This is a question that is open to a lot of debate. In truth, there is no single answer to the question. It all depends on the type of career you have, how long you’ve been in it, and what the big picture circumstances are that surround it.
Tread lightly when you are new to a career field
Traditionally, people who are new in a career field tend to change jobs more frequently. This usually happens because starting salaries for rookies are always on the very low end of the pay scale. In many fields, the only way to advance to a higher salary level is to change jobs.
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That may still be the case in various career fields, but the job market is evolving, so what has worked well past may not be the best course the future. Simply sitting in a job for one or two years until a better offer comes along will only makes sense if you have gained the experience and skills that are needed to keep your career moving forward. Changing jobs just to get a higher paycheck could lead to an early career crisis.
In addition, since so many employers are so much more cost conscious than in the past, the early trade-up options may not exist.
Take cues from typical practices in your industry
How long you should work before switching jobs is largely dependent upon your career category or industry. For example, in the IT field, changing jobs every 2 to 3 years is pretty much the norm. In other fields, say management positions, it may take at least five years to demonstrate success in a position that warrants the ability to move on.
Sometimes job tenure is heavily affected by the type of employer. Turnover tends to be lower in government jobs in part because there is greater job security, but also because there are fewer parallel opportunities at other employers. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if you’re working in an industry that is dominated by small business, people tend to change jobs more quickly if only because there are far more employment opportunities available.
You should keep your job changes within the generally accepted limits of your profession or business environment.
Stay as long as you continue to learn and grow
In a perfect world, this should be the ultimate answer to the question of how long to stay on a job. A job is worth retaining as long as you are continuing to learn and grow in your profession and even in your life. This means that the job is benefiting you in ways that go beyond just money. You’re becoming better at what it is that you do, and as you do, your market value should increase in the future.
This will also indicate a strong achievement drive. You will stay on the job as long as you’re growing, but you refuse to allow yourself to stagnate. In fact, stagnation should be seen as the signal to move on. The longer that you stay in a job where you’re not growing, the lower your market value will ultimately become.
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This can be evidenced by a sequence of regular promotions and salary increases. It is also something that you will be able to sense. If your work is challenging, and presents you with new opportunities to expand your skill set, then you are growing in the job even if your salary and position have not been increased.
Since so many jobs are potentially stagnant from the get-go, you should not want to easily give up on any position that allows you to grow.
The economy is always a factor
In any quit-or-stay debate, the state of the ecomomy always matters. More precisely, the state of the economy largely determines the risk level that you are taking on by changing jobs.
For example, in a good economy where jobs are plentiful, if you were to take a job that ended up being a disaster, there would most likely be another job to move on to in the event that you had to leave on short notice. In a good economy then, changing jobs is a fairly low risk proposition.
In a poor economy with a very tight job market, you may not even consider making a job change at all. Even if the job you hold right now is not entirely satisfying, but it offers a solid level of stability, you may want to avoid the risk of trying for a new job. In an weak economy, you may not be able to replace the bad job. The risk would be that the bad job could lead to either a sudden termination or a forced quit on your part, that might lead to a very long period of unemployment.
The overall state of the economy in general, and the job market in particular, should always be considered when changing jobs.
Take a long, hard look at your own resume
Here’s where things start to get really subjective. It doesn’t matter what industry or professional standards are, you have to look at how you fit into the big picture. If your resume shows that you have held five positions in the past 10 years – and you are in a relatively low turnover career field – you may be at risk of being seen as a job hopper. Adding yet another job to the list would only make that point more obvious.
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The fewer jobs you’ve held the past, the more latitude you have with changing jobs in the future. If you have gone through time of rapid job turnover in your life, it might be best to settle in where you are for a while and build some semblance of stability. You might find that does more to increase your future market value than taking yet another job.
What standards do you use to determine how long you should work before switching jobs?