When Can I Leave My First Job?

How Long You Should Stay at Your First Job

i resign message on abandoned office desk
••• Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

How long should you stay at your first job if you don't like it? College graduates aren't always thrilled with their first job after graduation, so you're not the first one who has asked the question. Recent graduates often ask counselors, friends, and family members how long they need to stay in their first job before moving on.

A survey from Express Employment Professionals reports that the average college graduate spends about a year in their first job. That doesn't mean that you should - or shouldn't - stay that long. The answer for you, given your unique situation, might be quite different. It depends on your situation at work, what you are doing in your current position, and your plans for the future.

Here are some factors to consider when you are thinking about leaving your job, but aren't sure how long you should stay. Before you decide to quit, ask yourself these questions to get an idea of whether it makes sense to leave now or to stick it out a little longer.

Questions to Ask Prior to Leaving Your Job

Are There Difficult Circumstances at Work? Are you being mistreated, subjected to unethical behavior or being asked to do something which bothers you conscience? If you have unsuccessfully tried to remedy the situation, then start to plan your exit right away regardless of the amount of time which you have spent on the job.

Can You Get a Better Job? What are your prospects for landing a better job? It can often better to stay at your current position until you can secure a job that is a step up. The adage that it is easier to find a job when you are still employed often holds true.

What Are Your Prospects for the Future? Is there a clear path for advancement which would enable you to transition to a more satisfying job or provide you with a more appealing boss or co-workers at your current employer? Exploring options for moving laterally or vertically at your own employer can be worth exploring before you decide to resign.

Are You Acquiring New Skills? Are you developing valuable skills or acquiring knowledge which will be of use in your career? If so, you might consider staying on longer. Conversely, if you have been performing mundane tasks for more than a year then it's time to plot a change.

Do You Have a Track Record of Success? Can you document a track record of success in your current job? If so, you will be more attractive to other employers and more ready to make a move. On the other hand, if you haven't acquired solid experience and new skills that will be an asset to a new employer you may want to discuss options for bolstering your experience with your supervisor and holding off on a job search until you are better positioned.

Are You Underpaid? If your salary has not increased or is below the industry average after two years in your first job, you should probably start job searching. Do research salaries so you know how much you are worth in today's job market.

Are You Planning on Grad School? If you are entering graduate or professional school in an area unrelated to your first job then you can usually feel free to leave your first job in less than 18 months.

How to Leave Your Job

Whenever you decide to leave your first job, make sure that you maintain a strong work ethic and positive relations with staff right until you depart since you will probably want or need recommendations.

Prospective employers might conduct background checks and get in touch with your former employer when considering you for employment. So, it's important to leave your job on a positive note, whenever possible. Here's how to resign with class.