Six Signs You May Be In A Dead-End Job

This is a guest post by Jorg Stegemann, who has been a headhunter for more than 10 years-half that time focusing on Europe. His blog is My Job Thoughts: Career Advice From a Headhunter. His last article for FORBES was “Seven Things A Headhunter Won’t Tell You.”

With the unemployment rate hovering at around 8%, you’re lucky to have a job-right? Yes, but. . .

In this environment, many people hang onto a not-so-good thing, even once their careers are at a standstill. Though no one wants to be known as a quitter, sticking to a job that hinders you can sometimes be worse than leaving.

Parting ways with a company isn’t easy, and neither is starting a new job. (See Seattle lawyer Wendy Goffe’s post, “How To Quit Your Job Without Burning Your Bridges.”) You have to prove yourself, get to know the players and learn the ins and outs of a new workplace all over again. Still, there are times when it’s better to go than to stay. Here are some factors to weigh in making that difficult decision.

1. The job cycle has run its course. Often our feelings about a job move through seven phases: 1) the honeymoon; 2) reality catches up; 3) learning the ropes; 4) mastering the job and achieving solid results; 5) the first question marks; 6) demotivation; and 7) burn-out. Which phase are you currently in? Do you feel energized when you think of your job or worn out? Do you fight or have you given up? Do not wait until phase six. Beware of early warning signs, like feeling tired even before arriving at the office, or getting upset about minor things. Ideally, you will quit in phase four or five, and be remembered as an admired manager and colleague. For more about this, see my post, “Is Your Job Honeymoon Over?”

2. Change helps us grow. The “life” of a job is usually 3 to 5 years. Keeping the same job for longer than that could be associated with low potential or ambition. This does not mean that you have to leave your company every three years, but you should make sure your job content changes regularly to keep moving and stay attractive for the job market. That said, even if you have been promoted I recommend staying no longer than 15 years at the same company. Anything longer than that raises questions about your adaptability to a new organization. You might not even make it to an interview somewhere else.

3. Your boss is giving you the big chill. Does your boss treat you differently in any respect? More feedback in writing could mean the company is gearing up to fire you. The same goes for sudden comments that your contribution is “not sufficient.” If your supervisor has become short-tempered, avoids you or assigns projects you used to run to other team members, ask yourself whether you have become complacent about work or your productivity has slipped. Get a reality check from a co-worker or mentor whom you can trust to keep your conversation confidential. Sometimes you’re dealing with a supervisor who is on the hot seat or having personal problems (see “How to Manage a Micromanager”). But without seeing ghosts, don’t ignore early warning signals that you are in the dog house. Before your worst fears come true, it’s better to make a move.

4. Your industry is in turmoil. Be attentive to how your industry and your competitors are doing. News that other companies in the same industry are “tightening the belt” or “enhancing synergies,” may be a sign that your company is less stable than you assume. What’s happening to the human capital: do the good people stay on board or go away? If key-players are leaving a competitor or your own company, find out why. (Usually, the best people leave first.) Without a quick turn-around, brain drain spells the beginning of the end. It might be time to consider a career change. (See FORBES contributor Kerry Hannon’s post, “What’s Next? Ten Tips for Career Changers.”)

5. Company profits are down (or non-existent). Watch out for your firm’s positioning and finances; the strategic importance of the division you work in; and the internal standing of your boss. Is your company able to pay the salaries and the rent? Is your service or product well positioned to face future challenges? Does your boss help you grow? Analyze your firm and management, just as they evaluate you in an annual review. Leave a company that doesn’t measure up.

6. There’s nothing in it for you. Daniel H. Pink, author of the book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Riverhead Books 2009), writes that true motivation comes from autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Will your current job help you to reach your mid- to long-term professional goals or will it hinder you? Are you personally satisfied with your contribution, or is it “just a job?” Manage your career just like you manage a profit center. There are many ways to the top. If you are on a dead-end street, accept it and chart another path.

Words to the wise if you decide it’s time to move on: don’t quit a position until you find the next one. Be discreet in your job search. And don’t check out until you turn off the lights for the last time. Your reputation and job experience go with you. People will remember the colleague who stayed loyal and committed until the very last day of work.

Also On Forbes

Is It Better To Quit Or Get Fired?

How To Turn A Job You Hate Into A Job You Love

How To Quit Your Job Without Burning Your Bridges

How To Make Money Without A Job