If you have stayed too long at a dinner party, someone eventually tells you and ushers you out. All it costs you is a few minutes of feeling awkward. If only career paths were like that! Knowing when to move along from your current job is an advanced skill, one that involves job market research, a keen sense of your industry and maybe a little intuition. But it's something you have to do on your own. It's not the company's job to tell you that you've overstayed your welcome or outgrown them. And they have no motivation to let you know that you're giving them more than you're getting back once you've reached a certain experience level. If all this is giving you the sneaking suspicion you may have stayed too long at your job, here are five ways to do a reality check:
Benchmark your current position. Especially if you've been at the job for a while, the employment market for your career path may have improved considerably. The U.S. unemployment rate has consistently gotten lower in past years, at least overall, and you may be a much more valued potential employee than you were when you signed on. Get an idea of the average pay and job outlook by scanning sites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale and Glassdoor. See what others are making in the job you have and the job you might want instead. This can help you know if you're being underpaid or have maxed out at your current position – a big motivation to move on.
Also, check out the BLS numbers on the fastest-growing occupations. Paying attention to other fields can also give you a good idea if looking for a lateral move or another position in the same industry is a good idea. If you're already in a job that might become automated, for example, you may not want to leave your current position until you've taken time to develop new skills.
Think about leaving only if you're doing your best. This sounds like the opposite of good advice. But you should make sure you're doing a really great job at your current position before you contemplate giving it up, according to Forbes. That removes any hint that you're blaming the job for shortfalls in your own work skills or drive to succeed. "If you are not good enough at your job, solve that problem first, then leave," Forbes advised. This tactic makes you a much more desirable hire when you do re-enter the job market. "Leave your job when you have outgrown it," Forbes added. "Leave your job when you are better than it. Leave your job when you are absolutely smashing it."
If you're considering moving on only to be at the same level at a new place, that's a red flag, especially if you're blaming someone else for the need to leave, Forbes added. "You're only fooling yourself. Why would it be any different there?"
Beware of Groundhog Day. You definitely don't want to get the reputation of being a job hopper. And it's no fun constantly explaining lots of short hitches on your resume. But one way to know that you've gone too far in the other direction is when the whole job site seems to be on auto-repeat. Whether you're seeing the same old ideas that didn't work five years ago circle back, or other people are relabeling your old initiatives as something new, the Groundhog Day sensation of endless repeat is a good sign to move along. "If you've been in your role long enough to see old ideas that didn't work out the first time being given a new lease on life – everything from transitioning to a SaaS model to starting a company softball team – ducking out may be the kindest thing you can do for your own sanity," marketing firm founder J. Maureen Henderson wrote in a contribution to Forbes. "Your colleagues who didn't live through three website rebuilds between 2012 and 2014 need to learn through their own trial and error."
Don't stay so long you become the de facto team Mom. If you've been at your job so long, you're constantly fielding random requests from more recent hires, you may have reached your expiration limit. "It's nice to feel needed, but when colleagues start coming to you with requests or questions that are predicated on your longevity and not your job description, things get dicey," Henderson added. "You don't want to be the single point of failure for a whole host of disparate company processes simply because you're the only one who's stuck around long enough to know where the bodies are buried – and where trade show banners are stored, who to contact about a malfunctioning thermostat and whether or not the cleaning crew has a written contract. When you start feeling like an oracle/therapist/wise old grandparent rolled into one, it's time to think about moving on."
Give yourself room to grow. The decision to stay or go isn't all about income, but having a clear path to ongoing pay increases is one thing that should keep you at a job. If you've reached the company max, you may need to start thinking about the next company you want to work for. Remember, it's always easier to find a job when you already have one. And even if you do still have room to grow on the pay scale, you may not have a clear path to continuing to grow as an employee at the company. "If you've diligently climbed the ranks and the only jobs left start with 'chief' and go to people brought in by a headhunting firm, you may need to move out to move up," Henderson noted. "If you've maxed out the professional lessons and experiences available to you in your job, learning and doing more will likely involve having to leave."