It’s not always obvious. You can wait for an epiphany or that moment when a ray of light shines in from the window and miraculously highlights that ad for a newer, better gig that just happens to have popped up at the corner of your browser. But while waiting for that moment, you may have missed dozens of clues that were right in front of your face.
Do you know when to quit your job? There are a few signs you can look out for. And you should always be looking out for them. If you wait until you feel it might be time to quit, there’s a good chance you waited too long. Don’t ignore your gut, but don’t assume it is the only source of truth.
Sign #1: Your Company Is Shrinking
I’m going to assume for a moment here that you are not upper management. If you are, you hopefully know if and why you are an exception to this advice. But for the rest of you, this is huge.
An early manager of mine warned me that there was nothing worse than working for a shrinking company. Since then, I’ve had the chance to experience it myself, and I realize that this was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.
At first glance, a shrinking company seems to be full of opportunity. If you survive the layoffs, the company clearly valued you and your position more than those that got cut. And now they are leaner and more agile. Given how much I talk positively about startups, it seems odd that I’d be against an environment that’s becoming more like one, right?
Here’s the thing. A shrinking corporation doesn’t become a startup. It becomes a weakened version of the behemoth it was. How many pieces do you have to pull off a battleship to turn it into a rowboat? Even if you make it somehow work, that stripped-down battleship will never compete with the boats that were created specifically to be rowed.
And do you know what one of the best things about startups is? They grow. If your company is growing, there are growth opportunities for you. If the company is shrinking, there will be moments of opportunity, but they are significantly rarer. Worst of all, everything will be reactive, so enacting proactive changes, which are better for your career, simply won’t be an option.
Want to become a manager? A growing company has new management positions that will need to be created. A shrinking company probably already has too many managers.
Want to learn a new coding language? A growing company may have a need for that language in its tech stack. A shrinking company is likely far more focused on bug fixes and just keeping the software running.
Sign #2: You Haven’t Learned Anything Lately
Think over the last couple of months. What have you learned? Put together a list, including technical skills, soft skills, market knowledge, and anything else you deem relevant. Now mark how you learned each of these. Was it self-directed? Did your manager or someone else at your company facilitate or enhance it in any way?
Try to gauge on a 1–3 scale how important these skills are to your career. 1 being not important. 2 being possibly important. 3 being definitely important. Don’t add more numbers. I know it’s tempting, but you want to keep this simple.
Now take a look at this list. How many entries rated a 3 and were facilitated by the company. If there is nothing on that list, that’s a bad sign. If most of the list is 1’s and/or was not enhanced or facilitated by your company, that’s a really bad sign.
There is no strict cutoff for how much you should be learning at a job, but more is always better. If you aren’t comfortable with how much you are learning after looking at that list, it might be time to consider a switch. But first, talk to your co-workers, see if there were learnings that you missed out on or that you forgot to include. Don’t be rash, but don’t let yourself become stagnant.
Sign #3: You Can’t Quantify Your Impact
Your resume is up-to-date, right? Look at the bullets for your current job. Are they quantified? Do they show money, percentages, volumes, rankings, or ratings? In short, do they have very specific numbers that will wow future employers? I’m talking about the difference between “Developed a new messaging API” and “Cut customer response time by 50% by developing a new messaging API”. Only one of those two samples will make your resume worth a second glance.
This one is rough because it means that you, your manager, or your company have been doing something wrong all along. Talk to your manager and your co-workers to make sure it isn’t you. If your co-workers are also having issues, especially if that includes the more senior among them, that’s a bad sign. If your manager doesn’t have quantifiable impact in mind, get out fast.
But Is It Really the Right Time?
A shrinking company, stagnated learning, and inability to quantify impact are good indicators, but there is no silver bullet. Use these to decide when to actively search, not when to quit. You always need to weigh your personal and professional risk, as well as what opportunities you’ve found in the market, before taking the final plunge.
Make sure that you have your next opportunity lined up before you take any non-reversible measures. Nothing is worse than showing the intent to leave and then not doing it. You will have labeled yourself as a flight risk, and most companies will be hesitant to give you any important projects or to promote you in any way. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t ever use an offer as leverage with your current employer, but be 100% sure you are ready to pull the trigger if they say ‘no’.
On the personal front, make sure your finances are in order. New jobs don’t always work out, so shore up whatever you can before the switch. Make sure your family is on board, too. Any transition requires a support network, so don’t neglect them.
Once everything is set, take a moment. Breathe in. Breathe out. Don’t rush. Your potential future employer probably gave you a deadline for accepting their offer. If they didn’t, ask for one. That way you’ll know how long you have to make that decision.
Neither you nor I can guarantee that this was the right decision, but you’ve researched it, you’ve thought it through, and at some point, you just have to take that next step.