When Is A Good Time To Move On In Your Career and Change Jobs?

By Oxana Bristowe

I have just finished reading an excellent book written by Lester Korn - the legendary headhunter and founder of one of the top global executive search firms KornFerry International. In ”The Success Profile” Mr. Korn addresses how to manage a successful executive career - and he pays a lot of attention to the issue of when is a good time to move on and change jobs. I think this is a very important topic for many corporate managers, especially those who have spent a considerable number of years with one employer. As a headhunter and also a career coach I hear comments from some senior executives, who have built very successful careers, that they now wish they had been more deliberate about actively managing their careers and that they now regret that they did not take more risks or make a career move earlier.

I want to explore the subject in this article by combining some key points from Mr. Korn’s book with my own observations and thoughts on the topic. 

In the chapter relating to changing jobs, he says:

“Every day that you get up and go to work, you have another option: you can quit and go somewhere else. Many people forget this”.

I think this is so true. We get into a pattern and we forget that we actually have a choice. If you are happy in your job and it fulfils all your needs that is great news for you, as long as it is a conscious decision and you have thought it through.

But what if your current job situation is not ideal? 

I often hear from my clients that they are comfortable in their jobs. They say they could stay in their current jobs for an indefinite period of time. But at the same time there is, at the back of their mind, a nagging feeling that maybe - just maybe - they are missing out on something. When we explore deeper what causes this feeling, people start to share with me that they are not growing, there is no promotion in sight, they are not learning, they are not being given more responsibilities, that their bosses take credit for their great work, that they are fed up with the dysfunctional and inefficient ways in which their companies are managed, that they are bored, that they feel as if they are somehow imposters, that they lack energy, that they feel unappreciated and that they have been experiencing some sort of deterioration in their physical health. These concerns are real, but they have not become articulated until the coaching sessions start to address deep issues and unexpressed concerns. 

Maybe some of this resonates with you? If so, I believe that you need to take positive action, including considering moving on from your job.

Very many people have created golden handcuffs for themselves which don’t allow for real happiness in their work and their lives. 

I am not in the business of encouraging people to quit their jobs and change their employer. Job-hopping reflects negatively on one’s resume and as a headhunter I always pay particular attention to how many times the candidates whom I am assessing for senior executive roles have changed employers and the rationale for such changes. Changes of job under the same employer - a development move, an overseas assignment, a promotion - are quite different. Job-hopping between employers without good explanation really does not look good and will negatively impact your opportunities.

So what are good reasons to change your job?

“The right reason to change jobs is to gain a sizeable increase in growth opportunities and responsibilities”, says Lester Korn.

And he adds:

“The worst reason to change jobs is money”.

He wrote that in the 1980s and it remains true today. I have been fortunate to have an “inside view” from many very successful executives and senior managers. What stands out for me is that these successful people gave sufficient thought to where they wanted to go and what they needed to accomplish in order to get there. In other words they changed jobs because they were seeking new challenges, more responsibilities and growth opportunities to learn new skills. They had clarity about how each job fitted in with a bigger picture of what they wanted to achieve, long-term, in their careers.

Another good reason to change your job is if you feel that you are stagnating in your current job and feel demoralised. This can happen because your perception - which needs to be supported by solid facts - is that your company is not managing performance, promotion and compensation as well as you think it should. Or if people with your experience, education and skill-set are not the ones who get the best opportunities. 

The third good reason to change jobs is if you are in a declining industry. People who are successful in their careers constantly monitor not only the performance of their company in relation to its competitors but they also keep a watchful eye on broader economic and business trends. This is especially relevant in the “internet era” where technology, social and geopolitical trends may bring down entire industries or force them to dramatically change. It is crucial to be familiar with these trends and analyse how they might impact your career. Changing industries is the hardest of all job changes - but approached in the right way it can open up new opportunities for learning and growth and ultimately for achieving your career goals. We are living through a period of disruption in every industry which presents both challenges and opportunities. Inter-industry job changes are going to become more frequent though they have to be logical and make sense from a career perspective. Longer working lives give new opportunities to change industries and careers.

The fourth reason I want to mention is when someone changes jobs from a specialist position into general management. People who aspire to be successful senior executives need opportunities “where they can learn profit-centre responsibility and to build a track record of putting dollars on the bottom line” as Lester Korn describes it. The fundamental difference between management and specialist positions is that people in management positions make money for the company whereas people in specialist positions spend money. That isn’t to say that both are not necessary. But if you are in a specialist job in finance, accounting, public relations, law, personnel or engineering etc. and you are dreaming about getting to the top of the corporate ladder, you need to seek jobs that will give you line management experience. Most people begin their careers and advance in specialist functions within corporate organisations. However, once you start to approach the top of your specialist area the opportunities to progress further become limited. Seeking line management roles at the right time in your career, building upon your functional skills and experience is a good reason to change jobs. 

And the fifth reason for changing jobs can be a very strong one - the desire to be your own boss and set up your own company. Some great entrepreneurs have never done a single day’s work for anyone else, except of course for their customers. But others have gained valuable experience in salaried employment, especially in organisations with strong values and training. Going it alone or with a partner can be a great alternative, bringing with it all kinds of opportunities and challenges, direct experience of functions which were dealt with by some other part of your organisation, real hands-on, bottom-line management experience, personal and professional growth opportunities and the potential for financial and non-financial rewards and satisfaction. It’s not for everyone but a possible option.

Making the right decision

I keep saying in my articles on career success that brilliant careers do not happen by accident or by luck. It takes effort, pragmatic analysis and approach, taking risks, being honest with yourself and not being afraid to discuss your career situation and desire for a promotion, recognition and more responsibilities with your bosses. 

Before you make a decision to change jobs outside your current company, I say - explore every possibility of satisfying your career development and emotional needs within your current company. If you have been feeling for some time that you career is not going too well, and you find it hard to figure out on your own how to move forward, seek out the help of people you trust and respect - such as mentors, coaches or successful executives. Once you have a clear picture of what are your blockages and what are your choices, you can then focus on one or two of them and design a plan for change. 

I will add my voice to those of the great headhunters who have all said the same thing: do not quit your job before you have a good plan about your next job and you are putting your plan into action. Securing your next job before you hand in your resignation is always best, if at all possible. The best plan to find a new job is to already have a job, so that you can choose what’s best without the pressure of having to take something in order to pay the mortgage or to avoid a gap in your career history. 

Become the captain of your ship

Successful careers are the result of making good choices. Do not be a cork in the ocean with no say in what happens to your career. Ultimately, you are responsible for your success. So be the captain of your ship and the master of your life!

If you are at a crossroads in your career and would like to get independent advice on how to manage your own career to meet your needs and desires, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. My mission is to empower as many people as I can to transform their careers and live a happy and fulfilling life. To book your free 45 minutes Consultation Call with Oxana Bristowe please email us -