View from HR: How do you know when it’s time to change jobs?

Let’s start with the obvious: when the economy improves, job opportunities blossom. Some openings are inside your growing company but most are with other employers. How do you know it is time to change employers, jobs or careers?

Sticks and Carrots. We once knew of a hiring manager who told applicants “this place is all sticks and no carrots.” He meant that managers used intimidation and old-style top-down direction to get things done. Employers have a “style” (culture) that you can see in their managers. It is how they progressed inside the organization. While external forces and markets might one day change an employer, it is usually a long road. If that fundamental style conflicts with yours, or with your goals, it may be time to go ... with another job in hand.

There is no completely “stick free zone” out there. The best employers believe carrots work well for everybody, with sticks reserved for poor performers and bad judgment. The question is whether the carrots offered are the kind that matter to you? The carrots might be financial handcuffs keeping you in a job you dislike. The carrots could be exactly what you need to grow and succeed in meaningful work that also meets your financial needs. The mere presence of carrots (and absence of sticks) is not a reason to stay.

Am I just tired? I talk with people who are just tired. On paper, their employer looks good. They like their manager, fellow employees, product or service and customers. When they consider leaving, they have a hard time explaining why. Reasons range from boredom to a sense there is something else they are meant to do with their life. These are good questions. However, too many people leave just because they are bored and then do a poor job of finding something better. Explore the options at your current job to see if the answer is right in front of you at your current workplace.

Who am I? The best reason to leave a good job is a fundamental mismatch between you and the role. Chances are, that mismatch is not going away. Your dissatisfaction with the purpose of the organization, the business model, how they make money and how you must behave to succeed will likely grow. Yes, it might be better in a different role with this employer. Talk with people in other roles to gauge the probabilities.

Economic realities. Some jobs will never pay enough to meet your basic needs and other wants. Benefits matter at some point. It is no one’s fault and anger directed at yourself or the employer is energy wasted. Woman (or Man) Up, fill the gaps in your skills/experience and get out. Employers want to hire people who work hard to progress with meaningful action.

There is no risk-free decision when it comes to jobs, employers and careers. Always remember the risk you take when you make no decision.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is CEO of CAI, helping more than 1,000 North Carolina employers maximize employee engagement and minimize employer liability. For more information, visit