Career and Jobs

Is It Time To Quit Your Job?

In a recent Blondie cartoon, Dagwood Bumstead is complimented by his boss, who says, “You’ve got a job at JC Dithers & Co. for life.” Dagwood gets a panicked look on his face, thinking, “A job at JC Dithers & Co. for life?”

Many people stay at jobs they don’t really want to do for life, but inertia keeps them there.

Quitting one’s job without another job lined up is a risky strategy, but sometimes the right one. Now is a good time to do this, but success is more likely for those who plan ahead and implement the strategy thoughtfully.

Most people stay in their current job when looking for a new position, but that has a major disadvantage: complacency. The average person with a job will not put in as much effort looking for a new job as the person who is unemployed. Speaking from personal experience, when I held a job that I knew I should leave, I made a half-hearted effort at finding another position. But when my boss gave me notice, I really got into gear. And I once advised a relative not to quit a bad job but to keep looking for a new opportunity while employed. He quit anyway and had a new, higher-paying job in less than two weeks. Sometimes quitting is the right strategy.

And this is as good a time—for some people, but not all—to quit a job. The national rate of voluntary quits had been rising before the Covid-19 pandemic sent it tumbling, but now quits have rebounded. The overall unemployment rate was a very low 3.5% back in February. Some businesses had to downsize or shut down completely, but most companies kept people working. The pandemic also reduced the labor supply, as some people left jobs out of fear of infection or to care for children or other family members. Retirements are up and immigration is down.

For most occupations, good workers are still in short supply. That’s not true for waiters, cooks and hotel staff, of course. But a big part of the economy still sees a tight labor market. For example, the finance sector’s unemployment rate is just 3.8% as of October 2020, and that’s a very broad brush that includes bank tellers as well as investment deal makers. People in professional and related occupations were unemployed at only a 3.3% rate recently. The official data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show only broad categories. A specific person may find conditions more favorable or less.

A person considering changing jobs can ponder conditions by occupation and by industry. An occupation is a type of work, such as accounting or nursing. Some occupations can occur in many different industries. An industry, such as manufacturing or healthcare, can employ people in different occupations. Workers considering a job change should consider their occupation, and maybe the industry if their knowledge is specific to that sector. Drilling down further, employees should think about their particular skills (such as Java programming or collecting accounts receivable), their particular talents (dealing with customers or attention to detail) and their own interests. At this level of specificity, official statistics are too broad to be helpful.

Before quitting a job to look for another, then, a person can reach out for more specific information. This will look a lot like a job search, but it’s actually easier. The possible job-quitter checks out the market by connecting with people with knowledge of specific occupations or specific industries. LinkedIn is the best tool in many cases, but other social media sites may be helpful. The information searcher begins with known connections at first, reaching out for phone or video meetings. The goal of conversations is to gather knowledge of the job market for the person’s specific skills. As part of the discussion, the person’s experience and abilities come up. Although the goal of this stage is to assess potential opportunities, the conversations may very well turn up current opportunities. That’s great when it happens, making life a lot easier. But even if no specific job openings are discovered, the exercise provides the information needed to make a wise decision about a big risk.

The actual quit should be done politely. Despite common fantasies of telling one’s boss to take this job and shove it, that boss may be a job reference. Even if the quitting worker does not intend to use the boss as a reference, some other prospective employer may find the boss and reach out for a conversation.

Those who do quit might want to take a vacation before gearing up for substantive job search. Then they should plan on spending at least 30 hours a week on the effort. Their first priority will be calls to those they previously talked to about job prospects. In addition to alerting these people to the person’s actual decision to quit, further contacts are solicited. If every contact provides two more names to call, then the job search will expand just like an epidemic, though with happier results.

Quitting a job takes guts, and it may not always work out. Those most successful with this strategy will have thought out an entire job search, not just found one or two hopeful leads. And the most successful ones will have struck when the time is right. For many jobs, the best time to quit is right now.

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