Millennials get a bad rep for changing jobs too frequently. Some people believe that these career shifts reflect a lack of patience and dedication, as well as a prioritization for ventures that offer quick rewards and unrealistically flexible work schedules. The truth is, however, that job-hopping has become more of a necessity than ever before. More college graduates enter the workforce each year hoping to land their dream job in the industry they’ve just spent four years learning about, and it’s not quite as easy as it used to be.
As a result, millennials have to settle for jobs they believe will get them one step closer to their goals; they accept jobs outside of their desired field based on availability and financial need. For these reasons, it’s become less alarming for young professionals to change jobs more often. But how often is too often when it comes to job-hopping? We asked career experts to explain exactly how regularly you should be changing jobs and why. Here’s what they had to say.
You should aim to stay at your job for one to three years
If you’re serious about your job, you should at least commit to one year in your position before looking elsewhere or pursuing other positions within the company. Although you might think this is a long time — especially in an entry-level job you don’t enjoy — you will learn so much more about your company and the industry you’ve chosen to work in if you stick it out. It’s important to remember that all companies operate within a fiscal year and it is almost impossible to learn all there is to learn about the company in a shorter time frame.
HR professional, resume writer and career coach Jessie West stands by the one-year guideline. She explains, “There is no hard and fast rule on this, but employers generally want to see that you are able to stay with a company at least that long. Anything less could be a red flag for a lot of hiring managers.” Staying at your job for just a few months suggests that you aren’t committed to your professional development and that you have a hard time coping with new challenges — even though this might not actually be the case.
If you’re still thinking of changing jobs soon, it’s probably best to stick with one industry or area of specialization to hone your skills and boost your resume in that area. Victoria Sawtelle, community manager at Uptowork, recommends at least two to three years of experience within a particular field before moving on to something new. She adds, “Most employers want a few years of experience if you plan to move up in either position or pay scale.” Employers will be more inclined to offer you a higher-level position once you’ve established yourself as a qualified professional in whichever line of work you’ve chosen.
Although one to three years is safe, there are exceptions
Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to live by this suggested timeline. Everyone’s circumstances are different and what works for someone else professionally might not be the best choice for you. Particularly if you are in your senior year of college or are a recent grad, employers will be more lenient when it comes to judging your tenure at previous jobs. West explains, “Internships, summer jobs and semester-based positions are all common and hiring professionals understand that these types of jobs have shorter time frames.” Instead of questioning your professionalism, employers will applaud your efforts to build up as much work experience as possible while also attending college classes.
Furthermore, Sawtelle acknowledges, “Changing jobs or even career tracks is a lot less rare than it used to be, so to some extent, employers expect that you might have worked for multiple companies.” According to a recent survey by the University of Phoenix, more than 50 percent of U.S. working adults express interest in changing jobs. This number is even higher for professionals in their 20s, almost 90 percent of whom say they want to change jobs. The survey reveals that the most common reasons for changing jobs include inadequate financial compensation, exhaustion, lack of upward mobility and loss of enthusiasm.
Typically, frequent job changes become a major concern when the jobs aren’t clearly related. In this situation, it could be difficult for potential employers to determine your true interests or skills based solely on your resume. Career coach Carlota Zimmerman explains, “If you’re frequently moving between jobs, but each one comes with a better title, company and salary, and it’s clear to even the most cursory employer that each new and improved position is beholden to the previous one and the stand-out work you did… get it, girl! Your resume likely resembles a strategy of achievement.” On the other hand, if your resume lists a string of unrelated, odd jobs with no specific specialization or trajectory, “that immediately tells future employers that you have no idea what you’re doing, what you’re good at or, crucially, why you’re holding any of these jobs,” Zimmerman says. No matter how often you change jobs, your job history should reflect clear professional interests and expertise.
Changing jobs regularly might actually boost your career
On the other hand, Sawtelle explains that there are times when changing jobs could be beneficial. It’s a good way to strengthen your professional experience and achieve incremental salary increases. “For more experienced professionals, job-hopping every few years can help you build your salary and skills faster than you might in staying with one company. It may not be such a bad thing given the de-stigmatization of job-hopping and, for women, it may be a way to increase your salary if you didn’t negotiate as strongly the first time,” she says. Frequent job changes might even be the norm in some industries or professions, like if you work as a freelancer where contractual terms tend to be shorter.
If you do change jobs often, you should be mindful of what potential employers may think of you. Life coach and leadership expert Jacqueline Miller advises, “During the interview process, always be prepared to coherently explain your decisions to leave previous employers, regardless of your tenure. Your ability to do so and convincingly tie your decisions to genuine personal development and growth reasons will likely work in your favor.” You are in charge of your career and your decision to change jobs is ultimately a personal one. As long as you are convinced you’re making the right decision for your professional journey, you should be able to prove this to future employers as well.
Of course, there are circumstances that absolutely warrant you leaving your job for another. Miller identifies possible reasons for leaving a job prematurely as harassment of any kind, unexpected relocation, unsafe work conditions or changes in the job description that you are not agreeable to. If you find yourself in one of these unfortunate situations, don’t be afraid to pursue better opportunities elsewhere.
Barring any extreme circumstances, the secret to job-hopping is to stay long enough to show that you are committed, but leave soon enough to show that you are eager to challenge yourself with new experiences.