- - Monday, August 6, 2018


With unemployment below 4 percent, the time has not been better in decades to improve your circumstances by looking for a better job.

During the financial crisis and lethargic recovery that followed, most folks cleaved to decent jobs like a small child to a parent in a crowd of strangers. And many employers, owing more to the hard necessities of competitive survival than innate meanness, made life more difficult. They cut staff and squeezed more work out of fewer employees, and doled out minimal and infrequent raises.

If you have been in the same job over these last five or 10 years, chances are you are worse off.

The hard reality is many employers got into bad habits — they seem to expect employees to come ready trained, speaking three language and no dings on their personal history. And the good pay raises are frequently reserved for managers, scarce technical specialties and new hires.

According to the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, job switchers are getting 30 percent bigger pay increases than those who have been in their current positions at least 12 months. And the time has never been riper — the economy has 10 jobs open for every nine people looking, something we have not seen since the federal government starting keeping those statistics in 2000.

If you have been in your job with no promotion and no annual raise of 10 percent or more in the last three years, it’s time to start shopping.

Are you underpaid? Find out what others are earning in similar jobs — call friends, check out Monster.com and similar resources and perhaps try to land a few preliminary interviews to learn what other employers might pay.

Are you overstressed? For example, constantly working on short deadline, hard rush projects with long hours and inadequate help or perhaps in retail or hospitality, always stretched by too many customers?

Do you lack opportunities for advancement? When recruiting, often employers tell big tales of dishwashers who rise to be store managers and regional directors, but they don’t tell you many were MBA students working nights.

Do you feel like a fish out of water? For example, working among people whose values or lifestyle don’t rhyme with yours. Do you live for the weekend and start counting the days to your next vacation right after you return from the last one?

Would you like to work closer to home or from home? Employers are getting a lot more flexible about that even if yours likes the power trip of seeing your smiling face eight to 10 hours a day when it may not be necessary.

Would you like to develop new skills? Many millennials got stuck in low-paying jobs after leaving school — baristas at the Starbucks or selling housewares at Macy’s — but opportunities abound for new directions even if that B.A. in Fine Arts doesn’t apply. The Department of Labor offers guidance to apprenticeship programs that pay decently and on completion, pay attractive salaries.

If the answer to the pay question and at least one other is yes, then polish up your resume and get serious about searching — but keep it too yourself. Often, the best way to lose a job, even in a tight labor market, is to make the boss think you are a short timer, or to get a lousy raise next year, is to confirm in his mind you couldn’t find something you liked better.

If you succeed, how you leave your old job is awfully important.

Don’t burn bridges. Don’t brag about going to a better place, quit abruptly and without notice or leave projects with loose ends your co-workers can’t pick up. Write an exit memo to guide your successor, and remember you will likely encounter your boss or some of your co-workers again.

Don’t procrastinate about moving tax sheltered retirement accounts. Often, changing jobs opens options for lower-cost and better long-term investments. (My accounts are now consolidated at TIAA and Vanguard.)

Finally, if you can, take a few weeks or a least a long weekend off between jobs. None of us perform perfectly — we each have habits our employer, colleagues and clients wish we did not enjoy — and resolve to do better next time.

Moving on is a vastly under-rated option for living better.

• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

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