How Long Should You Stay In Your Job? Maybe Less Time Than You Think

How long should you stay in your job? Well, staying in your job 2-3 years might be a mistake–learn when it’s best to leave earlier or even stay longer

Welcome to episode 3 of ‘Love it or Leave it’ career advice series. Today we look at another commonly shared piece of career advice:

“How long should you stay in your job? You Should Stay a Minimum of 2-3 Years”

How Long Should You Stay in Your Job? General Rules…

Early in my career I had a manager who suggested it’s best to stay in your job no more and no less than 3 years. His advice went something like this:

Year 1: You should be challenged witha steep learning curve of new experiences.

Year 2: You should begin to find a more comfortable stride with your responsibilities.

Year 3: You should be on cruise control and ready for your next challenge.

Fast forward to today, and most experts say the general rule of thumb is to stay in your job at least 2 years.

How long should you stay in your job? Consider these 4 scenarios…

The first year or so I spent in most jobs were a whirlwind of challenging new experiences. If I had left those roles after only a year or less, I would have missed out on super valuable learnings and achievements.

But for the right reasons, I also believe it can be best to leave a job earlier or even stay in your job longer than 2-3 years.

What are the right reasons?

Start with why you took the job in the first place and what you hoped to gain from the experience.

Let’s explore 4 different scenarios:

How Long Should You Stay in Your First Job

1. Testing the Waters

Learning the type of work and work environment you enjoy is essential to career success. There’s a big difference between working in a startup business versus a F500 corporation. And just because you enjoy selling doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy managing sellers.

Often this means testing the waters in different roles. And you likely don’t need to stay in your job 2-3 years to get your answers.

There were 2 times during my career when I accepted a new job to find out if it could be a better fit for me. Both times, I had my answer in less than a year.

The first was when I wanted to see if I would enjoy sales more than marketing. Nope. The second was when I thought I would enjoy working in an academic environment more than corporate. Nope again.

It took me less than 18 months to make the most out of each job opportunity–gaining valuable insight into the right (and wrong) career paths for me.

2. Growth and Development

Developing new skills and abilities takes time, and everyone learns at a different pace. Still, you can’t expect to master much of anything in less than a year or two (and often longer).

If your objective in taking a new job is to develop new competencies, it’s likely going to take you a few years to make the most out of your new job opportunity.

Reflect on the time you’ve spent in your current role and ask yourself if you’ve made the most of it. If you’ve accomplished what you set out to do (and then some), then congratulations and go find your next challenge.

But if you find yourself struggling to fill the page with achievements, then perhaps you aren’t quite ready to move on and need to spend more time in your current role building out skills and experiences.

So, be realistic with your timelines. Everyone is eager to advance as quickly as possible, but don’t shortchange yourself from gaining as much as you can from each job you have. In my experience, taking a role to gain new skills is the sweet-spot reason to stay in your job for 2-3 years.

3. Making an Impact

Making a lasting impact at work can take time. Ideally you get some early wins in the first 90 days to build momentum toward even bigger wins in the months and years to come.

And the thing is, even after you achieve your initial objectives, it’s not difficult to raise the bar and set new goals for yourself. It can be a continual cycle of new challenges and opportunities.

The point is, working in a job where your contributions and impact to the business deliver personal meaning and fulfillment doesn’t need to have an expiration date. If you enjoy what you do, and are continuing to grow and develop, why leave?

Just make sure you’re finding new ways to make an impact and bring value year after year. You can’t stay in the same job and do the same thing you did the year before (and the year before that) and expect to be an in-demand job candidate in the future.  

4. Stepping Stone

Sometimes taking a new job is intended to be a pitstop to something more.

Maybe having this job experience on your resume will lead to more money down the road, prepare you for a future promotion, or accelerate your transition into a new industry.

If you have a bigger vision for yourself and taking a new job will propel your path forward, then you’ll know when you’re ready to move on. In this case, it’s less about time in job and more about timing your next move.

Don’t limit your options

The bottom-line is don’t limit your options based on a general rule.

Answering the question, “how long should you stay in your job?” is personal. Only you know your circumstances and can choose what’s best for you.

While it can be smart to consider the amount of time you spend in a single role in terms of future marketability, having a few short-lived jobs isn’t going to ruin you. In my experience, it can be a natural part of a career learning process.

Try asking a different question

I encourage you to reframe the question. Instead of how long should you stay in your job, ask how long it will take. How long will it take to make the most out of each opportunity?

This means being clear on why you want this job and what you hope to gain.

Sometimes it only takes a short amount of time to get there. And other times, it takes longer.

How Long Should You Stay in Your Job

What do you think?

Do you think it’s best to stay in your job 2-3 years, or is this an outdated rule? Share your thoughts!

Read more “Career Advice: Love it or Leave it” episodes here.

Have you received advice that you’re unsure about? 

Share it with me – I would love to feature it in a future Love it or Leave it episode.



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