This is a guest post by Patrick Sweet, P.Eng.
How do you know when it’s time to move on from your engineering job?
It’s something that most of us have asked ourselves at some point in our careers, or will at some time in the future. Earlier this week, a coaching client asked me what I thought. Honestly, I didn’t have a solid answer right away and it has been bugging me ever since.
I believe that recognizing the time for change is a key skill that engineering professionals need in order to progress successfully through their careers. Today, having had a chance to think about it, I’d like to share my thoughts on how to tell it’s time to move on.
Change is the Only Constant
First of all, it’s important to recognize that you are always moving throughout your engineering career. Your job, company, industry, and projects are always evolving. Even if you haven’t taken a promotion or made a big move in the last 12 months, the chances are that your situation today is different from what it was a year ago.
Understanding that your work life is always changing is important because it drives the necessity to be constantly evaluating your work situation. What might have been a good fit for you in the past may not be a good fit today.
Recognizing Rough Patches
Probably the hardest part of recognizing whether or not the time is right for change has to do with determining whether you’re just going through a rough patch or if there’s something more serious happening.
Rough patches happen to everyone. Sometimes the work is harder, less rewarding, and less challenging. The question you need to ask yourself is whether your situation is temporary and specific, or longer-term and wide-ranging. If you think the issues are relatively isolated and short-term, then it’s probably worthwhile sticking things out and re-evaluating in a few months.
If on the other hand, you think the nature of your engineering work, or your fit with it, has changed permanently, then it may be time to consider a change.
Alignment With Your Goals
The more important thing to recognize is when your engineering job is not really supporting you towards achieving your goals. This is more difficult to see for two reasons. For one, this can happen even if you’re comfortable with what you’re doing. Going through a rough patch can force people to consider their work. When you’re not feeling that pain, it can be easy to overlook the fact that your work isn’t bringing you closer to your goals.
The other, more serious reason people fail to recognize that their job isn’t helping them accomplish their goals is that they aren’t clear on their goals in the first place. Making a deliberate, concerted effort to understand your own mission, vision and goals are critical to understanding whether or not your job is helping to bring you closer to your goals, or holding you back.
What to do if you need to move on
If at all possible, take your time to understand exactly why you feel like you need to move on. Understand your goals and what you would need in order to achieve them. Is there any way to modify the engineering work you’re doing now to be able to better accomplish what you’d like? Could a new role within the department or your engineering company do the trick? Remember, changing jobs carries risk, and if you can accomplish what you need while reducing that risk by making as small a change as possible, then all the better. Of course, sometimes accomplishing your goals will require bigger changes. Wherever possible, try and make those changes in smaller steps so that you can learn as you go and manage that risk.
Whatever you do, don’t settle for what’s comfortable and mediocre. You owe it to yourself to have a career that fulfills you and makes a difference in the world.
About Patrick Sweet
Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA is a product and engineering management consultant, speaker, and the creator of EngineeringAndLeadership.com. He helps engineering teams and OEMs create profitable products, boost productivity, and manage complexity. You can reach Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or @engileader.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success