When It's Not a Good Idea to Make a Career Move

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In today’s job market, you have to be prepared to adapt. Sometimes, that means making a big career move in order to pursue your dreams (or even just to stay employed). That might involve changing jobs, pursuing a promotion or transfer at your current employer, or training for an entirely new career. 

But that doesn’t mean that every change is a good one. Yes, the typical worker will change jobs an average of 12 times during their career—but not all of those job changes will turn out to be positive ones. The same goes for promotions, changing careers, relocating for a job, or any other big professional upheaval.

Of course, many career moves work out, leading to bigger paychecks, more interesting projects, or a more rewarding career path. The key is to ensure that you’re making the change for the right reasons, and not any of the wrong ones.  

Don’t Make a Career Move When…

1. You’re Embarking on Many Other Changes (and Feeling Overloaded)

Sometimes in life, everything seems to happen at once. Maybe you’re expecting a baby, and then you get the chance to relocate to a new city for your dream job. Or you get offered a promotion, but it would involve going back to school and changing your work schedule to a different shift. 

A lot of change isn’t necessarily bad, but it can add up.

In the 1960s, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe created a stress scale to measure the impact of life events. They assigned a number of “life change units” to 43 events, ranging from the death of a spouse (most stressful at 100 life change units) to a minor violation of the law (least stressful at 11 life change units). Other top-ranked life events included divorce, imprisonment, marriage, and dismissal from work. Even seemingly positive things like a career change or new responsibilities at work made the scale (at 36 units and 29 units, respectively).

Subjects were asked to check off events that had recently occurred in their lives and tally up the total of life change units. Those who scored more than 300 were said to be particularly at risk for a stress-related illness, such as a heart attack or stroke.

Now, whether this particular scale is still relevant to today’s world is worth arguing, but the fact is that the workplace can be stressful—and only you can know when it gets to be too much. If you’re looking at a lot of upheaval in your personal life, it’s okay to aim for stability in your professional life.

2. Your Judgment Is Clouded for Any Reason

One reason it can be a bad idea to make big changes at work when you’re undergoing big changes at home is that it can cloud your judgment. 

Take having a baby or adopting a child as an example. You may be dealing with sleep deprivation, adjusting to a new family member, or even coping with a change to how you perceive your own identity. With all that going on, you might be tempted to shake things up in your professional life, too. And that might well be the right thing to do, but it’s better if you can make that choice when you’re getting regular sleep and have a stronger sense of stability at home.

3. You’re Having a Bad Day or Week at Work

Even if you love your job, you probably won’t love every day at work. Even the best gigs come with bad days, weeks, and sometimes months. Before you decide that your dream job has become a nightmare, make sure you’re not confusing a temporary glitch for a permanent problem.

For example, maybe you’re working on a grueling project right now, but next month, you’ll be focusing on something better. Or, you have a conflict with a member of your team, but you’ll be collaborating with someone else for your next sprint. 

Even bad bosses don’t necessarily last forever. If your company has a history of management changes, and you generally like your coworkers and projects, it would be wise to wait out a less-than-ideal manager.

4. You’re Mainly Thinking About the Money

A typical raise at most companies is 3%, so it’s no surprise that many workers opt to quit their way to a higher paycheck. But if you make a career change with only money in mind, you may find yourself worse off than if you’d stayed put.

How could quitting for better pay possibly backfire? Well, you could conceivably leave a job you love for a job that turns out to be a bad fit, and not wind up with that much more cash after taxes. Or, you could jump ship for a higher salary, only to find out that the employee benefits are worse or cost more out of pocket, leaving you in worse shape financially than before. 

The bottom line is that money is a fine reason to make a change, but it shouldn’t be your only reason.

5. You’re Suffering From FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

We live in an Instagram age. It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your insides with everyone else’s outsides. But the carefully curated version of people’s careers that you see on social media isn’t reality. You get to see the promotions, awards, and accolades, but never the moments of doubt and failure. 

Remember that your career is yours alone. You don’t need to compete with your colleagues, college roommates, friends, or professional rivals. You only need to find the job and career that’s the best fit for you.

Article Sources

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Number of Jobs, Labor Market Experience, and Earnings Growth: Results from a National Longitudinal Survey," Accessed Oct. 25, 2019.

  2. Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe. "The Social Readjustment Rating Scale," Journal of Psychosomatic Research 11, no. 2 (August 1967): 213-218.

  3. Korn Ferry Institute. "Workplace Stress Continues to Mount," Accessed Oct. 25, 2019.

  4. PayScale. "2019 Compensation Best Practices," Accessed Oct. 25, 2019.