If the tech gig you were once thrilled to land feels like a dead end, you might be wondering about your next move. Rest assured, you’re not alone. Every IT career will hit a wall at some point, but there are some subtle signs that things aren’t going to get better.
A recent survey asked 22,000 IBM employees around the world why they left their previous job — and there were some surprises. Nearly half said they would consider a better opportunity even if they weren’t searching actively. Most of the respondents (62 percent) said they could be tempted by the prospect of a new job.
“Losing talent can be costly,” the report warns. “Organizations that can successfully retain talent not only save money but also protect their intellectual capital.”
[ Don't get caught in a dead end; avoid these IT jobs bound for extinction. Get an inside look at today’s top tech employers, and learn how to build your executive brand. | Get the latest career insights by signing up for our newsletters. ]
And the key to keeping good people? Those who are “engaged with their organizations” are five times more likely to stay put. Employees with positive work experiences were three times less likely to be searching for a new job.
We did some surveying of our own, asking executives, recruiters and career coaches to help us identify the right time to call it quits. Here are some of the signs that it’s time to look for new opportunities.
The company is stumbling
David Parmenter, director of engineering for Adobe Document Cloud, says if you’re thinking about making a move, first consider whether your company appears to be headed in the right direction. Your career should be aligned with the trajectory of the company.
“If your organization is growing, in size, impact, or in a variety of key metrics, sticking around is probably a good path,” Parmenter says. “But the key factor in your self-assessment should be challenge. Make sure that either your current role or a future one offer challenges that inspire new ideas and personal growth.”
You get an offer you can’t refuse
Recruiters and execs say as long as they see a linear path in your resume, jumping ship won’t cause alarm. And even short stints can be explained in your interview.
“‘Job hopping’ isn’t considered as negative as it used to be,” says Nick Cromydas, CEO and co-founder of recruiting company Hunt Club. “For us, the No. 1 thing we try to do is really understand the candidate’s career journey. We do this by diving into questions. ‘Why did you switch roles after 13 months? Why did you decide to change industries completely? Why did have four to five different jobs in 5 years?’”
The current pace of change in IT, in fact, makes some moves necessary, says Cromydas. “Businesses need IT pros who have the latest skills and experience, whether it’s a background in artificial intelligence, security, data science, SaaS applications, IoT or application development. These are the competencies that make a candidate especially employable in today’s enterprise environment.”
Attracting the right talent and tapping into varied experience can completely transform a company, he says. “Business is moving faster than ever before with the adoption of digital. It took P&G several decades to become a $1 billion company. Dollar Shave Club did that in 5 years. The speed in which business is moving, expedites and compounds employees’ experience sets, leaving them yearning for the Next Big Thing quicker than our parents’ generation.”
You’re dreading going to work
Most of us, at times, pleasantly daydream about packing it all in. It could be due to a disconnect with management, a series of projects that create more problems than solutions, or simply a desire for change.
Dave Denaro, vice president of career consultant firm Keystone Associates, offers three markers for determining whether you’re just daydreaming or you really need to consider a new gig: You lose interest in developing skills, you stop being excited to tell people what you do for a living, and, perhaps most importantly, you see others doing work that you’d love to be doing.
“When you dread Monday mornings and look forward to Friday on a Tuesday,” he says, it’s time to go. “You should ask yourself, ‘What motivates me to get up each day and go to work? What have I always wanted to do, but too afraid to take the leap to do it? Am I having a bad day or week and this time shall pass?’”
If you’ve been in your job for a number of years and it hasn’t substantially changed, then it may be time to force the issue.
“Recruiters call the role progression as a ‘pattern of achievement,’” Denaro says. “They use this to consider people who display this pattern on their resume — taking on jobs with bigger scale and scope makes for the best, most marketable candidates.”
Leaving looks like a step up
Robert Byron, partner/manager of recruiter WinterWyman's IT search division, says the warning signs at your tech gig may be somewhat generic, like not being challenged or feeling like there’s no path to a promotion.
More specific signs include the company’s hesitation to spend on digital transformation, Byron says. “Or they’re spending on new technology, but you’re not put on projects and assignments to work with it. Staying and working on legacy technology while the tech world passes you by is career suicide.”
Moving on may provide new context on how major technology trends can be used in different environments, Byron says.
“There are pros and cons [to staying or going],” he says. “Candidates that stay in one position for a longer period of time are viewed as loyal and stable. But you can also be viewed as stagnant if you stay in the same position — using the same technology — over a long period of time.”
Dawn Graham, a psychologist and former recruiter, says you may open up new opportunities by jumping ship. You’ve made connections at your current job, and looking forward, there’s the chance to develop new ones — as well as tap their connections.
“The key to job security is constant growth and development, especially in a field like IT,” Graham says. “Another benefit of changing companies includes growing your network. Expanding connections ensures that you are always bringing fresh information and ideas into your work, which increases agility and marketability. While hopping jobs every year will be a red flag, staying in one company for too long could also cause concern for recruiters who worry about your ability to adapt. Hirers appreciate employees who are able to navigate successfully in diverse environments.”
It feels like a bad fit
A difficult boss can make your life miserable, but the IBM report found that only about 14 percent of those surveyed left their last gig because of management. Far more, 40 percent, left because they were unhappy with their jobs. And about 18 percent left due to organizational changes that led to a lot of uncertainty.
“There are many factors that might influence this decision and it often comes down to personal preference,” says Patrick Holder, talent acquisition manager at cloud consulting firm Candid Partners. As professionals, we spend a third of our lives — sometimes more — at work. Culture is a big factor in how we feel about everything from our contribution level to our interpersonal relationships on the job. Scanning frequently to ensure that the culture of the company meets your working style can impact your decision to stay or leave.”
You can’t remember why you took the job
Leon Adato, head geek at SolarWinds, says it’s time to make a change when it’s no longer clear why it seemed like your current job was attractive in the first place.
“Unless you find yourself constantly changing jobs because of something you did,” Adato says, “moving from one job to another shouldn’t cause you too much emotional upheaval. It happens. In IT, it happens quite frequently.”
According to the IBM report, unsurprisingly, “Millennials are most likely to be open to new job opportunities. Nearly one in five Millennials are currently looking for a new job and half are willing to consider a better opportunity even if they’re not actively looking. Millennials are 80 percent more likely than Baby Boomers to be open to new job opportunities, even if they’re not currently looking.”
Your company shows a lack of vision
Thomas Bradbury, founder and CEO of WorkplaceUX, says IT pros deserve to have a leader with vision, and if that’s not the case, it’s time to look elsewhere so that you can have more impact on colleagues and customers.
“Great IT leaders want to make a difference,” Bradbury says. “They realize that it’s not just about the technical solutions provided to customers or employees. It’s not just about uptime and security. It’s also the experience that users of their products and services have that allow the business to operate cleanly without friction. So IT leaders should seek organizations that understand this and don’t lead the agenda with cost savings or doing things that support the way things have been done in the past. Break those barriers down by showing the CEO that good ideas and solutions in a modern workplace almost always come with cost savings. But the agenda needs to start with good ideas, not savings. Great CEOs understand this.”
You’re stuck in the past
Working with legacy technology in some situations could be an opportunity — refactoring old code for example offers steady work for some firms — and it can lead to new opportunities. But if you’re just going through the motions, it’s a good idea to look around. Better to know the market than to suddenly need a job and have to ramp up your search on the fly.
“If you see that your job is increasingly repetitive and focusing on older company solutions and not changing significantly in its approach, it might be time for a change,” says James Stanger, chief technology evangelist for CompTIA. “Even worse, it might be time for your company to have made that decision for you.”
Keystone Associates’ Denaro says the mission is to stay employable — not just employed — if you want a long career in IT.
“IT folks should continually ‘audit’ their resume vs. the current job openings and find a way into roles that permit them to use the most current systems, languages and concepts,” Denaro says. “Tech folks are usually curious, continual learners anyway. If their current company allows that, then great. If not, then they have to take action.”
You’re not getting support
Your boss should be your greatest advocate, says Daniela Field, senior consultant at Mendix, and if you’re not on their radar — or you feel like your boss is a liability in your career — it may be time to go.
“If they’re not supportive or don’t provide the opportunity for growth, it’s a good idea to get them thinking about you,” Field says. “Always address any issues and ideas with the manager first. Is your manager supporting you and assisting in your growth? Are you progressing in your role? These are the kinds of questions you should ask yourself before thinking about finding a new job.”
Things are falling apart
Author and corporate coach Christy Whitman says that we’re all hard-wired to resist change, but in some cases, it’s actually in our best interest to make the jump, even if at first it seems daunting or uncomfortable.
“The consequences of not acknowledging a growing sense of restlessness, boredom or dissatisfaction from your work can send your enthusiasm for other areas of your life spiraling as well,” Whitman says. Signs that you may be ready — even if you are also a bit wary — for change include an increase in complaining, daydreaming about retirement or a better work environment, or the use of numbing or distracting strategies such as the use of alcohol or drugs. All of these are signs that something is amiss, and the sooner you give it your undiluted attention, the better off you’ll be.”