personal finance

I Spent 5 Years Interviewing 233 Millionaires—Here's the No. 1 Career Move That Made Them Rich

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I spent five years studying and interviewing 233 millionaires to learn about their habits and the way they think.

Work was a big topic: 51% were entrepreneurs, 28% had traditional 9-to-5 jobs, and 18% were senior-level executives at large companies.

But they all had one thing in common: They quit their mid- to late-career jobs, saying they felt it was the only way they could truly succeed and build wealth. Some left to start their own businesses, while others found lateral roles that offered more growth opportunities and a higher salary.

Here are the most common red flags that made them decide to quit:

They were being underutilized.

The millionaires in my study often felt like they were always doing "zombie work" — boring, repetitive tasks that didn't showcase their strengths and talents.

One person worked for a container shipping company. He felt underutilized and ultimately quit his job to join forces with another industry peer.

Together, they launched a new U.S. branch of an international container shipping company. Today, they are executives at the multibillion-dollar company.

They had toxic bosses.

Managers who are demanding, selfish, arrogant or have little interest in your opinions won't help you reach your earning potential.

One millionaire said he was so fed up with his manager, who would only criticize his work instead of giving constructive feedback. He got tired of it and left to start his own home construction company, taking with him a number of key employees who felt the same way.

Their company grew into a successful home builder, making the founders very wealthy. 

They dreaded their office culture.

An undermining culture of malicious gossip can make anyone feel a sense of anxiety going into work every day. This was the case for one of the individuals in my study, who was a manager at an accounting firm.

He ultimately left due to the toxic environment. After months of job interviewing, he landed an offer at a competitor firm, where he rose up the ladder and became a partner.

They weren't paid enough (or getting raises).

A sure sign that it was time to start looking for another opportunity, the participants told me, was when their salaries could barely keep up with the bills.

They couldn't afford they vacations they wanted or save up enough money to buy a house.

One person who worked for a large car dealership decided to strike out on his own. Thanks to investments from his family and friends, he launched his own dealership and franchised it, which allowed him to build significant wealth. 

They had a draining commute.

One self-made millionaire in my study had a lengthy commute from her home in New Jersey to New York City. It was wearing on her, so she decided to look for something closer to home.

She took another job at a New Jersey-based company in the pharmaceutical industry, and it paid off. She climbed to a senior position and retired early thanks to a very generous stock compensation package. 

Before you hit your breaking point, consider having a conversation about a hybrid remote option, or moving into a position where there is little travel required.

Their industry was unsteady.

One IT professional left his struggling manufacturing company to join a new business offering discount online brokerage services.

At the time, it was a relatively new industry. But the risk was worth it: As the company prospered, so did he. This a good reminder that your skills may be more transferable than you think.

Don't be afraid to get on the ground floor of something that excites you.

Tom Corley is an accountant, financial planner, and author of "Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals" and "Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life." He holds a master's degree in taxation. Follow Tom on Twitter @richhabits.

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