Trust your instincts. If you suspect that things are not going well at work, you're probably right. Some clues are blatant, such as having a subordinate promoted above you or having your office -- or your parking spot -- taken away. When that happens, you know you're in trouble. Other indications are harder to assess, because they may seem accidental, such as being excluded from meetings or denied essential information. But the clearest indication of all that you should look for another job is the situation identified by headhunter Jean Allen, a partner in the search firm Heidrick & Struggles. I asked her, "How do you know when it's time to leave a job?"
And she answered, "You're miserable."
That is really all you need to know. If you are miserable, it doesn't matter how perfect the job might sound on paper. It doesn't matter if you are the envy of everyone you know or if your colleagues feel as if they won the lottery every time they clock in. If you don't feel the same, if you dread Mondays and can barely stand to breathe the same air as your boss, it's time to move on.
Other signs include the following:
You're not learning. This might sound minor -- after all, you're not in school -- but it's actually a huge issue. If you're not learning, you're not growing. And if you're not growing, the job is becoming routine, and boredom is sure to set in. A fulfilling job, a job you can stay in, offers challenges. It requires you to master new skills, to try new techniques, to absorb new information, to meet new people. If none of that is happening, you're stagnating.
You can't seem to get an even break. When you make an error, no matter how inconsequential it may be, your boss jumps all over it. Meanwhile, your contributions go unacknowledged. You haven't received a raise or a promotion in a while, although others at your level have, and the perks that other employees enjoy somehow never come your way. Although you try to rise above it, you can't shake the feeling that you are unappreciated.
Your work isn't valued. The projects you are asked to do are clearly not on anyone's list of priorities. You feel inundated with busywork, yet you can't seem to get assigned to anything else. Or perhaps you don't have enough to do, and you worry that you're being sidelined. You'd like to contribute more, if only they'd let you. Your efforts seem futile. Your confidence is being eroded.
You're suffering emotionally or physically. Maybe you're angry and frustrated and taking it out on your friends and family because you can't express those feelings at work. Maybe you're developing physical symptoms that your doctor ascribes to stress or anxiety. Or maybe you have what feels like a bad case of the blues. If you suspect that your anger or hopelessness stems from your job, it could be time to move on. (It might also be smart to find a therapist to help you sort through it all.)
Your values are not in sync with those of the company. Maybe the company plans to expand into foreign markets, but you believe that profits should be plowed back into the community. Or the company wants to invest in oil and gas, but you, as an advocate of greener forms of energy, such as solar and wind power, object. It doesn't matter what the specific issues are. The point is this: If you often find yourself thinking, "That's not right," the fit between you and your job is no longer beneficial for either you or the company.
The business is in bad shape. Professionally, you're doing great, but you can see that your industry is in trouble. Now you're hearing ominous rumors about your company. There have already been layoffs -- and to your relief you've made it through. But a steady stream of cost-cutting measures is alerting you to the company's continued downward trajectory. You are certain that sooner or later the ax will fall.
No job is perfect in every respect, and there are always going to be occasional rough periods. So you could probably learn to live with one or two of these factors. But if the problems are piling up, or you have the feeling that things are getting worse, it may be time to take the next step in your career.
Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Citadel Press, from The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life by Robert L. Dilenschneider. Copyright © 2014