It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon: The sun is out and it’s perfect picnic weather, or maybe you’re curled up on the couch watching your favorite TV show. Either way, you’re happy—until you remember that tomorrow, you have to go back to work.
That dreaded feeling that comes over you every Sunday can be a tell-tale sign that it’s time to find a new job, says career coach Joan Runnheim Olson. But before making a major life change, take a step back to reflect on whether you’ve noticed other signs that it may be time to start looking.
Your skills aren’t being utilized
You know the skills you bring to the table—after all, articulating those skills well is how you got the job. But have you started to feel as though they’re not being fully utilized?
Try this exercise to see where you stand:
- Take a few minutes to create a bulleted list of the skills you thought you’d be using when you accepted the position.
Pro Tip: If you do this when you start a new job, it’s a great way to track your expectations from the beginning.
- Next, jot down the skills that the job actually entails and compare the two lists.
- Finally, spend some time thinking about how you feel about the discrepancies. If you feel dissatisfied, this may be a sign that it’s time to consider looking for a job that’s a better fit for your skill set.
You’re not feeling challenged or stretched
The right job won’t just use the skills you have; it will stretch your current skills or help you develop new ones. Runnheim Olson, who’s served as a career expert for CareerBuilder and Monster in addition to managing her own career coaching company, encourages you to ask yourself: “When was the last time I had a project or task that forced me out of my comfort zone? A project where I had to take some risks or practice a new skill, such as fundraising or public speaking?”
If none of this sounds familiar, it could be a sign that you’ve hit a ceiling in your position and done all you can do, Runnheim Olson says.
It’s been a long time since you had a bright spot
Another reflection question for you: When was the last time you felt genuinely excited about something you were doing at work?
“Whatever and whenever it was, this was a moment you felt like you were doing your best work and you had found your sweet spot,” she writes. The examples she gives are:
- A project you were working on that made you feel really accomplished
- A meeting where you were brainstorming ideas and got excited by the process
- A report, memo, or paper you put together that you enjoyed writing
- An event you were running or in charge of that you totally owned
- A client meeting where you closed a sale or got a donation
If it has been a long time—think six months or more—since you felt a bright spot at work, it may be time to move on. And the good news, Lamia adds, is that remembering what made that moment so bright can help you find the right fit in your next job.
Pro Tip: When you feel a bright spot at work, write it down in a journal (or email it to yourself) so you can reference it later. That will make it easier to recall your bright spots when you’re looking for inspiration or trying to figure out just how long it’s been since you felt truly engaged at work.
You’re emotionally exhausted
One thing Lamia says she frequently sees in clients who do direct service work is emotional exhaustion. You may be working directly with people who are affected by poverty, homelessness, or the criminal justice or immigration system, and as much as you care about the cause, it’s draining you.
Sometimes the solution is practicing better self-care. But if you’ve tried these strategies with little success, you may want to find a job where you can still make an impact with less emotional involvement.
You’re not getting along with your boss
This is a big one because it can impact your day-to-day work and your long-term prospects at the job. Runnheim Olson suggests looking for the following signs that could indicate your boss is unhappy with you or your work:
- You’re not being included in meetings that involve your job duties
- You’re not being selected for work on special projects that you used to be involved in
- You’ve had insignificant pay raises
- You’ve had a negative performance review
Be careful not to read too much into any one of these signs. If you’re not being included in meetings or assigned projects that you used to receive, is that because your role is shifting and your boss is pulling you into other areas instead? And if your organization is going through a budget crisis, raises may be down across the board, so be sure to consider your situation on the macro level, too.
The only one of these signs that may not have another explanation is a negative performance review. If that happens to you, take your supervisor’s feedback seriously and correct the issues identified in the review so you can get back on track.
If one of these explanations doesn’t ring true, you’re seeing a combination of these signs, or you’ve seen other significant changes in your relationship with your boss that are affecting your ability to do your job well, you may need to get out of there.
And don’t sit on this one: When you first start noticing something is off, ask your boss about it, Runnheim Olson advises. The longer you wait to address it, the more time your relationship will have to erode, making it harder to recover.
If you have regular check-ins with your boss, add an agenda item to request feedback. Be specific, and let your boss know that you’re looking for her input on areas where you can grow and improve. If she doesn’t mention specifics, try to probe on the things you’ve noticed, using relatively neutral language, such as: “I’ve noticed that I haven’t been included in the recent meetings about X, which used to fall in my job responsibilities. Should I be concerned that this project seems to be moving forward without me?”
Pro Tip: Since this can be a touchy subject for all parties, rehearse what you're going to say with a friend before you sit down for the big meeting. This way, you can be sure that you're not coming across as aggressive or defensive.
Simply state what you’ve noticed without making any accusations or assigning motives. If you don’t have a regular check-in with your boss, schedule time with her to have the conversation. This should be an intentional conversation, not something you casually bring up by popping into her office one afternoon.
If you decide it’s time to move on
If you’re experiencing one or more of these signs and you’re not able to make a tweak on your own, do these two things before you move on to the next job:
- Stay engaged at work. Sure, it’s easier to check out. But maintaining or increasing your level of engagement will help you cope in the short term and could help you land a better job in the long term. “People want to hire other people who are dynamic, engaged, and proactive about their own impact and development,” Lamia says. So if you can identify what you liked about your last bright spot, go to your boss and ask for more of that kind of work.
- Get clear about what you need in your next job. Pinpoint what you like and don’t like about your current job, and keep that in mind as you search for the next one. Getting this clarity will ensure “that you’re taking the right steps and not repeating the same mistake,” says Runnheim Olson.
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