When To Jump Ship

In the last several weeks, I’ve gotten panicky calls from Executive and Development Directors who have just been or on the verge of being fired. That’s not unusual. Ours is a volatile business and all talk of sustainability and stability to the contrary, turnover at the highest levels seems to be the norm. This is especially true of development directors who seem to hold on to jobs for a mere 18 months then move or are moved on. So it wasn’t the calls that surprised me. What does always surprise me is how many of these calls come from folks I have said, “Time for you to be looking” as much as a year before the writing on the wall becomes clear to them.

Let me be very clear: Getting fired is not the end of the world. In fact, it may just be a rite of passage. And once, maybe even twice, does not mean you are ineffective at your job.

Things do change and what was once a perfect job may have become a really bad fit. Or, like too many people I know, you took a job because it had a better title, paid a lot more, was closer to home—or any other reason that made sense at the time but which blinded you to all the red flags waving frantically in your face.

Regardless, when it becomes clear that things are not going so well, I am flummoxed at the number of people who think the appropriate response is to keep your head down.

“I have to give it time,” I’ve been told.

“I can’t think about leaving until….” Says another.

And then there are the deniers. Nothing is wrong. Really.

What, I always ask, is the downside of looking now to see what is out there? But too many people seem unable to move until they are pushed.

It’s no secret that it is best to find a job when you already have a job. For reasons that really do not make sense, many employers think that having a job is an indication of success—and the greatest indicator of future success is past success.

I could argue these beliefs—and often do—until I am blue in the face, but the reality is that they are widely held. That means you need to leave before you are told to.

Keeping your eye on what is out there does not mean that you are being a bad employee. It just means you are being smart.

Being able to interview when you are not in panic mode means you can ask good questions and recognize that an interview is a two-way street. You need to see if they are a good fit for you as much as they need to see if you fit with their needs.

Being able to leave when things are still good means you haven’t burnt any bridges. Best of all, of course, is deciding to stay because it is still the job you most love, the organization to which you most relate, and the job that you can do better than most.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity. Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com