WEB Advent 2008 / Questions to Ask Before Changing Jobs

Over the past six months, I’ve had the same conversation with several people. It usually starts something like this: “<dream company /> is interested in interviewing me for a developer position. What should I look for? What questions should I ask?”

Since many people seem to be interested in switching jobs these days, I’ll re-cap the advice I gave with the caveat that these are not the questions that most of them were looking for, but they are the questions I go through when I am considering a change.

Why are you changing jobs?

Are you really looking to change jobs or are you just dissatisfied with your current situation? In a lot of cases, it’s easier to fix your current job than it is to switch to a new one. It doesn’t matter whether it is your relationship with your boss, your benefits/salary, or just that you want more interesting projects, if you think there is any way you can resolve your issues with your current company, try talking to them first. You would be surprised at the number of times that companies are blindsided by an employee leaving. In talking with them, I constantly hear “We could have fixed that problem.”

The other side of that coin is that life is too short to keep a job that you don’t enjoy doing. If there is no way to fix the situation with your current company, start looking around. My guess is that if you are talented, you’ll be able to quickly find something interesting.

What do you really want to do?

It’s great that you are a web developer; I’m happy for you. However, if you slog through your code every day so that you can get home and cook or knit or take pictures or whatever your passion is, you may want to consider a career change, not just a job change. Just because you are good at software development doesn’t mean you should be doing it for a living. A friend of mine once told me he was switching his college major to C.S. I asked him, “Do you love it?” He responded, “No, but the money is good.” I told him to switch back now before he wasted any time or money on it. If you don’t absolutely love programming, you are going to be frustrated. He switched back the next quarter.

Spend a lot of time figuring out what you want to do. Then figure out how to get a job doing that. If you are unhappy writing code at company A, switching to company B may not solve your problem. If you skipped the first question, then go back and make sure you understand why it is that you are unhappy. If it’s because you don’t like writing code, find your passion and pursue it.

What is your career path?

Ok, so you know you want to switch jobs and you want to stay in software development. What do you want to be doing in 3 years? What about 5 years? I’ve never been one to have long-term goals, but you should at least know what your end game is. Do you want to own your own business? Do you want to reach C-level at a company? Do you want to retire early and pursue another passion? All of these are valid goals to shoot for, but you need to know where you want to go before you figure out how to get there. Once you know where you are headed, evaluate each potential job against that path. If it won’t get you closer to your goal, then that’s a huge negative.

One friend referred to this as “the next step.” As they considered changing jobs to a new company, they were looking ahead to the new paths that the new job would open up and the ones that it would close. They wanted to make sure that they weren’t headed into a dead end.

As I write this, the world’s economy is struggling; even so, I get weekly requests from companies looking to hire PHP developers. There is a talent war raging right now and PHP developers are the winners. Before you decide that it’s time to make a move, however, please review these questions. Make sure you understand why you want to change jobs and where you want to go.

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