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Are you underpaid and overworked? That's an obvious sign of a bad job; career experts from Challenger Gray & Christmas and Monster.com offer advice on when you should consider your next career move.

Sharon Gaudin

March 5, 2007

8 Min Read

Ever wonder if it's time to start looking for another job?

After the dot-com bubble burst several years ago, a lot of high-tech workers simply felt lucky to have a job--any job. Gone were the days when chief security officers, Java developers, and project managers could pick up a new, and better, job as easily as picking up a latte. Human Resources managers stopped worrying about how to keep good employees from leaving for better jobs. People who had decent jobs counted themselves lucky, kept their heads down and just hoped they weren't next to be outsourced or otherwise pink slipped.

Those days are gone. High-tech jobs are being created. There are new positions to move into. A lot of people, though, aren't picking up stakes and moving on. They're stuck in that head-down mentality and maybe they're missing the opportunity to find that great next job.

The tech sector has not only shown signs of life over the past few years, but there's been some real signs of strength, according to John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm based in Chicago. He says next-generation companies like MySpace, YouTube and Google are shaking things up, and he's seeing a steady stream of new jobs being advertised.

"If people are thinking that at this point in the game, they could be selling themselves short," says Norma Gaffin, director of content at Monster.com, the Internet job board. "Especially people who went through the bust " they don't realize they could find a better position or the right position for them. I think a lot of people aren't asking themselves the questions."

And according to Gaffin, those questions don't have to include, "Am I miserable?" People don't have to " and shouldn't " wait until they hate the thought of getting up and going in to work every morning before they start looking for a new job.

Some career counselors say people should reevaluate their jobs at least once a year, giving some thought about the work they're doing, who they're working with and where they're going in the company and in their career. There are many reasons to look for a different job and they don't have to be for better money or because you hate your boss.

To help out, InformationWeek interviewed three experts in the careers industry and sorted through their best advice. Here are the five ways to know when it may be time to move on.

  • 1) Are You Still Learning?

    "The barometer that I use is you ask yourself the question: Are you learning? Says Gaffin. "If you're no longer learning, the indication is that your time there is over. If you have a really good boss, it can be hard to leave that. But if you've learned everything you can from that company and that great boss, you're not helping yourself by staying."

    She also points out that if someone isn't learning in their current position but they like the company, they first should look to see if there's a better spot they could move into. If there isn't, however, then it's time to look outside the company for a company that has new skills to teach you.

    "I think people do forget to ask themselves this question," Gaffin adds. "The job has to work for you. The company has to work for you. The problem is the better off you have it at the company, the less likely you are to ask yourself if you're still learning."

    Gaffin even goes so far as suggest giving each job an expiration date, so people will spot the date, much like they do with a milk carton, and give their job something of sniff test to see if it stinks or if it's still good for another several months.

    "Are you getting the training you need?" she asks. "Are you being put in a position where you can advance? Is it still helping you continue on that path you want to be on beyond this job?"

  • 2) Mergers, Acquisitions, Rumors

    Robin Ryan, the author of 60 Seconds and You're Hired, says there almost always are rumors floating around the office. Someone's leaving. Someone's coming on board. A project is being scrapped. Most of the rumors don't merit any real attention or concern. However, there are those rumors " the persistent niggling ones " that should make you sit up and take notice.

    "It's rare that rumors stay alive when there's nothing behind them," says Ryan. "Pay attention to the rumor mill when it's about acquisitions, mergers and layoffs. Mergers and acquisitions are a real red flag that some of you will go, if not all of you. There's a lot of rumors but when everybody is talking about layoffs and it's being said and said and management isn't coming out and denying it, then that's not good Your job is in the most jeopardy if your company has just been acquired. This is the scariest time."

  • 3) Warning! Toxic Co-Worker

    Is there a bully roaming your office? Is someone else always taking credit for your work? What about that jerk who takes obvious glee in getting under your skin or that one person who makes you dread walking through the office door every morning? Answering yes to any of these questions probably means you're working in a toxic environment. And that, says Gaffin, is a really good reason to sharpen up the resume and go on some interviews.

    "You can brush [most things] off the first time, but then you can't keep brushing them off," she warns. "Take a look around. What's the forecast here? Is this good for me?"

    Obviously, Gaffin isn't advising people to pack up their desks because they have occasional tiffs with co-workers, or even their bosses. See if problems can be worked out. Don't toss aside a great job because one person can be grating. But if you dread every confrontation or he/she makes the whole work environment unbearable, it's most likely not worth it to your stress level to stay and deal with it every day.

    "If you see a company where people are not held accountable for things they do, both good and bad, you shouldn't stay," Gaffin adds. "They might as well not be giving you a computer because they're not helping you do your job."

  • 4) Got The Boss Blues?

    Just like irreconcilable differences are a reason to end a marriage, they also can be the reason to get out of a bad job.

    "If your relationship with your boss has deteriorated and you feel you can't repair it, that's risky," says Challenger. "Are you not receiving challenging work? Are you not getting plumb assignments? Is there room for advancement or do you feel like your advancement is being blocked? Are you not being recognized sufficiently, either monetarily or within the organization, for your efforts? Everybody feels all those issues at one time or another. It's about your level of concern and do you have more than one of these issues?" Challenger says sometimes trouble arises when someone gets a new boss. Maybe he doesn't recognize a worker's past contributions or maybe he's far more focused on the people he brought onboard himself. He also says workers should beware when they've had a blow up with the boss and they just can't seem to get the relationship back on solid footing.

    "It's very important that the relationship is OK," he adds. "It can be up and down if [the relationship] is solid at its core. Otherwise, you're just not going to be in a position to get good raises, promotions and challenging and interesting work If you feel like your job is at risk and you may be let go, instead of fearing and avoiding it, be proactive about looking. If you think the risk has really jumped and in the next three months you could lose your job, start looking. Don't wait."

  • 5) Underpaid And Overworked?

    While money may not be the biggest factor when deciding if you need to look for another job, it certainly can't be ignored.

    Are you not earning what you think others of equal stature are " either at this company or at competitors? Are you not getting raises or bonuses? If so, it's time to do some homework.

    "Many people took a job that paid less than they wanted but they just wanted a paycheck," says Ryan. "If you've stayed with an employer for four or five years, you'll probably find that you're underpaid." She suggests going online and check out various salary surveys, looking specifically at your job level and geographical region.

    "You've been advancing your skills, you've been working on brig projects, and then you go online and check out salary surveys," says Ryan. "If you find people are making between $100,000 and $140,000 when you're making $80,000, that can be very motivating to start looking If you're not paid enough, you're not feeling valued enough."

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