4 Ways to Know When It’s Time to Move On

How do you know its time to move on to your next professional role?  When and how do you make this decision? What should you consider when your current position or role in your department isn’t matching your professional goals? Learn how you can figure out when it might be time to move on.

4 Ways to Know When It’s Time to Move On

In 2011, after thirteen years of working in student affairs, I resigned from my position as an Associate Director in a college campus center to start a doctoral program full-time in higher education leadership.  Earning a doctorate was my dream for years and it took me far too long to make the decision to move on.  The factors that impacted my decisions are similar to those that others face when thinking about leaving student affairs and higher education.   

Since starting my company two years, my current career goals reminded me of how important it is to know when to move on during our professional careers, for new and experienced professionals alike. In 2018 I found myself facing the same career questions, as my previous institution closed its doors six weeks after announcing its surprise closure. I found that these tips helped me during my last career search and will (hopefully) help me during my current one.

Four Ways to Know Its Time to Move On

Only in hindsight am I able to give these tips. During the time I was working full-time in student affairs work, I was often discouraged from talking about my professional goals. Sure, I was encouraged to think about how I could improve to help my work and the department, but rarely was I asked about what I needed to do to improve my life. But my ah-ha moment happened what I realized that advancing my career was my responsibility.

Consider these four tips to help you have you own ah-ha moment.

Ask yourself the tough questions 

“What are my goals?  Am I happy?  Am I done learning here?  What is next for me?” Too often we get lost in our jobs, both the fun and the tedious parts, so much that we don’t take the time to reflect on our own goals.   New professionals may not know when to start asking these questions; I would suggest within the first year on the job. 

As Marie Kondo asks, is what you’re doing sparking joy in your life? Does it make you happy? If not, it’s time for a change!

Experienced professionals may have additional competing priorities that keep them from honestly exploring these questions.  I found that asking myself these tough questions helped me write my annual review and create new goals, and I knew it was time to get a terminal degree when all my new goals required more education and training.

Even today, I find that even with the terminal degree, I am looking for different types of professional opportunities that may not reside within higher education or even education.  These tough questions make the idea of career changes more manageable since I am seeking answers to these questions.

Confidence and Skills Match 

For new and experienced professionals, it may be time to think about a new position when you constantly tell yourself ‘I can do (job title) better.’  Our belief in ourselves often is the barrier to moving on to the next job, as is our ability to actually do the next job. 

When our confidence in ourselves matches our skills for the next job, it’s time to move on.  We can expedite this process by talking to mentors about how they increased their confidence and attending professional conferences to learn new and updated skills. While your journey might be different, it can help to know what experiences you should keep on your to-do list.

If, like Conan, you believe you can do something better – now is the time to document those skills and apply for those jobs!

You might need new professional colleagues to help you, as you advance in your field. In fact, it may take going to different conferences within your field – if you’re an ACPA member, check out NASPA or ACUI. Meeting experts who are new to your network may help clarify your goals and become new mentors.

The Students Will be Okay 

Student affairs professionals are known for putting their students’ development before their own.  We sacrifice our evenings and weekends for programs and retreats, our lunches for check-in meetings, our professional goals for their development.  I am not suggesting that our students’ learning is not important, but we need to know in our hearts that if we plan to move on that they will be in capable hands. 

I think it’s ok to have a ‘Me First’ mentality when it comes to your own professional journey. The students will be okay if you prioritize yourself, like we ask them to do.

I have worked with many professionals who have deferred their professional goals to stay in a position for far longer than they were learning from the position.  Just as we tell our students that the newly elected officers can manage their chapters or clubs, so can the newly hired professional do a capable job when we vacate ours. It really is okay to prioritize ourselves in the work we want to see from ourselves.

Even as the College where I worked closed, our students constantly asked me how I was doing and what my transition would look like.  Even while they are in a similar crisis of finding a new home institution, they knew enough that my development and well-being matters. I am confident that our students have more resilience than we will ever know and we should learn from them when we can.

Evolving life goals happen. 

Follow your dreams, even if they lead you away from higher education.

Only a third of my master’s degree graduate school cohort has remained in student affairs.  Some have moved into non-profit work, some to be at-home parents, one to become an eye doctor. All of them followed their hearts when they knew it was time to move on from higher education.  Have faith in your own dreams and trust your instincts when it’s time to follow a different dream.

The Journey Is Still Evolving

When I began this company and blog about professional development, leadership development, and consulting, I found myself realizing that my own life goals have changed since I began my professional career in student affairs.  I was happy that my career had given me the opportunity to impact the lives of young people and I am thrilled that I am exploring ways to impact the lives of working professionals in education as my own life goals evolve.

Here to Help

Career Coaching for the Mid-Level Career Professional

I have worked with mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. I can review your resume and cover letter, and give pointers on how to better answer questions during in-person interviews.

Schedule an introductory meeting so we can discuss a plan that works best for you.

 (A previous version was originally published in AFA Essentials, March 2013)

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3 thoughts on “4 Ways to Know When It’s Time to Move On

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