Gearing up to leave your job

If you’ve been working throughout this long recession and recovery, you undoubtedly feel lucky to have a job, but you probably feel a little trapped as well. Fear not; relief is on the way.

Retention experts and demographers have very different professional purposes, but they have been united in their predictions for employers: The tables are turning, and workers will soon have the upper hand. Not only will there be fewer workers, the demographers say, but they’ll be harder to keep on the job, the retention people say.

Of course, it’s notoriously difficult to be accurate with such broad assessments. Remember how everyone thought we’d lose the boomer workforce to early retirement? That was pre-recession, when stock portfolios and housing values looked like the perfect cushion for 50-somethings who wanted to travel the world.

Now it looks as if boomers might work into their 70s to supplement their Social Security. While it may be a while before we feel the demographic sting of fewer workers, my guess is that we’re already experiencing the leading edge of the retention issue.

When I was teaching employee retention sessions to managers, I used to draw nods of agreement by observing that retention strategies are unnecessary for poor workers. They’ll stay as long as you provide a paycheck. It’s the go-getters you have to worry about keeping. If they’re adding value at your organization, you should assume they can do it for someone else as well.

Well, from my current vantage as a career counselor, I can tell you: The go-getters are getting restless. They have been biding their time, but even the poor market hasn’t kept some from looking for better opportunities. There are only so many pay cuts or missed promotions one can tolerate before taking a leap.

Does this sound like you? If you’ve been locked in place for a while, with only faint memories of what it was like to get a bonus or internal training, it may be time to test the market.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Make a timeline. Would you like to be in a new position a year from now? Then assign a couple of steps to each of the next 12 months. If you want to move sooner, condense your process into fewer months (and probably fewer steps). The timeline is important because without it, you’re more likely to let the situation sit for months at a time while you tend to things at work.

2. Increase your networking. Or start it, if you’re not doing any networking right now. You need to find out what’s happening in your industry, and perhaps even in your own company if it’s large. If you’re thinking of switching fields, you’ll need to add research and informational interviews to your to-do list as well.

3. Review your skill set. Have you been falling into a rut with your skills? It happens faster than you think, particularly when company training has been shelved. Find out from your network what other companies are looking for and decide which of your skills needs to be updated.

4. Refresh your resume. If you’ve been with your company a number of years, consider using an outside resume service. This will help you avoid over-reliance on internal language and concepts, while also highlighting strengths that may have more relevance externally than you might expect.

5. Put out feelers. This is different from the networking noted above. Now that you’ve got some information and an updated resume, it’s time to ask people in different companies: What do you think? Can you imagine having me on board somewhere down the line? The nice thing about this approach is that you’re not pushing for an immediate job or interview. You’re just initiating conversations and letting the process develop naturally.

6. Talk to your manager (if you dare). You’re the best judge of this advice, but if you have a good rapport with your manager, consider letting him or her know that you’re looking around. Why? In case there’s something still possible in this position that the manager will be inspired to offer.

Just don’t fall for false promises, or make promises yourself. This conversation isn’t meant as leverage or blackmail, but as an open discussion of next steps for your career path. And if you think it will backfire on you, then don’t do it. Your obligation to your boss doesn’t extend this far. Just keep doing the best job you can at work, and give the appropriate and respectful notice when it’s time to go.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.