When to Stay at or Leave a Job

When should you start considering leaving your current job and start looking for a new job? Generally, you should—if possible—begin to seek greener pastures when your current job stops offering new intellectual, managerial and financial opportunities, and/or fails to provide a respectful/dignified work environment—and probably won’t do so in the foreseeable future.

However, during my many years as a fed, I have known many intelligent, energetic and accomplished professionals who—almost resembling victims of the Stockholm syndrome—passively stayed at their jobs for many years after their positions had become hopelessly unrewarding or unpleasant, without attempting to seek new opportunities. Why?  In many cases, because they were afraid of change.

But to keep advancing, your fear of not achieving your potential must exceed your fear of change. If your fear of change or anything else, is inhibiting you from attempting to climb the career ladder, consider discussing your fears with your trusted advisers, reading relevant self-help books or seeking professional help.  After all, if you don’t wrestle your crippling fears to the ground, they may very well wrestle you to the ground.

And if you expect a troubled work environment to spontaneously improve when its problems are not even being addressed by management, ask yourself whether your expectations are realistic. In my experience, problems rarely fix themselves.

Another factor: About 50 percent of marriages end in divorce—even though most marriages are presumably founded on love. But most employer/employee relationships are founded on much less than love, and are therefore likely to eventually end in “work divorces.”

But if the main source of your job dissatisfaction is a bad relationship with just one person—your boss—consider this: You may, under some circumstances, be able to—by good fortune or intent—escape your boss, and thereafter quickly rehabilitate your reputation throughout your organization.

You may, for example, be able to liberate yourself from your boss simply by outlasting him at your agency. This possibility may be potentially likely if your boss is a political appointee—many of whom stay in their positions for only several years.  Also, consider whether your boss might be privately planning to imminently retire.

What’s more, I’ve known many federal managers who appeared to be steadfastly devoted to their positions but one day, seemingly out of the blue, announced their departures for new jobs. So, unless you have incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, don’t necessarily assume that your boss will remain a permanent fixture in your office.

Another option: If you know of a short-staffed supervisor who is managing interesting projects, take the initiative to make an appointment with him to discuss with him your potential for filling his staff’s gaps through a detail assignment. If successful, such details sometimes lead to permanent positions.  Another option: a lateral transfer.

Alternatively, if you opt for a full-fledged job search, here are some tips:

  1. If you don’t want to use your current boss as a reference, respond to reference requests from interviewers by explaining that you don’t want your current boss to know about your job search; reasonable interviewers will understand your desire for confidentiality. But instead, use current and/or former colleagues and supervisors as references.
  2. If you recently received an unfavorable performance evaluation that you fear will sabotage your federal job applications, take heart: many federal job applications don’t require submission of recent annual evaluations. In addition, because of the subjective nature of evaluations and the differing grading standards among agencies, many federal hiring managers don’t even consider performance evaluations when they are required. Also, if you are currently contesting your most recent evaluation through formal channels, then it has not been official finalized. Therefore, under such circumstances, you may submit your previous evaluation to applications that require your most recent evaluation and still stay within the rules.
  3. Excepted service agencies generally pay better than competitive service agencies. So if you switch from a competitive service agency to an exceptive service agency, you may significantly boost your salary.

By Lily Whiteman — author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job; consulting career coach; and seminar leader

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