Quitting time: How to make a graceful exit

One in four U.S. tech workers are in job-hunting mode, according to IT employment research

One in four U.S. tech workers is in job-hunting mode, according to IT employment research.

Knowing when to move on from your job can be difficult. But for Melissa McDonald, an IT risk manager at a financial institution in the Northeast, the message was crystal clear.

“I had been at the company for 10 years and thought I’d stay there 10 more,” says McDonald, about her position as network manager at another financial institution. “But when new management came in, a change in direction happened. My management style didn’t seem to be a good fit there anymore.”

McDonald knew she wanted to leave six months before she landed another job. She began to make strategic moves, including letting her network of friends and industry contacts know she was on the hunt and putting together her resume.

Within a few months, McDonald was offered a position at another financial institution. “It all happened quickly once I realized it was time to move on,” she says. Another help: movement in the IT job market.

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One in four U.S. tech workers is in job-hunting mode, according to research from CareerBuilder and Sologig.com, a job site for IT and engineering pros. Among full-time IT employees surveyed, 25% plan to change jobs in 2014, up from 15% last year. In addition, 27% of IT employees said they’ve been recruited by organizations, without having applied for a job, within the past year.

“A few years ago, there was nervousness about switching jobs,” says John Reed, senior executive director at Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm. “Now we’re seeing a pattern where IT people are open to new opportunities.”

While this shift has not been “explosive,” Reed calls it a “nice, steady, incremental change” that will continue over the next 12 to 24 months.

The IT market has a more dynamic nature overall as workers aren’t staying in their positions for 10 or 20 years. “There’s a feeling that if you’ve been at a company five years or longer, you’re stagnating and you owe it to yourself to see what’s out there,” Reed says.

That’s sometimes easier said than done. Groundwork has to be laid in many cases before you can quit your job. The first step is to assess whether it is in fact time to leave.

Road sign up ahead: Quit now

Reed has identified four pain points that signal it’s quitting time: lack of career progression; lack of professional development opportunities; stagnant compensation; and a weak outlook for the company.

Lack of career progression can include not knowing the next role available to you and getting flustered because you’re not part of business strategy sessions. “You either feel like there are four people ahead of you for a job, or that you’re missing out on new project opportunities. Both are indicators that your position lacks upward mobility,” Reed says.

Another clue that it’s time to start looking around is a lack of professional development opportunities. It’s a bad sign if your manager won’t send you to certification classes or industry events, and if he is opposed to you continuing your education. This denotes an unwillingness to invest in you as a person, according to Reed.

Receiving the same pay year after year when responsibilities continue to grow is reason to seek other employment. “Even if the raises are miniscule – cost of living increases – that might be enough to consider a change,” he says.

And lastly, if your company seems poorly positioned to excel in its industry, then you should contemplate an exit. Reed says this could be anything from weak leadership of your department to a muddy strategic vision at the corporate level. He notes that the No.1 reason most people leave their jobs is an issue with their direct supervisor. “You don’t want to hitch your wagon to something that has little chance of success,” he says.

Matt Chesler

Matt Chesler

Matt Chesler, a development operations architect, says he didn’t really fall into any of these categories. Instead, while he was working at a startup, his wife became pregnant with their first child. Where once he sought risk, he suddenly wanted the stability and predictability of a larger company and the flexibility to attend medical appointments with his wife. “We never really had days off at my former company and because of my position, taking off would have been an imposition,” he says.

Now he works at The Ladders, an online job matching service, and though he only received a nominal pay increase, he enjoys the balance of personal and professional life. “At this point, I need a certain amount to live, the rest is gravy,” he says.

Chesler adds that the company culture, the opportunity to work with people who are smarter than he is, and the ability to tackle technical challenges were draws to the new position.

Getting the ball rolling

Before you start making moves to leave, you should have an honest conversation with your supervisors about your frustrations.

McDonald says she communicated her concerns about sudden changes in her goals, objectives and everyday tasks. When nothing was done to alter the situation, it cemented her decision to leave.

Her first move was to tell friends, former coworkers and industry contacts that she was available. She mostly used email and social media platforms such as LinkedIn to convey this message.

Charley Polachi, partner at Polachi & Co. executive search firm, encourages job seekers to make sure their LinkedIn profiles are kept up to date. He also says not to treat LinkedIn as a replacement for a resume. “A current and updated resume is important as social platforms don’t always do the best job in presenting you and your accomplishments,” Polachi says.

McDonald ran her resume by friends and former colleagues with industry expertise to ensure she had focused her resume with relevant knowledge and experience.

A refreshed resume also can illuminate areas where your skills are out of date or lacking. “Your resume should reflect the skills you need" for a position, Chesler says. “If you don’t have those skills, get them.”

For instance, if you are looking for a Web developer position, you might realize that many of today’s jobs require HTML 5 experience and be able to fill that gap in your resume with online training or a hands-on project.

Chesler says don’t be trapped by an old resume either. During a previous job search, he threw out the resume he had been adding to for years and started over.

As you job search or even once you have secured a new job, Polachi says it’s essential to have a conversation with your current employer about your decision to leave. “Always set it up so you can leave on good terms,” he says, adding industries are small and you don’t want to burn bridges.

Write a resignation letter that enumerates the good things that happened while you worked there and deliver it in person. “Don’t just email or snail mail it,” he says.

He encourages employees to be upfront about plans, including their expected end date and where they are going. Also, he says you must have a plan for transitioning your job to a coworker or outsourcer. “Bring your boss a solution to the problem of you leaving by offering up a toolkit for how to do your job,” he says. If you are in the middle of a project that can be finished in a reasonable amount of time, finish it.

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McDonald worked extra hours in the weeks leading up to her departure to complete a network backbone upgrade, including swapping legacy stackable switches with a chassis switch. “I wrapped up everything I could so I could leave with them in a good position to implement new technologies,” she says.

Chesler, who found his new job through a former coworker, says he had an amicable and open discussion with his former employer and gave them 30 days’ notice. “If you’re a junior person at a large company, it’s easier to resign without significant notice. Once you become senior or work at a smaller company, I believe it’s appropriate to give as much notice as possible,” he says.

While it might be tempting to play the counter-offer game, Polachi says, “don’t!” “If you’ve decided to leave, leave. Make it irreversible and don’t play games,” he says. “People that accept a counter-offer are usually gone in six to 12 months anyway because the root cause of their problem is still there.”

Instead, he says to accentuate the positives about your new position and why it’s a necessary move. “Talk about the opportunities for growth that the new job provides,” he says. “Don’t trash anyone by saying that you’re not getting along with your boss, you’re not making enough money, business is slow and that the company isn’t growing.”

Be prepared to be shown the door

Oftentimes employers will let people stay after they’ve resigned, but some won’t, due to company policy or the sensitive nature of their work. Make sure you’re ready if they show you the door.

Copy the files you need ahead of time, including projects you’ve worked on, email you need, and contacts you’d like to keep – if your company allows for this.

Also, don’t take it personally if you’re escorted out, Reed says. Make sure to reach out to coworkers and supervisors at some point and thank them for your time there. Also, offer to answer any questions they might have about your former responsibilities. You never know when you might work with people again and you want them to think of you favorably.

Once you’ve settled into your new job, be careful not to bad-mouth your former employer. It can make your current employer uncomfortable and set a bad tone for you.

Instead, if someone asks why you left, explain the unique opportunities that the new job offered as well as needing a change. Don’t point fingers, even if you left because of differences with a supervisor.

Perhaps most important, begin to prep for your next job search. Update your LinkedIn profile and resume with your new position, start to think about the skills you’ll need to be promoted, and raise your hand for any strategic opportunity that comes along. Being ready for your next move now will make it easier when quitting time comes around again.

Gittlen is a freelance business and technology writer in the greater Boston area. Email her at sgittlen@verizon.net.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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