One of the trickiest of the questions I get from students and former students is "How do I know when I should find a new job?" It's an easy question if you're miserable at your current job (or if you've just been laid off or fired). But let's assume that you're happy at your current job. It can be hard to jump from a big comfortable ship. Let's also assume we're talking about really looking for a job, not just being open to new opportunities. I don't care how great a job you have, or how much they tell you that you're family, you should always be open to new opportunities.
But let's say we're talking about actively looking to set off for greener pastures. How do you know when it's the right time?
People will tell you various things. Find a new job if you're not producing anything. If you're not making enough money. If you're not selling good work. If you're not adding things to your portfolio. If you're surrounded by incompetence. If you're surrounded by assholes. If you're not getting the good assignments. If your office isn't big enough. If you have to work too many hours. If nobody else wants to work as hard as you.
I have a very simple answer: Find a new job when you've stopped growing.
Growth can come in different forms. Because I like diagrams, I've drawn out how I look at growth.
LEARNING. Are you in an environment that is helping to educate you? Are you regularly exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking? Do the people around you stimulate your curiosity? Are people in the agency good about sharing cool things they come across? Does the agency bring people in to give talks? Do they send you to conferences and award shows?
PRACTICE: Do you have enough work to keep you busy? And do you have enough time to really work through the problems you're working on? If you're a writer, do you have enough time to write 800 headlines? To come up with 100 concepts? This is sometimes a luxury you won't have, but making ads is like anything else--practice makes you better (and sitting in pointless meetings does not). Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to really master anything. How many hours are you spending actually working?
EXPERIMENTATION: Doing the same things over and over will make you better--at that one thing. Does your agency push you to try new things? Do you have opportunities to push yourself? Do you have the freedom to fail spectacularly? There's only one way to find out what you're capable of.
CREATION: Are you actually selling ideas and producing them? Producing ideas not only builds your portfolio (assuming you're producing good ideas), but it allows you to hone the skills of your craft. To fine tune. And having a finished product is good for the creative soul.
Ideally, you're firing on all cylinders. But there will be dry spells. There have been two times in my last eight years where I've gone an entire year without producing a tv spot. But during both of those times, I didn't jump ship because I felt like I was growing in other ways. That said, if you find that you've gone that long with nothing to show for it, meaning not the right kind of practice, or no chance to try something new and you don't feel like you're really learning anything, then it might be time to start shopping the ol' book around.