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How Long to Stay At a Job

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Moving Upward and Onward

Long gone are the days when employees stayed with the same company for 20 or more years and eventually retired with a great pension and perks. Today’s modern work environment typically involves job changes every five years, and new college grads can anticipate changing actual career paths more frequently than their parents and grandparents. In fact, staying put too long can actually hurt your chances for advancement in your current company, or elsewhere, because you can be viewed as unambitious or set in your ways.

What’s Driving the Change?

Technological advances in nearly every aspect of the business world has made it critical for working-aged adults to continually learn new skills. Companies are also more compartmentalized today, which means if you hit a ceiling in terms of advancement and opportunity, a job change may be necessary to further your career development. Of course, if you are in an organization with a lot of room for advancement, staying put and becoming a fixture can be beneficial to your career, particularly if you get regular promotions and are able to scale the corporate ladder at a pace that’s comfortable for you.

Signs That it’s Time to Move On

It can be tricky to determine the best time to launch yourself into a new job or industry. Here are some key signs that it’s time to move on:

  • You dread going to work
  • You don’t feel challenged
  • You aren’t getting promoted
  • There are no opportunities for mentoring, continuing education or professional development
  • Your company doesn’t seem interested in advancing itself or its staff

Of course, everyone gets a tinge of at least one of these feelings on a regular basis, which in itself, probably isn’t enough reason to jump ship. However, if you regularly feel overworked, underappreciated or passed over, it’s time to polish your resume.

Tip

Your views about work can change when you become a parent. You might want more flexibility, work-from-home, part-time or job-sharing options. Benefits also become more important, like quality healthcare, life insurance and sick leave. Factor in these important elements when evaluating your needs.

Signs You Should Stay

If you have a boss that’s receptive to your needs and acknowledges that you want to change the path of your career, it might be worth sticking with a job to see how things unfold. Signs you should stay include:

  • Identifiable opportunities for advancement
  • Options to try new things, job shadow and cross-train
  • A willingness on behalf of management to help you further your professional ambitions
  • You like and respect your colleagues
  • You feel fairly compensated
  • You enjoy your work    

Don’t confuse contentment with lack of ambition. It can be stressful to make a major change, so don’t make hasty decisions.

How Much Time is Enough?

There’s a reason some jobs are called, “entry level.” It’s understood these positions are for people new to the work world or industry; they are there for a short period to gain experience and move on. It’s important to use caution, however, to not be viewed as a job-hopper—someone who comes in just long enough to get experience and move on without regard for the time and money the company has invested in training you for a role. During interviews, ask how long people typically stay in an entry-level position to give you an idea of what the company feels is an appropriate, average length of time. A minimum of one year is standard. You’ll want the company as a good reference, and you won’t want to have to explain why you held five jobs in two years to your next employer. You want to be ambitious, but you don’t want to come across as someone who is continually on the lookout for the next best thing. Future employers may feel that you aren’t focusing on the work you currently have as you pine for new work you wish you had.

Tip

It’s time to go if you’re in a job for which you don’t feel qualified, that doesn’t pay you enough to meet your basic financial obligations, or you find yourself in a hostile work environment. Sometimes jobs that seem good at first are just a mismatch, and it’s better for both you, and the company, to part ways.

How to Build Your Resume

When you’re first starting out in the professional world, or you’re re-entering the job market after taking time off for child-rearing or education, you need a resume that reflects your current skill set. If you had a series of part-time, temporary or consulting jobs that lasted a brief period of time, you can encapsulate that on your resume without looking like a job hopper. Create a category on your resume of “short-term employment” that allows you to get credit for short-lived employment stints without looking like you couldn’t stay put.

Tip

Some job applications, particularly online job portals, ask you to account for every single time gap in a resume. In this case, go ahead and list all employers, regardless of length of employment, but be sure to include a cover letter that addresses the lack of longevity.

Example: “As you will see on my application, I worked in a number of seasonal roles while I was completing my degree/caring for young children. Although short-term in nature, they provided a wealth of experience.”

Leaving a Job on Good Terms

No matter how long you’ve been with an employer, it’s always wise to leave on good terms.

  • Give appropriate notice (two weeks is standard).
  • Finish projects or leave instructions for whomever takes over.
  • Be gracious and professional; you never know when you’ll cross paths again.
  • Don’t speak poorly of your past employer when interviewing for new jobs.

Don’t forget the necessity of having a new job, or at minimum, a savings cushion, to fall back on when you leave a current role. If you feel the need to make a hasty exit, consider temp work to tide you through until your next position.