How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

At one time, employers might have frowned upon candidates with a history of multiple jobs. If you couldn’t stay at the same job for any significant amount of time, it usually meant you were unreliable or unemployable.

Today, however, workers can expect to work at several different jobs, if not careers, throughout their lifetime. The days of pledging yourself to one company and working your way up through the ranks are all but gone. Instead, workers often advance through a series of jobs at different companies.

Likewise many companies, eager to innovate, like the fresh ideas and energy that new employees bring.

This isn’t to say that chronic job-hopping won’t hurt your record or that employers don’t value loyal, experienced workers. It takes a lot of time and money to train an employee and a significant investment in resources to groom them for upper level management.

The trick is knowing how many jobs are too many jobs and how long you should stay. Unless you’re miserable or you find a job that is significantly better, the rule of thumb is 18 months minimum. This shows that you’ve survived at least one review cycle and have something to show for your tenure – experience, accolades, etc.

Anything less than 18 months suggests that something went wrong – either your boss hates you or you’re a flake. Of course, if you have a good explanation, your short employment stint will not be held against you. But you only get one or two of these get-out-of-jail free cards before you start to look suspicious.

Two years looks better than 18 months and four to five years is ideal. It shows that you’ve put in your time, contributed to the company and didn’t burn any bridges. After that, employers expect you to have something to show for your time. If you haven’t been promoted or advanced to better projects by six years, it starts to look bad and could suggest that you’re unambitious or worse, mediocre. On the other hand, if you’re advancing steadily at one company, there’s no limit to how long you should stay.

In general, it’s more acceptable for job candidates in their 20s and 30s to job-hop than older candidates. Once you’ve reached your 40s or 50s, it’s often expected that you should have figured things out by now and be firmly established in your career.

Of course, none of this is written in stone, nor does it mean that there’s anything wrong with staying at the same job in the same position for a number of years, or even indefinitely, if you’re happy. Seeking out promotions or new jobs for the sake of advancement is misguided if it doesn’t bring you personal fulfillment. Similarly, sticking it out at a job that you hate is just plain silly.

There are no hard and fast rules, only guidelines. Make a plan and stick to it, if possible. But always listen to your instincts as well. As long as you’re intentional about your choices and are prepared to justify them, you’ll do fine.

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Nicole Cavazos writes about the job market for ZipRecruiter.

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