When Should You Change Jobs?

Management professor Matthew Bidwell cuts through the conventional wisdom on when (and why) you should consider moving or staying put.

(Photo: Colin Lenton)

1. More Than Money2. Should I Stay or Should I Go?3. Moving Over vs. Moving On4. Consider the Risks5. Potential Hiring Dilemma6. Different Strokes
Career fulfillment isn’t only about pay; company alignment with an employee’s values and abilities is essential.
It may seem counterintuitive when you think about landing a big pay hike at a new firm, but if there’s room to grow and you feel “anchored,” internal moves may be better in the long term.
A 2011 Wharton MBA survey suggests that changing companies may result in a short-term pay raise, but in the long run, it’s not associated with better pay or promotions—and too many lateral moves could affect your employability.
It can take two or three years to get up to speed at a new job, and you might not know if the new organization will be a good fit culturally.
Employers are reluctant to ask newly hired managers to lead a bigger unit than before—but why would someone change firms to do the same job? One reason may be to make more money.
MIT’s Edgar Schein developed a model of eight “Career Anchors” related to choices we make about our careers, like: What drives you? Is your workplace a good fit?

People want good jobs that pay well. They want to work for organizations that fit with their values and abilities. But how often should they change jobs? Wharton Associate Professor of Management Matthew Bidwell drew from a course he teaches, Understanding Careers and Executive Labor Markets, for a lecture on when to leave and when to stay put.

“There’s never a safe answer to whether you should or should not move,” he says, citing a cautionary trend from the financial industry: Analysts who change employers may be serving the same clients and covering the same companies, but every time they move, they’re less likely to be rated a top analyst, at least initially.

It’s true in medicine, too. What makes a surgeon good? According to Bidwell, it’s not just how many operations he or she has performed in total. When surgeons start doing the same procedure in a new hospital, their patients’ mortality rates go up even though they’re doing identical work. “But they’re doing it with a different surgical team,” says Bidwell. “That matters to the outcomes.”
Across all industries, “It can take two or three years to get up to speed,” he notes. “You’re building new relationships and learning the culture.” During this period when a new employee is underperforming, management might wonder why the organization was willing to pay so much for a laggard—and decide against a raise for a couple of years.

In a 2011 career survey of Wharton MBA alumni, “We were able to look back and see how many people moved jobs and how many grew internally,” says Bidwell. “We found that when you move jobs, you get an immediate pay raise, so you would assume changing jobs more means you make more money.” But there’s a catch: You get the pay raise when you arrive, but if you underperform, you’re less likely to get the raises you would have been awarded at your former company.

Bidwell offers advice on when it might be time to change companies and when you’re better off moving up internally: “We’ve found that you’re more likely to be hired into executive jobs if you have functional breadth—and moving firms is one way to get that. So moving to build your résumé is good if it does so by giving you breadth.” In fact, he says, most successful executives have worked for just two or three companies in their careers. They developed the skills they needed through internal promotions, not by job-hopping. —Louis Greenstein


Published as “At the Whiteboard With Matthew Bidwell” in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Wharton Magazine.





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