You may be itching to move on — but right now might not be the best moment to switch jobs. Here's why.
FORTUNE — Dear Annie: I hope you and your readers can help me make a decision. I’ve been offered a job I think would be great, but I’m hesitating to take it. Here’s the situation: When I joined my current employer in 2008, I was hired by a boss who had been my mentor in a previous position. We worked well together and everything was fine — until she got promoted in late 2011. Her replacement is someone very ambitious who got the job by politics, not ability, and is arrogant, short-tempered, and all-around awful. I still really like the work I’m doing here, but I’ve been gritting my teeth, just waiting for the job market to improve so I can get away from him.
So I was thrilled to get offered an interesting opportunity elsewhere. Just one thing: The company I’d be moving to has gone through several rounds of layoffs recently and, according to acquaintances of mine who work there, the cuts are far from over. I’d hate to finally escape this place and then end up unemployed. Any thoughts? — Antsy
Dear Antsy: You’re wise to think twice, in this crazy job market. On the one hand, things seem to be looking up. The number of unemployed people per job opening has fallen from 6.2 at the official end of the recession in June 2009 to 3.1 in April of this year (the most recent figure available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Another sign that hiring is picking up: About two-thirds (64%) of employed Americans say they’ve gotten either a “feeler” or a firm job offer from a different company over the past 12 months, according to a recent survey by consultants Right Management — and, as more opportunities open up, the BLS reports, people are grabbing them, quitting their jobs at a rate that’s 39% higher, at 2.1 million in April, than during the worst of the slump.
On the other hand, however, your prospective employer isn’t the only one still slashing headcount. Outplacement giant Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks the number of layoffs announced by U.S. companies, reported July 3 that planned job cuts were 8.2% higher in June than in the month before.
For a snapshot of the mixed jobs picture now, consider career site Glassdoor’s most recent quarterly Employment Confidence Survey: 43% of full-time employees think they could find a great new job in the next six months, the highest percentage since 2009. Yet at the same time, more than one in five (22%) are “concerned they could be laid off in the next six months,” the highest that figure has risen since early 2011.
Against that backdrop, says Annie Stevens, anyone thinking of jumping ship “should examine the potential negative consequences more carefully than they would in a better economy.” Stevens is managing partner of Boston-based executive coaching firm ClearRock. She offers four reasons to stay put for at least a little while longer:
1. It’s still a buyer’s market, and competition is fierce. The 3.1 job seekers chasing each available job is a lot less daunting than the record high of 6.7 in July 2009 — but, notes Stevens, it’s still twice as high as the 1.6 unemployed people per opening in November 2007, the month before the recession started. Okay, but if you already have an offer, why should you care? Because, Stevens says, the abundance of qualified candidates has the effect of driving down your market value: “Salaries and overall compensation packages may not be as attractive as when changing jobs in a better economy.”
2. New hires are under more pressure now. “Companies hiring people now are expecting them to make a noticeable impact immediately, by increasing sales, cutting costs, or improving productivity,” Stevens says. “In a strong economy, employers customarily give new hires about six months in which to prove themselves, but that window has been cut in half.” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but, before you accept the new job you’ve been offered, make sure you understand the company’s expectations — and decide whether you can meet them.
3. Last hired, first fired. “Newly hired employees may be the first ones affected by cutbacks,” Stevens says. “The shorter time period you have for producing results, and the availability of lots of qualified candidates, means employers often pull the trigger sooner — and offer less generous severance, if any — than in a better economy.” That’s especially true if your cultural “fit” with the new organization isn’t perfect. Frictionless teamwork and the need to achieve collective goals take on increased urgency in a shaky economy, she adds: “Those who don’t fit in are out sooner.” So before you take the new job offer, make sure the fit is solid.
4. Different isn’t always better. “Some people quit their jobs based on one isolated incident, or one negative performance review” — or argument with a boss — “and then regret it,” says Stevens, who has seen many cases of job changers’ remorse. Since the only thing making you unhappy in your current job seems to be your difficult boss, consider looking around inside the company for some other opportunity.
Another possibility: Just wait him out. Plenty of research shows that, on average, managers change jobs — either quitting to go elsewhere or getting kicked upstairs — every two years. Your manager’s two years are almost up and, particularly since you mention he’s “ambitious,” he may be out of there before much longer. Many an office farewell party is a thinly veiled celebration of the fact that So-and-So is finally leaving.
Talkback: If you’ve considered changing jobs recently, what made you decide to go for it — or not? Leave a comment below.