Luís on the Keyboard

When should you leave your job?

It is unfortunate that among the many things you are taught during your career, people don’t usually talk about when you should leave your job.

For me, the decision to leave requires much more reflection than the actual choice of where to go: it is, after all, what triggers everything, the one action which precipitates the closing of a cycle.

Is it the right moment to finish that cycle? Have I really reached the global maxima of what I can do in my current job?

I have come up with two questions[1] one needs to keep present at all times to help make this decision:

1. Have you achieved what you wanted to achieve in your current job, in the time frame you expected?

This question implies that there is a set of things you want to achieve in your current job. Perhaps you want to reach a certain amount of salary, or you want to get a certain set of skills or work in a team with specific people that you can learn from.

If you don’t know what you want from your job, then you may have to start there.

Otherwise, think also of your time frame: has too much time passed? Have you stagnated and see no signs of progress? How much time did you give yourself to reach your objectives?

Be especially deliberate about tracking time, as time is the only resource constantly running out.

If the answer above is yes, then think about your next career objectives: can you still reach them in your current job? If no it’s probably time to leave.

If, however, time has passed and you have not achieved your goals then it may be time to go search for something new. You should never stagnate and not be improving and since you only have one career to live, it’s important to be decisive.

2. Have you been offered a job in one of your dream workplaces or with the next role you wanted for your career?

Once again, this assumes that there are some places out there where you know you would love to work. Perhaps it’s a hip new startup or a big company or maybe it’s working for the United Nations… You might not be applying to these jobs right now but if they would call you, you would pick up the phone.

In this case, it is a matter of opportunity cost – if you know you want to work in one of these places and you get a call, then you should definitely take it and hear what these people have to offer you. It is, after all, a place where you want to work.

The same reasoning applies when it’s about the role – if you know your next job should include a career change (maybe you’re a tester who wants to be a developer or you’re a dev who wants to be a manager) and you get offered that career change, then don’t let it go – especially if you see that there is no option for that change in your current job.

It’s once again about balancing opportunity cost.

What do your next steps look like?

The two questions above imply that you have spent some time thinking about you and your career, and have a clear idea of what you want to do with your life and what your next steps look like.

And this is a very important distinction: you don’t need to know what the next steps are – you just need to know what they look like[2]. That is enough to derive the answers to the two questions above.

So how is it for me? My next steps, at this point in my career, look like this:

  • I want my next job to have the responsibilities of a Tech Lead or similar role, where I can manage a team, processes and architecture;
  • However, if there would be an oportunity to work with Haskell in a Functional Programming environment, I could consider another purely developer job;
  • I can wait a half a year for any of this to come up in my current workplace, but wouldn’t like to wait much more than that;
  • If Google, Amazon or Microsoft Research would call me, I would definitely pick up the phone.

These are constraints which are specific enough to narrow down the search but not so specific that make it impossible to find a solution.


[1]- Excluding reasons of force majeure like your company is about to collapse or your line manager is not treating you fairly or you want to move to another country. Nevertheless, even these triggers require keeping the above two questions in our minds at all times, if not for deciding when to leave the current job, to decide when to leave the next job.

[2]- Planning and thinking of your next steps has a very bad reputation. Most people will say that it’s not possible to plan your career ahead because you can’t know exactly where you’ll end up next. But here is the correct distinction needed to think about this topic: you’re looking for what your next job looks like. You’re looking for characteristics, patterns, responsibilities, constraints, properties or your next job. And the trick is in ensuring these constraints or properties are open enough, so that you can have many options, but not so open that any job will do.