How Long Should An Employee Stay at a Job?

Employees brainstorming in a meeting.
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Worried about being considered a job hopper? Not sure how long you should stay at your job, even if you don't like it because leaving it might impact your future employment options? You're right to be concerned.

How Long Should An Employee Stay at a Job?

A Bullhorn survey reports that 39 percent of recruiters believe that the single biggest obstacle for an unemployed candidate in regaining employment is having a history of job hopping or leaving a company before they have been at a company for a year.

In fact, hiring managers said that a 58-year-old with a steady employment history is easier to place than a thirty-year-old job hopper.

Average Length of Time at a Job

How long does a  typical employee stay at a job? The median number of years that wage and salary workers have worked for their current employer is currently 4.6 years, according to an Economic News Release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, this longevity varies by age and occupation:

  • The median tenure for workers age 25 to 34 is 3.2 years.
  • The median tenure for employees age 65 and over is 10.3 years.
  • Workers in management, professional, and related occupations had the highest median tenure (5.5 years).
  • Workers in service occupations had the lowest median tenure (3.2 years).

A History of Job Hopping

If you look at one year as a guideline for staying at a job, this can work for one job (or even two) in your total career history. Employers realize that, during difficult economic times, employees may be forced to leave a job within their first year through no fault of their own due to situations like layoffs.

However, if you have established a pattern of working at several jobs for only a year, you are creating a job-hopping work history and your resume isn't going to impress any hiring manager. If you're concerned about being considered a job hopper, here are some resume tips that may help.

Obviously, layoffs can't be avoided, but if you are moving on by choice it's a good idea to consider what, if any, impact the move will have on your future prospects. Sometimes work becomes so negative and difficult that staying may not be an option. Or, you could have been recruited for your dream job.

In those cases, you don't need to think too hard about what to do.

In other cases, though, it can be simply a question of being bored or not challenged and that's when it's time to think twice about leaving.

Questions to Ask

If you have several short-term jobs in your employment history, ask yourself some questions before you decide to resign and start yet another job search:

  • Are you leaving for the right reasons (better job, more money, more flexibility)?
  • Are you prepared to assure employers that you aren't a high-risk hire?
  • Is changing jobs now going to help or hinder your career?
  • Is there anything you can do to improve the situation at your current job if the timing isn't right?
  • Is this the right time to move on for both personal and professional reasons?
  • Will changing jobs now impact your chances of securing a new job later on?

Staying Too Long at a Job

On the other hand, staying too long at a job can also hinder your employment prospects. A lengthy tenure with one company can give the impression that you aren't interested in growing your career. It can also lead employers to think that you may not have the flexibility for success in a new role.

When is the best time to change jobs? The bottom line is that it's a question of balance.

There isn't really such a thing as a perfect resume because there are so many reasons for leaving a job and for staying at a job. However, do be cognizant of the fact that your decisions matter on a long-term basis as well as a short-term one.