signs you should look for another job

All too often, people miss the signs that their job might be in jeopardy or that it’s time for them to move on to something else. Whether it’s an impending layoff or simply your own increasing unhappiness, here are eight signs that you should be considering looking for another job.

1. Your company or division is struggling financially. If your employer is having financial troubles, and especially if you’re hearing rumblings of lay-offs, it makes sense to begin looking at your options. Remember, job searches can take a while – so even if you ultimately choose to stay where you are, you’ll have given yourself a head start in case your job does end up in jeopardy.

2. You notice that you’re getting a lot more feedback in writing. If your boss used to give you feedback in person and now she’s putting criticism in emails, she may be creating a paper trail in order to build a case for firing you. Many companies require written documentation of problems and warnings before an employee is let go.

3. You’ve been miserable, angry, or bitter for months. Everyone has days when they feel like they hate their job or their coworkers or their boss. But if that goes on month after month, it’s a good sign that nothing is going to change and you should start looking for somewhere where you’ll be happier.

4. It feels like your boss is always hassling you about something. If your boss feels that way too, there’s a problem. I’ve worked with people who received chronic critical feedback – because their work had chronic serious problems – but somehow, all they focused on was that they found it annoying to be “hassled” so much. They missed the bigger picture and the ultimate point, which was that there were serious problems with their performance.

5. Your aspirations for your job don’t match up with the reality. If you keep thinking that your job would be great if only X were different, it may be time to accept that X will never change. X might be your boss or the work itself, or even your commute. Whatever it is, make your decisions about your job based on the reality you’re dealing with, not on how you wish things were.

6. You imply that you’re looking at other jobs and your boss doesn’t seem to care. Smart bosses will try to move heaven and earth to keep a great employee, but they won’t object when an employee who they consider mediocre is thinking about leaving.

7. Your boss shows no interest in your problems. If you approach your manager with concerns about not having enough resources to tackle that new project or about butting heads with the department down the hall, you want him to care. If he’s unmoved, he may be signaling, “I’m not willing to change anything for you. If you want to make a change, it should be to a new job.”

8. Your boss tells you. If you hear words like, “I need to see significant improvement,” take them at face value. Many people block out these messages and then are blindsided when they’re let go later on. If your boss tells you you’re not meeting expectations, he’s not kidding.

If you’re getting signals that you’re in danger of being fired, consider taking control of the situation by talking to your boss– and meanwhile, start looking around for other jobs. The worst thing you can do is to stay in denial.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. Mixed messages

    What do you think it means if

    – ad hoc feedback seems to be nothing but a recitation of flaws (e.g. a project is completed, and the post mortem is nothing but a list of what didn’t work; ongoing running commentary seems like nothing but pickpickpick at what certainly sounds like annoyances)

    – formal feedback like a performance appraisal or if the employee asks the manager point blank “How am I doing?” is very good (highest evaluation possible, or a statement of “Are you kidding? You’re doing great!”?)

    I know that what will matter later is the ‘formal’ feedback, but I find the discrepancy between the two very confusing.

    1. KayDay

      This is really common. Most likely, you are doing well but not perfect–as long as you (continue) improve the specific problems with a project. It’s normal for projects not to be perfect, and you should always go through the “what could have been done better” game at the end of a project. You should be more specific in your questions, instead of just asking, “how am I doing?”

    2. Katieinthemountains

      Sounds like the manager isn’t providing balanced feedback – you hear only the problems, and they’re tiny complaints because there are no major problems. (This would not be a safe assumption except for the glowing formal evaluation and manager’s responses to your questions.) Some people just don’t know they’re supposed to do that.

  2. Anonymous

    3. You’ve been miserable, angry, or bitter for months.

    This is a tough one for me. I’ve been trying to figure out for quite awhile if I am still happy at my job. There’s much about it I like, but the status quo is killing me. Our company is in a holding pattern at the moment so there’s nothing new going on, just trying to keep up with the routine stuff. Hopefully once we get out of this rut my job will excite me again. If it doesn’t, I guess I’ll have to move on. It’s tough to think about leaving when you’ve been in the same place for 11+ years.

  3. Kelly O

    It may be that, in the moment, the person giving you the negative feedback is only thinking of what could make the project run more smoothly next time – what you’re perceiving as negative is perceived by that person as constructive. It may not even be a matter of perception, but simply the way that individual looks at things, or the way they’re being pushed to look at things by their superior.

    I’m not condoning the process, mind you, but just saying that sometimes things get phrased negatively because of the near-constant pressure to improve.

    I see it here – if you’re asked to improve X, it’s a constant battle of showing every little thing you’re doing to make X better. Sometimes when X gets better, the focus changes to Y. Sometimes the focus on X manages to change to some laser-like focus on this one little portion of X, or how come X didn’t improve more… see where it goes? I feel for my bosses, because I know the pressure they’re getting from above them. Nothing is ever right, and any improvement leads to a “why didn’t this improve MORE” line of questioning.

    I guess the main bullet point is to try really hard to not internalize every criticism that comes at you each day. Believe me, I struggle with this one myself, but when you can take a moment to mentally detach from what’s being said and look at it more objectively, it really does help. It’s not always about you and your performance.

  4. Anonymous

    I’ve been through several layoffs and it was usually pretty obvious which employees the first round would include. With the exception of people whose jobs are truly redundant or have been doing the same job forever and are now considered overpaid, the first round is usually people with repeated run-ins with HR or who are a pain in the neck for their managers. A friend of mine was the top performer in her department but she was chosen because she was very confrontational with her boss. He could pick anyone (including interns!) and chose her because it made his job more enjoyable to not deal with her.

    After mergers or acquisitions, it’s often people who are negative about the new direction of the company or simply can’t get over what happened. I work at a somewhat recently acquired company now and you would think the new parent company walked in wearing Nazi uniforms the way some people talk. It happened 10 months ago and only 8 people were laid off! Not to mention, this company has acquired other companies themselves in the past and they truly were ruthless about it from what I hear. Of course, nobody sees that irony.

    Getting laid off or fired is often like the moment you find out your spouse was cheating on you – in hindsight, the signs were there but you subconsciously ignored them. Even if you feel safe, I would have my resume up-to-date and already be connected to my co-workers, vendors, etc in LinkedIn. I also have a loose written plan of how I would handle my finances if I were laid off.

    1. RWPoorman

      Anonymous,
      I think that the only thing worse than getting cut on the first layoff is getting cut on the 3rd or 4th go around.

      Back during the Dot Bomb of 2000/2001 I watched my division go from 146 people to about 40 when I got the ax. And the company wasn’t very good at it either. All of a sudden two managers and a couple of security guards in white shirts would walk into the call center and stop by someone’s desk and tell them to not touch anything and escort them out while one person would box up their stuff. Every time they came in like that, everyone’s stomach would drop and you said a silent prayer. It even happened to one of the managers that usually did the dirty deed one day and she left in tears. Went on for a few months. At least I had already started looking but it’s always nice to leave on your own terms and finding jobs were tough back then, nothing like today but bad enough. I’ll never understand why they didn’t just do it at the end of the shift and lose the dramatics.

      1. Long Time Admin

        My company sent an email to specific individuals telling them there will be a mandatory meeting in 15 minutes in the auditorium and they MUST attend. They were all gone within an hour.

        The next quarter, managers told the people who were getting laid off.

        Now, whenever we see an HR person carrying an empty box, we know what it means.

        1. Vicki

          I know someone who got one of those “Mandatory meeting” emails. In his case, though, the people in the meeting were told “You are the ones NOT being laid off. Go home for the rest of the day. Come back tomorrow.”

  5. Joey

    You missed a really common one. Your boss starts excluding you from meetings/projects and communication with her grinds to a halt.

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