what’s the minimum amount of time I have to stay in a job that’s making me miserable?

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my new job as an executive assistant and I’m already feeling very miserable. I made the mistake of taking a job that’s heavier on the administrative side and it’s just not the right fit for me. I was desperate because I’ve been job searching for nine months while relying on a contract job for money and that EA offer was the only one that came through. I also received negative feedback on my performance review today, and I’m trying my best to fix them now while fearing that I could get fired in two weeks.

If I somehow make it through this job, how many months until I start looking for another position? What is the minimum to stay in a job that the length looks desirable to HR?

It depends on the rest of your job history and your overall situation.

If you’ve had a pretty solid job history before this point, then I wouldn’t worry about this at all — start looking for something else right now. Having one short-term job, or leaving it off your resume entirely if you’re only there a few months, isn’t a big deal. Patterns of short-term jobs (when they weren’t intended to be short-term, like a contract position) are what can be an issue — that’s when employers start worrying about job hopping.

But if your resume is already littered with short-term stays (in most fields, that means less than a couple of years), then yeah, there’s more reason to try to make this work. If that’s the case, then you’re in a situation where you need to try to repair a spotty job history, and you do that by racking up several stays of at least a few years each.

However, staying in a job that you’re not doing well at won’t necessarily help you — especially if you get fired after, say, 10 months (at which point it’s harder to leave it off your resume altogether) or if you can’t get a good reference from them. So you need to factor that in too.

Other cases where it could make sense to leave now even if it will add to an already job-hopperish resume are if the job is making you truly miserable for a sustained period of time or endangering your health or safety.

There are worse things in the world than having a spotty job history. It’s something that makes future job searches harder, which is why you want to avoid it, but please don’t feel it’s supposed to trump absolutely everything else going on.

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. Leila*

    I’m in a similar situation, but I don’t really know that my job history is a concern or not.

    From April 2014 – May 2015, I interned at a local non-profit. Made a lot of contacts, did some really cool/important work…seriously, it was the best internship I could have possibly had, which is why I stayed for 3 semesters.
    Graduated May 2015
    Immediately started working for an Ed-Tech Startup, was laid off at the end of August 2015
    Unemployed for several months
    December 2015 – started working at the same nonprofit I interned at as a part-time, seasonal volunteer coordinator.
    March 2016- started working part-time at another nonprofit while finishing seasonal job at 1st one
    April 2016 – seasonal job ended, went full-time at nonprofit #2

    Still at that job, and I have a lot of responsibility (that has more than doubled since I was hired)…but I’m not happy. At all. The staff is dysfunctional at best, I have fundamental disagreements with how the organization is run, there’s more of a religious aspect to the organization than I thought there was (we’re not a religion-based non-profit, just “funded on christian principles), nobody works together or collaborates, while I believe in the cause we work on, I don’t feel a connection to how we as an organization are trying to solve it (we do great work, I just don’t feel passionate about it) and despite how much I get to do, I’m bored because the organization is kinda boring. Maybe it’s because I’m coming from a non-profit that is really well put-together (basically the opposite of here), but I’m miserable.

    To make it more complicated, the organization recently spent several hundred dollars for me to participate in a year-long leadership development program and they also purchased a piece of software that is really really expensive but that I advocated for. So, I feel guilty about the thought of leaving.

    I haven’t been actively searching, but there is an opportunity I was made aware of that I really really want to apply for. I’m really torn on how to handle all this though. :/

    1. heatherskib*

      If everything else reflected our needs, you’d be called for an interview, but I’d ask about that history.

    2. Natalie*

      It sounds like most of your past jobs were temporary or short term by design, correct? If so, make sure you’re indicating that on your resume (by labeling them as internships, seasonal, etc)

    3. NPOQueen*

      I think you’re young enough that you can leave. You’ve barely been out of school for a year, your job history is expected to be spotty. I would probably highlight your internship and volunteer experience, or lump together all of the work that was short term. I was in an out of work for nearly two years once the economy crashed, so I just called them “Administrative Jobs” and listed my skills.

      That said, nothing stops you from applying for another job. It’s not like you have to quit your job to look for another one. However, I think you should seriously consider what you want from this next job, and make sure it’s not just drawing you in because you want something different. AAM just posted another great topic about a recent grad who may have high expectations for a low level job. I’ve worked in the non-profit industry for almost ten years, and sometimes it’s just boring. Sometimes exciting organizations give you boring work. And sometimes boring places give you the most fulfillment. So before you apply, take stock of what you want for now, and what you hope to learn in the future. See if this job you want can give it to you, and also see if there are way you can get it from your current job. You won’t always feel passionate about everything you do; there’s no way to feel passionate about data entry, I’ve tried. Still, don’t discount how a dispassionate job can lead you to a more fulfilling career.

      1. Jade*

        I like the idea of lumping them together. I return every summer for a seasonal job, and instead of having it pop up in chronological order, I just put “Seasonal Teapot Maker: June-August 2014-16.” It gets the point across that I’ve been there for multiple seasons.

        1. Venus Supreme*

          I agree. I’ve worked at a beach house/summer rental place for 7 years and on my resume I just say “Sandy Teapots, Teapot coordinator, summer, 2009-2016” etc.

    4. Karo*

      I don’t see this as an issue because the short-term positions you held were all designed to be short term. You probably want to make it clear that your seasonal job was seasonal [e.g. on resume: Volunteer Coordinator (Seasonal)] , but otherwise this adds up to a single short-term stay.

      Regardless, don’t feel guilty about looking because they spent money on you. It’s part of the cost of doing business.

      1. RVA Cat*

        I think the fact that the org you interned for re-hired you for the seasonal job does say a lot though. All told you were with them for over a year, and they should give you a good reference.

        1. TootsNYC*

          This is huge–it really does speak to your own stability and also to your work ethic.

          The fact that an internship (which is supposed to be 1 semester) went for THREE says not just that you aren’t a job hopper; it also says that THEY wanted you around.
          They could have just turned you down for the 2nd & 3rd semesters if they thought you weren’t worth much.

          And then they hired you later, after a gap even? That also says they think highly of you.

    5. Koko*

      So short-term, layoff, seasonal, and then part-time that transitioned into full-time and isn’t working out? That wouldn’t alarm me assuming I was able to get that understanding out of your resume in a quick scan. I would just make very clear that the internship and seasonal job were seasonal/short-term positions so the HM doesn’t risk missing it.

      Depending on whether you have a great reference or achievements at the startup you want to use, and what field you’re looking for your next job to be, there’s also a case to be made for leaving that one off. Then it would just appear that you entered the workforce several months after graduating, taking a seasonal job and then transitioning to full-time work when it ended. (Of course don’t lie about the startup job if they ask you what you were doing during that time, you can say, “I did briefly work for a start-up just after graduation, but they ran into financial trouble and laid off most of the staff, including me.” or something like that.

    6. nicolefromqueens*

      Everything NPOQueen said. It looks like the only ‘bad’ situation you’ve had is your current job but I think you’re young enough to ‘excuse’ it.

      I would add that when you do get to the interview stage, you need to do two things: 1) when you’re asked why you’re looking to leave your current job, explain that it isn’t a good fit, what you took from this experience, what you’ve learned about yourself as an employee, and how you realized that culture/fit is important after all; 2) ask the questions that will help you screen for fit. Alison has good ones in her guide and before you get there, think about what you wish you knew going to this job and use that to phrase your questions. That will show that you’re serious about fitting well into your next company/organization, and help you weed out the places you wouldn’t want to be. Another short-term stint in a row would not help you.

    7. Rocky*

      This wouldn’t be an issue for me for the first 2, maybe 3 years after someone graduates. Just make sure you note up-front that the positions were intended to be short term, as others have suggested. If someone goes on with a track record like this for more than a couple years, I start wondering what’s going on.

    8. Pwyll*

      Your job history sounds to me to be fairly common for recent graduates in social enterprise, to be honest. If you can be happy where you are for another year or two, that’d be nice, but I’d certainly keep my eyes open for new opportunities. If you do decide to leave non-profit #2, try to make your next job an investment of 2-4 years.

    9. Leila*

      Thanks for the advice everyone….the new job I’m wanting to apply for is actually with a company I’ve been volunteering with for a while, they only have 1 paid staff member and I’ve worked with that person as a volunteer. It’s a new position they are hiring for, that would work directly under them. So I feel really really good about my fit there, have talked to the person I would be working for about it, know the company well, enjoy the work, etc.

      I handle all of the volunteer management and marketing duties (social media, pr, website, graphic design, etc.) at my current job…so it’s not like I should be bored. We’re just not really doing much as an organization and what we are doing isn’t interesting to me. I could deal with all of that if the culture was good here – but I just don’t work well in an organization where none of the staff works together, is highly dysfunctional, etc.

      1. Adi*

        I myself been in a non-profit organization for 3 years after waitressing for almost 4! I have a BA in psychology and was so exciting about starting the job. After seeind how things run here, I am so unmotivated! My boss is never accessible, lack of communitarian and lack of training is ruining my self-esteem. I am becoming to feel sick to my stomach every day I have to go to work and while at work. I just want to quit this job. However, what holds me back is trying to get experience for a better career opportunity. My old boss would be happy to have me back. Any suggestions are recommended …

      2. It's me*

        I myself been in a non-profit organization for 3 years after waitressing for almost 4! I have a BA in psychology and was so exciting about starting the job. After seeind how things run here, I am so unmotivated! My boss is never accessible, lack of communitarian and lack of training is ruining my self-esteem. I am becoming to feel sick to my stomach every day I have to go to work and while at work. I just want to quit this job. However, what holds me back is trying to get experience for a better career opportunity. My old boss would be happy to have me back. Any suggestions are recommended …

    10. MissGirl*

      Leila, I agree with other posters that your resume doesn’t look like job hopping because the jobs you were doing are considered temp jobs. If you want to apply to this other role, go ahead and give it a shot. One thing I would be careful about in considering this and future jobs is that you have a practical view of what a job really entails.

      You mention not feeling passionate about it and bored. That’s sooooo normal, especially when you’re starting out at any company. An entry level position means you’re not on the exciting stuff. Plus, our passions when broken down into day-to-day work can be drudging, especially months in. It doesn’t look like you’ve had a full time position for a long period of time, so this boredom may be new. I loved books, I write books, and I worked in publishing for ten years. Some days I hated books. Once I finished editing and editing a manuscript I would joke about burning the old pages in effigy. I did love the job, though, just not all of the time. And my first year could be mind-numbing boring.

      Being an intern can give you a great view of the job but it can also give you a misleading view. I know at my job we actively tried to move the interns from project to project so they could get sense of each position and what they liked. We also brought them into strategy meetings to give them an understanding of the industry. However, once entry level, you’re doing the same things each day and you won’t be in those meetings.

      Whatever you decide, good luck in your career.

      1. NPOQueen*

        I was very lucky when I was an intern. I worked for a Fortune 50 company during my summer and winter breaks, and each time, I was given a specific project to complete, in addition to my daily duties. I was pulled into strategy meetings and my project was presented to upper management. It was an incredible opportunity, but when I finally got a real full time job, the differences couldn’t be more stark. As an intern, I didn’t have to deal with the day to day minutiae of the job, nor did I have to worry about internal politics. Now that I have interns of my own, I make sure their work is meaningful, but I also try to give them a real picture of the workplace. Sometimes, the bulk of your day is chasing people around for information so that you can complete your projects. Or you could be hosting a dinner with 400 of the top philanthropic players in your city. As you continue in the workforce, these “downtime” periods of boredom might be a blessing in disguise.

        But to your point, if you know something about the job you want to apply for, then have at it! Just remember, even a job you love can be boring at times. Good luck!

  2. F.*

    Start looking because this is obviously a poor fit since both you and your boss are unhappy. However, take a good look at the jobs you consider in the future. I’ve been an admin, EA or office manager most of my working life, and it all involved heavy administrative work. I’m not sure exactly what you are looking for, but administrative assistant or EA may not be for you if you don’t like administrative work.

  3. some1*

    Can you explain more about what you mean by the role being “heavier on the administrative side”? Administrative and executive assistant roles are pretty much always going to be like that, but sometimes the hiring manager (the person you will be supporting) doesn’t have a great sense of describing the actual day-to-day of the role.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think she was surprised that an EA job was heavily administrative — but rather, she’s realizing she took the wrong sort of job because she was feeling desperate.

    2. Pwyll*

      There is such a wide range of Executive Assistant roles, though. We lost a new executive assistant at my first law firm because she expected going from legal assistant to executive assistant to the partner would be a huge step up in responsibility. But at our firm, it meant she reported directly to the partner and took dictation and sent e-mails on his behalf (our partners were barely computer literate). This was disclosed in the interview, but when you need a job sometimes you hear what you want to hear.

      It’s certainly possible she expected the job to be more “manage the logistics” and less “type this and schedule my lunch.”

    3. Ellie the EA*

      In addition, some managers really take the “assistant” part to heart – e.g. take these documents I received, review them and give me a synopsis of what I need to know; I’m interested in knowing why our attrition is higher this year – take this report I was sent and do some analysis.

      Others just want someone to file and do expense reports.

      1. Caledonia*

        In addition, some managers really take the “assistant” part to heart – e.g. take these documents I received, review them and give me a synopsis of what I need to know; I’m interested in knowing why our attrition is higher this year – take this report I was sent and do some analysis.

        Like Donna Moss to Josh Lyman, TWW.

        1. B*

          Love this example! And it is very true that EA positions are all over. Some are more administrative, more project manager and analysis, some are get me my coffee and make photocopies, travel with me everywhere I go and be on call just in case, and some can be all of those. It all depends on the company, supervisor, role, and what is needed.

          1. EA*

            +1 for me, this has been hard to suss out in interviews,people who have EAs often have egos, and they think everything they give you is AMAZING and FULFILLING even if its making copies. I have tried to use words like ” i am looking for an EA position where I am a business partner with the person I support, and I expand the role into project management”.

          2. Christopher Tracy*

            Yup, and Donna was certainly all of those (except for the coffee part – she only brought him coffee in the pilot when she thought he was about to be fired).

      2. Moonsaults*

        Or the ones who transform EA to personal assistant, granted I enjoy both aspects, others absolutely hate it.

  4. HeyNonnyNonny*

    Definitely start looking! I once stayed in a job for three months, after a few years of shorter contract jobs– moving to a job that was a better fit has made my quality of life much better, and much more optimistic about a long-term job stay.

  5. Rachel*

    I’d say 3-4 months. If it’s not a good fit, it’s fine. You can explain this on your resume/cover letter if prompted by your next employer.

  6. Lisa*

    Oooh, I know there’s so little detail here, but I feel like this letter could have been written by the person who replaced me at my last job, just last month. I took the position under a different job title but it turned out to be much more like an executive assistant. Which I maybe could have dealt with (I enjoy a certain amount of admin stuff!), but unfortunately I found said executive difficult to work with. I did leave just recently and was pleased to see that at least the job title was changed to “executive assistant” for the new listing, because that would help applicants have a more realistic expectation for the position.

    But the other part that jumped out at me is that I, too, got some negative feedback in a very early review. In this case, it was on something that had always been a positive for me in other jobs (and in fact, when I started my new job just recently, it was the very first thing listed in a glowing email from my new manager to introduce me to the rest of the staff), so I knew basically from a few weeks in that this might not be a good fit for me. I did try to adjust, but it was hard to change what feels like a core trait in myself, and also it just got me started on the wrong foot with this boss, feeling like “if you want me to change what other bosses and coworkers have always liked about me… maybe you just don’t like me.” That may be rational or not, but it’s a hard feeling to shake.

    None of that really answers the question here, it just jumped out at me so much I had to say it. I know the likelihood of this ACTUALLY being my replacement is so so slim! It’s just weird.

    For my real response to the question: I did leave that job in less than two years (which I realize is still longer than this OP is contemplating) and I was able to make it clear in interviews that the position was not what I expected without it just being about “I don’t like my boss” and/or “I feel like my boss doesn’t like me.” I stressed that I am NOT a short-term job kind of person and that I really did want to find a place where I could be happy to stay for a long time, and that I was disappointed to find that this was not it. That seemed to be well-received and it worked because I haven’t been in this new position very long, but so far I’m so much happier. OP, if you don’t have too many past short-term jobs on your resume, and if you can find a reasonable and concrete reason that this current job is not the right fit and you’re looking to start fresh so soon, I hope that another hiring manager would give you the benefit of the doubt the way mine did!

    And if you really are in my old job… I feel your pain. (ha)

    1. EA*

      Out of curiosity, if you are comfortable, what was the negative feedback they gave you? I only ask because as an EA I have been criticized for things I consider positive (asking questions) but mostly by one shitty boss.

      1. zora.dee*

        I had that boss, too. She decided that me asking a question was “Undermining her authority” and “arguing with her”, no matter how I adjusted my wording and tone. And if I didn’t ask questions, I got in trouble for not checking with her first. Some people are just impossible.

          1. JustaLurker*

            Agree 100%

            How can I learn how you like things done if I don’t ask a question every once in a while?

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Yes! I’ve been fortunate in that most of the jobs I’ve had have matched my natural style of working and interacting, so I thought that I was just naturally good at working with various bosses and intuiting what they want. Then I went to work at my university boss’s private firm, try as I might, I could not match my working style to that of his partner/spouse.

            When I first start a job, I typically observe the culture around how things are done and ask questions in the form of, “This is what I’m thinking of doing; does that sound okay to you?” to try to calibrate my decision-making to the new job and get up to speed more quickly. Most bosses recognized what I was doing and appreciated it, but for some reason that one boss took it as a lack of initiative. She only saw that I was asking a lot of questions, but didn’t see that I was laying the groundwork for asking fewer questions in the future. I’m still a little bitter about it.

      2. Lisa*

        He wanted me to be “more friendly,” by which he really just meant sort of louder/more enthusiastic. He actually used Disney as an example. Some people are like that naturally; to me it was super fake.

        Like I said, I tried because it was what he wanted, but I just worked that whole time feeling like I couldn’t be myself because my boss didn’t like my own natural personality. It’s so weird. Such a subjective thing, but in a 15-year career, it was the literally only time I’ve ever been told anything like that. I may be more softspoken, but I have always been known as the nice/friendly one in other offices – it was a running joke in two different past jobs that so many of our vendors or outside partners preferred working with me, and I’d tell my coworkers that I wasn’t doing anything special, I was just nice to them!

        And like I also said, I started a new job where my new boss introduced me to the whole staff as something like “she has a smile for everyone” and I thought, OKAY, I’ve found my place again.

        1. EA*

          Uh God. I would hate that, I am not loudly friendly and would view it as fake. I do think I am nice when someone talks to me. I have noticed some people expect admins to be like peppy and in my opinion annoying

          1. Lisa*

            Something I hadn’t ever thought about before that job, but has now become a life rule: I work best with managers who want to just hire good people and let them be themselves. Not the ones who want to manage everyone into the same personality.

            (This is why retail/food service is probably also not for me!)

        2. HRChick*

          I wonder if he would have said that if you were a man?

          IDK, just seems like something (being “Disney”) that women are expected to do a lot where men are only expected to be professional

        3. Kyrielle*

          …wow. I don’t think I’d do it, but I’d be SUPER tempted to start bursting into random song around him after that.

          Which he’d really regret, because I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, whether the bucket is animated or traditional.

        4. SouthernBelle*

          I got that on an eval once, about 10 years ago. I needed to smile more and ask people about their day (regardless of whether I cared or not). I quickly found the exit because it’s one thing to tell me I’m not doing my job well, but it’s another thing entirely to try to turn me into someone I’m not.

        5. Meg*

          Oh boy! I once had a manager criticize me in that way and the kicker is I had previously worked for Disney and they thought I was peppy even by Disney standards. When I inquired as to what he was referring to, he said that the one event of mine (I was an event coordinator) that he had been to, he hadn’t heard me on the microphone once. I wasn’t at the one event because we were double booked. I jumped ship and since then I have doubled my salary in only 2 years.

    2. TootsNYC*

      “I stressed that I am NOT a short-term job kind of person and that I really did want to find a place where I could be happy to stay for a long time, and that I was disappointed to find that this was not it. ”

      So often, if you drag those fears/potential drawbacks out into the open, it scores big.

      It tells the interviewer that you DO have the same expectations, which is the hugest part of the battle.

    3. cncx*

      i had a similar experience to you as well. it was a job that was advertised with another title (paralegal) but was really executive assistant. i mean, i did ea for a while, i can do ea, but i thought i was being hired to manage contracts but not order taxis.

      what also put me off was early on- while i was still adjusting to the fact that this was, in fact, an ea job that i had moved three hours to take- the manager chastized me for stuff like word choice in emails (“don’t use the word rubric” “ok what other word would you like” “i don’t know just don’t use rubric”). past managers had praised my writing. so weird.

      i wound up leaving after six weeks under mutual agreement- i was about to quit but firing me would ensure my unemployment benefits. and karma got that manager for not knowing how to hire or people manage. the job i took after that job i have stayed at, and she has had five jobs in five years since.

  7. Rat Racer*

    What about the converse: does staying in a job for too long without moving upward create the impression of stagnation? What if there’s no where to move up to and the salary is excellent and the work is exciting and fulfilling? I suppose that this is a nice problem to have, but I do wonder sometimes at what point loyalty becomes conflated with immobility.

    1. Pwyll*

      IMO this one is all about how you “spin” it. If you can show how you’ve grown your skills and performed during that time, I don’t think an extended stay with an employer is a negative. I think the way you’ve phrased this is good: the work was exciting and fulfilling, but now you’ve reached a point in your career where you’re looking for advancement, and those opportunities don’t exist at your current employer.

      Sounds like a plus to me!

    2. sunny-dee*

      I’m a tech writer, and there’s basically junior-senior-principle type designations, but once you’re a tech writer, you’re a tech writer unless you move completely out of your role, like a people manager or project manager.

      I think showing some ownership within the field — being a team lead, managing solo projects, even presenting at conferences — shows that you have an interest in your field, without needing to show a lot of title changes.

      Also, no one is 100% focused on only their career advancement all the time. If I saw someone was at the same place for, like, 7 years, it could show a lot of loyalty, good team relationships, and reliability and it could also indicate that you are good at balancing professional and personal life. Personal life changes — someone who can stick it out at a place for years through management changes, having children or taking care of relatives, moving, whatever, is a good thing.

      That’s just me, though.

      1. Joanne*

        I graduated college in spring 2016 and held some short-term contracting jobs through temp agencies and I recently landed my first full-time job as a tech writer in September 2017. However, five days into the new year I was told that the client (the federal government) didn’t like my writing style and “wasn’t what they were looking for.” and let go from the company and I’ve been job hunting since.
        Is it normal for companies to let go of junior technical writers once they have enough senior technical writers on board, or because they’re not learning the material in time?

    3. NW Mossy*

      I think the question you have to be prepared to address is “why now?” Boredom? Conflict with a new colleague/manager or changes in corporate culture? A change in mindset/ambitions/goals? Having strong positive reasons for why you want to make a change now (since you haven’t been motivated to before) should allay the most common doubts.

    4. Audiophile*

      It depends, this is a tough one. I think it can create that impression but even if your title hasn’t changed, if your responsibilities have increased I’d think that would look good to a potential employer.

      I was in a position for 4 years, that was basically a contract role, it would never be permanent and would always be filled by an outside company. I had a hard time explaining in interviews why I wanted to leave Big Financial Company and why I’d been in the same role for so long without moving up. Well, I wanted to leave, because I wasn’t a permanent employee, there really wasn’t any mobility or growth opportunities with my then company and despite submitting half a dozen applications could never get an interview for an internal job.

      I had an interview about 2 weeks ago where I was if I basically considered myself a job hopper (not exactly those words) or if this is just the way of the world now. I said I didn’t consider myself a job hopper, since I’d been fortunate enough to have pretty stable employment. However, even with that stability most of my jobs had basically been through a staffing agency and so I really was looking for something permanent.

      1. Rat Racer*

        Doesn’t it also depend on how high up you are in a company when you decide to hold tight for a while? I mean, if a VP stays in the same role for 10 years, that is different than a consultant who does the same – isn’t it? It seems like there’s an expectation when you’re just starting out that you’ll move up the ladder with a fair degree of regularity (if there is a ladder in your field – per Sunny-dee). But once you reach a certain point, the jumps upward of orders of magnitude, plus your goals may span multiple years. A VP in a job for 3 years? That looks bad to me. A consultant in the same job for 7? Also bad.

        1. Rat Racer*

          — after I typed this, I realized that I probably just offended hundreds of hard-working, high-achieving consultants who are totally happy staying where they are and doing what they are doing. I was thinking back to my first consulting job where if you weren’t promoted within the first 3 years, it was a sign that you would never be.

      2. Audiophile*

        I think you and I discussed this in an open thread. Of course, I don’t remember which one.

        I don’t think 4 years is all that long but I think the stumbling block is that it never became permanent. Maybe I need to find a new way to describe it on my resume.

    5. Karo*

      Someone asked this a long time ago, and Alison’s answer was something like: at somewhere more than 8 years but less than 20, the employer starts to wonder things like why you’re not moving up, whether you can work for another company, etc. (I’m coming up on 5 years in one position, 8 at this employer, so I’ve been looking for this recently!) I’ll see if I can find the link.

    6. animaniactoo*

      Thanks for asking that – I’ve got 17 years at my present company, the last 10 in my current position. There really isn’t anywhere more “up” to go from here, so all I can add are new accomplishments/methods/learning (i.e. I know how to design a product in wood, in the past 4 years I’ve learned a lot about how to design in plastic, but I still don’t know enough about fabric to work with it effectively beyond bare basics).

      I have a tremendous amount of job security here and a pretty good salary, so those are counterpoints for me. However, I also have future plans that involve living in another part of the country, and I’m actually planning to switch careers entirely at that point, so there are some valid points about adaptability in there.

  8. zora.dee*

    Had to check to make sure I didn’t send this in in my sleep or something. Except current job is an Admin Assistant.. but yeah, I really want out, so I totally feel you, OP!

    I say, you might has well just start looking now as long as you have the energy for it. There’s really no harm, if you find something, great. If you don’t, you’re no worse off. I’m going to start looking as soon as I am done with a medical issue. Good luck!!

    1. Feeling Ya*

      I also could have written this letter!!! I feel like you either quit in less than six months or then you get to that awkward point where you have to stick it out for at least over a year.

      I am just over 9 months so I’ve been agonizing over the timeline.

      I also agonize on if positions all around 2 years is considered spotty for the first 5-6 years out of school.

      So glad to see I’m not alone. Good luck in your job search:)

      1. Egg*

        This is me exactly! I’m also just over 9 months, but I know things will get really crazy around the 11/12 month mark, making job hunting almost impossible. I wish I could leave now, but I’m worried about how it will look to prospective employers.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Here is why you need to start looking NOW.

      So that you don’t feel trapped.

      Start looking, start thinking about what else you can do.
      It’ll make you lighter, more optimistic. You’ll have to make a case for yourself with every interview, and that is SUCH a huge confidence booster!

      I had a job that I’d loved and suddenly couldn’t do right. I was so miserable. Combined w/ a biochemical depression, and I was very nearly suicidal.
      I didn’t think I could quit (I had all the insurance).

      So I went looking. Now, that took a while, and I had some bad patches because I wasn’t even getting interviews. But even the process of writing cover letters means I was MOVING. I was trying.

      And getting an interview, and having to analyze the job and make a case for how I could do it well–that was such a powerful thing.

      Start looking!

  9. animaniactoo*

    One of my former managers quit after 6 months. She was in a really untenable position, and she said she could explain the shorter stay as a mistake, but she wouldn’t be able to defend what she’d done in the role if she had it for any longer than that.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I agree with the six month rule. If it’s something you can’t change, or that will never change, 4-6 months is your out. You can chalk up poor fit, org moving in different direction, etc.

  10. Kore*

    I’m in a similar boat. I’ve been working at my current company for almost two years, however I started as a temp and became a full employee about 15 months ago (I was working full time as a temp before that). However, this is my first real job since I started temping out of school. I’m trying to figure out how long I should stick this out.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Yep, I think it’s totally OK to start looking.

      Especially since you’re so close to getting out of school, and because you’ve really only had one employer.

  11. Laika*

    Tangentially related to Alison’s answer to this, does job-hopping within an organization reflect as poorly as job-hopping between completely different companies? I’m in my late-20s (a late uni graduate) and my professional resume reads one year as receptionist -> one year external-client-facing coordinator -> one year internal-client-support coordinator. These jobs are all within the same small organization, but I’m leaving this last role for unrelated reasons and I’m concerned my resume will look poorly for it.

    1. sunny-dee*

      I don’t think so. I think the main thing is how long you’ve been at the company — internal moves, especially moves to more senior roles, are expected as you progress in your career.

    2. Caledonia*

      Personally I think that’s fine because it sounds as if each role was a promotion of sorts, you were constantly learning new things.

    3. A Person*

      I think that’s totally fine – I’d just make sure that it’s VERY clear from your resume that they are all at the same company. For example, put the company name once with the full set of dates (1/2013 – 6/2016 or whatever) and then below note the separate positions.

  12. Captain Radish*

    I was fired from a job after about two months and simply never put it on my resume. I just said I was laid off from my job before that and it took a while to find something more. This was in 2008, so no one was at all surprised.

  13. Caledonia*

    My rule of thumb is – if the job is having an adverse effect on you, then leave. I’ve had jobs that made me miserable to the point of clinical depression.

    1. Ally*

      Agreed. I had a job that stressed me out so much, I’d regularly take breaks to puke then head right back to my desk to chip away at my insane work load. It’s not worth it.

    2. Kore*

      Yeah, a previous job gave me panic attacks. Not just anxiety or nervous attacks, but full on hyperventilating, “I could die any moment” panic attacks. I left pretty quickly.

    3. Lia*

      I got an ulcer and lost 15 lbs from one job (and I didn’t really have the weight to lose). Also wound up with RSI — carpal tunnel — from an awful ergonomic setup. Leaving basically cured the problems.

    4. TootsNYC*

      I wish I’d quit from my job like that.

      However, it helped a lot to at least start looking. To begin the process of looking for the new thing, to remind myself that I was NOT trapped, to have an excuse to make the case for my skills and abilities.

  14. Geneva*

    Leave. The world won’t end, I promise you. I was once in a similar situation. I took a marketing job at a bank immediately after being laid off. The job description was really long, so I was under the impression I would get more hands-on experience. WRONG! The job I actually got was personal assistant to an exec who was too busy to actually give me any work. In a typical week, I starred at my PC for 39 hours and filed papers for 1. I started looking for a new job immediately, and two months later I was out of there.

    Yes, my boss was upset. Yes her boss was upset. But I had to do what was best for my professional growth and sanity. Trust me, it’s better to leave now and pretend it never happened, then staying long enough where it has to go on your resume.

  15. L.*

    Please, please go ahead and start looking now! Last year I started a job that was completely wrong for me, and because I didn’t want to look like a job-hopper (even though I’d stayed at my previous jobs for 2.5 and 3 years), I tried to stick it out for a year. I lasted 11 months, but by the end, I had developed clinical depression and anxiety and had to take three medications just to be able to function. It was the worst year of my life. I deeply regret not starting my job hunt as soon as I realized it was a bad fit. Instead, I was miserable, my performance wasn’t great, and so my boss would verbally abuse me (telling me my work was junk and I was dead weight on the team), which led to depression/anxiety that made it even harder to perform well, which worsened the treatment by my boss, which further decimated my mental health and my job performance…a toxic cycle.

    Start looking now! If you’re already this miserable and getting poor feedback — well, it can get even worse, and it’s much better to start looking while you’re still in decent shape mentally and your confidence and self-esteem haven’t been torn to shreds. You can find a job that’s a good fit for you, a job you’ll be happy at and perform well in! Trying to stick it out just isn’t necessary and has massive potential to leave you in an even worse position mentally. Your mental health is so much more important than trying to appear to be “not a job-hopper.” Plus, if you leave soon, you can drop this job from your resume, something I really wish I could do with my last job. Good luck!

  16. Penelope Pitstop*

    Yes to Caledonia and others who have said the same thing–hanging onto a job that isn’t right for you isn’t worth the physical or emotional health issues that it can cause. That kind of stress can also bleed into and adversely impact other relationships in your life. Life’s too short for misery and it’ll only be a temporary setback once you’ve banked more time in your professional life. Course correction can be a sign of maturity and growth if you think about and frame it that way.

  17. Ellie*

    I kind of relate to the writer, except I’m working in customer service, and it’s the only job I’ve ever had. I’ve been unhappy there for a while now, and my job search isn’t going well. Everyone I’ve talked to says it’s better for me to stay there, that it’s easier to get a new job while you’re currently employed, but I’m so tired of feeling worthless at my current place. I don’t know what to do.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      I have had the “wouldn’t I be happier if I quit, plus have more time for the job search” thoughts on a regular basis over the year and a half I’ve been working my profession’s equivalent of a dead-end, bottom-of-the-barrel, resume killer job while searching for something better. It’s up and down, but Mondays tend to be especially bad, because it’s just another week that I’ve been working this terrible job, wasting my life and my degrees and blah blah blah.

      But then I remind myself of the months I spent at home and how many days (or weeks) I didn’t get anything done there, either, and at least this job gets me out of the house and puts some cash in the bank. And everyone you’ve talked to is right: even a terrible job is better than no job when it comes to looking for a new job. We just have to hang in there, keep putting ourselves out there, and take care of ourselves as best we can.

      I’m not sure if I depressed myself or cheered myself up, but either way, you’re not alone in that stupid, depressing boat. Good luck!

  18. De Minimis*

    I’m having a rough time at my current job, and feel like I need to stay due a spotty work history. I was at my previous job nearly three years, but had a long stretch of unemployment/short time stays/temp gigs prior to that. I’ve been at this position almost a year. I really like the people here and believe in the work my organization does, but the job itself isn’t right for me and I’m not a fit as far as my manager’s way of doing things.

    My decision is I’ll look for something else, but not quitting without something lined up. But my current situation is a case study in what happens when a job isn’t right for you. I don’t do as well as I could elsewhere, and I cannot sleep well or truly enjoy my time off because this job is like a cloud hanging over me.

  19. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Honestly I’d say start looking no matter what, if you’re in a position that makes you that unhappy. If you have a history of not staying with employers for very long, it may have an impact on whether you get called for interviews. You may also be pleasantly surprised by this not being as big of an issue as you think it is.

    I know there are no guarantees with new employers, but do all of the research you can to make sure that your next move is one that is thoughtful – and with an employer you can envision working with for several years.

    Personally, I know that after leaving my last employer, I’m less judgy about how long people stay with their employers. While I wouldn’t want to see an entire work history of only staying for a few months at a time, I’m less likely now to discount an otherwise great candidate because of this. I’d at least get you into an interview and see what you had to say – there are so many reasons why employment relationships don’t work out (contracts, poor work environments, funding/budget cuts, etc.).

  20. EmilyG*

    I am wondering how long you’ve been there and whether you have any source of feedback other than your boss about how things are going. I worked as an EA early in my career and my boss was, at first, terrifying and demanding. I was convinced I was screwing everything up (well, I was, some of it) and she wasn’t shy about letting me know; I wanted to quit but had almost no savings at that time. Luckily, other people let me know that’s just how she was. After a few months, I caught on to what she considered most important, she chilled out and stopped worrying about my work, and she actually ended up becoming a great mentor. I suspect that people senior enough to have EAs may come off like she did…

    By all means, look for a new position, but what you wrote could have been me in the first three months of what turned out to be a pretty good job.

    1. Yellow*

      I’ve been an EA for the past 5 years and I second this. The beginning was scary, demanding and confusing. It’s all about figuring out the personality you’re working for – after that and nailing the repeating tasks, it gets a lot better. I’d say it took me 5 months or so to not feel like I was constantly screwing things up, asking too many questions, looking stupid, etc. for an extremely demanding and particular boss. My current main boss (different than my first, and I work for several people now) has also become an amazing mentor to me, despite being demanding and particular themself. Though much nicer! :)

  21. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Like many people have already said, OP I’d start looking. Get out before it negatively impacts your mental health.

  22. Andrew*

    Here are some exceptions to this rule. In these industries, shorter stays are more accepted.

    1. Food service
    2. Retail

    Alison herself has acknowledged the two above are exceptions. See https://www.askamanager.org/2014/11/is-it-ever-okay-to-leave-a-job-after-less-than-a-year.html (the fine print at the bottom of the article)

    In my opinion, the following exception also applies:

    3. Any job whatsoever that pays close to minimum wage. These jobs, economically speaking, are the same as retail and food service. Holding all things equal, they will also have similar turnover rates.

    Also, let me take a moment to dispel a myth recent grads may have. The myth is that working conditions at offices are better than in the retail and food service industries. I’ve worked office and retail jobs, and I’ve found that not to be the case at all. Some of these offices have turnover rates that are higher than my job change rate! And I’m sure I’m considered a job hopper by typical U.S. standards. If I’m ever asked to explain why I left my last office after six months, I’ll just tell the hiring manager that I was there longer than the office’s last 5 employees *combined*.

    1. Vanesa*

      That’s a question I have though. Because we are told to never talk bad about our employers so what do we say if we left a job at six months because the manager would constantly yell at me? Is okay to say that or do we need to come up another reason to say at an interview?

      1. De Minimis*

        Maybe just say you decided you weren’t a fit for the job….

        I think also it’s good for the reason to be because of something you’re looking for in a new job, not that you’re trying to escape something in your former/current job.

        1. Vanesa*

          I always say the reason I left is because of layoffs. Which is true, they did lay people off at that company and sold part of the business so we were expecting more layoffs. I wasn’t part of the layoffs and they didn’t end up having anymore layoffs. But I say since I was the newest on the team I didn’t want to risk future layoffs

      2. Andrew*

        Vanesa, a secret: All kinds of people leave jobs because they were unjustifiably yelled at. It’s the single most common reason people leave their jobs. They just won’t admit it. Nobody leaves jobs because “the work is hard.” They leave jobs due to “bad management,” which is I’m-an-adult-code-speak for “management treated me badly,” which is still a layer of code-speak behind “my manager was mean to me.”

        Here are the two main reasons we can’t bring that up in an interview.

        (1) “Yelling” can mean anything nowadays. Were you yelled at once in a coercive tone of voice? Ten times in a coercive tone of voice? Shouted at 30 times? Shouted at once? Who decides what’s reasonable? Your hiring manager? Your last boss? Alison? The Judge of Reasonableness? **

        (2) Here’s what’s most important. Realize this: At an interview, you’re selling yourself, and the company is your customer. Think about when you’re a customer. When was the last time you shopped for toothpaste and saw on the package, “Let the Colgate company talk about our feelings for a second. We’ve received a few complaints from our customers about the quality of our toothpaste. We make good toothpaste, really. Please give us a second chance!” When was the last time you went into a grocery store and saw a manager come up to you and say, “Oh, people on Yelp are really mean to us. But look at our store. It’s so clean, and the prices are low, unlike what Susan said on Yelp when she gave us two stars for that unfair review. Don’t pay attention to that jerk Susan.” Every worker and every company receives complaints, many of which will be unfair and unjustified. People, after all, can complain about whatever they want, basically.

        But think about how companies that know what they’re doing sell their products, even after having received said complaints. Instead, what you see on the toothpaste box is “our most cutting edge whiteness with a refreshing flavor,” and what you see in grocery store ads is, “low prices and excellent customer service.” These companies get complaints all the time, many of them unfair. But they still have customers, and they know what they are doing.

        At the interview, don’t focus on why you left your last job with the jerkface boss. Emphasize your positives, like “I’m known for selling products effectively,” “providing terrific customer service,” or “making those I manage feel like part of a team.” Remember: Be as positive as you can. It’s always possible to come up with things that are both positive and true.

        When asked why you left your last job, say something like, “I became interested in pursing a new, challenging position at a company like this one because (any positive reasons that made you pursue this company).” Statements like these are the ones that will get you hired, just like they are reasons that will get you to consume goods or services. While just about everyone can justifiably say, “that boss was extremely unreasonable and managed poorly,” I’m sure you can understand by now that people who say these types of things just aren’t as likely to get hired as people who are positive and give interviewers reasons to hire them.

        Be your own advertiser. That’s the way you should think.

        ** Here’s the answer to this question: YOU decide what’s reasonable, based on a cost and benefits analysis involving your wages, your working conditions, your financial situation, your connections and resources, your knowledge of the market, and your values. That’s called being an employee in a free market.

  23. Vanesa*

    I would agree with everyone that it is okay to start looking if you are truly miserable.

    I guess all of these answers make me feel better because I’ve been in this situation twice and lasted at two jobs for only six months. But I was miserable at both of them! At one company everyone was miserable and it was mostly due to our manager who expected us to work 50+ hours a week, but there really wasn’t much work to be done, so half the time we were just sitting their. The manager and the senior had tons of work, but either they didn’t trust the staff or didn’t have time to train us. Everyone at this job was afraid to go home. It was like a game of chicken to see who would leave first. because no one wanted to be the first to leave. Shortly after I left, 3 others on our team of 5 left as well. I heard my replacement only lasted 3 months.

    My other six month job, I had a manager who would yell at me. She wouldn’t yell at anyone else just me. I talked to her manager about it and her manager said he didn’t see anything wrong with the way she was talking to me. Shortly after I left two others left as well. This was a brand new team so about 8 people were all hired at the same time.

    But I felt awful after leaving both of these jobs. I felt unprofessional and kind of like people would look down on me because I left these jobs so quickly. Like I didn’t have thick skin or could make it in the corporate world. Part of me wanted to stick it out, but I would literally cry after work and just wasn’t doing a good job overall. I am glad I left those jobs though and everytime I pass by either of those buildings or think about those jobs I get so upset – mostly the one where my manager would yell at me. The other job wasn’t so bad and part of me wishes I would have stuck that out a bit longer. I’ve learned from these experiences though and I’m pretty happy at my current position. I want to stay here about 3 years though due to my spotty work history – I’ve only been here 9 months. I guess my advice to you would be to take your time with interviews and try not to take any job. As Alison has mentioned the interview process is for both and we need to make sure the job is a good fit.

  24. Venus Supreme*

    I was miserable at my last job. It was more of a toxic work environment than displeasure with my job duties. I stayed there for 9 months total, and started job searching 3 months in. I’m now at a job where I am truly happy and can see myself staying here for a long time. Start looking now because you don’t know how long the job search will take! I don’t regret leaving “so quickly,” particularly because I’m early in my career and I have other jobs that prove my work stability.

  25. NicoleK*

    My last job started off well but the last 6 months became hell. I developed severe anxiety and panic attacks. I was not myself anymore. I had planned to stay there for 3-4 years as my tenure at previous job was only 20 months. The environment became unbearable and I started looking after 15 months and left at 18 months.

    Start looking for a new job.

  26. Wrench Turner*

    We’ll all be dropped like a hot iron the moment we become less than “good fit” for a company, without remorse or hesitation; that door swings both ways. If you don’t like that job, leave it. And if you don’t like the next one, leave that one. If corporations are people, then people are corporations and you only need to stick around with what is most profitable to you (mentally, physically, financially). You’ve got to keep your skills sharp enough to stay in demand (be it cupcakes or computers) but you’re in a business relationship with your employer, not their servant.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s true that companies will do what’s best for them (and so should employees), but “without remorse or hesitation” isn’t generally true when it comes to letting people go.

  27. Self employed*

    “Polished” strikes me as an adjective that strictly describes women, which is interesting. “Professional” is a much better term for job ads.

    1. Good_Intentions*

      Self employed:

      I believe you are on the comment thread for a single question. You probably want the short answer comment thread from Aug. 31.

  28. DevAssist*

    I feel like I could have written this letter! I hope people will still comment on this post, because I’m eager to read more advice.

    OP, if I were you, I would start looking. Send out applications after work and keep an ear out for job-related news that may come from someone in your social network (it’s how I’ve landed a few interviews).

    I think the biggest piece of advice I could give is this: please don’t get discouraged or complacent. I personally think “dream job” is a myth for most people, but I COMPLETELY believe you can find a job that makes you feel more content.

    Good luck!

  29. Jan*

    I was in a similar situation last year. What no one seems to have mentioned is that it’s not easy to take time off to interview when you’ve been at a job for less than six months. You don’t want to be the new person calling in sick, and lots of times you don’t even get a vacation/personal day for 3-6 months. So while I was miserable, I also felt handcuffed, which made everything worse!

  30. Joanne*

    I graduated college in spring 2016 and held some short-term contracting jobs through temp agencies and I recently landed my first full-time job as a tech writer in September 2017. However, five days into the new year I was told that the client (the federal government) didn’t like my writing style and “wasn’t what they were looking for.” and let go from the company and I’ve been job hunting since.
    Is it normal for companies to let go of junior technical writers once they have enough senior technical writers on board, or because they’re not learning the material in time?

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