve your goals. Consider what you want and why you want it. Remember, if the why is driven by some external force telling you what is important instead of what your heart believes is important, you have a should goal instead of a want goal. Should goals are rarely attainable because we aren't emotionally invested in them. They require psychic energy that we simply do not want to invest despite the fact we think we should. Such thinking feeds a sense of powerlessness and allows us to remain stuck and unproductive or jump ship in the hope of finding something we don't even want somewhere else.

Your professional development is reliant on your understanding of where your overarching goals intersect with those of your organization. Look for the win-win in every task and assignment, be prepared to stretch beyond your comfort zone and avoid the company naysayers. Be prepared to leave if there are no opportunities to grow, but make sure you have searched for the internal opportunities first.

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