We spend far too much time teaching young adults how to get hired and not nearly enough time teaching them how to quit.
Be careful, we’re warned — people won’t hire you if they think you’re just going to turn around and quit in a year or two.
In reality, job-hopping is as much a part of the fabric of our 9-to-5 economy as rush hour commutes and 401(k)s. On average, American workers held more than a dozen jobs between the ages of 18 and 52, according to a by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a new job every 2 to 3 years.
These findings came from a massive study of nearly 10,000 Boomers. I would hazard a guess that millennials and Gen Z workers will make even more changes in their career. A 2.7% of American workers quit their jobs in April 2021 as the economy chugged back to life and companies eagerly sought to staff up.
For me, quitting jobs has been as important to my career development and wealth-building capacity as getting a college degree and opening my first brokerage account. By the time I was 30, I’d held half a dozen full-time jobs already.
As a Black woman who graduated in the wake of the Great Recession in 2009, I already had two strikes against my earnings potential that I had to face. Not only do Black women earn significantly less than white men on average but studies have shown that students like me who graduate into a recession than those who graduate during prosperous times. It could take for our salaries to catch up.
Within three years of starting my career in 2010, I moved jobs twice and doubled my income from $30,000 to $60,000. Three years and another two job moves later, I nearly tripled my income from $60,000 to $163,000.
And, finally, between 2017 and 2020, after switching jobs twice again, I took home a career high of $300,000 annually (including salary, vested stocks and bonuses). In six major job moves, I increased my earnings 10-fold.
My rules of thumb when it comes to quitting are simple. If a job is bad for my mental health, isn’t paying me what I feel I deserve, or no longer provides a career path that excites and challenges me, I start looking for my next opportunity.
Don’t leave money on the table if you can help it. If you’ve got an unvested 401(k) match or equity with your current firm, ask your next employer to grant you a sign-on bonus equivalent to the amount you’re leaving behind.
Market yourself. Spruce up your LinkedIn page and share samples of your work, so hiring managers and recruiters are more likely to consider you for open roles. The last three major career moves I made came when hiring managers personally reached out to me because they saw my work and liked it.
Keep your network fresh. Say yes to exploratory conversations with potential employers even if you’re perfectly happy in your current role. This helps you practice your interview skills and build your network while you’re employed, so you can leverage those assets when you’re ready for your next job.
Don’t let a sense of loyalty tie you to an employer. You have to put your career and financial goals first because the reality is that no one else will do it for you.
Quit with compassion. Turn in exceptional work up until your last day on the job. Leave your team in better shape than when you joined them when possible. Be kind to your colleagues. You never know when your paths might cross again.
When quitting can go wrong
As much as I’m in favor of quitting jobs to pursue higher pay, salary shouldn’t be the only factor driving you to your next gig. In fact, sometimes it’s worth it to take a pay cut if you see long-term growth potential with a firm or need to pivot into a new industry.
When you’re interviewing for a new role, remember you should be interviewing the company as well. Here are a few key things to ask and watch out for:
Can you speak to potential colleagues to see who you’ll work alongside?
Does the company culture seem like a good fit?
Do other people who look like you have high-ranking jobs?
Are there perks like flexible time off, equity grants, or remote working?
Do they have a career path outlined for your role?
Do they offer mentoring or education reimbursement?
Do they have a dedicated human resource officer who can help you navigate any potential conflicts down the line?
The answers to these questions can help you determine if it’s time to go — or stay.