Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On job longevity, job hopping and being the change

Back in July, when we were in California, we had a brief family reunion with cousins from all over the U.S. We've always been very spread out so reunions are few and far between.

A conversation with my younger cousin really got into my head. She just started a new job in a new field, and I asked her what her career plans were. She said she wanted to stick it out "for a while" and see, but she was enjoying it so far. I asked her what "for a while" meant—three years? Five? The answer: a year, maybe two.

Millennials are known for job hopping, expecting to stay in each job for less than three years. It's a generalization I cringe at and that should be taken with a grain of salt. As a Millennial, I know many others in my generation that have succeeded in and greatly enjoyed being part of a company for much longer than that. I was at my last job for nearly four years and contracted with them for a year after; I could easily have imagined myself staying for much longer if we hadn't moved. Yes, the days of staying with one company your whole career are gone, but must we jump to the other extreme?

Why do people move from job to job so much? Usually it's one of three reasons: the workplace is toxic/stagnant/unfulfilling, a better opportunity arises elsewhere or life takes them to a different place (philosophically or geographically).  The second and third are fine reasons to leave a job, but the first is the one I'm curious about.

In a bad job situation or workplace, you're probably not the only employee tempted to leave. But you have a choice: do you jump ship or do you lead toward change? Sure, it seems intimidating as young professionals to try and turn a moving ship, but it can also be an opportunity to make an impact and learn valuable professional skills.

When is it worth it to stick it out?
  • When you have influence. You may not be in a managerial or executive position, but is your opinion sought after and heard? This is an opportunity to make your mark.
  • When executives are headed in the right direction. Sometimes, what goes wrong is somewhere in the middle. Is there someone trying to lead that you could team up with? If you can stick out the transition with professionalism, there may be a better spot for you when things are on the up and up.
  • When you're actively searching for your next job. Having no income sucks, and in these economic times, it's hard to anticipate how long you may have to go without one if you quit your job without another one lined up. If you're applying and interviewing, a new job could be on the horizon. A little patience can stave off a lot of financial insecurity.
  • When you have a good mentor at work. If you're getting good guidance, you're in a better position than many. While I don't think this is the best reason to stay on its own, it could be a factor in your decision. Mentors can extend beyond job relationships, however, so a new job doesn't mean a severed mentorship.
How long do you stick it out? That's up to you. And there are definitely instances where running for the hills is the best option. (In fact, job hopping is supposedly seen as a plus in start-up culture.) A workplace full of folks trying to bring you down or management mired in legal troubles are big red flags that sticking around is a bad idea.

Have you ever stuck around in a job you weren't sure about? What factors did you consider when quitting a previous job?


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I'm in the process of seriously applying for new jobs after being in my current job less than a year (10 months, probably 11 by the time I look to leave). I've been agonising over leaving so soon and this post really helped me cement whether I'm making the right decision. I've really worried that leaving now will make me look like a job hopper but I did over four years in my last job, and the environment here is pretty toxic, plus I don't have enough to do, so I think if I get offered the job I interviewed for last week I'm going to take it! thanks!

  2. @ bridget - Good luck on the job search! It is definitely intimidating to leave (I mean, who really likes the applying/interviewing roller coaster, right?), but I'm glad you're taking the steps you need for your career.

  3. I really liked this post. This is something I think about a lot.
    Before I remember people would die in a job - meaning they'd be there for ages and retire.
    If you hopped around too much people though you were unstable - at least this is what my mom says.
    My first few jobs I moved on for a better pay, the least time I was on a job was 7 months, the most 7 years, which is where i am at now.
    I think 7 years is a long time, I have moved up but it is such a small company that it makes me wonder what else is out there for me. However, i am respected here, my thoughts are considered and i feel valued which is very important. Also it is pretty much stress free.... which on the other hand is kind of scary because I am in a comfort zone.... now i am wondering again if i should stay or go.

    1. The stigma for job hopping is definitely less than it was before, though I still think it exists. I remember at my old job, when I was in on the hiring decisions, people who hadn't ever held a job for more than 2 years were a red flag. Sure enough, none of those people lasted more than 2 years at our organization -- they all left on their own accord, not because of extenuating circumstances or anything about the job in particular.

      I can see why you might feel stuck after 7 years. It's nice to be stress free, but perhaps you can keep an eye out just to see if there is anything else you'd be interested in at this point in your career? The best part about being in a job already is that you can keep one toe in the job market and wait for the right position to come along. Whether you decide to stay or go, I'm sure you'll do great!

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