For years I have said that the person who gets ahead isn’t always the smartest or the one who works the hardest — although those are great qualities to have. The person who gets ahead is the one who remains alert to opportunity. Sometimes those are internal to your organization. Sometimes they are external. Sometimes getting ahead means being the person who is willing to do things that others are not.
The person who avoids professional disaster is the one who remains alert to signals and can “read the tea leaves.” That includes the signals that it may be time to leave your job behind.
Here are a few warning signs to look out for. They may mean that it’s time to find another opportunity somewhere else:
1. You Suddenly Report to Someone Different
If you are a senior professional, the reporting structure has changed and you now report a rung or two down from where you were reporting. If you are on staff, you are suddenly reassigned without even the pep talk about this being a great opportunity.
2. You’ve Gone as High as You Can
Look up from your desk and see a manager or director who is around your age and content with their job. Hmm. When you ask yourself the question “Where can I really go from here?” your answer suggests improving your skills, rather than your job function, because no one of value will ever leave.
3. Your Firm Is Up for Sale or Was Recently Sold
These are pretty similar problems, although slightly different. In the first case, there is a warning that business is sour or that management would like to cash out. In the second, the deal is done.
In both cases, the result will be the same: You will help the new management integrate the operation of the two firms, transferring knowledge that will help make for a smooth operation. Then you will be invited to accept a package to leave or pushed into a dead-end job. Doesn’t sound exciting, does it?
4. Everything Is Just Being Maintained, or That’s the Only Kind of Work You’re Assigned
The people who tend to advance are the ones who deliver new “bright shiny objects” to management — the new projects, the sexy work that makes everyone go “Ooooooooooh.” If you are being asked to maintain stuff, you are on the Dilbert career path.
5. Your New Boss Is a Jerk
No amount of charm on your part will ever take away the loathing you feel when you go to work because you dislike the person you work for. It is compounded if you get the idea that the feeling is mutual.
6. Your Industry Is on Its Deathbed
Part of what makes a person successful is business knowledge. There was a time when the “buggy whip industry” in the United States was huge. Now, you are probably wondering what I’m talking about. In 2001, every telecom firm in the world was doing extremely well. Since then, some of them couldn’t get themselves arrested.
If your industry is dying, it’s time to go before people start attending your career funeral, too.
Giving yourself time to execute an effective job search before things reach the crisis point is critical. If you stopped and started thinking about any of these signals, it’s time to act.
After all, the next recession is not far off. It’s better to be well-positioned in a new organization doing great work right now than it is to be waiting for the shoe to drop and needing to take action while the economy is in crisis.
Jeff Altman, “The Big Game Hunter,” has been an executive job search and leadership coach and the head coach for JobSearchCoachingHQ.com
The site offers great advice for job hunters plus the ability to ask Jeff questions.