How did you know when to go?
August 6, 2013 7:14 AM   Subscribe

When and how did you decide to stay at or leave a job you kinda liked and an employer you'd been at for a long time? Is it good to stay or have I been here too long? That's the situation I am in. I feel like I'm stuck, but I also feel like I'd be giving up a good thing. What can I do to help decide?

Hivemind, you've helped me with a cross-country move, with deciding to move, with my car's transmission, and with my student loans. Thank you for that. Here's one more quandary which seems more like "hey, that's life."

I've been at my current employer (a large IT-themed company) for well over ten years, though in slightly different roles for 2-3 years each. I work in IT, but not programming, and I've kept reasonably up-to-date on things outside just my employer's scope. My basic worry is whether I have been here too long. My entire method of work is based, in large part, around how my employer does things. For example, I troubleshoot problems using its in-house database and I have access to the people who wrote or are experts in its products. If I left to go to another company, presumably working on those same products, I wouldn't have that structure. By that standard, it's "safe" and "reasonable" to stay here. On the other hand, am I essentially working my way out of being able to be anywhere but here, even if "here" does have lots of internal opportunities?

Off and on over the years I've felt like I was either burnt-out or bored or restless but I usually found something to reignite my energy. Now, I'm not so sure. I'm in a role that's OK, and I make a great salary, but the role isn't perfect (what is, though?) and I have the feeling that maybe I should move on. There are positions at other technology companies (large ones, even) in this area for which I think I'd be qualified, though I must admit that the thought of change (and doing a "real" interview) scares the daylights out of me.

Ideally, this would be something I could talk to with others in my field, but I haven't been networking at all in that regard. All of my previous coworkers--who could be counted on to not undermine my current job--have been here less time and are "junior" to me. I'm the most senior person I know well at this company, outside of my direct manager.

So, mefites, what would you do?
posted by fireoyster to Work & Money (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely time to move on.

Ten years is around the point where, if you don't go now, you'll never leave. I work with people who have passed this point. They're afraid of the amount of change that comes with a job move, they're worried that their skills have become stale, and they've lost their confidence to learn new ones. The worst of it is, the company has a way of smelling this out, and treating them with less care than other employees, because it knows it can get away with it.

Plus, your post is all negatives and "meh" with no "but I LOVE [aspect of job] so much that it makes it all worthwhile".

Go now! Save yourself! Change is scary, but invigorating and good for the soul.
posted by greenish at 7:27 AM on August 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

I left the first restaurant I worked at because I was eternally stuck in the dish pit. But it was sort of the same deal. I was learning what I needed for that job and jot being taught how to do anything else.

Right now I'm working for a Big Box Retailer and looking at other jobs. I've just kept my mouth shut and done the job there while looking on my own time. I've done that with every kitchen job as well. You should do the same.

You're not really defending the decision to stay at all. So it sounds like you're done and just need someone to tell you that it's OK to do that.

It's OK to leave. Definitely get another job lined up, but once you do an you're sure you'll like it get out.
posted by theichibun at 7:31 AM on August 6, 2013

It's always easier to get a job when you have one already. The air of confidence that people project when they don't technically need the job they're interviewing for makes a huge difference.

So network -- start with LinkedIn, go from there. Apply and go on an interview or two, if only to brush up on your skills. Keep in on the down low from your current employer, obviously, but it doesn't hurt to explore your options. Even if you're offered a new position, you don't have to take it unless you want to. But you won't know whats out there that could be new and exciting and challenging until you look, so go look. You're lucky right now in that nothing has to change unless you want it to, so use that to your advantage!
posted by cgg at 7:37 AM on August 6, 2013

User groups are sometimes a good way to network, and to survey the opportunities in related positions at nearby firms. Some user groups are software or hardware product specific, others are more general in focus (Mid-Range Computer user groups used to cater to HP Unix mid-range systems, IBM S/38, AS/400 and iSeries products, and in their early days, even older mid-size and mini-computer platforms from Digital/Compaq, and Burroughs/Univac). So, if I were you, I might look into area user groups for various products you might use or support, and start going to their meetings and functions. Maybe even volunteer to do some organizational work for them, or do a program presentation, or even host a meeting or function at your worksite.

Beyond that, I'd be looking for educational opportunities to expand my skill set, and for publications that might accept articles in the trade, for publication (particularly easy to get accepted if you've recently been through a major product upgrade, or acquisition. You can even get considerable vendor help writing the thing, and you can trust a vendor you treat fairly to lobby the publications to which you submit for editorial consideration.).

I wouldn't just jump out of your current frying pan, however confining it may seem, until I'd had a look about to evaluate the size of the fire, and the nearness and suitability of other skillets and pans nearby. You might find that such a survey reveals your current gig to have more opportunities than you currently see, or better realize what you'd rather be doing, elsewhere. And in the meantime, you may be able to gather resources and contacts that will make any eventual transition a successful, less stressful one.
posted by paulsc at 7:39 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had to be shoved from my jobs.

I would have made a life with the Phone Company if they had let me. But I find lots of fun things to do within the scope of my job, sometimes inventing new jobs for myself.

There are benefits to staying where you are. Pension, more PTO, familiarity, etc.

The job I'm in now is kind of a snore, lots of downtime and then some tedious stuff. But, there's something to be said for low stress.

If you move your job it will take you 2 years to start to feel competent in your new job.

Here's my theory, as long as you're well-perceived, as long as you have an opportunity to keep all of your skills up-to-date and as long as you like the money, hours and amount of travel you do, why move on?

If you need a challenge, can you use your company's Tuition Aid Program to get certification, an advanced degree or on a week-long workshop? Can you go to User Conferences?

If you just feel the need to move on, then do it slowly and deliberately. Start going to User Group meetings, network. Check out jobs on LinkedIn.

Don't move just to move, move to better your situation!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:41 AM on August 6, 2013

Maybe this will apply, maybe not, but my #1 standard Kinetic Career Question has always come down to, Are the bad days outweighing the good days? If they are, have I done anything to actively change this? Is there positive change on the horizon or am I stuck in this position hating every moment? If I've tried changing things and I'm still dreading going to work because it's the biggest suckfest in the universe, then I start actively looking.

Life's just too damned short.
posted by kinetic at 7:42 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I worked in the internal IT department of an IT company for about eight and a half years. Six years into my tenure there, I started looking elsewhere after I was put under a total asshole on the org chart. I was told by multiple HR people that my long tenure there was a big liability, as it made me look complacent and unambitious.

I was only able to get out from under that by taking a transfer to another department, which, for all intents and purposes, represented a career change for me. I was able to move on from there.

My advice? Jump.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:44 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're in an excellent position here: if you choose to look for a new job, you can afford to take your time and be picky, so you can hold out for an opportunity you're genuinely excited about, rather than jumping ship at the first chance. You don't have to make a decision until you have an offer. Thinking of it this way might make you feel a little more comfortable and optimistic about looking for something new.

I'd recommend dipping your toes into networking. Meet new people, see what's out there and what people in your field are talking about. I've found that interviews landed through networking are less intimidating than ones with strangers: you've either already met the person you're talking to or you have a mutual acquaintance, so they feel more familiar and you know they already have a positive impression of you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:48 AM on August 6, 2013

On the other hand, am I essentially working my way out of being able to be anywhere but here, even if "here" does have lots of internal opportunities?

I was confronting this issue precisely-- namely that my skills were atrophying such that I was worried about whether I would become essentially unhirable outside my own organization. And there were promises of being able to have other opportunities within the organization, but things were moving So. Slowly

Don't underestimate the prospect of internal opportunities. That can help you build new skills, give you a more marketable title, and be around a group of people who see you in a new and different context where you might get more respect and responsibility.

As far as looking for a new job, you get over your fear of interviewing by interviewing. I ended up having home interviews with various companies for almost 2 years before things clicked. By the last interview, I was marketing myself as a subject matter expert that was going to bring with me a skillset that the company couldn't find elsewhere, and they hired me. Plus that last interview had much better chemistry than the other places I interviewed with, but I wouldn't have been able to get to that point unless I had a slew of interviews and interactions with other people in my field to refine what I was looking for and my own presentation.

If you want things to improve, you need to make yourself constantly available to other people with open opportunities both inside and outside your current organization. It doesn't mean you need to leave now or take the first opportunity that comes along, but it means you need to lay the groundwork for doing so by starting to have those conversations with people about available opportunities.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 7:48 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

My partner has definitely confronted this issue - being a 'lifer' at one place has its definite upsides, but when you do want to leave, you can find yourself in a niche that you can't get out of. I'd agree with the commenters above that it's worth at least doing a little looking around to see what else is out there, given the information you've given us.

That said, I've made this decision both ways. The first time I confronted this decision, I stayed perhaps a bit longer than I should. It was early in my career, I'd really bumped up against the limits of what I could learn, but it was an easy decently-paying job, good benefits, easy commute, and I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do next. I stayed there probably a year or two too long until grant funding went away and pushed me out of the nest. And I don't particularly regret that choice at that time; there's a lot to be said for a comfortable position with good benefits.

Which is to say you're in a great position! Whatever you do, you'll probably be okay. Try not to make yourself too crazy about it now - just start putting out some feelers, looking at some job listings, and take it from there.
posted by Stacey at 8:05 AM on August 6, 2013

On the other hand, am I essentially working my way out of being able to be anywhere but here, even if "here" does have lots of internal opportunities?

At some point you have to ask yourself - "am I happy here?" If the answer is no it's time to move on. I was in a similar situation to you except I had the good misfortune of being the sole person in an organization of 300 people that could do a mission critical job that they all depended on to keep their funding flowing and people employed. I was miserable, the pay sucked, the actual job was boring, but I stayed because it was comfortable and I was afraid I had let me skills waste away to the point where a new job with a new company would be like starting over.

You know what I found once I started putting my resume out there? I hadn't lost my skills, I hadn't lost my drive and desire to do work that was interesting and meaningful and, like I'm sure you'll find once you take the jump, there were people willing to pay me good money to use my brain and learn. Don't let your job or fear of looking for a new job keep you miserable. Seriously, I did that for almost five years and almost lost my marriage, my life, and my sanity.

As others above have said - you don't have to do it all today but it sounds like you're ready to take the leap to something new. Go out and join a users group, network to find a mentor, volunteer on Open Source projects, find an arena you're interested in exploring and find YouTube videos and message boards on it. The nice thing about the 2013 job search that we didn't really have in 2003 or 1993 or 1983 is that there are a plethora of resources that are available and free if you have the time, the desire, and the drive.

But again, don't let your fear of putting yourself out there or changing your comfort level keep you in a situation where you're not happy.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 9:25 AM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I made a decision to change jobs in early 2011 that was very similar to your situation. I had worked for a Department of Defense lab for about 9.5 years, and I had become pretty comfortable. I was the technical expert engineer for a specific system, and I had colleagues and respect for my work.

However, I had felt burnt-out with my management for a while, and I wasn't able to quash it with any new project distractions. At the same time, I was very scared at the idea of leaving my very cushy spot. The only "normal" way out of my lab was to retire.

(1. Just Start Looking)
I wrestled with this for a while, but I did one critical thing - I started looking. In my case, I looked for similar positions at I was so scared of letting the word get out, that I did everything in secret - I used vacation time for a few interviews, I did phone interviews in my car. The important thing was that I could look without committing to anything. I didn't tell my boss I was leaving until about a month or so before I walked out the door. (Federal jobs can take a while to transfer between, and I had the time to give a little longer notice.)

(2. Keep an eye out for a lucky opportunity)
I was very fortunate and found a Federal position that enabled my wife and I to live and work overseas. This was something that I thought was a crazy idea at first, but travel is something that my wife and I both enjoy, so we said "go for it!"

(3. If it seems "good enough", then go for it!)
My position was cushy enough that it was really easy to find excuses to say "no" to opportunities. I realized that if I didn't force myself to do it, I would end up retiring from that cushy job.

(4. Don't say "I quit" until you have something lined up.)
I think this goes without saying. Leaving my cushy job without something lined up would have filled me with so much regret and self-loathing.

Today? Here I am a couple of years later to tell you that in my case, moving from that job was the hardest - and best - move I've done in my career. I would do it again if I could do it over again. (My wife is here on MeFi, and can add her comments, if she sees this.)

Get out there and look around! Go for it!
posted by jason6 at 10:21 AM on August 6, 2013

You are paid well, you don't hate your job, so you have the luxury of time. Go to the library and research potential new employers. Research pay for the jobs you think you'd apply for. Update your job description and resume, describing your work in terms that aren't specific to your company. To preserve and improve your income, get training and certification in the areas that interest you most, and where you might work in a new company or where you might move in your current company. Look at your company's Directory and Org. chart. Is there a different job in the company you could try for? As a long term employee, you might even be able to get a job created to fill an existing need in the company that fits your skills and interests.

Maybe you're just bored? Take some classes in something not work-related, maybe try a new hobby or sport.

Give yourself 6 months or so to do the research, and it will likely be obvious to you whether to stay or go.
posted by theora55 at 2:44 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would poke around and see what's out there. You're not desperate to leave, so you can be selective and do your due diligence. Take it slowly but keep your eyes open!
posted by J. Wilson at 7:50 AM on August 7, 2013

I would advise against idly combing job listings—although I've spent a lot of my own time lately doing precisely that. For someone of your experience, what you find there would most likely be beneath you.

I'd look up some of your most respected peers and colleagues and strike up conversations regarding what your ideal job would be. Tell them what you can uniquely bring to a new setting. Convince people of a new vision that you might have.

You could be sitting on the resources for your next big breakthrough.
posted by toots at 10:26 AM on August 7, 2013

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