when is it time to leave your first job?

A reader writes:

How long should a person stay at an entry-level job? I’ve been at mine for two years now. Most people here leave after one to three years (we’re a team of 10 research editors). I really love my job but it’s unnerving me that many of my coworkers, who started around the same time as I did, are leaving.

My bosses are good to me, they gave me nice merit raises both years, and they always give me high priority work. They have me writing/updating policy manuals and training other people, even others who have been here longer than me. They really make me feel like they trust me and I know they think I’m good at my job. What if I quit and my next boss hates me?

I do want to move up and get better positions but I’m so comfortable here. When is it time to move on?

Are you happy there?

Are you still learning new things?

Do you feel challenged?

Have you figured out what you’d like your next professional step to be, and what the path there will look like? Is this job helping you move along that path?

Frankly, two years is the earliest you should be thinking about moving on from a professional job in most fields, unless you’re miserable or there are other problems with the job. And at two years, if the answers to the questions above are yes, there’s no reason you need to think about moving on any time soon.

It’s true that there’s value in getting exposed to different companies, especially early in your career. But there’s also value in staying somewhere that’s treating you well and providing you with ongoing opportunities to grow professionally. And there’s negative value in leaving just for the sake of leaving.

Leave when the answers to the questions above are no, or when you find something clearly so much better than where you are now that it outweighs those factors.

{ 121 comments… read them below }

  1. Nobody Here By That Name*

    Would the two years apply if it’s a move to a different department within the same company? For the sake of argument, assume the departments don’t have any overlap.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      If the company is moving you (ie, it was their idea) I don’t think it applies. If you are applying for a different job, then yes. You don’t want your resume to be hopping around from one thing to another early in your career. It really can hurt you later. You may also be missing the chance to deepen your skills where you are.

    2. Adam*

      Is it a lateral move or an upwards move?

      I think from the outside so long as you’re in the exact same company I think most hiring managers might see it as continual employment, unless you bounced around to multiple positions in a very short amount of time which would look odd.

      On the inside lots of companies have policies on how long you can be in one role before applying to take on a different one. I think mine is six months. If you’re abiding by the company’s rules then how moving on is seen is probably up to the individual whims of the managers.

      1. Nobody Here By That Name*

        Good point on inside perspective vs. outside. Thanks to both of you for replying.

        (FWIW I’m looking for work outside of my current company. But I know of an employee here less than 2 years who started looking to department hop about 6 months after being hired. So I was just curious as to whether that worked under the same principles.)

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          I’d be pretty pissed if I went to the trouble of hiring someone and six months later she was looking to move, unless there are extenuating circumstances (the client changed the scope of work and suddenly I have to move the person onto a project other than what she was promised; there’s a personality clash with someone else on the team and it seems both unresolvable and not my employee’s fault).

          YMMV but I think in general as a hiring manager I’m trying to get at least a good year out of someone before I have to do it again!

          1. Nobody Here By That Name*

            Again: purely academic curiosity on my part from observing from afar. But what about the new manager, I wonder? Is there an expectation that they should try to dissuade an employee from switching to their department that early on?

            I’d imagine if you were the current manager and heard your direct report wanted to switch that early, you’d want to sit down with them and have a chat about their concerns, why they feel the other dept. would suit them better, and so on. But if you were the hoped-for new manager, is there any expectation?

            I could see how from a company’s POV if it was a good employee it’d be better to keep them regardless of what department they were working for. But at the same time if I was the new manager the employee was approaching, I’d feel weird encouraging them to department swap that soon, even if that meant I’d get an extra pair of hands on my team.

            1. AdAgencyChick*

              I would definitely want to know from that employee whether she had spoken with her manager already and whether her manager was on board. Most likely I’ll have to work with that manager at some point in the future, so I wouldn’t want to piss that person off. If the employee tells me “no, I haven’t spoken with my manager,” I’d say “we can’t continue the conversation until you have.”

              (Slightly different if the employee has been in her position for longer — in that case, I’d be willing to have informal conversations about what the role would be like and what I’m looking for, because if if those early talks indicate that the employee wouldn’t actually be interested, she wouldn’t need to bother her manager about it. But for a very new employee, I wouldn’t even want to have informal discussions because encouraging an employee to move that early is so likely to upset the other manager.)

            2. Connie-Lynne*

              If I were the hiring manager I’d be concerned about someone’s wanting to switch to my team so early in their employ at the company.

    3. AntherHRPro*

      It isn’t generally bad to change jobs internally. But I think Alison’s 3 questions are still key. Before posting for a new job (even internally) ask yourself:

      – Are you happy there (in your current department?
      – Are you still learning new things?
      – Do you feel challenged?

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        You’re right, but most people can’t answer those questions accurately at 6 months. That’s the point where, in many fields, you’re just getting the hang of what you are supposed to be doing. When you move around between roles and managers too often, you often haven’t learned as much as you think you did.

      2. Jill*

        To Alison’s three, I would also ask “Does my current job meet my lifestyle needs?”
        My husband works with a guy who, at 20, answered yes to all 3 questions and, at 40, still does. Yet he also complains that he and his wife wanted a 3rd child but can’t afford another one on his salary and that they’d like to travel but can’t afford to.
        We work to earn a living, of course, and if your current job no longer gives you the means by which to have the lifestyle you’d like (especially basic support for you and your dependents!) then you should think about moving on, even if you are happy & challenged.

        1. BeenThere*

          Oh I like this, I would add the job schedule/hours as well as salary should fall under lifestyle needs. These would be the sub questions:
          do I get enough paid vacation to do the travel I would like?
          am I able to take said paid vacation at the times I prefer without retailiation?
          am I able to get home at a reasonable hour?
          are my weekends free?

    4. Kaliafornia*

      I’m in the same boat. Applying for a lateral position within the same parent corporation but different subsidiary company. Been at my current job for 14 months but my boss knows and is supportive that I want to either relocate offices and keep my same job (the office he actually works in as I am a satellite employee) or find a similar position still within the control of the parent company down in that location.

  2. James M.*

    Are you still learning new things?

    Do you feel challenged?

    Especially for creative people, lack of challenge and learning will dampen what happiness you might have.

    1. Oryx*

      YUP. It’s why this creative person started looking for lots of side projects I can do outside of work that won’t interfere with my 9-5 (since that’s what pays my bills)

      1. BeenThere*

        This IT person is doing the same, the most boring programming work pays the highest. So I’m taking a portrait painting class and learning to play cello!

  3. TCO*

    Sometimes advancement (big projects, higher titles, management duties) comes from within your own workplace, if they are good at fostering talent and giving opportunities to grow. Sometimes it has to be found by moving to another company. If you’re getting what you need, it can look impressive to demonstrate your track record of growth/promotion within one company. If you’re happy and well-rewarded, don’t feel pressure to move on just for the sake of moving on.

  4. TeapotCounsel*

    As is usual, AAM is right.
    I hire about 3 people per year, and in that process I review about fifty resumes total. The interview team and I place great value on longevity in a position.

  5. Not Today Satan*

    Many people, unfortunately, are stuck in jobs that they dislike or even hate. If you like your job and the pay is sufficient, I wouldn’t leave and risk being unhappy at the next job. Don’t worry about what your coworkers are doing.

    1. Adam*

      Yep, different paths. The OP didn’t expand on it but she may not even know where some of her departing co-workers are going. They could be going from being editors to real estate agents or something. As OP describes her current position she sounds very pleased with it so not a bad idea to stay. No need to fix something that’s not broken!

  6. Rat Racer*

    I also wonder if there is any opportunity for upward mobility within the department. Given what the OP has written, it seems like s/he would be a good candidate for promotion, if that opportunity exists within the department.

    I know many, many successful people who have been with a single company for almost the entirety of their careers. When I look at resumes, I’m more impressed by people who moved up through promotion than those (like myself) who moved up by hopping departments and companies. It shows that your management truly values your work and sees your growth potential.

  7. SanguineAspect*

    I stayed at my first job out of college for about 4 years. I stayed because I was learning new things and steadily progressing in responsibilities (and titles). That job helped shape the rest of my career in really significant ways and I don’t regret staying as long as I did one bit. If you’re happy, being compensated fairly, and learning new things — stay!

  8. Anonymous Educator*

    Alison’s advice is, as usual, spot on in terms of whether you’re growing or being challenged. In terms of your career trajectory and how future employers will view your time there, though, I’d say you probably want to stay in your entry-level position no more than 3 years. If there’s room to stay at the same company but be promoted to a different position, you can stay 5 or 6 years.

    Three is a good number, though. There are many jobs I stayed at for only three years, and it was long enough to get accustomed to the culture, figure my way around, and then also improve things. Three years doesn’t look like you’re job-hopping, but it also doesn’t look as if you’re too entrenched in that one company’s way of doing things.

  9. danr*

    I agree with the others… stay. As long as you get more pay with higher level responsibilities, stay with it. Being asked to train others in what you do is a very big plus. You might also consider why people move on in 1 to 2 years. It may be that what you find satisfying, they find suffocating. In my old company, new hires either left within a year or two, or stayed for 10 years, then 20, then left at retirement. You might also find that as you stay longer, there will be room to move around the company and grow professionally.

  10. kozinskey*

    Wow, I’ve been thinking about sending in a similar letter for a while. Can we get into what “unless you’re miserable” means? I’m a year and a half into my first professional job and there are definitely days/weeks/months where I’m so bored and frustrated I start to envy the folks who run my favorite lunch spot. There are other times when it’s fun and rewarding.

    Other context: I have a coworker who’s been making my life difficult, and the pay is well below market rate. The higher-ups have told us that they’re trying to get substantial raises across the board, but there’s certainly no guarantee of that. I do like my boss and the work I’m doing (when I have work) but I’m starting to seriously question whether I’d be better off finding somewhere that keeps me busy, both for my career and mental health. Anyone have a similar experience? What did you do?

    1. Anon for this*

      I can relate to your dilemma, especially with regard to the compensation issue. Honestly what I did was look at my job from the 10 most important things to me; compensation, development, atmosphere, future prospects, day to day motivation, etc. I try to do this evaluation every 6 months or so and I’ve noticed that I am pretty happy when 4 or 5 out of 10 things are positive, kind of itchy when 2-3 are positive, and miserable when 0-1 are the only things keeping me around. It sounds terrible that 50% is all it takes to be happy, but I’ve measured all of my jobs this way and it works for me.

      My current position was a 0 for a few months there. I started looking and applying and even got a few offers that were far ahead of my current compensation, but I decided to stick it out for a few more months as I was made aware of some changes in the pipeline. A TON of change occurred and I’d say I’m ranking now at about a 4. My comp hasn’t changed, but other things have, and I’m staying here for now.

      I don’t know if that helps you at all. I guess my advice would be to figure out what you’d really miss out on if you left, and if what you’d gain (money) would be worth it. If you’re still not sure, go ahead and apply around and see what the reality is in the job market. If you get some offers, it might make the decision more “real” for you and make your true feelings clear. If you don’t get any offers or interviews, that is also a valuable piece of information to build a decision off of.

      Best of luck! Hang in there!

      1. kozinskey*

        The idea of a top 10 list is interesting, thanks for sharing! I just sketched it out and came up with 4 positives, 5 negatives, and one neutral. Not enough to make me jump ship immediately, but I definitely understand why I’m a little antsy lately. I’m a little envious that you’re happy at a 4, but maybe the issue for me is that a couple of my positives are things I’m not seeing an immediate benefit from, like the fact that this job makes me eligible for 10-year loan forgiveness. That’s certainly a positive, but it doesn’t have an immediate effect on my mood the way my nasty coworker does.

      2. Lizzie*

        This is a great idea, I’m totally going to recommend this to my feeling-antsy-at-work roommate.

    2. OhNo*

      If you move to another company/position, will you definitely get a salary increase? Or is your industry one that tends to pay your level of worker below average no matter what? If the money if the same, I’d suggest just staying where you are. If the money would be better elsewhere, then that (along with the hope of more consistent work) might be enough to make changing a good idea.

      In the mean time, when you don’t have much work to do, can you work on a hobby that’s professional-related, like running a blog, or learning tips & tricks for different programs, or something? Anything like that would probably be sufficient to keep me busy and happy, but you might not be comfortable doing that “on the clock”.

    3. Ama*

      What helped me when I was trying to decide if it was time to go was just starting to look around at what other jobs were out there. I let myself be really picky, eliminating from consideration any jobs that included the two job duties I currently had that were making me the most miserable, and looking for ones that focused more fully on the area that I liked. When I found several interesting possibilities, I realized I wasn’t looking for some mythical unicorn of a job and it was time to start sending out resumes.

    4. Jady*

      I worked at a company that was heavily project based. Your job happiness varied significantly depending on what project you were on, and our boss was pretty sensitive about that. Shifting people around on projects did happen.

      There was a fair amount of discussion on when to ask for movement. One of the most agreed on ideas was: If you wake up every morning counting how many sick days you have left, you should probably move on.

    5. SoBurnedOut*

      I’m in a very similar boat as far as timing, misery, and low pay, except instead of being under stimulated, I’m stretched so thin that it’s been negatively affecting my physical health.

      Against the advice of the lovely folks who frequent the Friday Open Threads, I’d thought I’d stay for a couple more months after I uncovered an employee misclassification issue and brought the concerns up to my boss. I’d naively hoped they would take my concerns in earnest and neutrally investigate the issue, but I’ve been treated like a pariah and shut out of every single meeting.

      I’ve been home sick because the stress finally caught up to me big time last Friday, but I’m now firmly resolved to go in tomorrow and hand in my two weeks’ notice.

      A good first job is supposed to set you up with healthy habits and the mental tools to grow your career. If it’s just not working for you, start looking elsewhere ASAP.

      1. kozinskey*

        I’m sorry to hear about your bad work situation. Bon courage in turning in your notice, it sounds like it’s about time.

        Your last line is exactly why I’m wondering if it’s time to move on even though I’d like to stick it out for three years (partly because of AAM’s advice and partly because that would equal a big increase in my retirement account). I’m concerned that I’m developing unprofessional habits like commenting on AAM throughout the day or dragging work out just to fill up time. I’m worried the longer I stay here, the harder it will be for me to adjust to a busy work schedule if/when I ever do change jobs.

        1. Sospeso*

          Those are excellent points. I’d also echo what some other people here have said: If you think things might change, it could be worth staying. (It sounds like the pay might, although, like you said, I wouldn’t bank on it.) What would it take to make you content and engaged at work? I might consider possible scenarios if I were you… For example, if the pay increases and you spend more time doing fun and rewarding work, would that be enough for you to want to stay? How soon would that need to happen?

          I might also consider how realistic your gripes are. As a relatively recent grad, I also find myself frustrated with certain things (e.g., being required to have my butt in my desk chair any time I am not on break). But some of these things are pretty standard in my industry, so in those situations, it’s more about me adjusting to the industry norms… tough as that can be.

    6. Kelly O*

      I think what we sometimes lose in the education process is the idea that work is going to get boring.

      It’s just realism. I know people in all sorts of industries, fields, and occupations within those, and I don’t know a single person who just loves and is excited every single day. There will be periods when you go through the grind, and being new to working, it’s hard to recognize that. You have no real frame of reference.

      Other issues aside, periods of boredom can help you push forward if you choose to try and make that happen. If you’re bored, then you know the job well enough to make suggestions, to offer insightful changes, and to look at overall processes rather than individual tasks. Being able to step back and see the big picture, and working out how to make yourself feel more valuable can be a great tool for growth, and show a level of initiative that many recent grads may not be able to exhibit yet.

      After my recent issues with job searching, I will caution against changing jobs too many times. While the idea of changing jobs more frequently is gaining acceptance in some circles, in many others staying less than five years is a “job hop” flag. I’m certainly not advocating committing to staying in an organization until you get the gold watch, but it is important to look for ways to grow in your own way, and make certain that you can show intent and purpose in your job changes.

      It seems that’s the real key – developing a story with your career. Show increased responsibility, a personal initiative toward growth and progression, and a positive attitude toward change and difficult people, and you’ll be better able to answer those harder interview questions.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        It seems that’s the real key – developing a story with your career.

        This is a great point. I do think many people make a move just based on today’s situation, when staying and waiting for a promotion, or even a lateral move, could have been so much more beneficial. I know too many people whose resume is something like: doctor’s office admin (2 years), retail (6 months), other doctor’s office receptionist (1.5 years), nanny (9 months). Then they think, well, guess I can apply at doctor’s offices again and wonder why people look askance at their resumes. It would be so much better if they had stayed in medical admin positions and moved up and around in that field instead of saying, “Oh, I’m bored. . .time to move on.”

      2. Sospeso*

        Yes to all of this! I am still relatively new to working, and thinking about how to respond to the boredom with long-term goals in mind has been a big challenge.

      3. meesh*

        I was a job hopper until i found my current position. I know its a stigma so i am going to stay for a bit to make sure i have longevity

  11. MousyNon*

    I think this article missed one really important thing:

    In today’s economic climate, where raises are infrequent and often below the rate of inflation, staying more than 2-3 years in the same entry level private-sector position means you’re giving up a fair amount of potential income in the future. Switching jobs generally means a 10-25% bump in salary, compared to a 3% raise (the national average). According to the article I’ll link to below, staying in place longer than 2 years can lead to up to a 50% reduction in lifetime earnings. That may be a choice that works for the OP, and there’s nothing wrong with that of course, but it’s absolutely something to consider and may well be why so many of their colleagues are rotating out.

    It’s absolutely the deciding factor in my considering a move from my current employer (where otherwise I have a lot of the same feelings as OP–it’s comfortable, I’m good at it, change is scary, etc).

        1. baseballfan*

          Wow, talk about basing a claim on practically nothing! I can’t believe this actually showed up in Forbes.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Anything urn that includes Forbes/sites is not actually Forbes-produced. Lord knows why they’re so willing to let others abuse their brand, but I guess they make money on the advertisements.

        2. MousyNon*

          That headline is admittedly click bait, but the graph they include is pretty straightforward (or it seems to me anyway)–they’re just comparing 3% raises vs. 10% job-change-bump across a 10 year period and doing the math. Obviously estimating raise and job-change increases at the national level is difficult, especially across industries, but I think the 3%/10% split are a pretty good snapshot (even a little conservative, at least for the job-change-bump) for what the market looks like right now.

          1. AntherHRPro*

            The reason you tend to make more money for changing companies (even if it is for the same level position) is partly to compensate you for the risk you are taking. When you change companies you don’t know what the environment will be like. Will you like the company, the work/job, the culture, the people? It is all about balancing your personal risk/reward level.

          2. Lore*

            I think a lot depends on what level you’re starting at, though. Maybe getting out of an entry-level into a next-level job will see a 10 percent bump. But in my last round of serious looking, at a mid-to-senior level, and many of them for more senior positions, salaries were pretty comparable (some, at smaller companies, were notably lower; the one case where I would have seen that kind of raise also involved a sort of sidestep into a niche of a much more highly paid industry).

            1. MousyNon*

              Sure, industries have different salary expectations. The graph just assumes that the prospective employee won’t leave an existing job for less than a 10% bump and compares that with the national average of 3% raises across the next 10 years.

              But–assuming you never leave a job for *less* money–even if that 10% drops to 8% on your next hop, and 5% increase on your next hop, and so on, and so on, as long as the increase outweighs the fairly pitiful average raise percentage, it’s always better for total lifetime income to switch jobs every few years than stay put.

              1. Judy*

                I can certainly say that in an engineering environment, it has not been unusual to get a 10% with a promotion, which is outside of the normal raise process. One year you would get 10% plus your merit raise. Usually there is a promotion at 2-4 years, and one at 8-10 years and one at 12-16 years of experience.

                I worked at my first job for 3 years, my second for 7, my third for 13, and I’m at 6 months at my fourth job. I make a little more than 3x my starting salary at this point. The average starting salary for engineers has not quite doubled since I started.

              2. Lore*

                But that’s what I’m saying–I received offers that were at best comparable and other times lower, even for positions that were technically more senior.

          3. Ann O'Nemity*

            Yeah, but it sounds like they made up the 10% number. I can’t find any source to back that up, not even close.

            1. MousyNon*

              There doesn’t have to be data for the 10% bump, because the graph is showing a specific scenario. It’s showing that an employee who leaves a job for no less than 10% salary increase will out-earn the person who stays and receives the national average raise of 3% over the course of 10 years. It’s not attempting to be any more complicated than that, click bait title not withstanding. The math is simple and to the point–the pay gap between someone who job hops for more than the national 3% average *even if its just one time in their lifetime* will make more over their lifetime than someone who receives only that 3% annual raise over the course of their lifetime.

          4. Kelly O*

            But what are you giving up as far as seniority, vacation/PTO, and other benefits?

            The 10% salary bump doesn’t mean much if your healthcare costs go up 12%, or if you get a week of PTO instead of two. (Or if the job is a longer commute, or requires you to take a toll road daily, or some other thing that might not be so clear in the beginning, but causes your costs to work to increase.)

            My personal opinion is that we sometimes get short-sighted when it comes to salary increases. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making what you’re worth and not struggling to make ends meet. But it’s important to weigh all the costs and benefits, not just the flat salary.

            1. LiteralGirl*

              I completely agree. Many people leave the company I’m with and return a year later. The benefit package is really amazing, and I don’t think people take that into consideration before they leave.

            2. MousyNon*

              All true things! Absolutely people should consider everything you listed (I turned down a job offer that would have meant a 45% pay bump because it required relocating, had less PTO, and involved much longer hours) I just think we do ourselves a disservice to ignore salary *entirely* just because we’re comfortable somewhere, and I wanted to make sure to point that out for the OP.

              1. Kelly O*

                Oh agreed absolutely. Salary is just one of the things we have to consider.

                I just started working permanently where I’ve been temping. Even though I’m making more per hour, my benefits costs went up a lot. So we’re still working out how we’re going to do that and get the whole family insured and not be right back where we started. (Granted, in my situation I would have taken it anyway, since I was not working at all, but it’s something to consider when the time comes to ease on down the road. Which will clearly not be any time soon, but if there is one thing I have learned, and what I gladly attribute to Careerealism, is that every job is temporary.)

                1. MousyNon*

                  Ooooh, benefit costs can be sneaky, because companies so rarely tell you what the employee’s costs are for them at the job-offer stage, even if you ask. So you can end up paying more per paycheck (because you’re on the hook for a higher %) with fewer benefits, which in turn eats away at any salary bump they may have offered you.

                  That happened with that job offer I mentioned–I found out (due to glassdoor, bless it) that the company was only paying for about 60% of a cheaper insurance with a higher deductible and fewer in-network benefits, compared to my current company which pays for 90% or a more expensive insurance plan, with a far lower deductible and greater in-network benefits. Add that to the 70+ hour work week and less PTO, and what looked like a 45% pay bump on the face of it would have been closer to a pay CUT hour-for-hour.

                  So many things to consider it makes my head hurt sometimes!

            3. Judy*

              Also, generally 3 years until you are vested in your 401k match. Depending on the company, that’s a lot of money to give back. (I get a very generous 6% that doesn’t vest until I’ve been here 3 years.)

      1. Leah*

        That’s basically a blog post. My company posts on Forbes.com (though using actual legitimate research and sources) and there’s no oversight from Forbes.

        1. MousyNon*

          I’m linking to the article for the graph, which is pretty straight forward–it assumes 3% raises and 10% bumps from job-hopping across a 10 year period. We can quibble that the percentage estimates are wrong, sure, but even if there’s only a 2% spread, where national raises average at 3% and job-change increases are only 5% (highly unlikely, given what I’ve read of the job market, but ok), spread out over a long period of time the employee that stays at a company longer still makes *less* by a not insignificant amount.

          I’m not saying this is a reason to jump ship, but in this economy I think it’s pretty silly not to consider the money as well as all of the other benefits when judging whether to leave a company or not.

          1. JB*

            They have a graph, but they don’t say (unless I missed it) where they got the data from. I can make a graph to say whatever I want, that doesn’t make the information in it reliable.

            1. MousyNon*

              The graph assumes two data points–3% raises or 10% job change bumps–across 10 years. That’s it. The 3% average national raise is a common enough data point (google “3% average raises” and see what comes out) and the article does in fact link to an article that discusses a 900 company survey which confirms that average. The job-change bump has no data, which makes sense given that individual employees themselves determine what they’re willing to accept for a new position. So they assume that the hypothetical employee will only leave for a new job that provides a minimum 10% salary increase, and do the math from there. Simple.

              1. doreen*

                But it doesn’t say where that assumption comes from. I could assume that the hypothetical employee will leave for anything over a 2% pay bump – but if my assumption isn’t based on anything it’s meaningless.

                1. MousyNon*

                  Graphs do not have to indicate national trends to be useful. It’s a *scenario* and that’s all it pretends to be, because the math is simple and undeniable. If you leave a job for a >3% salary increase–even if it’s just the one time–you will make more over the course of your lifetime than someone who stays at the same job with =<3% yearly increases. That's it!

                  oy vey.

                2. Sospeso*

                  I don’t find this kind meaningless. If I know that employees are seeing a 3% raise on average, and I can negotiate a 10% pay bump at a new company with an otherwise similar compensation and benefits package… Sure, that’s useful. I may not know where my raise at my current company will fall, but the 3% is a useful benchmark. And seeing how one 3% raise versus one 10% pay bump plays out long term – yep, that’s a useful scenario for me to consider if I’m thinking about changing jobs. Thanks for the link, MousyNon.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      What you’re saying is generally true, but it’s also important to keep in mind there are exceptions. The OP says they gave me nice merit raises both years. I don’t know what “nice” means, but I’m assuming it’s considerably more than a 3% cost-of-living increase.

      My first full-time job I got 30% raise the first year and a 10% raise the second. It was pretty typical there for people to get 10% raises across the board.

      1. Sharon*

        My career is almost 30 years old now and I have never, ever worked for a place that gave out more than 3%/year raises across the board. And the times I’ve gotten 3% have been generous, they are more often around 2%. So anecdotally, I an a data point in the “increase your earnings more by changing jobs” argument.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      Yup. You have to know your company and your industry.

      In mine, junior people moving around every 1-2 years is absolutely rampant. And it will continue to be rampant as long as senior management insists on offering big salary bumps to get people to move, but acts like you’re trying to get blood from a stone to give a raise to people who already work there.

      To the OP, I’d say interview around. See what’s out there. Going on interviews doesn’t mean you have to actually get to the offer stage, or accept an offer if you get one. You have to decide how much of your free time you’re willing to give to interviews, of course. But it’s a good way to get information about what your market value is, so you can make a fully informed decision about whether to move.

      1. Sospeso*

        Yes, I’ll say that this has been my experience as well. I wonder if companies tend to underestimate the cost of employee turnover (which includes things like time spent training new employees, time spent processing new hire paperwork, etc.) when they’re considering pay raises to retain current employees.

    3. Jady*

      I strongly agree pay is really important too. But you have to remember that happiness has a value as well. Would you rather be making 50k and miserable, or 40k and loving life? You also have to remember that in this economic climate, finding a good job isn’t easy either. And there is value in having long periods of time at a single job on your resume.

      I’ve had the same experience that changing jobs has given me a massive salary bonus. And that’s not something to ignore. At the end of the day, you go to work to get that paycheck.

      But it’s just one factor that needs to be considered. Even if they pay you below your value, if that’s the only problem you have with the job, and changing jobs wouldn’t say double your salary, then (given my own personal experience) I would just stay put. Especially if you’re getting good raises too (as the OP implies).

  12. bopper*

    I would think if you can’t articulate why you want to leave, it is not time to leave.
    “Because everyone else is” is not a good reason.
    Right now you seem to be valued because you are given high priority work.
    Do people get promoted from the position you are currently in?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Exactly. Know your reason why. Don’t move for some nondescript reason such as “I think I should.” It’s those types of reasons that start the problems that follow next.

      But there is no reason why you can’t casually research what is out there. It’s always good to keep yourself current on this stuff. It does not mean you have to apply.

  13. louise*

    I stayed 6 years at my first role out of college, but that’s because they kept letting me take on new challenges and they kept giving generous raises. I left making 80% more than I started at.

    I wish I’d left at about year four, though–the answer to Alison’s first question, “are you happy there?” was a big NO. However, I didn’t have an answer to that last question, “Have you figured out what you’d like your next professional step to be, and what the path there will look like? Is this job helping you move along that path?” so I figured I might as well stay somewhere that appreciated me and where the pay was good.

    1. Rose*

      Were you so unhappy that you ultimately took a pay cut to leave? I’m in a similar situation where I’m making 100% more than I started at 5 years ago, but I hate my actual job duties. BUT — the people are largely nice, and the pay is allowing me to pay down student loans at an accelerated rate (another 2.5 years to go if I stick with it…).

      I’m trying to figure out *what* might bring me enough happiness to justify a 30-40% pay cut.

  14. LAI*

    Also, I think a longer tenure at your current position gives you more flexibility in the future. I stayed at my first, entry-level job for 8 years. The next job I took ended up not being a good fit and I left after a year – I would have worried about looking like a job-hopper, if I didn’t think I had clearly established at the first job that I wasn’t.

    1. Kelly O*

      This is very true.

      You want to save that “OMG what was I THINKING” for when it’s unavoidable.

      Most recruiters/hiring managers will give you one of those, but when they start multiplying, that’s when you run into problems.

  15. S*

    What timing–I’m about to accept my first full-time job out of college and I was wondering about this. Many of my friends from college are starting to look for other jobs for a variety of reasons and within my network and within my current organization, it seems like a year or a year and a half is the norm for your first job. It’s nice to get a variety of perspectives on this issue.

  16. Ann Furthermore*

    I struggle with something similar. I’m pretty well established in my career, and I’ve been with my current employer for 10 years, and in my current position for 6.

    I have no doubt that I could go someplace else and earn more. But I have it pretty good where I am. I have a great boss, a group of really nice, fun, and smart co-workers and we all work together really well. I’m allowed to flex my hours when I need to, and no one cares. Last week, for example, my daughter was on spring break. I registered her for a soccer camp that was every day from 10-11. No one cared that I worked from home in the morning from about 7:30-9:30, was offline from 9:30-11:30, in the office for the rest of the afternoon, and then finishing up at home in the evenings. My boss is so easy-going about this kind of thing, which is so awesome.

    In addition, every project I’ve rolled onto in the last few years has challenged me to keep building on what I learned from the last project, and has made me continue to improve/expand my skills. My expertise has grown exponentially since moving into this role 6 years ago.

    So…awesome flexibility plus challenging work is a pretty great combination. But I always wonder if I’m stifling my earnings potential by staying in the same place for too long.

  17. DrPepper Addict*

    I left my first professional job and have regretted it ever since. The best boss, co-workers, and job I’ve ever had. I was never going to get rich but having such a great work experience made me feel rich. You can’t put a price on job happiness/satisfaction.

  18. themmases*

    I don’t think there’s any need to leave, but it definitely never hurts to look. You don’t have to apply to every job you see, and you don’t have to take every interview or offer you get. That’s the beauty of job searching while employed.

    I *loved* my first professional job to the point that, similar to the OP, I found myself wondering whether and how I should ever leave. That changed very suddenly about three years in, when a major part of my job was changed in a way that was damaging to me personally and professionally and unethical in my field. There were still good days after that, but I’d seen my boss’ true colors and it was very hard to feel optimistic or even accepting of going to work every day even though it was for a great cause.

    It was truly terrible job searching, learning about what else is out there in my field, and experiencing rejection for the first time while my self-esteem and energy were at an all-time low due to my day job. I’ll always wonder what I would have found if I’d job searched from a position of strength and been picky. Not only that, it turned out that my title and duties were non-standard and I certainly believe it was worse to have had them for four years than it would have been to have them for two.

  19. Mean Something*

    These are all great comments–I just want to add that the value of being a known and trusted quantity in your workplace is HUGE and takes a while to build up. If you make an important mistake or go through a rough time in your personal life, you have a lot of goodwill there that you won’t have in a new place. That’s not a reason to stay when you really want to be moving on; it’s just another reason to appreciate where you are.

  20. Jeanne*

    Do what is best for you. Never make a career move because “experts” say you have to. Some people are ambitious ladder climbers, others are not. There are many factors in being satisfied with a job. Think about them all.

  21. Bwmn*

    While I don’t specifically know the world of research editing – I can provide my experience of being a research assistant as my first ‘real’ job out of grad school. For the most part research assistants stayed in their jobs for 1-3 years, and a huge percentage of those leaving left for additional education.

    However, while this was the average research assistant experience – it definitely wasn’t the only one. Some managed to stay on longer and transition a full-time research assistant position to a part-time one while they were pursuing additional education. In the case of those getting PhD’s, they could end up being high level, highly valued research assistants while also having their education largely covered by the institution. And also, there were other research assistants that chose the field as their career – and as opposed to the rest of us recent grads, their extensive experience made them highly valued for very challenging/specified studies. So while initially the job track felt very entry level, there were people who managed to make much longer, successful and happy careers.

    It wasn’t the right field for me – but if you are really liking your job and the work, then it might be worth trying to network with people who have done well within that job track and see what opportunities there are for a more long term career in the job.

  22. Susan*

    My only feedback is that if you’re staying because the environment is good for YOU that is great. Many are envious of your situation. But don’t let factors like your bosses being nice turn into an idea that you owe them. I think some people get to a point where they want to move on, but feel so invested in their current company that they feel like they’d be letting people down if they left. Unfortunately for the empathetic people of the world, when it comes to your job, you do have to be a little selfish! I don’t think this is what you’re saying, though. I think you’re saying you feel valued — which is fantastic, and kind of sounds to me like you’re still in the right place.

    1. Alison with one L*

      This is exactly me!! I have been at my first job for over a year now, and I love what I do. I absolutely will stay through 2 years, and probably a little longer than that. But honestly, I don’t think I can make it work long term because of my ridiculous commute and my family timeline (I’ll probably have a baby within 18 months). I am struggling with the idea of ever leaving because I feel like I owe them so much. It’s a small team and my manager has invested SO much in my development.

      How do you separate the emotional loyalty from the logical (selfish) choice to leave – when the time comes?

      1. Lanya*

        Sometimes it’s tough to separate those feelings, especially when it’s a close environment and your managers have invested a lot of time and energy into your development.

        In the end, you have to remember that ultimately you work to live, not live to work. Your personal life and choices must always take precedence over the desire to not want to hurt your employer/coworkers.

        In the end, they will understand, even if it’s a difficult decision. If the relationship is that good, and you can leave on good terms, you may receive an open-ended invitation to come back to work for them again.

  23. Retail Lifer*

    Loving what you do, getting decent raises, and being entrusted to take on important duties like training people and high-priority projects are things that most people are looking for in a job. You have all that, so if you’re still feeling fulfilled and challenged there, stay. Once one or two of those things diminishes, then reconsider.

  24. De Minimis*

    Not to sound too New-Agey, but you’ll know when it’s time to go. I think after a while people will have a realization that for the most part they’ve done all they’re ever going to do in their current job. And some are okay with continuing to work somewhere and deal with the same things and not really do anything else, and that’s absolutely fine. But if you’re at that point at your job and you’re not okay with that, it’s time to move on.

    I think also a lot of stuff that didn’t seem like a big deal before will begin to really grate and annoy, and that’s another sign that it’s probably time for a change.

    I am so at that point at my current job, and am most likely giving notice soon…FWIW I’ve been here just over two and a half years.

    1. De Minimis*

      Want to mention to from what I’m reading, it doesn’t sound like the OP is at the point where it’s time to leave…

    2. Malissa*

      I completely agree that every job will have an expiration date on it. And it’s obvious when it happens. My last job it came right at 7 years and it was more due to location than the job itself. I saw the expiration date at the current job after four months.

  25. W*

    I’m also in an entry level job which I like and is a great fit for me. I like the environment. However, I’m getting worried that I won’t be able to advance. I’ve been here less than 2 years, so not long. But the girl who’s been here just a little longer than me has already been promoted, because the position opened up with someone’s departure. Now, since it’s unlikely anyone else will leave and open up a position, I feel like I’m stuck at my current position and don’t have room for growth. I can move into a different aspect of my role, but what I really want is her position and she’s not leaving anytime soon. Should I stay and hope things change or just leave and find another job that has more opportunities?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I can’t tell you what you “should” do. But I can warn you- any time I have gotten my eyes set on another person’s specific job, it has never gone well. Branch out, see what other jobs you might like at your company. Maybe you can pick up some training or courses and make yourself eligible for something else. Do what you can to mix it up and get yourself not to focus on this one person’s job.
      I am not sure exactly why, it’s probably a number of reasons but the couple of times I decided I would like Sue’s job, it did not go well. I ended up leaving the company. Looking back, I think the biggest problem was my narrow thinking. I probably could have found something else to do at the company that would have been okay. And maybe from there I would have moved on to an even better paying job in the company. Who knows? I’d like to encourage you to look at your setting with fresh eyes. Sometimes pretending you are advising a friend what to do can help with the fresh eyes process. You are saying you have a nice company and that is a bfd. It might be worth the effort of some mental gymnastics to figure out what to do next here.

      1. W*

        I know what you mean. There is something I can help with in my department, but it’s more specialized and will require training and I honestly don’t care as much about it as my coworker’s job. Her job is more coordinating, so it’s the next step up from what I’m doing and still quite general that the skills are transferable. I feel I will learn and grow a lot (going from being a worker bee to someone coordinating projects) but since that job won’t be open, I feel I should find another company where I can move onto more management duties.

  26. the_scientist*

    I left my first post-grad-school job after less than two years. It was one year, 5 months, to be exact (not like I was counting or anything!). I think this might be a heavily field-dependent thing; in my field of research most entry-level positions are contract so it’s not unusual to spend a year somewhere, then 6-8 months on another contract, then 1-2 years on a third contract, and then hopefully a permanent position. It’s not really looked at as job hopping in this field to have a resume like this.

    I started looking for a new job at about 8-9 months into my current position. Perhaps my application thrown out at a few places because I’d been in that job <1 year, but I did still get a few interviews despite that (and like I said, field norm is short-term contracts). Once I hit the one-year mark, though (and after re-writing my resume based on Alison's advice) the interviews started rolling in- 4 interviews in as many months, and three offers. I got a permanent job with a significant pay raise that I'm really enjoying, so I honestly don't think I was viewed negatively by leaving a job at the under 2-year mark. BUT, I also had some really unassailable reasons for why I was looking to leave- the job had changed pretty substantially from what I'd been told when I was hired and the grant was almost up with little chance of renewal.

    If all of your co-workers have moved on to more senior positions after two years, I think that tells you something about the entry-level "lifespan" in your industry. If you stick around longer than that lifespan, I suppose you risk employers worrying about whether you're ambitious/hard-working enough or questioning why you stayed in a job below your experience level, but that's a calculation you'll have to make on your own. If your coworkers took lateral moves to get out of the organization, you don't have to worry about being outpaced by your peers. At the end of the day, enjoying your job and the people you work with is hugely, hugely valuable, perhaps even more so than ascending the corporate ladder, so again, you'll have to decide what's most important to you.

  27. Student*

    It might help you out to ask your colleagues why they are moving on, if you can. If you can relate to their answers, that might be an argument in favor of seriously considering moving on. If their reasons clearly don’t apply to you or your situation, then it reaffirms your desire to stay.

    Some jobs naturally have this rate of turnover because they are emotionally or physically draining. Maybe you just aren’t as easily bothered by whatever is causing attrition among your colleagues.

    However, some jobs, especially college-required entry-level jobs, correspond heavily to the years when people are establishing families and may make decisions to change things based on family needs instead of career needs. People either find that they need to make more money to support their new family, need to move to accommodate a spouse’s job change, or need to quit work to stay at home to care for children. That leads to higher turnover due to demographics, but may simply not apply to your specific situation.

  28. mskyle*

    I think that job-hopping early in your career is a lot more valuable than it is later, because when you only have limited work experience you can get into the habit of thinking that the way things are at your particular job/organization are just The Way Things Are everywhere. And this is very often not the case! Things might be better, or they might be worse, but if you at least get out there and look you’ll have more information. Even if you end up someplace worse, you’ve learned something.

    I tolerated things at my first post-college job that I would NEVER tolerate now, and looking back I can see that I had better options that I was unaware of at the time. I didn’t hate that job all the time, and I learned a lot, but two years at that job was still too long.

    Anyway, not saying you should leave if you’re reasonably happy and well-compensated. But I think it’s hard to get an idea of what changing jobs entails before you’ve done it, and it’s a valuable experience to have.

  29. Brett*

    Is there a point or certain circumstances (e.g. no promotion) at which employers start looking negatively on longevity at one company? What red flags could exist if someone has been with the same company for a long time, and how do you counteract those?

  30. AntherHRPro*

    OP – You should also have a conversation with your manager about your career to find out what opportunities exist for you in the shorter and longer term. In this conversation, you would be letting your manager know that you have an interest in doing more and advancing. You should come to the conversation prepared knowing what your own aspirations are, what your strengths and opportunities are and what you are willing to do to advance.

  31. JAL*

    I stupidly took a job that doesn’t require a college degree after I graduated and it’s making me miserable. There’s hardly any benefits, and I was on leave 2 weeks because I had to have surgery. Well I came back last week and they’re holding me to these ridiculous standards that I would typically meet. They know I have had surgery and they know that I probably had to come back because I couldn’t afford to be off any longer without pay and currently I”m feeling invalued.

  32. Gene*

    We just had someone retire who started with the City when he was 17. Started as a Utility Laborer, literally sweeping streets and sidewalks downtown with a broom and dustpan. When he retired he was in charge of the Street Maintenance group. 45 years and gone – slacker.

  33. Amber Rose*

    Always have a reason to leave if you’re leaving early. Of the 3 jobs I’ve had since leaving school, I have yet to last for more than 2 years. But in all cases I had good reasons and I haven’t had any sense that interviewers were concerned about it.

    My boss at that first job, when I gave my notice, said she was always glad to see people escape and move up. And I liked that job so much. I would leave my current job in a heartbeat if I was offered it again with full pay.

  34. Anonymous Coward*

    I’m leaving my “first job” – that is, the first company I worked for full-time/permanent, at which I have held multiple positions – at the end of this week! I’ve been here almost 8 years. And my hop (long-considered and long-awaited) is into an entry-level position in a different industry entirely, with a pay cut back to about what I was earning last year in the position before my current one. But it comes with a pension plan, decreased commute and commute costs, involvement in local community where I want to raise a family, stability, and a career path I can see myself on for the next 30 years. I’ll be eligible for a pay step increase in a year, and I can survive and support my household on what they’re offering now, if we’re thrifty. It’s a net positive, for sure!

    I’ve had 5 distinct job titles in 8 years, and assorted additional roles I’ve fit myself into or fit into my work. Less of a career ladder and more of a spiral staircase — but I’ve become a subject matter expert with institutional history, which fueled my last promotion. I had to ask outright to be moved into new (lateral) positions when the work was no longer challenging, but the only move that came with a salary bump was the most recent one into a whole new department. It sounds like the OP has gained skills and is well-regarded by her bosses; being asked to train others is a good mark. Why not consider asking for an increase in responsibility (with corresponding salary increase) if you want to move up without moving out? Or ask for training in an area that will develop your career? If the bosses are aware of your value in the current market, they will know that you could earn more in salary or in perks elsewhere and will want to keep you happy and productive.

  35. Anonymousaur*

    I realize this said ‘most fields’ (not all fields) but I do think it’s worth mentioning that there are some exceptions to this “two years is the earliest you should be thinking about moving on from a professional job in most fields.”

    In one of my previous jobs, there was a definite expectation that people would either get promoted or move on within a relatively short time. Depending on turnover, in some cases people were even promoted within a month or two. Others held out for specific jobs and it could take a year or more for their preferred position to open up. Others left after 3-6 months and no one was surprised… not because there was anything wrong with their fit for the job, but because it was seen as sort of a gatekeeper/foot in-the-door position to other roles (and if that didn’t happen with the same company it was expected you would look elsewhere). Anyone who stayed in that role for more than 1.5 years or so would definitely get questions about why they stuck around so long when moving on elsewhere.

    I’m in no way saying this is the norm, at all – I’m sure it’s probably industry-specific… The industry I work in definitely does a lot of things differently than your average office job. Just sharing one of the unusual exceptions.

    1. L*

      Yes! Exactly! I straddle the line between 2 industries right now that are like that (short stints are expected and accepted because it’s well-known that your talents are in high demand everywhere else too), and am considering moving into a different industry where longevity is expected… and I’m not going to lie, it terrifies me a little, locking myself into a role/company for more than 2 years.

  36. T*

    How would this work if your job is part-time? I’m in my first professional/non-retail job after college and I really can’t see this going into a full-time position. I’ve only been here for 4 months and (if all goes well), I’m thinking about leaving after 1.5 years to find something full time. Would that sound terrible in an interview?

  37. Anx*

    This is very timely!

    I’ve been thinking of sending in an email on applying to jobs and internships when you anticipate a move.

    Short version: I am graduating from a program related to my BS program soon and am about to ‘choose’ my internship. One company nearly always hires their interns and offers paid internships. They are career track; they even offer benefits! I have never seen a job ad for entry level positions for this company. As far as I have seen our comm coll is their new talent pipeline.

    One major reservation about choosing this track is that the best case scenario may put me in a position where I’d be leaving a job fairly early. I anticipate a not-improbable move out of town within the next two years.

    Of course not all internships lead to offers and there are many other factors to consider, but what do you think is better: landing a full-time permanent position in a field that you are interested in (I have been trying to do this since 2008) or avoiding leaving a job so soon?

    My resume looks pretty job hoppy. I had a 3 year long job in college and over the summer during, but ever since have had shorter stints. I would love to stay on a job, but many of the ones I worked had seasonal fluctuations in workload and I have been laid off (from service type jobs).

  38. Steve*

    If you love what you do, that’s great. If you feel challenged and enjoy the work, stay. If you feel bored, it might be time for a change.

    One thing I don’t t think anyone has mentioned, is nobody expects you to stay in your first job more than two or three years. If you do, people wonder why you didn’t move on or up.

    All entry level jobs have a shelf life of usefulness, and if many of your peers are moving on after 2 years, it’s a sign that after 2 years, you can generate more income doing something else with this experience.

    Depending on your organization and industry, people might jump ship after 2 years and chances of a promotion are not great.

  39. Meesh*

    I stayed at my first job for 1.5 years before moving on. I then stayed at my second job for 1.5 years, even though I wanted out AS SOON AS I STARTED. Now I’m pretty happy in 3rd job and I’m 4 years out of school this May.

    It is very important to think about potential new bosses because I left first job with an amazing boss who cared about me, my career, my wellbeing, etc. My boss at 2nd job was a huge jerkface.


    1. Rose*

      Agreed. The unknown variable of (potentially worse) bosses and colleagues is the main thing besides money keeping me in my current job, even though I’m pretty much “done” with the job duties.

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