I recently left my long-time employer to follow an entrepreneurial path and did months of research in preparation. I found some things that really worked for me along the way, and while everyone’s situation is a little different, if you’re thinking about making a change, you might find this six-step approach helpful to your own process.
Step 1: Diagnosis
- Identify specifically what you are dissatisfied with in your current job. To borrow a cliché, you don’t want to jump out of the frying pan into the fire by leaving one unfulfilling situation only to enter another—potentially worse—one. Is it the day-to-day work and responsibilities? Are they not challenging enough or just not interesting to you? What about your colleagues and the company culture? Do you enjoy the work, but the compensation doesn’t reflect your experience level or isn’t competitive in your industry?
Step 2: Introspection
- Take time for self-reflection. Do a skills and interests inventory—considering all past work and volunteer experience as well as hobbies. Look for common themes and particularly focus on the areas where expertise and passion intersect. List out your top personal values and consider writing a life “purpose statement” (or mission or goals, whatever works for you). This is hard work and might even feel a bit uncomfortable, but taking the time to really know yourself will pay off in spades when it comes to finding just the right fit in your next move.
Step 3: Definition
- Describe your ideal job. Be specific about the things that really matter to you and prioritize. Consider the following: job structure & responsibilities, corporate culture, hours, compensation, physical environment, and geographic location. For me, this step was like deciding on a new place to live—I had my “non-negotiable” and “nice to have” attributes as well as “deal-breakers.” But, as in real estate, you can’t have it all, so force yourself to prioritize your list and decide what you absolutely must have, what you would like to have, and anything you just would not accept.
Step 4: Adaptation
- Consider if/how your current role could be modified. Based on what you diagnosed about your current job, your skills and your needs—take a broad view of your current position and ask yourself if anything could be changed to make it a better fit. For example, if you like most things about it, but the work just isn’t challenging, could you delegate some of the more basic work and talk to your manager about an exciting new project you’d like to take on? If you love the work, but the compensation or benefits are insufficient, could you demonstrate to your manager why you deserve a raise or negotiate for flexible work hours or more vacation time?
Step 5: Expansion
- Evaluate other opportunities at your current employer. If you’ve decided, for whatever reason, that your current role cannot be adapted to meet your needs, consider whether there might be other roles that would be a better fit within the company. This would obviously only be appropriate if the issues you identified in Step 1 weren’t endemic to the entire organization—if you hate the long commute to the one and only location or the corporate culture is a terrible fit, you can safely skip this step. If your concerns are more position-specific, consider whether a move to another part of the company might be an option. Look at your skills and interests inventory—is there perhaps another job function or department you could explore? Is there another location in a preferred geography where you could transfer? Is there another role within your current department where you would learn completely new skills and enhance your professional development?
Step 6: Transition
- Evaluate external options, including self-employment. This is many people’sfirst step when they are dissatisfied with their job, but by working through the due diligence of the preceding five steps, you can be sure that when and if you get to this step, you will truly be ready for it. Your best strategy at this stage is to operate from a position of strength. Unless you have been terminated without warning, it’s almost always a good idea to line up your next opportunity before leaving your current job. It’s a widely acknowledged fact that employers prefer to hire candidates who are already employed. If you’re considering making the leap to self-employment or entrepreneurialism, this means having a detailed strategy in place before leaving, including 6-12 months of living expenses in the bank and a solid business plan.
You own your career. It can be easy to lose sight of this fact when you’re employed by someone else or are at the mercy of clients for freelance work. However, by thinking long term and being proactive about defining your goals, purpose, needs, and passions, you will feel more empowered to make the sort of choices that lead to a fulfilling professional life. After all, as Sartre observed, “We invent ourselves by virtue of the multitude of our choices.” Who will you invent next?