With unemployment below 4 percent and job openings at a 17-year high, the time could not be better to improve your circumstances by changing jobs.
During the financial crisis and terribly slow recovery that followed, most folks clung to decent positionslike a small child to a parent in a crowd. Many employers, owing more to the tough necessities of competitive survival than to innate meanness, made life more difficult by cutting staff and squeezing more work out of fewer employees.
Importantly, employers doled out minimal and infrequent raises — they became stingy except when shopping for new hires where they were compelled to pay going rates. Consequently, if you have been in the same job over these last five or 10 years, chances are you are worse off.
Many employers got into bad habits. Too many expect employees to come ready trained and with no dings on their personal history.
The good pay raises were frequently reserved for scarce technical specialties and managers. And employers learned to get along with fewer managers and promoted fewer staff to supervisory positions.
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. The premium is larger for workerswho change industries.
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, and it's best to cast a wide net.
Ask these questions.
Are you underpaid? Learn what others are earning in similar jobs — call friends, check out Monster.comand similar resources, and land a few preliminary interviews to find out what other employers might pay.
Are you overstressed? For example, constantly working on short deadlines, hard rush projects with long hours, or always stretched by too many clients or 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 those were MBA students working nights.
Do you work among people whose values or lifestyles don't fit yours? Do you live for weekends and count 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 more flexible.
Would you like to develop new skills? Many millennials got stuck in low-paying jobs after leaving school — baristas at the Starbucks or clerking at Barnes and Noble.
Opportunities abound for the B.A. in fine arts barely earning a subsistence wage. The Department of Labor offers guidance to apprenticeship programs that pay decently and on completion, attractive salaries.
If the answer to the pay question and at least one other is yes, then resolve to polish up your resume, line up some references, and start looking. The period between Labor Day and Election Day is prime time, as employers tend to be more distracted once the holidays set in.
Be discrete. 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.