Jump to section
How long should you stay in a job? Even if you love a job at first, over time you can feel like you’ve stopped growing. Or, you can accept a new job only to quickly realize it’s not the right fit.
The great resignation has been followed, for some, by the great regret.
But how soon is too soon to leave a job? How long should you stay in a position that's making you miserable? Should you stay in a role you hate if you see a new opportunity arising, or leave if you’ve gone months without a promotion that you deserve? It's not a straightforward decision.
Future employers might look at you and call you a “job hopper” if you bounce from job to job on a short-term basis. Your work history will speak for itself, but not always in a positive light.
There is something to be said for commitment and having the maturity to work through the rough patches. Just like relationships, no job is perfect. Call it your "dream job" and it will almost certainly break your heart a few times.
But that doesn't mean you're doing something wrong if you leave a job quickly. We've all known someone (probably several) who stayed in a role too long. Whether out of loyalty, fear, or inertia, being in the wrong place for too long can eat away at your attitude, skills, and confidence.
You need to do what's best for you and your career. To help you make this tough decision, let’s try to answer the all important question “how long should I stay in a job?”
How long should you stay in a job?
Experts tend to agree that you should stick with your current job for at least two years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that as of January 2020, the median number of years that both wage and salary workers stay at their jobs is 4.1 years.
Even with these statistics in mind, it's difficult to say how long the typical employee stays with their current company. Job tenure depends on various factors like geography, age, and how much a person likes their job.
The biggest fear some people have about leaving their current jobs is how their resumes may look after. Only being employed somewhere for six months might be a red flag to potential employers. Hiring managers or recruiters could be less interested in someone who's been job hopping than someone with a stable track record.
However, there’s no perfect amount of time to hold a job. How long you should keep a job before quitting should ultimately be up to you.
If you're achieving your career goals and you see the possibility for growth or promotions, staying could be the right choice. On the other hand, working at a job with no room for growth isn't good for your well-being. Feelings of burnout indicate you should probably leave.
If switching jobs means you’re taking care of your mental health and enjoying a better work-life balance, then nobody should get in your way.
5 pros of changing your job
The decision to leave your current role and search for a better one can have a lot of benefits. When thinking about how long you should stay in a job, make sure you consider the positive things that can happen.
Here are five pros that can come from switching to a new job:
- A new job allows you to learn new skills and further your career development.
- You could earn more money than you did at your previous job.
- You could leave toxic leaders or a negative work environment behind.
- You will expand your comfort zone and build more confidence.
- Networking will become easier for you as you meet new people.
That said, change can be scary. Getting support from friends, family, or a professional can be crucial to successfully changing your job. A platform like BetterUp can also help you face a career transition with confidence.
5 cons of changing your job
Of course, when we acknowledge the pros, we have to talk about the cons, too. Your decision about how long you should stay in a job can definitely be impacted by potentially negative consequences.
Here are five cons to consider when switching jobs:
- It could be hard to adjust to new changes.
- Your job opportunities could be limited depending on your industry, market conditions, and your current experience level.
- You might not get a job that pays more than your previous one.
- Your new job could end up being more stressful than you wanted.
- Unless it's remote work, you could have a longer commute or working hours.
11 questions to ask yourself when deciding to switch jobs
Before deciding how long you should stay in your job, take some time to yourself. You need to truly think through your choice without the influence of friends or family.
Reflect on your long-term career goals, journal, and think about what you truly want. Ask yourself some tough questions, like the ones below. Your answers will help clarify what you should do next.
Here are 10 questions to ask yourself about finding a new job:
- Does your job history reflect you as a job hopper?
- Are there many job opportunities in your industry right now?
- Is there any way you can improve your current job?
- Will switching jobs help my career development or make it harder for me?
- Do I need to update my skill sets before I start applying?
- Am I leaving for the right reasons?
- Are my skills transferable enough to try something different?
- Will this new job be better or worse for my financial security?
- Do I have a clear idea of what I want out of my next job?
- Do I want to switch to remote work or vice versa?
- What should I do if I hate my job?
4 tips to explain short tenure
When you get to a job interview, the hiring manager could bring up your short stints at a few other companies. However, you don't need to panic. You can always explain yourself so that your new employer has a better understanding as to why you've worked at lots of places.
Review these tips and keep them in mind for your following interview:
1. Talk about all your learnings.
Each job has taught you something. Even if you're glad to leave it in the past, you learned a lesson or two. You should bring up how your previous jobs helped you realize your career goals during your interview.
It can help you explain what you're looking to achieve with a new company and how that can benefit your potential employer as well.
2. Highlight the positives.
Perhaps you left your previous job because you didn't like your boss or your coworkers were challenging to work with. Rather than dwell on the negatives, try to put a positive spin on it.
If you didn't like the work you were doing with your previous company, explain that your values didn't align and you wanted to follow your passions. Perhaps the job you’re interviewing for is the perfect opportunity.
3. Refocus the conversation on the future.
Your interview may ask you to talk a lot about the past, but that doesn't mean you can't bring up the future. Emphasize your career goals and how you want to grow with this new company.
Show your potential employer that you are committed to being a team player who takes initiative and embraces challenges and is excited to learn new skills. If the hiring manager has any thoughts about you being a serial job hopper, this will put that theory to rest.
4. Be honest and be yourself.
You should never feel like you have to lie or fabricate the truth in an interview. Being dishonest about your past experiences and outlook on the future will only hurt you in the end. Rather than paint yourself as someone you aren't, be your authentic self. Employers value honesty. They don't want to hire people that lied to them in the interview process.
Deciding how long you should stay in a job can be difficult. Nobody else can make this decision for you, so make sure you consider every aspect of your life. Don’t solely focus on your professional self. Will this new change be better for your mental health? Will it give you more time to spend with your family and more opportunities to take care of your well-being?
You shouldn't let all the statistics about how many years an employee should stay at a job influence your decision. If your workplace is dragging you down, it doesn't matter if you've been there for one, three, or five years. You have agency to take action and help yourself. There’s no certain way to know how long you should stay in a job before quitting, but don’t let fear stop you.
Find someone who will support you as you make tough decisions. A BetterUp can help you develop the skills you need to make informed, careful decisions to benefit your career and happiness. Before you know it, you’ll be in a job that makes you happy to go to work on Monday.
Vice President of Alliance Solutions