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When landing a job - decide when you'd quit


How do we decide to leave a job? Say it's a particularly bad Monday. You spill a coffee onto yourself, there were no seats on the train, you've been called out for being late, your boss is a jerk and your last evaluation went wrong so you'll not get promoted or get a raise. 

- Enough is enough, - you think, - it's time to move on. 

And maybe it is the time, but most likely not. It's highly possible you're making an important decision at the worst time. Odds are not in your favour. 

Here are two gentlemen who know a lot about decision making. One built many successful businesses and failed even more. The other earned and lost a fortune trading. 

They all talk about the same: decide when you'll exit before you start. 

Here’s a quote from ultramarathoner Dick Collins: Decide before the race the conditions that will cause you to stop and drop out. You don’t want to be out there saying, “Well gee, my leg hurts, I’m a little dehydrated, I’m sleepy, I’m tired, and it’s cold and windy.” And talk yourself into quitting. If you are making a decision based on how you feel at that moment, you will probably make the wrong decision.

And the justification is easy (easy on paper): when you're in the moment, you're too emotional, too invested to make the right call. Your judgement is clouded by a plethora of cognitive biases. 

Regardless of the methodology used, before you decide to get into the market you have to decide where (price) or when (time) or why (new information) you will no longer want the position.

In a job, building a startup or trading - you lose when you either stay for too long or quit too soon. The problem is you don't know which of the two applies when you're right in the middle. Therefore the solution is to define your exit strategy before you start. 

In trading, that means defining the conditions when you'll automatically get out of the position. In startups, that means defining a clear deadline and budget you need to validate your idea. After reaching those conditions - you'll cut your losses and move on. 

Exit strategy when taking a new job

We all know that jobs are important. And yet often we don't give a lot of considerations when taking on a new role. It's easy to see why - there are so many variables when considering a new job. 

  • Responsibilities 
  • Company
  • Industry
  • Culture
  • Salary
  • Social impact
  • Convenience 
  • Professional development
  • ...and many more. 

And you can't test drive it! There is no "money-back guarantee". You can't work a month here and a month there, have a feel for it and then decide where you liked the most. No, usually you make a potentially life-changing decision on the back of a few interviews in a timespan of a week or two. That's not fair - neither for employees nor for companies. But that's the system we have for now and so we need to make the most of it. 

What we can do is to try and think strategically about our next gig. Ideally, it would be a stepping stone to reaching our career goals. 

Have you heard about career roadmap? No, neither have I. But lately, I think more and more that it's a good idea. It's hard to get where you want if you don't know anything about the destination you're after. The roadmap orients us, it helps us to move in the right direction. However, like any roadmap, a career roadmap is not a detailed, guaranteed plan. Things might go wrong. Your personal circumstances could change. You might suddenly fancy a different path. A market can collapse. Or the world might be hit by a sudden global pandemic. You'll need to refine your roadmap and adapt it to the changing conditions. 

So when you consider a new job - consult your career roadmap. Think if the new role, company, industry... serve your career goals and define upfront the conditions when you'd need to move on. That way you can avoid multiple cognitive biases and emotional effects when taking your next career decision. 

Some of the conditions you could define to help you decide when to move on 

  • You didn't learn much in a while
  • You haven't been promoted nor taken on new responsibilities
  • Your salary is out of sync with the market
  • Your industry is stagnating or dying 
  • Your work has a negative effect on your overall wellbeing 
  • Your motivation and satisfaction are constantly low
  • ...etc. 

Doing what you can and hoping for the best

No one knows the future, that's a given. Our life is part consequences, part chance. Still, we can try and get the odds slightly into our favour. When making important decisions, such as taking on a new job, we can define the conditions for quitting upfront. That might help us avoid numerous troubles and make a better decision for our careers. 

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