Career Corner: The Last Straw

Change is difficult, but a change in jobs is an even bigger challenge. – Courtesy photo

By Angela Copeland

When is the best time to leave your job? Have you ever wondered when you should look for something new? Most people wait until things are painful. Change is hard. It hurts. So many people wait until the daily pain at work outweighs the pain of change.

Here’s the problem with this idea. When you wait until the pain is too much, you’re letting someone else control your outcome. You’re waiting for the very last straw. You’re waiting for the last thing to go wrong. You’re allowing external factors to drive an internal decision. You’re allowing someone else to decide when you should leave.

And, on top of that – if you wait until you’re at the last straw, your entire outlook changes. You’ll be running away from the things you hate rather than toward the things you love. You’ll be impatient. You may be stressed in interviews. You might be willing to take less money or less vacation. If you’re not careful, you may even share your work sob story with your future hiring manager or future colleagues.

If you wait until things are bad, you may also risk being laid off or even worse, fired. As attractive as some company buy-out packages may be, the stress of looking for work when you don’t have a job is much higher than when you do. Just recovering from a layoff takes time.

So, when should you look for something new? I’d argue that you should always keep your eyes open. In today’s job market, you cannot assume your job is secure.

But, the topic of when to leave makes me think of a friend – and social parties. Years ago, a friend shared with me that she likes to leave a party while things are still fun. Most people wait to leave until the very end. They wait until it’s winding down. But, by then, guests have potentially had too much to drink. It’s later than you might like. And, the party has typically gone downhill in some way. But, if you leave on a high note, you have a wonderful time with no bad memories of the party’s aftermath.

The same applies to work. Leave while you still have a positive relationship with your colleagues and your boss. Leave after you’ve done a great job on a project. Don’t wait until things are spiraling down. Don’t wait for the last straw. Looking while things are going well allows you to find a job that you want. You’re not desperate. You need to be paid fairly. You have requirements around benefits, such as vacation hours. You may want a job that’s considered a promotion. Perhaps you want to work in a new part of the business.

When you aren’t at the final straw, you can take your time. You can evaluate options carefully to find something that’s the right fit long term – not just the right fit right now. Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at


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