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How do you know when it's time to quit a job?

Stuck in a rut? Here’s what to consider when you’re thinking of exploring your options. (Yes, even during a pandemic.)

Jobs are like any other relationship. At first, it’s full of high hopes, excitement, new challenges, even mystery — a honeymoon period that’s often deeply fulfilling in more ways than one. (Uniquely to work, perhaps, is that you’re literally getting paid more.) Then, months or even years pass by, and we start getting the itch to pursue other roles.

Moving companies is the new way to climb the corporate ladder (employees stick around with a company for just four years on average) for job seekers, but deciding when to make a career change isn’t always clear-cut. Especially now, during a pandemic, when you may feel options are limited, and you’re just thankful to be receiving a steady paycheck.

The good news is LinkedIn is still abuzz with opportunities during the pandemic, and job openings are even picking up in some industries, so it may be possible to leave a job you hate behind. We spoke with four career experts who shed some light on signs it’s time to quit and how you can set yourself up to land a new position.

In this article:

Work-related stress is affecting your personal life

Experts agree that stress or anxiety from work bleeding over to other areas of your life is a tell-tale sign that it may be time to quit a job. When a stressful job affects all other areas of your life, that’s when you should start the job hunt for a new position. Experiencing headaches, eye twitches, ulcers, stress, anxiety, and even rage are red flags that a job may be taking a toll on your mental and physical health, according to David Wiacek, certified career coach, resume writer, and founder of Career Fixer.

That said, if you’re stressed at work or have a bad day here and there but generally like the company you work for, you might not need to throw the whole job away. Nadia Ibrahim-Taney, a university career coach based in Cincinnati, recommends first writing down parts of the job that are draining. Then consider bringing the list to your manager before turning in a resignation letter.

“There have been times in my career that I was on the verge of leaving a good job because there were too many elements of my job I hated doing,” said Ibrahim-Taney. Instead of quitting altogether, Ibrahim-Taney brought concerns up to the supervisor, and they were able to negotiate ways to redistribute those tasks across the team.

The work environment is toxic

If your job is rife with micromanagement, passive-aggressive behavior, poor communication, and high employee turnover, it could be time to run away—fast. “Toxic work environments don’t get fixed overnight even if leadership does change,” said Nicole Case, an HR professional turned career coach based in North Carolina. It can also take time to heal and regain confidence after working in a toxic environment (even a virtual one), so leaving sooner than later could be better for your mental health.

Unsure if your job is toxic? Listen to your gut. Your stomach might feel sick when you get emails from your boss. On Sundays, your heart might start racing around noon because another work week is about to start. Constantly dreading work could mean it’s time to start looking for a better opportunity.

You’re bored

If you like your manager and the company but feel increasingly frustrated with the work, you may be ready for a new challenge. “Most of us thrive in jobs that are continually challenging and allow us to learn and try new things,” said Jocelyn Clarke, an executive recruiter at Kirby Partners, a company that specializes in placing professionals in healthcare information technology and cybersecurity roles.

Before quitting, you could attempt to change roles or ask for new responsibilities. If you see no opportunity to grow (or you’re getting the urge to explore an entirely different career path), it could be time to move on.

You’re getting underpaid or passed up for promotions

Finding out a coworker earns more than you or that the salary you’re earning is lower than average can be disheartening. If you’re unable to negotiate a raise, being underpaid is a major reason to start exploring new jobs.

Continually getting passed up for promotions is another red flag that you and your employer are not on the same page. “If your employer doesn’t recognize your talent, or what you have to offer is no longer a great fit for your current organization, it’s time to move on,” said Clarke.

The company is in trouble

Finally, if the rumor mill is churning with gossip about potential hour cuts, layoffs, or mergers, that’s a clear signal to start looking. “Do not be the last person on a sinking ship,” Case warns. Ideally, you should try to stay in your role until you find another one.

That’s because job searching while still employed puts you in a better position to be selective. While you still have a reliable paycheck, there’s less pressure to jump on so-so offers because you’re worried about severance or unemployment running out.

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5 steps to take next if you want to look for a new job

Let’s say you read through each sign above, and you think it’s time to quit your job. The experts explained a few steps to take next:

1. Figure out what you want and make it known

Ibrahim-Taney recommends taking time to outline your ideal role and think about who in your network might be able to help you get it. Share with past coworkers, employers, and peers what position you’re looking for so they can notify you if anything should come up. When you build connections with people, job opportunities can appear organically.

2. Start your job search, but keep it quiet

Searching for a new role while working a full-time job can be tough, but maintaining employment and a steady paycheck can help you avoid having to choose a new job in desperation. Don’t quit your day job right away until you are certain that you’ve found a better job opportunity. If you don’t know how your employer would respond to news of your job search, Ibrahim-Taney said to keep plans to yourself until you have some offers to report.

3. Update your LinkedIn profile and set up alerts

Clarke recommends optimizing your profile so recruiters can find you. Also, set up automated job alerts, so you don’t miss out on an opportunity.

4. Come up with a job interview strategy

For job interviews that take place during working hours, make sure you have access to a private place to interview that’s not your car, according to Clark. And if you’re still working from home, just be sure you have a quiet, well-lit place where you won’t be interrupted.

5. Always negotiate, even during a pandemic

Negotiation is something that employers expect, said Case. Come to the negotiation table with research to back up the salary that you ask for, and know that you can negotiate other conditions beyond just your salary, such as paid time off, stock, and your job title.

How long should you expect a job search to take?

The length of time it will take to land a new job depends on your job skills, industry, and the overall job market. According to early 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average unemployment period for a typical unemployed person spans 26 weeks, and 53% of people are out of work for 15 weeks or more.

Ultimately, whether or not you decide to quit your job without a job lined up is a personal choice. But since it could take you several months before landing a new role, keeping your current job as long as possible might keep you in a more stable financial situation.

If after reviewing these signs your gut is telling you it’s time to go, consider refreshing your resume and putting out job feelers so you can land a new and better role.

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About Taylor Medine

Taylor Medine is a personal finance writer who's covered all things money for the last six years. Her work has appeared on Business InsiderCredit KarmaMSNUSA Today, and much more.

Read more by Taylor Medine

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

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