How to know when it's time to find a new IT job

At a crossroads in your career? Ask yourself these five critical questions to determine if you should stay in your current position or move along
497 readers like this.
it jobs

Should you stay or should you go? If you work in IT, you’ve grappled with this question at some point in your career.

Among all industry sectors, technology (software, not hardware) companies had the highest turnover rate in 2017 at 13.2 percent overall, according to LinkedIn data. (Retail ranks second, at 13 percent.) Within the software companies, the turnover rate climbs to more than 20 percent for user experience designers, data analysts, and embedded software engineers. About half of those departing employees took another job in IT, according to LinkedIn's data.

In a sector known for talent poaching and eager recruiters, increasingly competitive salaries and benefits, and emerging skills that are in high demand but low supply, IT career hopping is common practice.

But that doesn’t mean the decision to leave an IT job proves easy or straightforward. No matter the stage of your career, you'll find risks and rewards associated with changing jobs.

[ Which of today's IT roles are vanishing? Read  4 dying IT jobs. ]

If you find yourself at this critical crossroads, ask yourself the following questions. The answers could help make your decision to leave the clear choice. Or they could help you find new meaning and sources of untapped opportunity should you decide to stay where you are.

1. Do I have freedom to experiment?

The concepts of failing fast, minimum viable product, and rapid prototyping have transformed the culture of IT in recent years, and forward-thinking organizations are embracing experimentation like never before. How do you know if you are in one of these organizations? Consider how much of your time is dedicated to “play,” says Viktor Farcic, senior consultant at CloudBees.

“Most of us become engineers because we like to play with new technologies,” says Farcic. “That not only increases knowledge and experience but also makes us happy. It may also lead to an ‘aha moment’ that returns value to your company because you discover a better way of doing something.”

If you find that you are not getting as much play time as you’d like, or you are in an organization that shuns failure rather than celebrates it, that may be a good reason to move on.

2. What are my priorities?

It’s uncommon to achieve everything you want in your career from one job or even one company. When considering a change, think about what’s important to you right now and make a list of priorities, suggests Kitty Brandtner, director of major accounts at recruiting company LaSalle Network. For example, are you looking for a higher salary, the chance to make a meaningful business impact, or do you want to see through an implementation from start to finish?

“If a tech professional’s only criteria in switching jobs is a higher salary or a more prestigious title, that may benefit them in the short-term, but probably won’t allow them to achieve long-term job satisfaction and happiness if that higher salary or title doesn't also expose them to new technologies or programs,” says Brandtner.

“Another reason employees leave is to learn a new language or have access to cutting-edge tools their current company cannot provide or chooses not to invest in. In this instance, it's smart to look elsewhere in order to gain new experience and grow your career,” she adds.

3. Am I increasing my value?

"Nobody wants to be a principal engineer with skills that are valued as junior in other companies."

When it comes to your career, be selfish, Farcic advises. If you are not building competitive skills and experiences in your current role, move on before it hurts you in the long run. Farcic says, “You should ask yourself a simple question: ‘If I stay here, will my value on the market increase?’

The answer boils down to your company's ability to follow the trends and give you demanding tasks that will serve to improve your skills and knowledge, says Farcic. “If that is not happening, you might end up with twenty years of ‘repeated’ experience. That is not the same as twenty years of ‘real’ experience,” he warns.

“Nobody wants to be a principal engineer with skills that are valued as junior in other companies. Unfortunately, that happens a lot. People get fired, and companies go under. Trying to find a new job and saying ‘I have many years of experience with DB2’ does not land you a good position.” 

4. Will my job be automated?

Wondering if robots will come for your job? It may be a valid concern, especially if you spend the majority of your time at work doing repetitive or manual tasks.

“In this IT world of ever-changing technologies, automation is gaining unprecedented popularity. If you are in a job that involves a lot of manual testing, you either know your job will be phased out one day in the not-so-distant future or you are in serious denial,” says Meera Rao, senior principal consultant with Synopsys Software Integrity Group.

“If your company is moving towards more automation, you need to get up to speed, gain additional skill sets, and upgrade yourself to meet these new challenges. Otherwise, you will be left behind,” she adds.

[ CIO Cynthia Stoddard discusses her team's experience with automation and job loss worries. See our related story, Adobe CIO: How IT automation became a team eye-opener. ]

On the other hand, Rao notes, if you are up to speed on automation, but you’re working for a company that’s falling behind, you should start to look around, because these skills are valuable. “Once you find the right fit, the sky’s the limit to achieve your career goals,” she says.

5. How could I grow if I stay?

Sometimes deciding to stay in your current role is the harder choice. If you are experiencing friction or feeling stalled, throwing in the towel and starting over can be more appealing. But overcoming the obstacles in your current job can pay off greatly.

“A person’s natural fear of failing often allows them to miss opportunities to learn new things,” says Daniel VanBeek, director of operations at Itential. “New opportunities are rarely presented with a shiny bow and polite encouragement to learn something new. Instead, new opportunities to achieve career goals and tap into your ultimate potential are provided in amorphous requests to solve a problem that has never been solved before. It’s risky; it’s scary, and most people do not realize that your current job is trusting you to solve a critical business issue. That is when you grow your skills.”

Brandtner adds, “Before looking for a new job, have an honest conversation with your employer about where you see your career going and ask if there are ways to advance and grow in your current position. Companies everywhere are having a hard time attracting and retaining tech talent, so they may be more willing to invest in new tools or programs in order to retain you.”

[ What IT roles are employers hiring remote workers to fill? Read our related article: 6 top work-from-home jobs for IT professionals. ]

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.