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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

In 1982, the British punk / alternative rock band The Clash released their album “Combat Rock” to mixed reviews, although a number of the songs, notably “Rock the Casbah” and “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” did experience some critical success. It’s not my typical listening fare, but one of the cuts from this album raises an excellent question for the job seeker: Should I Stay or Should I Go?


I know The Clash isn’t talking about employment, but the question is a fair one. As you consider vocational options for your next employment “gig,” one of the pressing alternatives is: 1) to stay in your present field, or 2) try something new.  I’d like to suggest that there are actually three potential choices in this vocational quandary:

  • Stay – Stay
  • Stay – Grow
  • Go – Grow

Let’s take some time to review these in greater detail to get a sense of your alternatives.

Stay – Stay

This choice implies seeking a lateral move, a status quo / more-of-the-same decision that allows you to bring your experience and expertise to a new organization where you will be doing much the same type of thing as you did at your most recent employer. No significant changes exist here. Your commute will be different and your job title may be new, but by and large what you will be doing is what you have been doing.

There is nothing wrong with this option, particularly if you found significant satisfaction in your previous work. This is likely one of the easier directions to investigate. A standard resume format will work (listing your titles and experience in reverse chronological order). Responding to the interview question “Why are you interested in this position?” is rather straightforward, since you’ve done this type of work before and want to do it again.

Where this direction may come up short for you, however, is if you are uninspired in your present work. I have called this, “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.” If this applies, you may want to consider one of the other options.

Stay – Grow

This direction focuses on using your work and life experiences to take your employment adventures “to the next level” (sorry for the cliché), beyond what you have done to new challenges, experiences, projects, etc. As in the Stay – Stay model, you are continuing your focus along the lines of your present experience (e.g., supervision in a manufacturing setting), but are challenging yourself to find a situation that will require and allow you to build on your previous experience to move up and on in your career development.

How this may affect your search is that you will want to make the case that you are an “up and comer,” someone with demonstrated successes who is seeking new challenges and areas of responsibility. You will want to make the point (in your resume, interviews, networking, etc.) that you are a force to be reckoned with, seeking new horizons and opportunities to add value to your new organization as well as continuing to develop yourself personally and professionally.

The Stay – Grow option could be problematic if you are disenchanted with your present career path and are hoping that more responsibility or a higher level of accountability will reinvigorate your flagging career attitude. It may, or it may just satisfy you for a short amount of time until you realize that all you’ve done is changed your parking space in the lot of a career that no longer excites you. If this is the case, you may want to consider the option behind “Door Number 3” –

Go – Grow

This final option says it’s time for something new. You don’t want more of the same anymore (Stay – Stay), and moving up in the same field will only postpone your inevitable employment ennui (Stay – Grow), so it’s

time for a change. This could be seeking to bring your experience into a new industry or business (from banking to hospitality, for example), or it may mean making a radical change into a dramatically new and different field.

This kind of change is exciting but also quite challenging. In her excellent book Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra says that our earlier work experience can bind us and blind us to new alternatives. If you choose to move in this direction, be sure to invest time in learning more about I call “your best stuff” (key interests, values and skills) and how they may be met in work and life settings. You will need to create a skill-based resume to focus on what you bring to the game more than where you have been employed, and your networking will be more dynamic, seeking insights and alternatives beyond where you have been and what you have done. The best answers to these questions are out in the world. Get out there and start asking them.

Well there you are – Should you stay or should you go? It’s your call. Let me know if I can help you work through your options.

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