Two great colleagues have resigned from our department in the last month. Both have worked for the company for at least a decade each, both have fantastic knowledge experience and skills, both are valued. To the best of my knowledge both have been happy in their jobs.

So why leave?

For a new challenge. They’ve both got to the highest level in their career track within the company, and they’ve reached the limit of learning and challenges in their roles.

We often talk about a “learning curve” meaning what happens at the beginning of a new job, but it’s good to think about what a learning curve throughout the job might look like, and when moving might be the right decision. I’ve divided it into five phases, obviously it’s not likely to be as smooth as this for one individual as you tend to get more challenges thrown at you as your competence grows. But work with me here.

1 “Hi, I’m new”

You’re new in the job. On day one you don’t even know where the bathroom is, where to find paper for the printer, or where the phone charger is hidden. You were hired for your knowledge and skills but you’ve got a lot to learn about how things work in this company. The last person to join my team felt he could use the “I’m new” excuse for three months, but in a complex job it could be longer.

Leaving in this period signals that you, or the hiring company, made a mistake.

2 “Thanks, I can take care of it”

You know how to do your job on a day to day basis, but can still get a few curve balls – so you’re still learning and building your network. As your effectiveness grows so does your reputation. But you’re probably still being guided so some degree by your boss and your peers

You could leave in this period, but you probably haven’t earnt a significantly higher role at another company.

3 “Can I help you with that?”

As your competence and network grows you see opportunities and ways to make things better for the company; you will start offering your expertise, with luck you will be known for your expertise and be sought out. You can solve “known problems”. You might be extending your role or knowledge in new ways. For example, I was hired to work on internet sites, around this period I was landed with some additional projects focused on the intranet. It’s the same general expertise, but a whole world of challenges opened up when we started working on our internal environments.

If you leave in this period you could leverage your acquired skills into a higher role, if that scope that role was significantly bigger you’ll have an even steeper learning curve.

4 “That’s looks tricky, but I’m sure we’ll find a solution”

Your expertise, your network and your company knowledge are at such a level that you can solve “unknown problems”, those questions that are important but so vaguely worded it’s hard to immediately jump to a solution. You have faith in your own abilities to find a solution. You are consolidating your knowledge, and you’re probably coaching a few more junior colleagues if you don’t already have a team reporting to you.

If you leave in this period you will leverage yourself into a higher role, or one with bigger scope, or possibly a similar role in a faster-paced industry. And you’ll get to experience the thrill of the learning curve all over again.

5 “We’ve always done it this way”

At this level you risk becoming the person who obstructs opportunity, the one whose refrain is “we tried that and it didn’t work because….”, you think you know everything about all that can happen. It’s true you know a lot, but if your job hasn’t grown in complexity or scope you might be stuck in rut.

If you reach this stage you need to change something; either change role, change job, change company. Ask for a crazy project that scares you – get back on the learning curve and wake up your brain.

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