How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

Ask yourself these questions to determine if you current job is past its expiration date.

How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

What's an acceptable amount of time to work a job?

You may have heard that job-hopping—consistently changing jobs every one or two years—doesn't have the stigma that it once did, but that's only partially true. While it's accurate to say that it's less common for people to stick with one employer for decades, that doesn't mean it's acceptable to switch jobs willy-nilly.

How Long Do People Tend to Stay in Their Jobs?

The median number of years that wage and salary workers had been with their current employers has decreased slightly from 4.2 years in January 2018 to 4.1 years in January 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That being said, four years can seem like a lifetime if you're spending every workday feeling underpaid, unappreciated, or unfulfilled—so don't feel like you absolutely must stay that long. But before you say goodbye to your boss, you'll want to consider what messages the dates on your resume are conveying to prospective employers.

Leaving a job within a year on your own doesn't look all that bad. However, if you have more than one non-contract, full-time job at which you didn't make it a full 12 months, that's a red flag to other potential employers—regardless of why you left.

That's because turnover is one of the biggest expenses that a company can have, meaning hiring managers are less apt to choose candidates who have a track record of not sticking it out.

How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

In an ideal world, you should try to stay at each job for a minimum of two years. It takes employers time and money to find the right candidate, especially when you factor in the investment they make in training and onboarding you.

Besides the dollar factor, the other big issue is that recruiters and hiring managers might cast doubts on your employability if you have more short stints than long ones. Your judgment, career goals, and performance as an employee will all come into question as a result.

What If You're Stuck?

So what happens if you're currently dealing with a horrible boss, severe workplace stress, or simply have a change of heart about the type of work you want to do? When you feel you made the wrong choice after accepting a job, there's no harm in plotting your exit. That is, as long as it makes sense in the context of your overall career goals. And be sure to start your job search as soon as you're having doubts.

Questions to Ask Before Job-Hopping

What does the rest of your job history look like? In other words, is this the first time or the fifth time that you're unhappy at a job? The problem arises when it seems like there's a pattern of short stays. If you've held three jobs in 10 years, you're more than likely in the clear. Most companies will want to see that you held at least one job for at least three to five years because it indicates you're somewhat stable.

What is acceptable in your industry? How long should you stay at a job if you're in tech? What about if you're a teacher? The answers will differ. That's because different industries and roles have different standards. For instance, it's more commonly accepted that professionals in advertising, technology, and start-ups will move around more frequently.

Do you have job prospects? Ideally, if you can hang in there until you have another job lined up, it puts you in a stronger negotiating position. You could be seen as less attractive as a candidate when you're not currently employed.

How old are you? Employers are more forgiving of professionals who jump from job to job early on in their careers when they are still discovering the right path. As someone becomes more seasoned in their career, however, prospective employers will expect you to know what works best for you and thus they will be less willing to bend.

How to Put a Positive Spin on Short Tenures

If you end up with a couple of short-term gigs in your work history, it doesn't necessarily mean your job hunt is doomed. Just be prepared to adjust your resume and then talk your way through it. The following strategies can help you tell a compelling career story.

Describe what you've learned from your job experiences. Explain how each job you held helped you to refine your career goals and pinpoint exactly what you're looking for in a company and position.

Focus on the upsides. If you left a job because of a terrible boss or poor treatment, try not to sound too bitter about it. No hiring manager is drawn to a negative person, especially when they're interviewing you. Instead, say something like you felt misled about what the position entailed, or you realized early on that it wasn't a good fit since their values didn't align with yours.

Redirect the conversation to the future. Emphasize your desire to find a company where you can put down roots and truly grow. Then, make the case as to why the company considering you is the right place.

No matter how badly you want to leave your job or move onto something bigger and better, you don't want to be branded a serial job-hopper. When in doubt about the right time to leave, try to stay long enough so that you can at least say you learned a new skill or gained valuable experience that will benefit your next employer.

Take Action for Your Career

How long should you stay at a job? It's a complex equation, but sitting in the same job past your expiration date isn't going to do you any good. Take the initiative to see what other opportunities are out there. Need some help getting started? Make a free profile on Monster today. We can send jobs tailored to your interests and connect you with recruiters who are looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. You've got a whole lot more to offer.