How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

Consider these factors if you are weighing a job change.

Written by Jeff Rumage
How Long Should You Stay at a Job?
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
UPDATED BY
Hal Koss | Oct 10, 2023

What is the right amount of time to stay at a job? The answer depends on a variety of factors, including your career history, industry norms and professional aspirations.

In general, recruiters like to see someone who has spent at least two years with a company. And ideally, it’s about three to five years, said Matthew Warzel, a former recruiter who founded career counseling firm MJW Careers. For most industries, that range tends to be the sweet spot.

How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

Employers typically prefer candidates who have spent at least two years in their job. But expectations about job tenure vary greatly depending on the role and the industry.

If you stay at a job less than two years, you might be seen as a job-hopper who could be aimless, difficult to work with or chasing the highest salary offer. If you stay more than 10 years in the same position, recruiters might question why you weren’t promoted or if you’re motivated to learn new ways of doing things.

In any case, a candidates’ accomplishments are much more important than the length of their job tenure.

 

How Long Do Employees Tend to Stay at a Job?

On average, employees tend to stay with a company for 4.1 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This number varies greatly by industry and role though. Workers in the public sector, for example, had a tenure of 6.8 years, which is more than three years longer than their private-sector counterparts. In the tech industry specifically, employees tend to stay in the same role for about two years, according to Stephanie Petry, director of talent attraction at Jobber

Related Reading10 Good Reasons for Leaving a Job

 

9 Things to Consider Before Leaving a Job

Here’s some of the specific questions to ask yourself before leaving your current company.
 

1. Do You Really Want to Leave Your Job?

If you are thinking about leaving your job, Phoebe Gavin, a career coach and founder of Better With Phoebe, suggests writing down what you like and dislike about your current role. By putting your thoughts into writing, you can more clearly articulate the issue and analyze it from a distance. Once you’ve done that, you should consider which issues you can control or influence — and which ones you can’t.

“If there are things that you don’t like that are within your control, the responsibility is on you to take action to resolve that,” Gavin said. “If it’s within your control, then it’s going to follow you to the next job.”

There are also factors that are not quite under your control but under your influence. If you are having an issue with your boss, for example, you could have a conversation with them to try to resolve the issue. If you feel like you have done everything you can to try to influence their attitude to no avail, you may want to start thinking about a new job. 

When searching for a new job, it’s important that you try to identify any issues that might crop up in your new workplace. If you don’t like working in a fast-paced industry, for example, landing a similar job in the same industry is unlikely to solve your problems.

 

2. Have You Stuck It Out Long Enough?

If you’re thinking about quitting your job, you should consider whether you have stayed long enough to make an informed decision. Unless you are in a toxic or abusive work environment, Gavin suggests waiting 18 months to make a final decision. Your first year at a job should give you enough information about the full “cycle” of the job’s responsibilities, she added. In the following six months, you should test out those assumptions to see if those assumptions hold true.

If you leave multiple jobs before the 18-month mark, though, employers might peg you as a job hopper who doesn’t know what they want, has trouble collaborating with others or values pay raises above professional growth. Job hopping can get you more money and a better cultural fit, but a series of short tenures could stunt your professional growth.

“If you’re constantly in that learning phase where you are building the institutional knowledge, building your systems, driving results, building relationships and doing all of that stuff that you have to do in that first six to 12 months of a role, it’s very hard for you to be able to point to specific results that you’re able to drive — and that’s the thing that makes you really compelling as a candidate,” Gavin said.

With that in mind, recruiters are typically understanding if a candidate has a job that didn’t work out after six months. “It’s when the patterns emerge that you start to get concerned,” Petry said.

 

3. Have You Been in Your Job Too Long?

It’s possible to stay in a role too long. Again, this varies by industry. University professors, accountants and attorneys are expected to stick around much longer than an entry-level advertising copywriter who wants to build their portfolio. 

Still, recruiters and hiring managers might be concerned if a candidate spent 10 years in a role without a promotion or increased responsibilities. In those situations, Petry said she might use the interview to gauge how that person would adapt to a new role with different ways of doing things. 

Unless you are working toward becoming a partner at a law firm, long tenure doesn’t typically pay off, either. A 2016 study by payroll processing company ADP found that workers received the biggest pay raises when they switched companies between two to five years.

 

4. Are There Any Untapped Opportunities for Growth?

If you feel bored in your job or that you don’t have a path for advancement, you might consider sharing these concerns with your supervisor or human resources representative before making a decision to leave. This conversation could be especially impactful if you have ideas about how you would like to grow. Chances are, they would be open to you implementing a new approach or technology — or even transitioning to a different role in the company.

 

5. Do You Have Another Job Lined Up?

This is a major consideration for most people. Quitting a gig without another job offer in hand will be a financial risk, and it may make future employers wonder what went wrong in your last role. For better or worse, prospective hiring managers tend to look more favorably upon employed applicants. As an added bonus, employed applicants can usually leverage their existing salary to negotiate a higher salary in their next role.

Related Reading22 Questions to Ask Before Accepting a Job

 

6. Does the New Job Get You Closer to Your Career Goals?

If you are feeling unhappy with your job, you should be thinking about what types of work would make you more happy. To do that, you should develop short-term and long-term career goals and then find a job that helps you meet those goals. If you want to do more interesting or meaningful work, you could leverage your existing skill set to transition to a company or industry that is more in line with your interests and values. A job change could also provide the opportunity to take on higher levels of responsibility or a management position. 

Related ReadingIs the Dream Job Real?

 

7. How Will You Communicate Your Career Journey?

Leaving a job might make sense in your head, but have you considered how it might sound to a prospective employer? You should have a narrative that explains your professional ambitions and how each role change has helped you get closer to those career goals. It can be helpful to share this professional narrative with other people in your life who can provide honest advice.

 

8. Would You Be Leaving a Good Manager?

Good managers are hard to find but easily taken for granted. If you have a manager who has supported your professional growth and development, it’s worth considering how that relationship might benefit your continued career growth.

“Considering the value of these relationships and whether they can be maintained or replicated in a new environment is essential,” Warzel said.

 

9. Do You Prioritize Money or Work-Life Balance?

There comes a time when every job-seeker finds themselves weighing a higher paycheck against flexibility and work-life balance. Ideally every job would offer both, but oftentimes, more money means more responsibilities and the potential for burnout. It’s up to each individual to decide what’s most important to them. 

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Pros and Cons of Leaving a Job

Leaving a job is a major life choice, and it comes with upsides and downsides. While there are many variables involved in this decision, here are a few of the pros and cons that accompany almost any career transition.
 

Pros

1. New Experiences

A new job will likely give you the opportunity to acquire new skills and be exposed to new professional experiences that will make you well-rounded and more marketable for future opportunities.

“Few experiences will provide you with more learning experiences quicker than a new job,” said Kyle Elliott, a tech career coach and founder of CaffeinatedKyle.com.

2. New People

If you really don’t like a job, a manager or a workplace, changing a job would allow you a fresh start in a new environment. Before you jump ship, though, try to gauge whether your new team, manager and company culture will be an improvement from your existing team. Otherwise, you could find yourself unhappy again in no time.

3. More Money

Switching jobs typically means more money. Although every role and industry is different, candidates can increase their salary by an average of 14.8 percent by switching jobs, according to a Zippia study

 

Cons

1. Learning a New Business

The first month on the job will feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose of new information, which can be overwhelming and stressful. If you’re thinking about changing jobs, you should prepare to spend extra time and energy relearning the systems, processes and technology used at your new company.

2. Establishing New Relationships

While meeting new people is often fun, it may take a while before you start to gel with each other. You will want to make an extra effort to learn about the likes and dislikes of your team members and how you can best collaborate and develop meaningful working relationships.

Related Reading15 Tips for Quitting Your Job

 

How to Explain a Short Job Tenure

Recruiters and hiring managers’ perception of a short tenure will depend greatly on whether you had one short stint or a recurring theme of hopping around over time.

In other words, is your short tenure a blip, or a pattern?
 

Bring It Up Only if You Have to

Warzel said he would avoid addressing short tenures on resumes and cover letters unless there is a glaring pattern or issue that warrants an explanation. He suggests waiting for the job interview to discuss the rationale behind each transition.

“You don’t want to open up cans of worms that they weren’t going to look at to begin with,” Warzel said.

If you have one six-month job on a resume that is otherwise filled with longer-lasting jobs, you are unlikely to raise any red flags for a recruiter. If you have several short-tenure jobs, though, the recruiter may be skeptical about how long you will stay with the company.

If this is the case, you will want to briefly address your short tenure in your cover letter and interview process. Your explanation will have a greater chance of being heard and considered if you are able to get a referral or warm introduction to a role.

“The more prevalent the pattern of moving around is, the harder it’s going to be for a hiring team at the beginning of a process — when they’re the least imaginative — to really take a chance on someone that they might perceive as being unreliable,” Gavin said. 

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Provide Helpful Context

Elliott, the tech career coach, said it’s also worth noting if you left a company because a former hiring manager sought you out. On your resume — under the company and title — you could write the name of the person that recruited you and the position they held at your former company. This tells prospective employers that you made a positive impression during your time at that company and that people enjoy working with you. 

If your tenure was cut short due to layoffs, it may be helpful to mention that so the recruiter knows you did not resign or get fired due to poor performance. Gavin said the prevalence of layoffs in recent years has eliminated any stigma that may have been associated with them in the past.

 

Don’t Speak Poorly of Your Former Employer

If you left a job because you didn’t get along with your boss or your team, you will want to be careful in how you explain your departure. You don’t want to speak poorly about a former employer, Petry said, or recruiters will assume you’ll say the same thing about their company in the future. She suggests saying that you and your boss were misaligned on the team’s vision, that you had an honest conversation expressing your differences and that you ultimately decided to part ways. It’s also helpful to add what you learned from the experience and how that will inform your career journey going forward.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Expectations about job tenure vary greatly depending on the role and the industry. Generally speaking, though, employers prefer candidates who have spent at least two years in their role.

Most recruiters will understand if you leave a job after six months due to a bad fit, but only if you have a track record of staying at least 18 months or two years in other roles. If you leave multiple jobs after less than 18 months, recruiters might label you as a flight risk.

In short, no. If you are feeling unhappy in your job, you should write down the aspects that are causing you trouble and consider whether those factors are within your control or influence. If you feel like you’ve done everything you can to change your situation, then you should find another job that better aligns with your skills, interests and values.

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