Don’t let the “great resignation” lure you into thinking the grass is greener in a new and different job. Even if you’re fed up and know there’s something better out there for you, make sure your job strategy is well-researched and well-planned.
And job strategy can be tricky. It can be seductive. You can pretty easily convince yourself that your current job is a dead-end. And if others in your organization are quitting, you may think that you should join them. You may think that with all of the supposed availability of jobs out there, it will only be a matter of time before you find something that you are sure will be more in line with your dreams or aspirations.
Yes, Proactivity is Good
In general, I agree that it’s great to be decisive and to take action in your career. Staying at a bad job, or working in a toxic environment is not going to be good for you or for your mental health. Maybe you’ve been a loyal employee who has genuinely tried to take on more responsibilities and advance in your organization, But if your efforts have been met with indifference and/or no opportunities to grow, then you might be justified in quitting your job. There certainly seems to be quite a lot of support in the current economy for making a clean break and trusting that you’ll land on your feet. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the “quit rate’ in the U.S. increased to a new high of 4.5 million (up 370k) in November 2021.
But be careful! While more people have been quitting their jobs, the same report indicates that the hiring rate has remained flat in the same period. So just because people are quitting doesn’t necessarily mean they are walking right into new jobs. In fact, many millions of employees are having a tough time finding work. So before you let your FOMO (fear of missing out) prompt you to join the supposed visionaries staking out a better life and career, test whether the grass is actually greener out there. Consider asking yourself a few key questions, and doing some important research as the starting point of your job strategy.
Can You Afford It?
If you’re debating whether or not to leave your job, you should have both a realistic view of the job market and a contingency plan if things don’t work out quite as you hoped. Current research shows that it takes an average of six months to secure yourself a new job. Older workers usually take longer, largely due to ageism. So plan accordingly and make sure you have the necessary savings. Spend the time necessary to look at the calendar and project all of the likely costs you’ll be incurring over at least the next six months. Include the worst-case scenarios, like car repairs, healthcare, or other unexpected emergencies.
Your journey is unique. So your job strategy should also be personalized to you and your situation. You may have certain advantages or challenges in comparison with others. These can include the state of your professional network, your experience level for what you’re looking for, your persistence and resourcefulness, your interview skills, and the competition for positions you want to get. If you are looking to reinvent your career from scratch or make a significant departure from your current job, you might want to seriously consider having at least six to twelve months’ worth of living expenses. While that sounds daunting, imagine what it would be like to run out of money halfway towards your goal.
Before You Begin
Here are a handful of job strategy steps to consider prior to making any definitive decisions.
Spend some time analyzing what you like and don’t like about your current job. Write down every pro and con about your current position in your journal or on a whiteboard. Look for patterns to emerge from this list. Don’t feel like you have to do this all at once. This is a reflective process. As you go through your days at work, collect ideas, experiences, or insights that could go into your inventory.
Make a Wish List.
Based on your analysis, compile the qualities and characteristics of your ideal job or the business you would like to launch. Include everything that’s relevant, including location, income, hours, benefits, and of course responsibilities. Also, think about your interpersonal relationships and the kind of people you want to be working for and working with. If you’re unhappy in your current job, you may be at odds with the company’s mission (or lack of mission). Think about the values and practices that are important to you, e.g. giving back to your local community, or getting opportunities for growth and training.
Conduct a Personal SWOT Exercise.
Finally, take a brave step and list the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your career. Strengths could include your skills, credentials, strategic or problem-solving abilities – or your emotional intelligence. Weaknesses could include gaps in your education as they relate to your work, a tendency to get distracted easily, or a lack of self-trust or self-confidence. Opportunities are what your job strategy is all about. Build on your Inventory list. Identify specific possible avenues that are or could be open to you as you embark on this quest. Threats are elements that could interrupt or derail your plan. These could include interpersonal issues like a bad reputation, or a set of skills that risk becoming outdated. They could also include adverse economic conditions affecting your industry over which you have no control.
Reinvent Your Current Job?
Knowing that there’s no turning back once you’ve left your job, Consider giving it one more chance before you quit. Is there something you could do differently that would make you feel more fulfilled and invested? If working relationships are the issue, have you explored every resource, taken every initiative, and adopted the most positive possible attitude with your manager or co-workers?If you think there might still be steps you can take, consider these four ideas:
Whom Can You Talk To?
Is there a trusted colleague who can help guide you, plan with you, or advocate for you?
Do Your Evaluations
Have you honestly considered the pros and cons of your current job? Could a few small tweaks make a big difference? Could a transfer to a different team or department solve the problem?
What’s Your Minimum Viable Job (MVJ)?
We talk about launching a “minimum viable product.” Apply that concept to your current job and strip away the aspects that aren’t working. Is there still something left that’s worth saving? Is there any way you could work with management to reconfigure your position and responsibilities to make your job a win-win?
What is Your Risk Tolerance?
Before you jump, make sure that you have the fortitude to endure the uncertainty and the unpredictability of quitting without something already in place. Remember that you are going to be cutting yourself off from many things that have become familiar, including the company, your colleagues, and your culture. If you’re still clear that you are ready to move on, consider the following element to your job strategy!
Don’t Forget Side Gigs
Many people quit without having a clear picture of what they want to do, or how they’re going to do it. Experimenting with one or more side gigs (or learning about them) could be an important intermediate job strategy step. If you’re even the slightest bit entrepreneurial or have a hobby or interest that could produce income, consider cultivating a side gig before definitively cutting the cord. If you can build traction, this could be a great way to create the meaning and purpose that may be missing from your day job.
If your current work schedule has some flexibility, a side gig might also be a way of “looking before you leap” to check out the kind of new job you’re aspiring to. Look for opportunities to volunteer or work for a few hours per week to build knowledge and confidence that this new direction is really right for you. Even if you don’t actually start a side gig, researching such a move could be the initial step that helps you clarify what you want to do next.
Speaking of research, if you’ve explored all possible options to stay in your current job, and have come to the conclusion that it’s just not viable anymore, do as much research as possible before leaving. Do you want to stay in the same industry? You might be surprised how portable your skills are. Your inventory and list-making process may have isolated useful skills and talents that could apply to other fields. Maybe there is a sector that is adjacent to your current work.
For example, if you have been working in the restaurant or hospitality industry, consider other consumer-facing sectors like retail or consumer research. Based on this line of inquiry, think about how you could revise your resume and LinkedIn profile to target these positions. What about your salary? Are you prepared to take a cut in exchange for an opportunity to join a better company or take a better position? Consider your long-term growth potential, here, and factor that into your decision. Don’t automatically assume that you’ll need to take a cut, but don’t reject a good opportunity out of hand purely because of the pay.
Make sure you consider all possible job descriptions that address your wish list, SWOT exercise, and other job strategy considerations. Keep an open mind, similar to the process you’ll use with your salary. Cultivate relationships with recruiters. Smart recruiters are looking to build relationships with talented individuals who can be viable candidates. They are an important part of your professional network. A savvy recruiter can also be a great sounding board to help you identify and articulate your transferable skills and your overall value proposition. They can also be great sources of tips and tricks to use in interviews, resumes, and cover letters.
I’m a big believer in having your own personal board of directors (or “BoD”). This is a small group of your most trusted friends and business contacts who are on your side and can be another great sounding board for your job strategy.
Since this is a big move, you also want to make sure that you are prepared internally for what is going to happen as you pursue your job strategy. For example, are you a self-starter or do you prefer responding to clear and detailed directions? Are you more introverted or extroverted? Your personality type is an important factor. Keep that in mind as you review open positions and submit applications. As you pursue your job strategy, keep all of your inventory and review insights close at hand.
As you read through job descriptions or discuss open positions or prospective companies, think about your must-haves and your deal-breakers. Don’t be afraid to test these out in your conversations with your BoD, your recruiter contacts, or others in your professional network. Finally, try to resolve any personal issues that may be standing in the way of making this transition to your new job. Work through any fears related to interviewing, or to talking about why you left your previous job. Anything standing between you and a positive attitude will hamper your chances of success.
With All That Out of the Way… (If you’re really ready to do this)
OK! If you’ve made it this far and you’re still ready to rock, here are some final practical suggestions for your job strategy.
- Set your intentions for what you want to accomplish and by when. Put a reasonable target date on the calendar for when you want to be in your new job. This will help light a fire under you and keep you accountable to your goal.
- Set daily routines and milestones for every aspect of your job strategy. This includes reviewing open positions, connecting with your network, researching your industry trends, spending time engaging and commenting on LinkedIn, and engaging offline with others in your professional community who could be supportive.
- Keep a daily log of your activities. As management guru Peter Drucker said: “What gets measured gets managed.” Having your log will give you a sense of accomplishment each day, and also be a helpful reference to track your contacts, your follow-up, and capture insights about your progress.
- Remember your self-care. You are taking a big leap into the unknown. Stay positive. Take time for yourself. Be creative. Work out. Read books. Eat healthy.
- Don’t forget your BoD! There will be “up” days and “down days. Rely on your close friends and colleagues to help you through. And pay it forward! You may find that being a mentor and source of support (even inspiration) to others helps you to uplift yourself as well.
Remember that this is a process. Your job strategy is a journey, not an event. Remember to engage with others and to listen for and to feedback from friends, colleagues, recruiters, and the employers you engage with. It may take you a while to build up some momentum. Incorporate the feedback you receive (say, regarding your interview technique and performance) and course-correct as necessary.
Don’t be stubborn. Don’t let past experience prevent you from taking a smart risk (i.e. just because you had a toxic experience in one company doesn’t mean you’ll have that experience with another. If you’ve done your research and implemented all of these prescriptions, you’ll be in a better place to make a more conscious and more considered decision.
And remember: form follows thought. Your attitude and clear, positive intentions make a big difference on how you feel about yourself, and how others perceive and feel about you. I wish you the best of luck as you seek out a better and more rewarding career. Share your experiences and decision-making process in the Comments to support others in making their decisions and planning their job strategy.