How Long Should You Stay in Your Job?

How Long Should You Stay in Your Job?

Depending on your chosen profession, changing jobs from time to time may be necessary for career progression. Whether it’s because you want to learn new skills or because you have achieved all you could in your current workplace, there are many reasons to leave a job.

But how long should you stay in your position before seeking out new opportunities?

This article will help you understand how long you should stay in a job, why your length of stay matters and how to determine when it's time for a change.

Why Does Length of Service Matter?

A few decades ago, having the same employer for many years showed trustworthiness and dedication, and workers who achieved this were held in high esteem.

These days, it's quite the opposite. Staying in one job too long may affect how potential employers view you.

Having the same role in the same company for more than five years without promotion can signal that you aren't interested in career progression.

It can also give the impression that you aren't flexible enough to acquire new skills that would help you gain a new role.

This is particularly problematic for the older generation who entered the workforce before attitudes toward long-term employment changed.

However, for some traditional occupations, holding the same role for 10 or more years is still not viewed as a disadvantage.

In fact, it can be seen as a sign of loyalty and devotion to your profession. Such roles include craftspeople, where precise, specific skills are key and developed over time, or a teacher, who benefits from building a relationship over years with their students and coworkers. But these are less common now than jobs that value flexibility.

What Are the Pros of Changing Your Job?

When done the right way, changing your job can bring you multiple benefits:

1. Honing Your Soft Skills

One of the first things that a CV showing multiple jobs may signal to a potential employer is that you are adaptable to new environments.

They know that every time you enter a new company, you have to form relationships with new people and learn new skills.

Therefore, unless your tenure at any one place was unusually short, having held multiple roles is evidence that you have great people skills, and you know a significant number of people with whom you can network.

These and similar soft skills are valued by employers because you will be seen as someone who can quickly become a productive member of their team.

They will still look at your hard skills and relevant expertise in the field. Still, having soft skills is often fundamental for landing a position in marketing or the financial sector.

2. Potential Salary Increase

While promotion within the company can also contribute to a higher wage, job-hopping is often the best way to get an increase in your salary.

Statistics show that people who earn a position by promotion earn less than those hired outside the company for the same job title.

Companies often take advantage of employees’ loyalty and desire for job security by not offering existing employees the same wage as new recruits.

3. Gaining Diverse Skills

Having multiple jobs enables, and often requires, you to develop a varied skill set.

You can combine your skills to ultimately get you a more lucrative position. You can bring skills and experience from previous roles that no one else can.

Employers love to see diversity on your CV because it signals flexibility and the ability to keep up with the constant changes in market demand.

It's also like gaining multiple employees for one salary. Even though this amount may be higher than they would pay for someone possessing only one of your skills, companies are willing to pay it as it will benefit their bottom line.

Provided you still cost them less than hiring two or more people to individually cover your skills, you may be able to use this to your advantage to negotiate an even better salary.

Positions in media and similar fields are particularly known for demanding diverse skill sets.

4. Finding Self-Development and Control

Changing your jobs can allow you to try different roles; learning which one is the best for you can be quite enriching.

True, you may come across some that aren't the best fit but eliminating these will only get you closer to knowing and achieving your overall career goals.

You can try out different things and learn new, beneficial skills along the way. It will also make you feel more in control of your professional career.

What Are the Cons of Changing Your Job?

Changing your workplace can have its disadvantages. Here is a quick look at the main ones:

1. Lost Benefits

All the employee benefits you accumulate when holding onto one position, such as vacation time, retirement income and insurance, are lost every time you switch employment.

This may cause problems if you need to take a vacation or access medical care for specific purposes.

Further, having access to a 401(k) (employer-sponsored pension fund) doesn't automatically mean that your employer will be willing to match your contributions if you hop too soon. Some companies protect themselves by granting assistance to your retirement or savings account only if you stay with them long enough.

Losing out on your retirement savings may have more unfavorable consequences in the long run.

Before changing jobs, you should look into how much this will affect you.

2. Potential Stigmatization

You may be viewed negatively as a job-hopper if you change jobs a lot in a short space of time.

There is a stigma around frequent job changes; it can raise a red flag that you are difficult to work with and they may question your career commitment.

If your potential employer worries about your ability to develop loyalty, they may not hire you. After all, training someone who only sticks around until they learn a few new skills can be expensive.

This is something that can often be overcome with a great job interview. If you can convince a potential employer of the benefits you’ll bring to a company, they’ll often drop any concerns about loyalty.

3. Frequent Probation Periods

You will have to go through a probation period every time you enter a new place, regardless of the level of expertise you have acquired during your years of service.

This can be incredibly exhausting as your skills will be tested with an often higher-than-usual workload (one of the reasons why many workers quit after a few months of service).

In many companies, the probation period isn't too bad but you should check over your new employment contract carefully if you are interested in changing jobs.

4. Job-Hopping Syndrome

Changing jobs multiple times in a row may result in your inability to find a position you actually like. This is called job-hopping syndrome and is caused by switching many jobs without too much intention of developing your career.

Even if you look at the skill set, title or salary the new position can bring, you don't consider whether it suits your needs as a person.

You just apply for it, and when you get it, you realize it was a mistake and repeat the entire process.

Do this too many times, and it becomes a habit you will find hard to break.

How Long Should You Stay in Your Job?
How Long Should You Stay in Your Job?

Length of Service for Different Kinds of Jobs

The ideal tenure depends on many factors, such as occupation, age, level of experience, prospects and a particular industry’s expectations.

Short-Term and Casual Jobs

Short-term and casual jobs prioritize career progression over building up a long tenure.

For example, workers in the lower levels of the hospitality industry are typically encouraged to move on after two years of service. This is generally considered enough time to acquire the skills their position offers, especially for younger workers. For those aged 25–34, it's recommended to switch jobs after one to two years, while for those older than 50, it's acceptable to move on after four to five years.

Workers occupying management positions in the same sector should typically stay in their job for around five years, and look for a position in other venues if they are not promoted.

When it comes to the minimum length of tenure, generally speaking, moving before six months shows poor form, even in sectors like hospitality.

That said, leaving one position within this period doesn't look bad on its own. However, doing it multiple times in a row will raise red flags in a job interview.

Naturally, when it comes to seasonal work, these unwritten rules don't apply since these positions are rarely available for more than six months. In such roles, focus on acquiring one or two new skills or honing old ones to increase the chance of landing a longer-term position.

Traditional Office Jobs

Traditional office jobs focus on building loyalty and developing wide skill sets, which often requires long years of service with or without a significant promotion.

Workers in the financial or legal sectors rarely move within five to seven years. They are required to learn and employ a more extensive skill set than employees in the private sector, which means they often benefit more from staying than they would from moving.

Nevertheless, after two to three years, financial and legal workers can earn a promotion or even just a salary increase.

For other public sector employees, this may take longer, but even they should show career progression within 7 to 10 years.

Younger workers in these industries are generally advised to either move up or in a different direction after three years at the most; otherwise, they risk looking static and as if they are not able to progress.

Moving after the generally accepted period of two to three years in a traditional occupation can bring several benefits:

  • If you have trouble setting new goals in your current position, a new, more engaging work environment can help restore your enthusiasm.
  • It can open up possibilities for acquiring new skills which will benefit your professional development.
  • If you are unable to find anything positive about your job or employer, moving on is definitely a good idea. Studies show that a positive work environment contributes to better mental health, which in turn boosts motivation levels and confidence.
  • If you are unhappy with your current salary or your income has stagnated and you feel that you can find a better-paying job, it's a good idea to move on.

However, be aware that, despite all the benefits, uprooting your career in the traditional sectors may have some drawbacks:

  • If you are older and have worked in the same position for 10 years or more, you may find it difficult to adjust to a new environment. Even companies in the same niche may have different rules and regulations, which may take some time to learn.
  • Employers often want to avoid this by hiring only younger workers, so finding a position in the same niche can be challenging to begin with. That's not to say that you should stay in a stagnating workplace. However, it's wise to find potential prospects before deciding to leave your current position.

General Advice

Although the timeframe estimates above can be used as a reference for many different tenures, they are by no means applicable to all occupations.

For example, in fast-paced industries such as advertising and technology, workers are expected to move every one to two years to develop their careers.

In traditional sectors, however, including teaching jobs and healthcare, workers do not benefit from frequent moves.

In fact, these workers are encouraged to build up as long a tenure as possible because this gives them more authority and credibility in their field.

If you are working in these sectors, a great possibility for advancing your career without moving is learning new skills and earning promotions that provide you with more responsibilities.

Overall, you should stay in any job for at least 18 to 24 months, unless you are a seasonal worker.

For employers finding a new candidate, interviewing and training takes a lot of time and effort, not to mention money. The least you can do is contribute to the company's success a little beyond the time it takes you to acquire the skills your workplace offers.

You can also avoid having to provide unnecessary explanations at job interviews if you have more longer stints than shorter ones.

Keeping in mind the recommended period between switching jobs in your sector, you may plan your exit strategy shortly before your time is up.

If you have any doubt about your current occupation within 6 to 12 months, discuss it with your employers first. If you can’t find a resolution to your issues and are absolutely unhappy at your workplace, you may look for something else.

Make sure your move makes sense for your long-term career goalsl so you don't end up regretting it after a few months and looking for a position all over again.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long to work at one company will depend on your career path, age, workplace and level of experience, but staying longer than three to five years in one position without promotion can bring on the consequences of job stagnation. After this period, you may risk being viewed as someone who lacks ambition.

You should try and stick with your current job for at least one year before moving on to a different one, even if you dislike the work.

In the meantime, try resolving your issues with your manager and focus on how the coping skills you learn now will help your career in the long run.

However, if your job is negatively affecting your mental health, it’s best to forget about other pros and cons, and just leave.

As of 2020, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found the overall average tenure was four years, although this varied depending on the employees' age and occupation.

For example, people aged 25 to 34 usually held one position for around three years, while those aged 55 to 64 had been in their role for 10 years on average.

The best way to explain a short tenure is to prepare a short yet satisfactory answer to the question.

Make sure you tell the truth about the real reason you left the position.

However, you should always focus on the positive points and highlight your achievements in your CV and your interview.

Since the average time for acquiring a promotion is around 18 to 24 months, if you haven't received one in this time period, you may want to consider moving on to a different position.

But do keep in mind that, for some jobs, proving commitment to the company can take up to four years.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your company about the possibility of promotion as it is important to let them know your ambition.

Final Thoughts

So how long should you stay in a job? It depends on several factors but, hopefully, this article has provided some clarity.

If you have found a better opportunity, you shouldn't have trouble making the transition with some planning and diplomacy.

When it comes to non-traditional jobs and apprenticeships, the process will be simpler, as these positions are usually designed to help you learn a skill set. While you should always consider the points discussed here, feel free to change jobs as frequently as your career progression requires you to do so.


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