6 Bad Reasons to Stay in the Wrong Job

Career advice on why you shouldn't stay in a dead-end position.

It’s no secret that sticking with a job that’s a bad fit can hurt you professionally. Not only could you suffer guilt by association working for a company that has a notorious reputation (how many people do you think still have Enron on their résumés?), but hiring managers and recruiters at more promising firms are less likely to be interested in you.

If you’re still in denial about the warning signs of when it’s time to move on, we’ve compiled a list of the six worst reasons to stay in a job that’s stifling your career growth:

1. “I need to show continuity. I have too many short-term jobs on my résumé.” This rationale isn’t so unreasonable, but how long does it take to “cure” the run of short-term jobs you held before your current one? Two to three years at a given employer is plenty, as long as you have a few personal accomplishments, such as acting as a project manager on a high-priority project or bringing in a top-tier client, that you can speak to during an interview. Spending an additional year or two in a bad job isn’t going to make you look more stable to a potential employer.

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2. “I love my co-workers.” It’s wonderful and somewhat rare nowadays to work with people who understand you and have your back (and vice versa). That kind of support may persuade many to tough it out in a lackluster position for an extra year. After that, however, what’s the payoff?

Great people who work together for a not-so-great employer are often not growing professionally or personally, because they’re in an environment that doesn’t breed professional development. If this is the case for you, your colleague-friends will understand and wish you well as you pursue better opportunities. Maybe you can even bring some of them on board once you’ve found a better company.

3. “This job is good enough because I’ve got kids.” If you’re a parent for whom a job with hours that fit your child’s school schedule is a high priority, you can still have that and grow in your career. Many people settle for low-level positions that they could’ve performed ten or 15 years ago (at half their market salary) in order to have a flexible schedule.

You don’t have to. Talk to temp and contract agencies in your area and let them know what you’re looking for, so that they can keep you in mind when clients place new assignments with them. You’ll still be able to build your résumé by getting to work on challenging temporary projects without having to put in ridiculously long hours. Check out sites such as Flexjobs.com, which specializes in job openings for telecommuters and other flexible workers. It may serve you better to cultivate private clients over time than to stay on a non-career path in a menial job.

4. “If I stick around and I get laid off, I’ll get severance.” True, if you work for a company where a layoff seems imminent, when it’s your turn to get a pink slip it will come with a severance check. But with the way the job market has been behaving, it’s likely you’ll run through that money during your job search and then watch your savings dwindle. Why do that? Start job-hunting now, and with luck you’ll be in your next position before anyone has time to draw up lists of expendable employees. That’s far better for your résumé and your pocketbook than playing chicken with your bank account.

5. “They’re paying my tuition.” If your employer is paying for your schooling, get a copy of the agreement you signed that obliges you either to stay for a certain period of time once you’ve completed the academic program or pay back the tuition your employer paid out on your behalf. You need to know what you’re on the hook for, just in case you decide to bail mid-program or leave the company before the agreed-upon date. If you aren’t tied down by an agreement, you can simply give notice as any other employee would do. However, if you end up having to pay back the tuition, inquire about setting up a payment plan so that you don’t go into debt while in the process of changing jobs.

6. “The salary is really good.” If you’re spending the major part of your paycheck on creature comforts, such as a new luxury car, rather than investing it for the long term -- say, in stocks or real estate -- you may not be taking advantage of that high-paying salary. Furthermore, you shouldn’t be using it as a crutch to stay in a dead-end position. There’s a reason people refer to big paychecks and nice perks as “golden handcuffs.” They keep you from searching for better opportunities that could actually help you get an even better salary and expand your professional network.

Liz Ryan
Contributing Columnist, Kiplinger.com