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I've been working in this company for a while and have made good progress. I like my job and the people I work with. The trouble is, all the senior jobs are filled by people unlikely to leave and there are no prospects of promotion beyond this level.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Should I move companies?

A: When is the right time to move on? When your friends seem to be getting better jobs? When you're bored? When you need to earn more money?

When you've stopped learning? When the values of the organisation don't match yours? Or when your way forward is blocked?

It always strikes me as ironic that the default setting on careers seems to be that we all want to get to the top, when only a small proportion of managers can have that top slot. I also question how many people would actually enjoy the pressures and commitments of the most senior of jobs and find the status and the money adequate compensation for what they surrender. And yet we may feel we have failed if we're not making inexorable progress up the career ladder.

What assumptions lie behind your thoughts on what you should be doing in your career? It's quite usual to find some traces of what Deepak Chopra calls 'premature cognitive commitment' in the way people think about their careers. In other words, we have unconsciously accepted ideas at an early age from our parents and elsewhere about what we should be doing, without ever examining them to see whether they match our own values and beliefs.

This can cause problems later in life, if a dissonance develops between this preconditioning and what we later feel is right for us.

To discover whether this preconditioning is true for you, try to identify what matters most to you in your work. Is it recognition? Money?

Security? Enjoying your work? Continually learning? Having a good relationship with your boss? If you find this difficult, look at it from the negative perspective: the absence of which of these factors would cause you to move jobs?

Once you've identified your key determinants of job satisfaction, check whether your present job ticks the right boxes. If it doesn't, how might you change the situation? Moving company is one option, but, depending on your personal priorities, it may not be the best.

If you've stopped learning, could you make a sideways move within the organisation that would bring you fresh insights and new experiences?

Could you stay but make sure you have some formal development - eg, attend a senior-level course on strategy or leadership?

If the salary is a problem, could you negotiate an increase, perhaps tied to greater responsibility or productivity? If it's increased status you're looking for, would a change in job title help?

A client of mine was in a similar position to you. She'd made very good progress in a public-sector career but knew she'd need to move if she was to become a chief executive. She'd begun to feel disillusioned with her position and disgruntled that her path to promotion was blocked.

When we focused on her real ambitions, it emerged that she didn't just want the position, she wanted to be able to execute it excellently. She recognised that there was a gap between her present skills and attitudes and what is required to be a good CEO. She used the next two years to add to her knowledge and skills, learning from her experience of working with a range of leaders, both good and bad.

Once she had reframed her position from one of being held back to being in training for the future, she became much more content in her role and prepared to give it her best energy. As a result, a number of opportunities opened up that she hadn't expected - which added to her CV. When she eventually left, she'd established a great reputation and added to her competence.

If all this makes it seem as if I believe there are no circumstances when leaving now would be right, this is not the case. It's just that it's not unusual for people to become impatient and jump ship without exploring the development opportunities available to them in their present organisation, so they miss out on experience that could enhance their performance and prospects.

If, having considered all the possibilities, you're convinced that your prospects would be better elsewhere, be as thorough in considering the opportunities. Being clear about what's important to us always pays dividends.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach.

If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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