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How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

How long is too long to work in the same position in the same company? A few years back, a job seeker with a long history of jumping from company to company was frowned upon. Employers thought that if you couldn’t stay in one position for a long time, you were unreliable and considered a hire-risk.

Long gone are the days where we’d get a job and stay in the same position for decades, hoping to be promoted before we retire. 

Today, you can work at multiple companies–even change careers–throughout your life and still be considered for a high paying job. Most companies look for the fresh ideas and energy that new employees bring. However, this doesn’t mean that job-hopping cannot affect your employment opportunities or hurt your career. 

Employers want loyal employees they can trust and rely on. After all, the recruitment process is costly and time-consuming. Aside from that, cost of training employees to meet the rising demands of an organization can be high. So, you’d understand why management would hate to lose you after a short stint in the company.

Job Hopping May Look Bad on Your Resume

In life, some employees stay for ten years at the same job at the same company only to be dismissed unexpectedly. While others work a lot of jobs within a short period learning new skills and advancing their careers. In both scenarios, employees are worried whether the time they stay at a company would influence their chances of getting hired.

Bullhorn conducted an anonymous survey on 1,500 recruiters and hiring managers to help candidates pinpoint issues that might be keeping them from getting employed. The report showed that 39 percent of recruiters believed job hopping or leaving the company in less than a year had a long-lasting implication on a candidate’s resume.

How Long Should a Typical Employee Stay at a Job?

Job Hopping

“How long should I stay at a job?” This is one of the most common career questions. Unfortunately, there is no straight answer. The trick is to find out how many jobs are too many and how long is too long. In most cases, it depends on pertinent issues like your career goals and the company culture.

One of the top goals for employees is to get promoted at their workplace or to take on a new role. With more responsibilities, the possibility of a salary increase is high. If your current employer doesn't have the resources to make this happen, it might be time to start thinking of taking your talent elsewhere. 

What If You Stay at a Job for Less than a Year?

The minimum amount of time to stay at a job is at least 18 months. Anything less than that suggests that something went terribly wrong. Either you were miserable at your job, your boss hated you, or you were forced by unavoidable circumstances. There are several scenarios that may force you to leave your job earlier than expected. For instance, at the turn of 2020, many employees were laid off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

So, if you had been working for only six months before being forced to leave your job, your short stint is understandable. Other instances that might force you to look for work elsewhere include:

  • Your job might turn out to be stressful
  • You may be dealing with a horrible boss
  • You may have a change of heart about the type of work you want to do

In such cases, it's healthy to get out of there and look for something fulfilling.

How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

Experts agree that two years look better than 18 months. Four to five years is ideal - it looks good on your resume and shows your commitment to the company. For first jobs though, the average time an employee stays at a position is around a year. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, most people changed jobs an average of 12 times in their careers (ages 18 to 52). The data shows that half of these jobs were held between the ages of 18 and 24.

Today, fewer workers are putting in years of work in their current jobs. The median employee tenure as of January 2020 was 4.1 years, down from 4.2 years in 2018. The same study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that these numbers affected both men and women equally:

  • The median tenure for employees between the 25 – 34 age range is 3.2 years.
  • The median tenure for workers aged 65 years and above is 10.3 years.
  • The report showed that employees in management, professional, and related occupations recorded the highest median tenure of 5.5 years.
  • Employees in service occupations recorded the lowest median tenure of 3.2 years.

From the report, older employees recorded longer tenure at the same company than their younger counterparts. However, each person has a unique career path and how long you stay at a job may be influenced by factors. These include work-life balance, company culture, and chances of getting a promotion, to mention just a few. Let’s say after eight months of working at a certain company you get recruited for your dream job. In this case, you wouldn't think twice about leaving your current employment, right?

If, on the other hand, you are happy at your current workplace, you might reconsider leaving for another company. However, there is no harm in looking at other options out there with more opportunities for advancing upwards.

How Long Should You Stay at a Job Without a Promotion?

How Long Should You Stay at a Job Without a Promotion

If your goal is getting promoted and moving up the career ladder, staying in the same position for more five years getting promoted can hurt your career. While this might not apply in all occupations, it is the case for many. Here’s why clinging to the same job works against you:

  • Your chances of promotion grow slim with each passing year. Most of the time, you’ll be overlooked while your colleagues, who came way later, advance up.

We can all agree that being loyal to your current employer is a good virtue. However, let’s face the facts. How can you work in the same capacity for more than 15 years without ever getting promoted? If your boss values your input, you deserved a promotion more than a decade ago!

  • You get paid less compared to those who leave for greener pastures. Here’s the thing. An employee who has been on the job for too long won't have the same negotiating power as a new employee. As an old employee, your annual raises are calculated based on a percentage of your current salary.

In 2014, the average pay raise an employee would get was between one to three percent every year. On the flip side, when seeking a new job, you can negotiate your salary based on your skills, talents, current market, and experiences. Companies won't have a problem paying more if it means hiring the best talent.

  • You risk becoming irrelevant. If you stay at your job for too long without getting promoted, you risk losing your ability to effectively compete against new employees who bring fresh ideas.

Managers are always looking for top talent – the best in the field. Now, if you’ve been working for more than five years, your shine starts to fade. While you may still be a high performer and exceed your job duties, management may overlook your input and even stop considering you for new opportunities.

Usually, companies establish a specific structure that sets the pace for promotions. Make sure you understand this structure first before you up and leave. Some companies have multiple positions and job titles, making promotions a frequent event. Others have very few positions, and therefore, fewer opportunities for promotions.

Having said that, knowing when to leave will save you the stress of hanging on to hope. For instance, if you outperform everyone at work and always get praised for your invaluable efforts, yet you still get passed over for a promotion, it's high time you started hunting for a new job.

Likewise, if your boss sets a benchmark but then keeps changing it, and it has now become a pattern, that should also raise a red flag.

That’s why it's not advisable to put all eggs in one basket. One day you may wake up to the shocking news that you have been fired.

Questions to Ask Before Leaving Your Job

Can you land a better job?

Is the work environment toxic? Are you being mistreated, overworked, or being asked to do something unethical or illegal? Do you feel unhappy at your current job and you don’t see any changes to the work environment happening soon? If so, it might be time to plan your exit.

Can you land a better job? If your skills are in high demand and your current job is not giving you the fulfilment you want, then you should start job hunting as soon as possible. Remember, start looking for a new job while you are still employed.

If you change jobs, will it affect future hires? When you job-hop a lot, hiring managers may label you as a high-risk hire. Of course, this might not go well with your future job hunts. Make sure you have valid reasons to leave your current position.

Do you have a good track record? Recruiters and hiring managers find a successful track record more attractive. If you’ve gained solid experience and skills that will add value to your new job, you stand a high chance of being considered for the position.

Is your salary below average? If you are underpaid or you haven’t had a salary increase in the last two years, you should start searching for a better job. The job market is constantly changing and so should your salary.

In Conclusion…

One of the toughest decisions that you’ll ever make in your career is how and when to leave your current position. Personal fulfillment plays a huge role in deciding how long you should stay at a job.

There are no hard and fast rules. It all boils down to what you want to achieve in life and being honest with yourself. As long as you can justify your choices for changing careers, you should be able to secure future jobs without a problem.

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