When to jump - Advice on switching jobs, careers, and fields

So, I noticed several posts in the past several weeks from early career people (less than 3 years post graduation) asking for advice on switching firms, sides of the business, career paths, and even whether to leave real estate altogether. I gave my advice from the view of a "senior" (15+ yrs) person who has helped mentor several "juniors". I realized I was saying the same thing again and again so here is my consolidated thoughts on the general question (I realize WSO is a place to turn to when having such thoughts):

  1. The first few years of a career generally suck. Yes, those in a field like finance or real estate are probably not going to really enjoy years 0 through 3 and even 0-5. You don't know as much as you think and your firm probably doesn't realize how capable you actually are; the truth is somewhere in the middle. Further, you get the worst hours, worst tasks, maybe literally banned from cool stuff (like talking to clients), and overall have to jump when an MD/EVP type says so, maybe even associates can boss you around. On the upside, you may be relatively well paid, but money isn't everything is it?

  2. It get's better. Generally the longer you stay at a firm, in a role, or just in an industry the more comfortable you become, the better you actually are at your job, and you start to earn some respect. Thus, wait it out is the best advice in a lot (but not all) situations. If you are 0-2 years in, it has to be really really bad for me to recommend you leaving whatever it is you are doing.

  3. If you hate your job, channel that energy. Before you "jump" or even start searching, prepare yourself. Use that anger at your boss and/or firm to work overtime improving your skills. If they will pay for training and certifications do so on their dime. What ever you do, don't slack. That is an early career kiss of death. If you actually hate it, they should think you love it and be SHOCKED when you leave for a better job.

  4. Network like you don't have a job. This applies if even if you love your job. You should always be building YOUR own professional/personal network. This should include people at your own firm but different dept/office, at competitors, firms you do business with, in trade groups (like NAIOP/ULI/etc.), and LinkedIn (but not exclusively LinkedIn). Lots of good books on this, Never Eat Alone is my personal favorite. In short, network the right way and for the right purpose. If you hate your job, NEVER say so, its never a good look.

  5. Play the long game. If you stick it out, gain experience, "crush it" (go figure what that really means), people will notice you over time, especially if you diligently network. If you can gain some industry leadership cred, which is as simple as volunteering for those trade groups in leadership roles, you will get noticed even faster. Recruiters and headhunter types screen LinkedIn for years of overall experience and years at current firm (in addition to education and keywords). Thus, if you jump too fast or often you might be resetting the counter. Better to get recruited away than have to go searching. In general, the headhunters will probably start scanning you somewhere near or after 5 years of experience. After 10+ years, its probably only way you want to make moves (beyond networking, which always works).

  6. Only take jobs that offer a form of advancement. That means a bump in pay, title, responsibility, and/or firm prestige (bump up in market is potentially acceptable). Taking a lateral (i.e. same title/role) almost NEVER looks good on a resume unless it is clear you went to better firm and probably got bumped in pay/responsibility even it title stayed same (or even went down, which can happen if going from small to a large firm). If you "lateral", they won't think Congrats, they will think "what happened?". Your resume is best when it tells a good story of upward movement, if you have downturns (which can and really does happen more often than you think), it's not a kiss of death but may require more explanation.

  7. Never forget to value where you work. If you are really unhappy, try and find a real life mentor who knows you and can talk it through before you make a leap. Sometimes talking about your issue with your boss can be a really, really smart thing. Do it wrong, maybe get fired (this is real world, right?). Still, advancing within the current firm you are is often the best path forward. The grass is not always greener.

In short, look before you jump. I'd say most people who ask a "should I switch" question on WSO shouldn't. This is not surprising, if you got a really great offer for a better job (more pay + title + whatever), would you really come to WSO and ask "got a great over, should I take it??". NOPE, you would do one of those Q&A about your advancement. To sum, hold out for those moves, don't jump otherwise!

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