How Risky Is It to Change Jobs ?


Changing jobs isn’t as risky as it might seem.  Good adapters and communicators can succeed in almost any environment.  Moving to a new company which helps expand experience, identity, skills or responsibility level ultimately carries LESS RISK than staying in a more limited career box with a current employer.  To put it in modern parlance if a job move helps “improve your brand” it is absolutely worthwhile.

But you also have built up a “brand” with your current employer – you’ve established a reputation and that provides stability, comfort level, familiarity and possible growth opportunities.  Walking away from all that for the unknowns of a new employer isn’t something to do lightly.   But those job move risks shouldn’t be overdone either.  No matter how well a person has done at his or her company, no one has guaranteed lifetime employment.  Everyone, including current employers,  want to know “what have you done for me lately.”   Know this – the risks of changing jobs come primarily if things unravel quickly (first 12-18 months) at a new employer.  Short stints like that can damage your “brand”.               So the following  risks need to be considered when thinking about changing jobs:

  1. Being labeled a job-hopper.   This is mainly a concern for those who’ve been in their current jobs for less than 18 months.   If the new job becomes another 12-18 month stint clients and new potential employers will wonder “what’s wrong.”   This isn’t a worry for those who’ve been with their current company 4-5 years+ or had a long stint at another recent job. They have the luxury of making a short-term job hop.   Those who don’t have that same luxury need to be very careful in their next move.

2. Not accomplishing or learning much in a new job. This usually happens when people quickly leave current jobs for reasons of comfort. Taking a new job to be closer to home,    following a familiar old boss to his or her new employer, or changing jobs to cut down on travel/overtime are classic examples.  A similar thing can occur when people want quick outs from their current jobs due to new boss, impending merger, big shift in company policies, etc.  Fast jumps to escape current discomfort can backfire if the new job doesn’t involve useful skills or  meaningful accomplishments.  While such moves are understandable, they can add needless baggage to a person’s resume.

3.  “Diversionary” job moves.   This can be called the “job interestingness” disease. Sometimes people want to “try something new”.  This isn’t to say entrepreneurial risk is bad.  People who left good jobs to go into dot.coms in the late 1990’s integrated well into the “normal world” when those companies crated. Diversifying skills and perspectives by working in different industries and cultures can make a good “branding” story. But too many lateral moves also risks falling behind peers. Staying the course in Accounting jobs can result in a well-paid CFO by the age 40-45. Where a “job-interestingness” experimenter may be earning only ½ as much at comparable ages. “Jack of all, master of none” can have a pricetag.

4. Moving primarily for more money  As the old saying goes “everyone has a price” and it’s often believed big jumps in pay “justify the risk” of making a job move.   Oh contraire !
Big bumps actually make job changes MORE risky.  Big increases are often offered when the new employee is making a lateral move – (same type job, same industry) or getting “combat pay” for lousy job situations.   Should a new job not work out or become too boring, being overpaid limits other opportunities.   Of course this same principle applies to sticking with a current job due to “golden handcuffs”.  While it’s difficult to walk away from money that may be realized in the next year or so, that has to be weighed against total earning power over the next 3-5 years and beyond.  SKILL GROWTH ULTIMATELY DRIVES COMPENSATION     If either changing jobs or staying put is driven too much by short-term monetary concerns and not enough by career development it risks stalling pay growth in the mid to long term because skills don’t progress.

5. Lost Promotional Opportunity at your Current Employer.   You’ve invested time into your current employer and gained  “political capital” which can result in advancement where you are.  Job moves can risk throwing that investment away. This risk should not be overdone though.   Current employers often string people out with vague promises of advancement or offer token or incremental inducements.    “We are thinking about your next step sometime mid-next year, etc, etc.”     Talk is cheap. You should be able to assess when and how quickly opportunities will develop. If your current boss isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, then your opportunities may be limited. Nor is it worth hanging in for something that may involve relocation. Many people accepted “promotions” to go overseas and run operations that had little to no career value when returning to the U.S..  Accepting another job from your current employer has often led people down the wrong track.

As can be seen, “risk” in taking a new job always has to be balanced against “risk” of staying put.   It can be harmful to jump too quickly or rashly into a new job that ends up too short and not very sweet. Especially if it doesn’t advance your learning or career potential. At the same time, it can be limiting to stay too long at one company at one level because a person over-estimates the value of his or her current job.    Simply google “you shouldn’t stay at one company too long”.   You’ll find at least two dozen articles to explain why getting stuck in one’s current job ultimately is riskier than making a strategic career decision to go elsewhere at the right time in one’s career.