According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, younger baby boomers have held, on average, 11 jobs between ages 18 and 44. This same cohort has experienced, on average, 5.2 spells of unemployment. While the numbers for Millennials might adjust slightly up or down, this data drives home two simple facts:

  • Over the course of your lifetime, you will likely spend time unemployed.
  • Over the course of your lifetime, you are likely to switch jobs.

What does this mean? It means that there is no shame in switching jobs, and while it may seem scary, it’s a to-be-expected part of managing your career. There are lots of reasons that it might be time to switch jobs:

  • You have outgrown your current position and there is no place else to go. You have learned all there is to learn, and your job is so easy that it has become boring. In some organizations, there may be opportunities to advance – especially if you help identify and train someone to take your place AND have built a positive brand in your current role. But some organizations have specific roles that need to be filled, and need people in those jobs who enjoy what they are doing and do it enthusiastically. Maybe this isn’t you anymore.
  • You want to explore a new area of interest or develop a new skill. I once had an administrative assistant who wanted to be a photographer. While there were possibly one or two opportunities each year where she could put these skills to use, her primary job was to be my assistant and manage my schedule – two things she really didn’t want to do. It was a tough situation because there was no way we would both be happy. Guess whose happiness prevailed?
  • You want to make more money, move to a new city, or work different hours. If you want something that your current role simply can’t provide you, then it’s time to find a new adventure.
  • You no longer see eye to eye with your boss or your organization’s priorities. Maybe you have changed. Maybe your boss has changed. Maybe you both have. Either way, when you realize that there is a disconnect between what the organization needs and values and what you have to contribute, it’s often time for a change.

Even though all of the circumstances described above are extremely common and developmentally appropriate experiences at various points in your career, they might sneak up on you or take you by surprise. It’s easy to personalize any of these circumstances and feel like someone is doing them to you, eater than they are just happening.

When that happens, the experience might be much less pleasant. For example, you might just find that things aren’t going your way and you are increasingly frustrated at work. You are making people around you miserable. No matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to hit your stride. You aren’t interested or excited by the core functions of your job. Everyone around you is driving you crazy. Until you identify the core issue, the symptoms can be miserable.

The first step in all major life decisions is to take a long hard look in the mirror. Otherwise, the problems you have at your current job may follow you to your new one. So before you storm into your boss’ office and quit, you’d be wise to ask yourself a few questions: Are my expectations about this position – or any position – realistic? Are my expectations about my boss – or any boss – realistic? Am I asking her to be someone or something that she is not? Am I bringing my best self and attitude to this position? Are there skills that I could learn to make this job easier and more rewarding? Am I managing my personal brand?

If you have done all that you can do to change yourself (and only you will know when you’ve hit your limit), there are still some things to consider before jumping ship:

  • Is there a new position in the same organization? This is often easier within larger teams and organizations. If there are opportunities for advancement within an organization, this is always a good thing to pursue. Sometimes even a lateral change with a new manager can help refresh your energy and enthusiasm for the organization. Sometimes the answer is no, there are no opportunities for advancement in your time frame, but you will never know unless you ask.
  • Are these stressors/changes temporary or permanent? Everyone and every organization will have moments in time when things are tough, and aren’t performing at their best. If you run to the door every time you meet a challenging person or situation, you will be running to the door a lot. There’s something to be said for sticking it through long enough – and trying to troubleshoot – that will serve you well in your career.

If you have carefully and thoroughly answered these questions, then it’s time to change your job. There are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Start your job search before you need a new job. I know, this doesn’t make any sense. But basically what it means is that an important part of managing your long-term career is to cultivate a network of peers and managers – internally and externally – who view your professional skills in a positive way and might want to hire you someday. If you wait to activate your network until you are desperate to leave, it’s going to take longer to find a job – and hiring managers can smell desperation a mile away.
  • Think twice before quitting in a huff. Yes, looking for a job is something we will all have to do, but living without income by choice isn’t a wise move unless you have a trust fund. And even if you do have a trust fund, wouldn’t you want to save it for something fun like a vacation instead of rent? If you quit, you won’t qualify for unemployment assistance, and there will be a gap on your resume that you will have to explain. Plus you will more than likely burn bridges that don’t have to be burned. If you are leaving for the reasons above, most bosses understand – and will support you through – a move to a new organization. Rarely are jobs so terrible that you have to quit without having something else lined up in its place.
  • Keep your job search quiet until you have an offer. It’s hard to keep a secret, for sure, and you might feel like you owe your boss a sense of your timeline. But job searches can take a long time and lots of things could change in the meantime – maybe your boss quits, the priorities change, a position you like opens up in another department, or you decide you want to go back to school. If you let people know you are looking, you will also make yourself both a lame duck and a sitting duck. You’ll spend your time being shut out of decisions and new projects, or even worse, if there are layoffs or staff reductions, you will be first on the list – since you are looking anyway. So as awkward as it may seem, keep your plans to yourself until they are real. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t notify your managers and teams about expected transitions, like graduate school, until two weeks before you leave. It’s just to say that you ought to wait until you have a solid sense of your plans and a timeline.

If it’s time for you to find a new job, check out my dad’s website: He breaks down a lot of the myths about job search, and talks through some of the emotional challenges you may face during the process. He’s helped me become an expert in managing my own career, and I hope his books and website can help you too!