Career Development

How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

March 12, 2020

There may come a time when you wonder if leaving a job is the right move for you, either because you have achieved all you wanted or simply want to try something new. In this article, we discuss how long you should stay at a job, how to explain short tenure to the next employer and questions to ask yourself before applying for something new.

How long should you stay at a job?

How long you stay at a job depends on that workplace and your career goals. During your time working for a company, one of your goals will likely be to get promoted or experience a lateral move to a new role. If your current employer does not have the resources and availability to support this, it may be time to take your talents, experience and knowledge to another company.

Experts agree that you should stay at your place of employment for a minimum of two years. It's enough time to learn new skills and build your qualifications, while short enough to show that you value growing in your career.

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How long does the typical employee stay at a job?

The typical employee stays at a job for just over four years, according to a 2018 study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That same study found that these numbers apply to both men and women, and that older employees typically have longer tenure at a company than their younger counterparts.

However, every person is different, so knowing when it's time to apply for and accept another job may depend on several factors such as promotion opportunities, company culture, skills training and work-life balance.

What happens when you stay at a job for less than one year?

A shorter stay at a job used to carry a stigma for employers, but that's not necessarily the case any longer. Employers now understand that people want certain things from their job and that sometimes it's necessary to take on multiple jobs to move forward in a career. You may need to explore other opportunities if the company you work for does not offer the career growth you desire.

That said, there is a balance. Employers can be hesitant about a potential new hire who has had a high number of jobs in their working life. The reason is that hiring, training and retaining talent comes with a cost that companies would prefer not to invest in for short-term employees. Instead, they hope to hire someone who will last long enough to make up for these onboarding costs and add additional value.

Related: Why 2020 Will Be the Year of Job Switching (and What It Means for You)

How to explain short tenure

Although it may seem like it, a short tenure doesn't necessarily mean that you'll lose out on a new role. Instead, there are ways you can explain your short tenure so a hiring manager can better understand the reason for the change. Here are some proactive tips on how to explain a short tenure on your resume to potential employers:

Talk about the skills and experience you acquired

Before changing roles, make sure you have gained knowledge and skills that you can take with you to a new position. Talk about your training and any projects you were in charge of that will showcase your ability. Discuss how each role has prepared you for where you want to be in your career.

Related: 10 Best Skills to Include on a Resume (With Examples)

Be honest and positive

It's okay to talk about the downsides of a past position because employers value honesty, but be positive when you do so. For example, you can explain that the culture didn't reflect your work values like you were hoping it would, or that the job responsibilities didn't align with the job description that compelled you to apply for the job in the first place. Make sure to end the discussion of the job experience with what you learned to show what value it did serve. For example, perhaps you learned what types of work culture are best for you or what industries you are most interested in having worked in one you were not.

Talk about your career goals instead

During the interview, turn the focus onto your career goals and what you can bring to the workplace based on your past experience. Let the hiring manager know what you see in their company that convinced you to apply for the role.

Related: How to Explain Your Reasons for Leaving a Job (With Examples)

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What happens when you stay at a job for too long?

There are definite benefits to developing tenure at a job, but know that switching roles can be a great thing. It provides you with the opportunity to take on new responsibilities and learn more. Employers do appreciate loyalty, but they also understand that some job change is necessary to grow in your career. Although staying in a job for a long time sends the message you care about your work, it can also give the impression that you have become complacent. If you have a longer tenure to discuss on your resume, make sure you discuss any kind of career development or growth that occurred while there.

Questions to ask before deciding to find a new job

If you have worked for a company for a certain amount of time, and are considering finding an opportunity elsewhere, it's wise to ask yourself a number of questions to determine if this is the right move for you. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Is moving on to another job going to help my career?
  • How does the rest of my job history look?
  • Can I improve my current job instead?
  • What are the standards for my industry?
  • How can I explain my desire to make a job or career change to a new employer?
  • Am I leaving for the right reasons?

Is moving on to another job going to help my career?

The answer to this question will depend on your current employer and the new job prospect you have. Think about if your current company is giving you the opportunities you want and if they have the kind of training program you know you'll benefit from. Evaluate what you're truly looking for in a career and base your next decisions upon this. It may take a little while to come to a conclusion because switching jobs should take a lot of consideration.

How does the rest of my job history look?

Look over your resume from an employer's perspective to see how a hiring manager may interpret your job history, but also to be honest with yourself about the reasoning for any job changes in the past.

Can I improve my current job instead?

Instead of immediately changing jobs, think about your current role and ask yourself if you can improve it. For example, maybe you love your job and work with great people, but you want to take on a leadership role. Make sure you have discussed your goals with your manager during your review and asked what else you can do or what projects you can take on to establish yourself as a leader in the workplace.

What are the standards for my industry?

Some industries, such as information technology, experience more career change than others. Before leaving your current role, take the time to research what is standard in your field. If your industry is one that's constantly changing, you may notice that more people switch employers so they can make sure they are staying up-to-date with emerging trends and the skills necessary for the job.

How can I explain my desire to make a job or career change to a new employer?

During the interview process for any new role, your hiring manager will likely ask why you're looking to make a job change. The reason for this is they want to make sure you're leaving your current role for the right reasons and that they can provide something a little different to you, ensuring a mutually beneficial working relationship for the future. Think about if you're able to adequately explain your desire for a new role.

Am I leaving for the right reasons?

Think about your reasons for leaving, and determine if they are valid for the long term. Perhaps your manager selected a coworker of yours for a promotion instead of you and now you want to accept a role with a new employer because of it. Instead, think about all the factors that make up a place to work, such as the benefits package, culture, training opportunities and more to determine if this is the right place for you to remain.

In the promotion example, consider that there may be an important reason you didn't get a promotion to a leadership role. Maybe your manager has other plans for you or feels it is crucial that you go through important experiences in the workplace first. Schedule a meeting with your supervisor to get an idea of what they see for you in your future with the company.

How long you stay at a job is all about balance and finding when the right time is to accept something new. Ultimately, you may want to consider leaving a place of employment when your skills are becoming stagnant and you're ready for the growth that a new opportunity will provide. Remember that you should be able to explain your decisions, including any shorter tenures, and that every person and their resume is different. There is no standard rule for staying at a job—always find what works best for you and your career.