Love it or hate it, change is ironically an inevitable constant in our whole lives, personal and professional. Sometimes factors out of our control present change like reorganizations, ineffective management or economic downturns. The harder questions come when the ball is in your court. Staying at one organization builds tenure, opens the possibility of promotion and opportunities to build depth of expertise. But, staying can also stifle professional development and cripple your earning ability. So when the answer to “Should I stay or should I go?” it isn’t black and white, how do you know when it is time for a change?
Taking a step back and asking yourself the questions below can help you make a smart and strategic decision to keep you on the right track.
What is driving my desire for change?
Reasons for wanting change are as unique as the person they pertain to and they will naturally evolve with you and your career. What is important to you at 25 will be different than when you are 45. Knowing the root(s) of your discontent will help you stay focused on the things/people you do enjoy and the ultimate goal as you chart a path forward.
Motivating factors typically fall into three categories:
If you are a diehard gun control advocate and are working for the NRA, chances are you won’t find your work rewarding. Similarly, if you work at a firm where lawyers are billing 80 hours a week and picking up pro bono projects in their free time, the writing is on the wall - your firm’s culture favors and rewards work. Lots and lots of work. That said, long hours aren’t necessarily a deal breaker if you love what you are doing. Some questions to ask yourself regarding corporate culture include:
- Do my values align with the mission of the organization?
- Do I feel supported in my role?
- Am I developing professionally, am I learning?
- Can I point to policies or recent examples of how my organization invested in its people?
- How and when are people rewarded in the organization?
Work / Life Balance
We spend a lot of our days at work. Throw in a long commute and evening or weekend hours and work can become all-consuming interfering with personal happiness and relationships leading to burn-out. When taking the dreaded commute out of the picture or sharing the workload, you may realize that you really enjoy the work and the people you work with.
Start by asking yourself, is it me? And be honest, are there ways you could work smarter? Can you hear echoes from reviews past about areas for improvement? Do your colleagues turn it off after 6? Do you invite the unbalance by always being available? If so, you have steps immediately available to improve your professional life. Other questions to ask that can bring balance include:
- Could I work from home 1-2 days a week, or move to a 4 day work week?
- Are there flex hours to avoid commute traffic?
- Would additional team members bring balance?
- Are there shared resources to draw on?
Work / Compensation
We all want to take pride in our contributions. Feeling that you have more to offer or that you are underpaid will eventually boil over if not addressed. Take a look around your organization and ask:
- Are there committees you can join or even launch?
- Can you volunteer to lead a new initiative?
- Will your organization pay for a class in your area of interest?
- Are you out of step with industry standard salaries and if yes, are there benefits or resources to compensate for the difference?
Is the change I would like to see possible?
With a clear understanding of what kind of change you seek, it is time to map a course forward. Start by asking:
Has my organization offered the type of solutions I seek in the past?
Do some investigating: are stated policies permitting or prohibiting the solutions you seek? Take a look around and see if colleagues are exercising the same or similar options. If so, what are the circumstances surrounding their situation. Ask them how they went about making “the ask.” You can always be the first exception to the rules, but noting other exceptions will help you make your case.
Have I performed and positioned myself as deserving of these solutions?
Seriously. Have you?
Do I have support of my immediate manager/supervisor?
Will your supervisor/manager advocate for you? Have you established the relationship and trust essential to request exceptions to the norm?
Make the case
Staying put or moving on, being able to articulate and communicate what you want and why you deserve will help you make smart decisions that keep your career on an upward track. Be able to communicate your successes and point to examples where you have shown leadership and ingenuity. Collect references, save emails containing accolades from attorneys and team members and share them with your managers and HR. Keep a portfolio of work product to showcase your talents. Bring ideas to the table and be able to set expectations so that you shine.
Your goal is to change the question from “Should I stay or should I go?” to “Where am I headed and how do I get there?” Everything else will fall into place.
By Michelle McWhinney, Founder at Navigate Recruiting, LLC