Two men having a heated conversation

The best time to quit your job

Peter Harris|

I was doing a television interview recently about how you can tell that a job is going to suck worse than being unemployed. I think in reference to an older article of mine, Six signs that you’re in the wrong job, the host asked me when was the best time for someone to quit their job. I said, “When you’ve already lined up your next one.” This earned a polite chuckle, as the host (generously) assumed I was attempting at humour.

But I was being serious.

Sometimes you really have to leave your job. If you’re not making enough money to survive, your company is doomed, or your work life is making you so miserable that you dread getting out of bed in the morning, it’s time to move on. But it’s safer and smarter to find a new job before quitting your current one.

You’ll have a better chance being hired while you’re working, as some employers view candidates with jobs as being more valuable than unemployed job seekers. Also, you’ll be in a position to make a smarter move. If you’re currently in a job that you don’t like, you’ll be motivated to seek out new opportunities, but you’ll also still have a paycheque coming in. Once you’ve quit your job, the financial pressures can force you to take anything that comes along, rather than making a strategic move.

There’s no point in leaving one dead-end situation for another. So hanging on to the job that you want to leave long enough to replace it gives you the luxury of choice. It also puts you in a better negotiating position with future employers. They know they have to offer more to woo a currently employed worker away from another company than they might have to offer someone who is unemployed.

Just don’t fall into the trap. Looking for jobs is sometimes a drag. Not hearing back from applications, or being turned down after interviews can take their toll on your confidence. The trap is to give up and to stay in the unhealthy or unhappy situation too long just because of the safety of that paycheque.

I’m reminded of a guy I worked with while I was in university. It was in Quebec’s Eastern Townships and work was scarce. I took a full-time job on an assembly line in a glove factory overnight (while attending class by day.) This was incredibly dull, routine, monotonous work. The guy on the line next to me could see that I was a little dismayed at the boredom of these eight hour shifts. To offer some encouragement, he said, “Don’t worry. I’ve been here twelve years, and they pass by fast.”

I said, “But that’s your life that’s passing fast.”

That’s the trap. Just getting through the long dull shifts unfulfilled, while watching the years fly by.

The Canadian job market is improving. Last week’s Statistics Canada job vacancy report says that competition for jobs is dropping: there are now 5.8 unemployed people for every job vacancy, down from 6.3 one year ago. One third of Canadian employers say that they are having difficulties finding the people they need to hire.

So it’s looking like making a successful career move may be getting easier. Your career is too important to your quality of life to choose passivity over passion. So if you’re not in a job that you can feel proud of, where you can grow and expand your skills, and be appreciated for your contributions, it’s time to start looking.

You just may want to hang on to your current position while you do.

- Peter Harris

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