Is It Time to Look for a New Job? Six Ways to Know, and Six Steps to Take
A lot is written about job search for new graduates, and that’s a good thing. After a dozen or more years of education and intensive training, the last thing most residents and fellows feel prepared for is CV writing or interviewing with an HR panel.
Still, if you’re an experienced neurologist ready to find new work, you may be looking back on those days with nostalgia. The confusion you felt then may be nothing compared to what you’re experiencing now. For one thing, it’s difficult to know if you should be looking for work at all. Unlike a new graduate, neurologists already in the workforce generally don’t “need” to find a new job. Unless there’s a compelling catalyst, such as a pending relocation for a spouse’s career, a working neurologist could stay right where they are and never actually move forward on a change.
Following are six ways to know if it’s time to switch things up, and six steps to take if you decide to move forward.
It’s probably time to seek new work if...
...if you know you’ll be relocating.
Some moves can be made without a job change, but many can’t. If you’ve already explored options for staying in your current role, such as telecommuting or creative scheduling that lets you fly back to your new home for extended weekends, you may have to conclude that it won’t be possible to keep this position after you move your household.
...if your current employer is expanding.
Even if you’re happy with your current position, ignoring new opportunities for growth when they open up in front of you isn’t smart career management. When you learn of your current employer’s plans, you’d be wise to initiate a conversation with an administrator whose judgment—and confidentiality—you can trust. An early exploration doesn’t have to result in action if you choose otherwise, but a late exploration might mean there’s no option left for you to consider.
...if you’re tired of what you’re doing.
You don’t need your medical training to know that burnout is real. When you start feeling reluctant to head into work or stop feeling interested in the patients or projects assigned to you, something needs to change. Whether you make a switch to something else with your current employer, or you move on altogether, this is one of those situations that probably won’t resolve on its own.
...if you’re ready for a new challenge.
For some doctors, the variety inherent in seeing new patients or conducting new research brings enough challenge to keep things fresh. But others may feel as if they’re on a treadmill in terms of having mastered the primary tasks or tools in their current role. When this happens, you’re wise to pay attention. Not feeling challenged can morph into burnout or other negative feelings that are counter-productive for your career.
...if you never meant to stay this long in the first place.
Did you take a fellowship in stroke and then find yourself in a general neurology setting for your first job? On its face, that can be an excellent career move, particularly if you’ve been paying down loans while also gaining good experience and knowledge. But as time passes and you move further from your specialized training, it makes sense to check in on your career path. If too much time passes, it could be difficult to return to your original goal.
...if something changes in your workplace that you can’t tolerate.
Whether the new element is a set of policies or administrators that clash with your values, or a change in the workload, or even something that impacts your salary—the nature of the change only matters in terms of your problem-solving as you look for ways to accommodate the new situation. If you find that you can’t make peace with how things are shifting, you may have to be the one to make a shift.
Six steps to take when preparing to change jobs
1. Define what you want next. If your reason for changing jobs is to leave a situation that you don’t like, you have a problem: Escape is not a career plan. Unless you take time to dig into your career and life goals, you risk hopping from one tenuous situation to another. Neurologists who are making the change for positive reasons are not excused from this exercise, by the way. For any job seeker, in any profession, the truth remains: Defining your job goal shortens your search while helping ensure you get something you truly want.
2. Set a timeline. Everyone knows that deadlines are motivating. For residents and fellows anticipating graduation in a few months, the sense of deadline is built-in, but for those already in the workforce, an opposite force is at play—inertia. To avoid having your process drag on (especially the initial decision), it’s helpful to have at least a loose timeline for its completion and the steps in between. As a guideline, anywhere from six to 12 months would be a very common length for the process of choosing and starting new work.
3. Review your contract. If you are under a non-compete, or any other stricture covering your current or future work, the best time for a refresher on the specifics is before you launch an outbound search. Even for internal roles, your contract may play a part in determining what’s possible and on what kind of timeline.
4. Revise your CV to reflect your experience and goals.Want to know the most consistent mistake made by experienced doctors when searching for new work? That would be conducting the search as if they were new graduates. The job search is one of those processes that must flex with the candidate. As you gain experience and credibility in your field, you need to update your processes to be more sophisticated. While it might be evident that this would include a higher level of networking, it’s easy to under-estimate the power of a well-revised CV. In this day of electronic search, a CV that defines the contributions you would make (and not just the factual outline of the places you’ve worked) can act as an advance agent to increase an employer’s interest—while possibly opening their pocketbook a bit wider.
5. Look internally, if possible. If your reason for changing jobs is not tied to leaving this employer or location, then why not poke around inside your organization before making an outward move? If you find something that suits, you’ll have the advantage of uninterrupted benefits and a platform of immediately relevant experience to build on. Caution is advised, of course, as you’ll need to determine if tipping your hand could result in any negative feelings or repercussions in your current role.
6. Get help for an external search. If your course for leaving is certain, you’ll soon find yourself in an interesting bind. The more in-demand you might be, the more you’ll wish for privacy in making your inquiries. After all, it’s not a great business-builder to have your current patients switch doctors after hearing you “might” not be there next year.
The need for confidentiality, combined with a limited pool of free time, is enough to say you should probably engage the help of outside recruiters or consultants. To find one, you can start by asking for a referral from former colleagues who have made a move. Or, reach out directly to a recruiter specializing in the placement of neurologists. However you handle this, remember that your goal is not to give someone else carte blanche to “place” you. Rather, think of this as dividing up the duties, where the person acting as your agent helps locate initial leads and then contacts potential employers on your behalf in a confidential manner. You’ll still need to set aside time for interviews and tours, not to mention research to assure yourself this is an organization you want be part of. When it comes to making the decision, only you can determine if the role will match what you want next in your career.