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Winter of discontent

YOUR CAREER - CHANGING JOBS: Should 2002 be the year you change your job? Sally O'Reilly suggests ways of deciding whether it is time to make the move or whether that unsettled feeling is just a case of back-to-work blues.

The Christmas cake is finished, resolutions made - and the weather is cold and dreary. If looking for a new job seems like a good way of kicking off the new year, it's worth thinking carefully before you start working on your cv. Career experts agree that while taking stock of your career is a valuable exercise at any time, you need to be clear about whether it's a change of job you are looking for, or a change in lifestyle.

'Be clear about your current job before you start, ' says Dr Susan Cartwright, a senior lecturer in organisational psychology at UMIST. 'Sit down and write a list of the positive and negatives. Then look at them in terms of their importance to you.' In other words, if working away from home on site during the week is putting pressure on your family life, perhaps you need to move into a different area of civil engineering altogether, rather than just apply for a new contract which will put you into a similar situation.

Doing this means you can take the initiative, rather than letting your mood lead the way. Graham Jackson, of Bristol-based engineering recruitment firm Potensis, believes there are definitely times of the year when civil engineers are more susceptible to a call from the head hunters: 'People generally hit a seasonal low - and they are more receptive to our advances, ' he says.

Although it is wise to take into account that short days and bleak weather can make your job seem worse in January than it does in June, if you truly feel undervalued, then it is worth looking for a new employer.

'It is common for someone who has been with a business for a long time to feel that they are not recognised and almost viewed as part of the furniture, ' says Jackson. 'They also see a change of employer as a way to retain their interest and keep their career moving.'

Liz Thomson, a spokeswoman for Balfour Beatty, warns against moving just because you are fed up. She points out that you will need to sell yourself to your next employer as a highly motivated person - rather than someone who changes jobs on a whim.

'Boredom with a current employer may indicate ambition and drive that is being genuinely frustrated, or it could mean someone who can't settle or needs new stimuli all the time, which is a problem, ' she says.

You may be able to breathe new life into your existing job, too. There are ways of changing the way you work. Before jumping ship, Cartwright suggests maximising those famously underused communication skills.

'People who get stuck in a rut often blame their partner, saying 'they expect me to do this, ' she says. 'But often, they haven't asked them - and can be surprised by the response.'

Initiating a little communication can also pay dividends with line managers. 'If you want more involvement in a project, you may be able to get it if you ask for it, ' stresses Cartwright.

And even though Jackson is in the business of moving engineers from one job to another, he agrees that there are circumstances in which changing jobs can be a bad career move.

Loyalty still counts. 'In fact, we avoid people who have moved too much - every two to two and a half years, for instance. Our clients want someone who will stay in a role and develop with them.'

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