Author: Jonathan Attwood, Executive Director: Financial Services & Insurance
During disruptive times when a high percentage of the workforce is considering a change in employer, the question of how long you should stay in a role before moving on is pertinent. Over the last few years, with such movement in the job market and a significant change in where, when, and how we work, the topic has become a bit divisive.
There are many stories of professionals regularly job-hopping, chasing ever-increasing salaries and benefits; but realistically this cannot continue long-term and raises the question of what long-term impact this behaviour will have on the perception of reliability.
Speaking with candidates day in, day out, I’m regularly asked the question, “How long should you stay in a role?” Ultimately, it’s a complicated question that can depend on personal circumstances and begs several questions, including:
- Are you desperately unhappy in your current role? If the answer is yes, regardless of the cause, there’s no point staying just to reach a milestone or tick a box. Your mental health and wellbeing should be prioritised ahead of what you might think is ideal tenure. Sometimes a change is needed.
- Are you getting too comfortable? Without enough challenge you can stagnate in your role, leading to apathy and disconnection. If you’re feeling like that, and there’s no opportunity to grow internally, maybe it’s time to move on. The size of your organisation can influence this outcome, with larger companies usually able to offer more opportunity (and variety) for progression.
- What have you achieved in your role? This is more important than your tenure. If you’ve made a significant impact in a short amount of time this is certainly more valuable than a small impact but with long-term loyalty.
But what if the company and role are ok, you’re still challenged and you’re happy enough? What’s the appropriate amount of time before you consider a change in role?
I’ve always believed the perfect period is somewhere between 3-4 years, but again this is subjective. Here is my reasoning:
It’s widely accepted that in permanent work the first six months are a period of “ramp-up”; a time when you’re learning and costing a business more than the value you bring. In many cases the first 18 months are a period of growth, after which you can be fairly certain you’re becoming effective in your role.
It is important to build trust with your current employer, but just as important to build trust with future employers too. A solid, reliable career profile gives confidence for promotions and new job offers. You’re not just going to leave when you’ve mastered your role.
The last few years have taught us that the business landscape can change in the blink of an eye. Resilience is a key strength that is fast becoming one of the top ten skills required in a new hire. Agility, and the willingness to pivot to meet changing circumstances, is important. Future employers will likely be looking to see if you jump ship when the business encounters external challenges and your ability to adapt and change with the needs of the organisation is an important talking point in any interview.
Many roles are complex, and it can take time to build the necessary skills. At the three-year mark I would suggest you’re well on your way to being an expert on the processes and skills required in your job and how to adapt to changes that might have been thrown your way. You can now comfortably train someone new to afford you the option to step up to the next level or tier.
I speak to many candidates who stay so long in a particular role that their skills no longer become transferable. They become comfortable and stagnate their learning – in my experience this process usually starts after five years. It can make a switch to new processes, systems and cultures more difficult to achieve.
When building a resume, it is useful to think in future terms. What does the perfect candidate look like for your ideal position and which of those attributes are missing from your CV? Design how you’ll fill those gaps and make the necessary internal manoeuvres to achieve them.
It’s important to note that changing roles doesn’t necessarily mean changing companies – quite often it’s far more impactful to make the moves you need internally, especially when trying to make a sideways shift or pursue a new direction. At the 3-4 year mark you’ve proven you’re loyal but are also showing ambition and reliability.
Some disadvantages to a longer tenure include:
There is chance that, as you stay in the same job for many years, your salary may no longer compete with the industry standard. You may see more junior staff hired at a pay grade above you. Internal promotion and negotiation with your manager can help with this as can staying on top of the market rate
With longer time in one business, you tend become an expert on how things are done in your organisation but not necessarily an expert in your industry. A narrower scope of experience can limit your exposure to different ways of doing things and diversity of opinion and thought.
Some roles are suited to continuous network building (recruitment is certainly one of those!) but for some professions, staying in one place too long can limit your network, with impacts on your job search when you are ready to move.
Obviously not all these disadvantages apply to every role, and there are many more specific disadvantages besides that are unique to a particular sector, but they are important to consider if you are deciding whether to stay longer-term or find a new challenge.
A Final Word
If you do have shorter-term roles on your resume, it’s important to be ready to talk about them in an interview to provide insight into why you moved. As the world of work continues to evolve, and a more flexible approach to many elements is applied, employers are starting to shake off the traditional concerns around a career with shorter bursts of activity; but you still need to talk them through your reasons.
If you’re regularly moving every 12 – 18 months, hiring managers can worry about what commitment you might show if they were to offer you a position. In an interview you might include what you achieved in each of those shorter-term roles as well as why you left to explain the pattern. Be sure to keep the conversation positive and sell in the benefits of the experience you gained rather than dwelling on any negative reasons why you may have moved.
Whatever the case, you should never stay in a role if it affects your mental health and wellbeing, but when it’s a case of career design, there’s a lot to be said for solid stints of value creation that speak to trust, loyalty and ambition within an organisation.