How Do You Decide When It Is Time to Leave a Job?

One of the crucial components of achieving a meaningful life is your job, and you should carefully evaluate if you can attain this goal where you are or if you need to pursue a new career elsewhere, as leaving for the wrong reasons can be a big mistake. Have you recently received a call from a recruiter about a new opportunity that got you thinking? Perhaps you're feeling underappreciated by your boss. Are there too few opportunities for professional growth at your company? Have the leaders failed to inspire you because of a lack of vision? Maybe you're just bored. All seemingly acceptable reasons to start polishing that résumé... or are they?

From hundreds of professional friends and acquaintances over the years, I have heard these and many other motives as why people want to leave a job. While recently advising several potential job seekers, I began pondering the question, "When is it time to not leave a job?"

It is a legitimate question that generally receives little thought or reflection. We are often quick to find an escape route, but we don't spend enough time trying to improve our situation or change our mindset. Is this necessary? Absolutely. The reality is that people who change jobs often don't find the proverbial greener pastures with a new company. Some of the issues these professionals were hoping to escape also exist in their new organization... because the problem or issue frequently lies within themselves. This misguided move can often derail the pursuit of a richer and fuller life filled with meaning.

Finding a job and a company that provides all of the above is a tall order. Sometimes we expect too much, and when we don't get it, frustration is a likely result. Is it naïve to think our jobs will bring total happiness? Among candidates ranging from recent college graduates to senior executives in transition to employed potential job seekers, a central theme runs through most conversations: They have the desire to "have it all" in their career. They want that next role to have a check next to all the boxes on the ideal job list. There are certainly exceptions, but generally speaking, very few jobs are able to meet these expectations. So where does that leave us? Consider this checklist before making a change:

Do a skills inventory. Where do your strengths lie? What do you have to offer that is unique? Is your current job mining these skills or are you feeling underused?

Do a needs inventory. What specific needs do you have that are not being met? Is it intellectual stimulation? Mentoring? More challenge? Higher income? Loftier title? More balance? Flexible hours? Whatever is on your list needs to be realistic (a new convertible BMW company car is unlikely!) and something you have the courage to discuss with your manager.

Identify repairs needed. What are your development areas? Be honest about what you need to work on professionally and personally and consider if you are getting this assistance in your current role. Please realize that your manager is not clairvoyant, so be forthcoming about what you need if you ever hope to receive it.

Are you aligned? Does your job utilize your education and training? Does your compensation align with your experience and market value (check out Are you on an appropriate and realistic career trajectory?

What are the expectations? A common mistake with people frustrated at work is "the failure to clarify what is expected of them," says Brandon Smith, founder of "Most would rather guess, usually guess wrong, and end up in frustration," according to Smith. Additionally, it is important to know what is expected of your boss, as this is helpful in making your own expectations clear.

What are you passionate about? This is important. I think most of us want to feel that what we are doing is worthwhile and making a positive difference. Make a list of what is important to you and determine if your current job will allow you to pursue your noble, overarching goals.

Are your values in sync with your job? This is an area we should never have to compromise, but too often people conceal their true selves and personal values for the sake of their career. Ask yourself if you are free to be your authentic self at work or if you feel compelled to make unhealthy compromises in order to fit in.

Influence change. Make a list of what you don't like about your com¬pany or your job. Now, ask yourself if these are issues you can help improve. Where can you influence or lead others to make positive changes? Where can your personal example make a significant difference in changing the behavior of others?

Do your homework. If you are still determined to leave and have thoroughly and honestly gone through the previous eight steps, do some due diligence on the marketplace. What companies align with my values? Where will my skills be valued? What companies have an inspiring vision? Go beyond Google or company websites; reach out to friends in your network and utilize business social media to connect with people inside these organizations to get a more realistic picture. You owe it to yourself to not neglect this critical step.

Working in tandem with the nine-point checklist are two significant mindset shifts which will not only make this reflection process easier but also make you more effective professionally (and personally).

Practice self-awareness. It is a gift granted to very few, but the good news is, it can be acquired. Comparing your current behavior to your internal standards and values and acknowledging your strengths, weaknesses, and desires can help you in every aspect of your life. There are countless personality tests available -- DiSC, Birkman, Hogan, Myers-Briggs, etc. Become an objective evaluator of your job performance, how your peers and company leaders perceive your work, and how you interact with others. If you're not sure, ask them. Remember that if you find yourself considering a career change every few years, the one obvious and constant thread through each change is you.

You touch it, you own it. More than a decade ago, I was vice president of recruiting for a national restaurant chain. We had a saying embedded in the culture: "You touch it, you own it!" In a nutshell, you were empowered to act like an owner. Even if you had little direct responsibility for a particular issue or problem, you were expected to act like you owned all of it. No excuses, no complaining, and no blaming others -- just do what you could to achieve the goal or fix the problem. It taught me the valuable lesson of taking personal responsibility for my actions and doing everything in my power to make things better. I also learned the importance of influence versus control and how I could make positive change, even when I did not have direct authority.

Let's be honest, there are absolutely legitimate reasons why people change jobs. This post is not meant to dissuade you from doing that, but it is intended to help you think through the decision a little more carefully. Maybe you will pause and reflect long enough to realize that you can make a positive difference by staying, that an honest and open conversation with your manager might open new doors for you, and by practicing better self-awareness you will recognize those areas you can improve upon.

Who knows, you just might decide you are in a good job after all and that it's worth investing in rather than leaving for greener pastures... which may not be so green after all.