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August 21, 2023

Switching Jobs? Here’s When To Hold ‘Em—And When To Fold ‘Em

It’s an age-old question in corporate America: Should I stay or should I go? And it’s not easy to answer. In some cases, it is best to start looking beyond your current employer (“fold ‘em”). In others, it is best to stick it out and stay put (“hold ‘em”). It is the question that I’m […]

It’s an age-old question in corporate America: Should I stay or should I go? And it’s not easy to answer.

In some cases, it is best to start looking beyond your current employer (“fold ‘em”). In others, it is best to stick it out and stay put (“hold ‘em”).

It is the question that I’m personally asked most often and by a large margin, since I’ve written about the search process for managerial jobs. A book that I published on executive careers a while ago contains at least four chapters on this kind of career situation. I have also been recruited into new jobs more than a couple of times myself, so I have firsthand experience when it comes to managing potentially difficult professional circumstances.

From my actual book and various chapters of my own life, the important factors at play are two “do’s” and two absolute “do-not’s.” The good news is that the “do-not’s” are immediately actionable. The bad news, however, is that the “do’s” are priorities that should be executed years before hitting the crucial decision point of staying or leaving a company:

Do-not #1

Despite the intense “fight or flight” reaction, do not leave a current employer primarily to get away. You must go to an opportunity that is demonstrably better, rather than simply running from a current gig, even if it is a frustrating one. Never just quit hoping that the right opportunity will come along—find the right opportunity, and then quit.

For a job to be a decent bet to move, consider three attributes:

  • It adds to the optionality that you’ll have for future jobs and roles over the next five years. If the new job doesn’t position you for at least two or three kinds of attractive next moves, take a pass.
  • It brings a healthy workplace culture. Specific positions, individual bosses, locations, and co-workers come and go, but a corporate culture will likely remain unchanged over the course of your entire tenure. Find current or—even better—former employees who can share more details, so you can see if that style feels supportive or strange.
  • It is the right brand. The brand that comes from the league and stature of your current company becomes a key component of your profile and reputation. Get that imprimatur early in your career, understanding that it may stay with you for two or three moves at most. After that, your brand is determined by your last couple of jobs.

Do-not #2

As you begin to share your interest in considering new options, never bad-mouth your current employer, your current boss, or your current colleagues. Even if you have been treated unfairly or unpleasantly, it is important to be the adult in the room. There is a lot to be said for stoicism, especially in the face of adversity.

Even if your boss is a sadistic sociopath or your workplace has the culture of a super-max prison, your stated reason for allowing yourself to be recruited away needs to stay the same: “I have learned a lot here. I’ve done some very positive, cutting-edge things, but it now looks like more of the same here. I’m open to a bigger challenge.”

Bad-mouthing others is detrimental on two fronts. First, it makes the listener wonder if you are getting pushed out or not. Second, it makes the listener wonder if they should hire you or not, since your bad-mouthing may come at their employer’s expense one day too.

Do #1

Networking is important. It is a crucial ingredient of success, professionally or even personally. But networking is a step to take long before you ever “need” it. Starting to network only when you are trapped is generally too late in the game to secure an optimum set of options.

Find alternative options proactively, so you’re not reactive on short notice. Most career openings are not explicitly available, so they don’t show up on placement websites or with employment services. They are simply thoughts in the heads of senior managers—something like “this is something we could do, if we could find the right person.” You need to be the “right person.”

Your network must be focused on people in your industry or your managerial peer group (and above). These are the dozens and dozens of people who will think of you and pass on your name when someone asks them. Affiliations with industry associations, trade groups, and civic service organizations can go a long way, assuming you are actively interested in the subject matter and prepared to be a worker bee, not just one name on a long list of members. After all, your reputation ultimately comes down to what kind of worker you are “inside” the organization, so pull your weight and remain a no-fuss colleague.

Do #2

In addition to climbing the career ladder, it is critical to find a job where your role has a clear, measurable impact—and one that is easy to explain. Recruiters and hiring managers are always on the lookout for job candidates who go above and beyond a position’s natural momentum, identifying top performers based on their quantifiable value-add.

As you progress, take the jobs that carry the responsibility for making a difference in key outcomes. Careers that are described by a process (i.e. action verbs like “facilitate” or “coordinate”) can make people question if a result happened because of the process itself, or if it was actually you who was responsible for the final outcome. Your job summary should not contain three paragraphs of process descriptions. It should read more like: “After three years of zero growth, we increased product sales by 15 percent a year.”

Whether you’re looking for a new job or not, it is possible to run through the checklist of “do’s” and “do-not’s” in your head. Honestly, it is preferable. With proper preparation, you’ll be able to tell when to hold your cards—and when to fold them.

Article written by:  Orville Lynch, Jr.
Mr. Lynch, a member of the legendary two-time Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame Award winning Lynch Family. Mr. Lynch is a nationally recognized urban media executive with over 20+ years of diversity recruitment and serial entrepreneur with numerous multi-million dollar exits.
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