am I ready to move on from my first job?

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my current organization for two years. It’s a small, close-knit organization where I essentially started my career. But I feel like I’ve stagnated in terms of growth and opportunity, and I feel I could get better salary and benefits if I moved on.

I recently saw a posting for a job at an organization I’d really like to work for, and I meet all their qualifications. I’d be doing something really similar to what I’m doing now. I’m looking for advice on:

1) Whether to consider a new job if I’m mostly happy in my current position.
2) When is it appropriate to move on from my first full-time job, especially if they took a chance on hiring me with little experience?
3) Is it fair to this new organization to apply and potentially interview if I’m unsure whether I would actually take the job?

Let’s take these one at a time.

1. Should you consider a new job if you’re mostly happy in your current one? Well, jobs that make you happy are hard to come by, so it’s tough to advise you to leave something you know you like for something that you won’t know for sure you’ll like until you’re in it. It can be hard to find jobs with interesting work, a good manager, a healthy workplace culture, and coworkers you enjoy, so if you have one, you’re luckier than many people. On the other hand, though, you also need to think long-term, and if you feel you’re stagnating and there’s no room for you to grow in your current job, at some point you’re going to need to leave it in order to build the type of career you want.

Whether or not that point is after only two years is hard to say without knowing a lot more about your job and your field … but I can say that two years isn’t terribly long, and if you ended up deciding you wanted to stay another year (or two), it’s unlikely to hurt you. That lead us to…

2. When is it appropriate to move on from your first full-time job? It’s not crazy to do it after two years — that’s a perfectly respectable period of time to stay in your first job. But there’s no timer that goes off then and announces it’s time for you to leave, either. If you wanted to leave, you shouldn’t have qualms about doing it now — but you also shouldn’t feel there’s a clock ticking ominously in the background.

By the way, as for feeling guilty that they took a chance on hiring you without much experience — that’s no reason to stay. That’s a reason not to leave after four months, yes, but two years? You’re in the clear. (And remember, they didn’t do that out of altruism. They did that because they thought you were the best candidate for what they were looking for, lack of experience or not.)

3. Is it fair to interview somewhere if you’re unsure whether you’d accept the job? Absolutely. In fact, that should be the case every time you interview, for the rest of your life. You should always be interviewing the employer right back, suspending judgment on whether this is a job you want until you’ve had time to learn about the work, the culture, and the manager. Those aren’t things you can learn about reliably from an ad, and they’re things that will make a huge difference in whether you’re happy in any particular role, no matter how good it looks from the outside — and therefore you should have solid answers on those factors before you begin to contemplate whether it’s a job you’d accept. (What’s more, you’ll generally interview better if it you take this stance — you’ll come across as more thoughtful and someone in a position to be choosy, which is always attractive.)

So, where does this all leave you in regard to this other job? Well, why not go and talk with them and learn more, and then decide if it appeals to you more than what you’re currently doing? If it doesn’t, you can look at other roles until you find one that does, or you can suspend your search until you’re more sure you want to leave.

Because you’re in a job you’re reasonably happy with and not itching to leave, you have the luxury of taking your time to look around, rather than just jumping at the first thing that comes along — and you could leave only if you find something you’re convinced is better for you than where you are now. That’s a really good position to be in.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessa

    I’m with Alison, you’re in an enviable position all around. In a job you like and can do that seems to be paying decently, with something on the table that might look interesting. Go look at it, see what it is. 2 years is fine if the other thing is a good move. Even if the other thing turns out to be a pig in a poke, you can still chalk that up to “okay now I have current experience interviewing in my field.” And have an idea of what’s out there and what they’re looking for. Perhaps they want a skill you can work on in your current job. Seems to be win-win.

    1. Lacey

      I did exactly what OP is considering – worked for 2 years in my first job after graduating, then moved on for better prospects/pay/work variety. I’ve never regretted it, it was 100% the right thing to do, but my boss at that job was annoyed, didn’t come to my leaving lunch, and has never spoken to me since. Its a pretty small industry so I do see him from time to time, and its a shame he felt that way, but I don’t regret it even so.

  2. AdAgencyChick

    You’re in a great place, OP. I say never wait until you’re desperate to get out of a job to start looking — because when you’re desperate, you’ll take the first life preserver that gets thrown at you, and it could be that you end up going from a bad situation to a worse one. Whereas in your current situation, you can carefully consider whether the new gig, if it’s offered to you, is better than the one you have now, and make a more informed decision.

    If you were at a later point in your career, I’d be more cautious about leaving a job you’re mostly content at for the unknown; the more senior you are, the harder it can be to move around, so if you jump ship and don’t like the new company, it’s harder to get out of THAT situation. But early in your career, when you have some experience but not so much that hiring you is a major expense, I think you have more mobility. Plus, it may be worth it at this point in your career to take a job that’s less desirable in some ways (say, the hours are longer or the manager isn’t great) in order to boost your salary and round out your experience.

    I’m not saying “go after this job and then take it if it’s offered to you” — but definitely throw your hat in the ring and see what happens!

    1. MJ of the West

      In particular, the salary point here is especially cogent. Getting your salary up often means jumping around a bit when you are young. Most (but not all) companies won’t give large raises to existing workers, so significant salary increases tend to happen only when changing jobs. But even then, prospective employers typically use your current salary as a base for their offer, so getting it higher will mean a series of jobs until you reach market norms.

    2. J

      Another good thing about not waiting till you’re desperate is that you’ll probably feel more confident and interview better. You know you’re doing good work and you’re in a good place professionally, and that will come through in the application process.

      If work becomes soul-sucking or stagnant, it can start to weigh on your self-esteem, and you might not be as convincing at selling yourself.

      That could be me projecting though… I find bad work situations or unemployment drain my energy and make me doubt my abilities so it’s harder to do my best job search. Unfortunately I’m better at finding a job when I’m least in need of one! Some people find their motivation in getting out of a bad situation, though.

  3. Ali

    You sound a little like me. I have a job that I pretty much love, though like anything else, it has its downsides. I’ll avoid going into them here for fear of revealing too much about where I work. I will say, though, that I’ve been at Job for three years, starting as an intern and working my way into my current role. So basically, I applied to intern here and I joke the company saved me, because it really helped me launch my career in my field. Before that, I’d spent my post-college time struggling and bouncing from job to job for the right fit…even working some survival/odd jobs where it was clear I didn’t fit in with my coworkers there for whatever reason.

    I have definitely looked for other jobs even when I’m mostly happy, just because I’m curious about what’s out there in the kind of work I want to do in the future. But, I’m not going to leave my current job until it’s clear that there is either no room for me to keep growing (the low turnover, while it shows that I work for Awesome Company, makes me nervous sometimes that I won’t be able to keep growing or get promoted again) or I find the absolutely right opportunity. A former colleague of mine, who I’m still in touch with, recently left the company, and though it was a hard decision for him (because like me and you, OP, he was largely happy), there was more opportunity elsewhere. Nothing wrong with that, and he left on good terms.

    My advice to you would be, if you really want to look, do so when you’re not working. You don’t have to apply for or take anything that doesn’t fully interest you, as you have room to be picky. There is nothing wrong with searching or networking at all, really. Good luck!

  4. JM in England

    You are in a position that many people would give their right arms to be in! I would say make the most of it and, as other posters have said, be selective about your next move whilst you have the luxury of doing so.

  5. Not So NewReader

    I am a fairly conservative person. So my rule of thumb is to have a strong reason for making a change.

    One way to locate that strong reason would be to answer the (worn out) question of “Where do I want to be in five years? ten years?” This tedious question does have some merit, particularly in situations like this. If you have a goal that you are aiming for it is easier to see now Nice Company fits into that goal.

    If you think you could get better pay and benefits elsewhere- do a little homework to find out if that is true. Collecting up facts will help your decision making process. Don’t forget to learn something about the company culture.

    And lastly, this is a shot in the dark. I have no idea what the norm is to find a new job in your arena. It could be that it takes two years to locate something. If that is the case, then I’d say start now and think of it as comparison shopping. It could be that you decide to stay put– the more info you collect up the more comfy you will be with your decision, either way.

    1. QualityControlFreak

      Yes! While I don’t consider myself particularly conservative, more data = better decisions. I LOVE my job, the org I work for, our mission, our customers, my coworkers. I’m well established in my career path and have been working for decades. And I still look. Because … knowledge is power.

  6. Also Kara

    I agree with everyone else here, but I’d also add that you don’t owe your company anything other than showing up on time and getting stuff done. They took a chance on you, you do good work – consider it even. No one is responsible for your career but you, and as the recession has showed us, we may love our jobs, but our jobs/companies won’t always love us back.

    So by all means, talk to them and see if it’s worth pursuing, and if you decide it is, go for it!

  7. A Teacher

    I have a friend in a very similar position. She’s got a pretty good job–lots of drama–but with a lot of other perks that make up for it. She’s hoping to relocate closer to family but she can afford to be picky because she likes her job, is good at her job, and isn’t in danger of losing her job. I say explore your options, if you decide not to leave that’s okay. You know you like what’s going on in your life and that’s a great place to be. Good luck :)

  8. Jen in RO

    I was in a similar situation to OP’s – my job was OK, secure, decently paid, but certain things annoyed me and I decided to start looking. Knowing I was in no hurry made my job search much easier. I declined 2 offers and accepted one from a company that sounds better than my former one… and that also pays better. Friday was my last day, I go on holiday for 2 weeks and then I start at the new job!

    Go for it OP, you have nothing to lose and you can be as picky as you want! If nothing seems right, just stay with your current job and you’ll have lost nothing.

  9. WWWONKA

    Take the interview. You don’t know what the potentiality is. You also get interview practice that can benefit you later. You can always say no later if you do not feel the need for change, if you say no to the interview you will always wonder.

  10. Anonymous

    Any tips for interviewing while working full time? Do you ask for an after hours interview? Take days off?

    1. Virginian

      When I was interviewing earlier last year, I took some vacation/personal time to do the interviews since both interviews lasted all day.

      1. Cara Carroll

        I am in that very situation right now. I find often they will just throw out a time first, and if I feel I can make it work then I will. But if I know it will be a challenge THEN I will ask if there is anything available when it is convenient for me. If I know the interview will be a half day event with the commute, interview, and maybe a test or something after then I will take a half day so at least I am not burning all my PTO. Most of my first interviews are short phone screens I can do before work or on my lunch. Good luck!

  11. Virginian

    Except for the field, I could have written this letter myself. I like my job and co-workers, but the salary isn’t enough for me to pay all of my bills and student loans . The position that I’d like to have doesn’t open as frequently. I’m looking at other positions, but I’m being very particular as to where I apply so I can make sure that any new employer is a good fit for me.

  12. Dan

    Before you interview, you’re never sure you’ll take the job, no matter what. At this point, you’re never sure what the compensation and benefits package actually is, so there is a very real deal breaker right there

  13. Anty

    OP, I am exactly in the same situation as you. I was hired into a company right out of college and after 2 years, I felt bad for leaving since they hired me with no experience, however, I also felt stagnant in my position and wanted to do more challenging work. I loved the co, job, my manager, coworkers were decent and salary was ok.

    I took my time job searching and like everyone has said, you are in the best position bc you like your job and are in no rush to leave. I felt I interviewed better because I wasn’t afraid to lose out on an offer or didn’t hear back from them immediately. In the end, I settled on a different offer and am looking forward to it. I think one should always be looking around for other jobs even if its just casually bc no job is ever secure. Good luck!

  14. FD

    It’s awesome that you’re in this position, OP! I’m glad you’ve got a good job to start with, that’s always a big boost both financially and psychologically.

    The other thing to remember when deciding whether to stay or go is to make sure that you don’t start coasting because you feel you’ve hit a ceiling. If you get to the point where you feel your work going from ‘awesome’ to just ‘adequate’, then it’s time to push yourself out of the nest. You don’t want to let your references suffer because you let the status quo carry on too long.

  15. Nickolai

    I want to ask a followup about number 3, whether or not you should interview somewhere if you’re not intent on taking the job.

    I’m in a similar position to OP, and there’s a company I think I might be interested in working for, but they’re in the process of moving from a major metropolitan area to a town of about 100,000 in roughly the middle of nowhere. I currently live in a major area and while they sound like they could have interesting work for me, I’m really hesitant to apply since the location is a potential dealbreaker. Knowing that, would it make sense to apply? I guess they know they’re in the middle of nowhere, so maybe they try to make up for it somehow, but I still feel like it’s maybe a little bit cavalier to just take up people’s time when you’re not even feeling great about certain aspects of the job anyway? Where do you draw the line?

    1. Lacey

      Personally, if I knew I would never move to Nowhereville, I wouldn’t do the interview. If it is truly a ‘dealbreaker’, then you are kind of wasting their time and yours. Maybe have a really honest think about whether you could ever move there, for a job with great prospects and benefits etc, and if so, then apply. If not, then don’t.

    2. Felicia

      I think if you know for sure that you wouldn’t take the job, then you don’t go to the interview. Why would you want to anyways,, if you were sure you didn’t want the job? I think location isn’t something you can negotiate and one of the few things you can have the full picture of before t he interview, if that’s a big deal to you. If you think there’s a chance you might move to that town and take that job, then of course interview.

    3. Sophia

      I agree, if you know that you’ll be unhappy in the middle of nowhere (so to speak), I wouldn’t apply

  16. Brett

    I have a different take on point 3. How do you approach a company cold (no advertised positions) if you are not certain you would leave your current position for them? For the company I am thinking of, I personally know one of their founders and they should be expanding dramatically in the next year. It’s a small company, so their time is extremely valuable (which I assume is part of the reason they are not advertising positions).

  17. Nauman

    Free advice for all,

    Love your Job but don’t love your company…lolz
    always searching for new opportunities.. dont go that way where life takes you..

    Thanks

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