“I’m not ready to make the jump yet.” It’s what I’ve heard for years from people yearning for a better career but uncomfortable with the risks involved.
There’s a secret to getting over this inertia: Preparation. If you plan your jump correctly, you can usually go back where you started if your new direction doesn’t work out. To do this you must understand hiring from your employer’s perspective. Imagine you applied for the job you have now: Do you think you’d get it? Do you have the experience necessary and know the market well? Are you a “risky” hire or a trusted performer? This is what employers commonly evaluate when interviewing. You already have the distinct advantage of having direct access to your future hirer. Use that advantage before you leave to build the necessary relationships for a future where you want to return.
To do this, it’s crucial to be clear about your long term goals with whomever would be rehiring you. If you have an appetite for risk the company can’t offer, or have a rare opportunity to try something, or any number of reasons she can relate to, she should understand. Often, your hiring manager will wish she were confident and prepared enough to do it herself.
This won’t work for everyone. If you work in a shrinking industry, aren’t performing up to your peer group, or don’t possess in-demand skills, coming back will not be so easy. Your employer should need to fill the position you leave behind so if they’re not growing you may be out of luck. On the other hand, just because you don’t want to jump doesn’t mean you won’t get pushed: If you’re at risk of losing your job, be proactive about finding a new one. Difficult as it is, it’s much easier to find a job when you’re already in one.
Will laying this groundwork for your jump make you capable of taking it? It’s often a question of when, not if. Ask yourself what the hiring manager would say if today you proposed leaving to pursue your passion. Would she be supportive? Outraged? Shocked? Would she think you disloyal for leaving so quickly after being hired? If you suspect she wouldn’t be on your side then you have work to do. Before you’ll be able to come back into a job you’ve left behind your employer will need to see you as someone who has grown and matured while away, not someone who left the company stranded.
The best career jumpers aren’t the biggest risk-takers: They’re the ones who do the most preparation before making a single move. In my experience, when done correctly, preparation can open a one, two or even three year window for you to pursue your next jump.