"How Long Should I Stay at My Job Without Looking Like a Job Hopper?"



By Joyce Huber

So, you landed your very first job. It's new and exciting and gives you an opportunity to finally put all that college learning and internship experience to good work. But it's still your first job. Are you going to be there forever? Probably not. Times have changed, and employees are much more mobile today, unlike their parents who probably stayed at the same job until receiving a gold watch at retirement.
The big question is, just how long should you stay at your first job, or any job, before accepting another offer without looking like a job hopper? It depends on a few factors, but there are also some rules that should be considered when it comes to jobs and when to stay or when to leave.

WHY DID YOU TAKE THE JOB?

This is a big consideration. Is it your dream job? If it is, there is no reason to leave as long as you continue to learn, grow, and get the promotional opportunities you want in order to take your career to the level you planned. But this does not always happen.

Depending on whose statistics you look at, less than 30 percent of workers land their dream job, or work in some related field, according to LinkedIn who recently surveyed 8,000 professionals. That means 70 percent of workers are in jobs that are not exactly what they were looking for.

The reasons are many. By the time students graduate from college, they are worried about paying off student debt. Competition and a depressed labor market may also contribute toward students accepting jobs that may not even be in their major field. A recent survey by CareerBuilder showed that 32 percent of college grads said that they had never worked in a field related to their majors.

In spite of the statistics, what you don't want is a record of job-hopping. This does not make you look like a job candidate that employers can count on to be around long enough to contribute to the company in any measurable way. But what if the job really stinks? Even then, you need to stay long enough to allow yourself to be able to explain why you left the company as soon as you did.

THE 8/18/48/72 RULE

Many job sources quote the "8/18/48/72" rule as a guide when deciding whether or not it is too soon to leave a job. This means leaving a job of your own accord, not because of job eliminations, company buyouts and closings. These are explainable, but leaving on your own requires a good explanation.

  • 8 months - according to Fortune, unless it is due to circumstances beyond your control (layoff, closing, buyout), 8 months on the job will be viewed as negative. Fortune suggests eliminating such a job from your resume altogether. Of course, you will need to account for the 8 month-lapse on your resume, which could be filled in by free-lance work. But if the job ended due to circumstances beyond your control, even if it was 8 months or less, keep it on the resume. It is explainable and does not reflect negatively on you.
  • 18 months - if your company does 6-month performance evaluations, or even annual performance reviews, you have completed 1-3 performance reviews during your 18 months at the company. This means you are in a better position to discuss accomplishments and value added during your stay at the company. This is good, but you still will need to explain why you left the company after a year and a half. Three to five years is better, but if it's a very good reason, then 18 months is OK. A very good reason would be a fantastic opportunity with a well-known company offering you a job that perfectly matches your career goals, or at least provides a clear path in your career to get you where you want to be.
  • 48 months - four years is an acceptable length of time to leave a job. Even so, if you were doing the same thing you were doing when you were hired with no progress in four year, 48 months might raise some eyebrows as to "what took you so long?" In other words, even though the length of time is generally acceptable, under the circumstances, it could be viewed as a negative. The key is, what did you accomplish while you were there, and how did it springboard you into taking another position four years later? Companies want to see progress. Progress means the candidate is bright, ambitious, and a hard worker.
  • 72 months - is 6 years long enough, or too long? It depends. As mentioned above, if you are happy in your job, getting opportunities and promotions, there is no rule that says you have to leave, or that 6 years on the job is too long. If you leave for a better job, the 6 years is totally acceptable. But if you cannot show progress on that job, 6 years can be make you look like you are not ambitious. In this case, it would have been better to leave earlier.
YOUR RULE

The bottom line is that although there are rules, they are really just guidelines to follow to help you decide if and when you should start looking for another job. No one else can make this decision for you. If you make a mistake, it's not a game changer.

If you decide it's time to go, remember to always be prepared to highlight the good things about a previous job and what you learned, even if it was not a good job. Staying positive and focused will reflect well on you as a new candidate for your next job.

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