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When to stay and when to go: getting ahead at work

You have a great team, maybe even a nice boss but you’re not sure your current job is helping you progress. You want to move up the ladder, learn new skills, make more money, or take on a leadership role. Essentially – you want to grow professionally. But can you do it in your current role or is it time to jump ship?

Deciding to leave your job is a hard choice to make. You don’t want to make a hasty exit when it could be better to wait for a promotion internally – but what’s best for your career?

Assess yourself

Promotion isn’t just about better pay and an impressive job title. It’s about gaining the experience and skills you need to get where you want to go. So before you decide anything, figure out what you want. Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and Management at Deakin University, Dr Lee Martin, says defining your goals is crucial to making wise career decisions. ‘It’s important to know what your career plans are, and the steps you want to reach to get there,’ she says. ‘What kind of experience is going to give you the skills you need to develop?’

Assess your job

Knowing your career goals will help you assess what’s lacking in your current role.

Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at Deakin University, Dr Joe Jiang, has published widely on careers and says career plateaus – job content and hierarchical –prevent progression.

A hierarchical plateau is when your vertical movement in an organisation is blocked. A job content plateau is when you no longer feel challenged. ‘Deciding whether to stay in your current organisation or moving on will depend on what career plateau you’re experiencing,’ Dr Jiang says.

If you’re experiencing a job content plateau, Dr Jiang advises that you need to take a proactive approach. Assess whether your work place has the systems in place to help you progress, like performance appraisals, mentorship programs and development courses. If you feel you’re pigeonholed as a junior or have leveraged the internal network to no end, then look externally for a new experience.

'Deciding whether to stay in your current organisation or moving on will depend on what career plateau you’re experiencing.'

Dr Joe Jiang,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

Short-term vs. long-term boosts

Try not to be too focused on short-term boosts to your career, like higher pay, status and prestige, Dr Martin says. A new role may be better temporarily, but it might not foster career development in the long term. Dr Jiang agrees, and says ‘external opportunities are more unpredictable.’ Leaving an established network for an entirely new one may not be the best move.

Research into internal vs. external mobility found employees experienced better pay, responsibility and satisfaction over time if they were promoted internally. External promotions may pay better to begin with but responsibilities are often similar to your last job. Employers would rather not place a new person in a job they have never done before. The research also found that the number of times workers moved across firms had little impact on how much they were paid in the long run.

That’s not to say that staying is always the best choice. If there are limited opportunities within your organisation and you’re not gaining the experience you want, then it’s time to look elsewhere. ‘If what you really care about is getting promoted but you feel there’s no room for you to climb up the ladder of your current organisation, the external job market is where you should go,’ Dr Jiang says. This goes for people attracted to new experiences, and suits some people more than others.

Weigh it all up

In a nutshell? Career progression is dependent on your personality and your priorities. ‘Promotion has a much broader meaning now. Consider your interests, goals, skills and personality, as well as characteristics of your career environment, both internal and external,’ Dr Jiang says. ‘Keep an eye out for external opportunities. Do some comparisons and over time you’ll be able to understand the job market in a more holistic way. This will be very helpful when it comes to making future career decisions.’

Think you’re ready for an internal promotion? Get promotion-ready.

this. featured experts
Dr Lee Martin
Dr Lee Martin

Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour/ Management, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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Dr Joe Jiang
Dr Joe Jiang

Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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