September 25, 2016

5 questions you must answer before pursuing a new job

Is this the right time to make a change?

We’ve all been there: Your current work isn’t working for you anymore, so your gut tells you it’s time for a new job. But is it? You need to look inward to know for sure. Here are five key things you need to know about yourself before making your next bold career move.

1. Who is impacted by your career decisions?

  • Who in your life would care if you decided to pick up and move across country or around the globe?
  • Do you have a partner or spouse whose career will be affected by your shift?
  • Will a new job require that you move at all?
  • Do you have children who will have to change school districts and make new friends?
  • Will your parents or other significant people need your assistance in the near future?
  • Is there a pet to consider in your life plans?

A “yes” to any of these questions means that you have stakeholders to include in your decision making.  If you can identify stakeholders, start talking with them.  Find out what matters to them, and whether they are ready to consider a change.  If not, some negotiation is order, either with them or within yourself.  If your stakeholders are ready, enlist them in thinking about the change.  Either way, stakeholders matter.

2. How does your work provide meaning in your life?

  • Is it important to you that you work with others, or that you work alone?
  • Does the quality of your work seem paramount to you?
  • Are you working for a well-known organization, and does that connection to a strong corporate brand matter to you?
  • Are you gaining attention or a reputation for your work?
  • Is it important to you that you learn something new in a new environment?
  • Is loyalty to a single company for a long period of time important to you?

Answering these questions will help you avoid making a leap to a new job that won’t provide what matters most to you.  Evidence shows that people who derive a sense of meaning and purpose from their work have greater job satisfaction. Take the time to understand for yourself how this sense of purpose comes about, and make sure your job search takes it into account.

3. What skills or experiences do you want to gain?

  • Is there a new software skill you would like to learn?
  • Would you like an additional leadership responsibility?
  • Are you ready to manage a larger team?
  • Is there a faraway place you would like to live?

Some people think that the only reason to take a new job is to make more money, or to pursue the next rung on the career ladder.  We can all learn from our millennial colleagues and their patterns of job-seeking.  They are often painted as “job-hoppers,” but more likely they are seizing opportunities to align with what matters most to them.

Stephanie Denning, a millennial, wrote a great perspective article about this.  Millennials may make a career move for the chance to gain a new skill or to live in a new location. These choices are made at a time when they are unlikely to negatively impact stakeholders, or before young professionals have an extensive set of stakeholders.

If you are considering whether to make a move, think like a millennial whatever your age. Ask yourself if there is a key technical skill, life experience, or leadership skill you would like to develop.  Those opportunities may become the drivers for a truly bold career move that provides a great deal of satisfaction.

4. When is the ideal time for your next move?

  • Do you know where you are in your career life cycle?
  • Did your company just get (or lose) a big contract?
  • Is your industry in the midst of a major transformation?
  • Are your children/spouse/partner ready to move?
  • Would an additional year or two where you are enhance your retirement or career progression significantly?
  • How long have you been in your present situation (and the three positions before this one – we’re looking for patterns here)

Work-life researchers often consider careers to have a set of “stages,” sometimes described as EXPLORATION-PROGRESS-SATISFACTION-EVALUATION-LEGACY.  Understanding where you are in this progression can help you decide how much risk you want to take on when seeking a new job, and what the right timing might be.

If you have stakeholders, their position in their own career life cycle (think spouse or partner), or their stage of education (think children) will influence your timing.  Perhaps your organization is on the cusp of a major change, and staying put through that change until things settle out would provide stability and give you a chance to learn new leadership skills.  Or perhaps another company is better situated to ride out the change than your current employer.  All these factors will affect timing for a career change.

5. What would it take for you to want to stay where you are?

  • Is it possible that your current situation could be upgraded?
  • Could you ask for a raise or flexible work hours?
  • Is there a new assignment you would like to take on?
  • Does industry or organizational change present the opportunity to build a new team or product line?

Sometimes, just asking for what you want can bring transformation to the most difficult of situations.  Do you know what matters to you?  Is it money, or time?  (See this great article on that topic.)  Would you like flexible work hours?  If you could work four longer days instead of five shorter ones, would that make a difference?  How about asking for a new assignment that grows your skills and talents?

Sit down and make an inventory of anything that might be possible in your current situation. You could save yourself a lot of hassle (updating your resume, interviews, moving) and still get what you’re looking for.

What’s your take?

These five key questions will help you assess the current and desired states for your work life.  They will help you map out a successful job search, and give you some clarity about what you really want.  I encourage you to try them out before you search for your next new job, then let our community know in the comments how the process worked for you.

Last updated April 23, 2018