This byline originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
Have you ever been caught looking for work at work? I have. My boss always assumes I’m casually on the hunt for a new job. After all, born post-1980, I’m a millennial and the stigma of our professional restlessness is well documented. To be clear, I’m not looking for a new job. And analysis by FiveThirtyEight and researchers at the University of Southern California help debunk the notion that ours is a particularly transient generation. Yes, millennials are more likely to have more jobs than the previous generation, but the same was true when comparing our parents to their parents.
The challenge for me and my peers is we are endlessly presented with new professional opportunities. With the ubiquity of job sites like LinkedIn, Opportunity and The Muse, the greener grass is just a click away.
Having hopped jobs four times before age 30, I have developed a methodology for knowing when to make the move. The system is based on the five ideal elements of any job. Of course, no job is perfect. But the goal is to check off four out of five. If you can only answer yes to three or fewer of these questions, it may be time to update your LinkedIn profile.
- Are you learning something new? You’ll be most engaged at work when you are challenged. By challenged I do not mean having to endure exhausting hours, a micromanaging boss or an insurmountable project. Instead, does your job challenge the way you think? Are you regularly learning something new to stay current with new technologies, theories, or developments? In my job, I am surrounded by smart people who are changing the way the advertising industry works from the inside out. Spend enough time with visionary people who challenge the status quo and you will start to think differently too. It’s exhilarating.
- Do you like the people you work with? The people you work with can be the most important factor in any job. They do not have to be your best friends, but your boss(es), peers and employees should respect your work, respect your personal life and push you to be your best self in the office. When you wake up and think about going into work, your mood is influenced by the people you imagine interacting with at the office. Even if you are focused on a specific project, it is the people who condition your environment and make an easy task loathsome and a tough task gratifying.
- Are you good at your job? Holding a sense of pride in your work product is vital. As you advance in your career, you will settle into your skill set and begin to develop a clear sense of your strengths. There is always more to learn and no task is ever perfectly complete. For me, moving from consulting to in-house communications work came with a steep learning curve. I suddenly had to represent myself as the single expert in my company, whereas I had previously been one of many at a large firm. At one point, my boss exclaimed, “You’re the expert. Stop telling us what you think we should do and just do it!” The process forced me to take real ownership over my expertise.
- Are you compensated well? This one seems obvious and in many ways it is. Salary, bonus, stock and other financial incentives are the most objective, quantifiable measures we have to determine our value in the workplace. Compensation can also come in other forms, such as work-life balance. If it’s important for you to spend time with your family, keep up hobbies or dedicate time to travel, you may place high value on a more flexible schedule. You may also value being recognized for a job well done. That’s an important piece of “compensation” for me. But to be clear, particularly if you are thinking about starting a family or paying off student loans, the financial compensation can be a deciding factor.
- Are you making a difference? One of these things is not like the other. The previous four are all about you and what you derive from your job. But the ability to have a positive impact on your world, however defined, should be a consideration. Your purpose could be narrow but lasting, like a teacher. Or you might work in government with the hopes of effecting broad change for millions of people. Too often, the ability to make a difference is at odds with compensation. It was true for me when I worked in the U.S. Senate and I see it with many of my friends who have opted to work in journalism or educate students in low-income cities.
These five questions make up the foundation for the methodology of whether or not you should look for a new job. Implementing this strategy is another challenge all together. Everyone needs to decide for themselves how these factors stack up against one another. And of course, is four the magic number for you? Some people may be willing to sacrifice more to advance at a dream job.
For me, I examine these criteria every six months. Do it more often than that and you’ll constantly be distracted at your current job. That’s not to say I wouldn’t consider a terrific opportunity if it presented itself. But I’m hitting four out of five, so I’m not looking for it.