Finding The Goldilocks Zone: How Long Should You Stay in a Job?

by Mark

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​People often ask how long they should be staying in a job. And of course, the answer to that depends on a large number of factors and there is no one-size fits all answer. However, as traditional ideas of lifetime employment have faded and the market for gig workers has risen - and in the wake of the Great Resignation – we’ve decided to take a closer look at the major things to consider and when assessing whether to stay of move on to pastures new.Here’s our top-10:


1. Personal growth:

When evaluating how long to stay in a job, consider the growth curve you're experiencing. Most jobs tend to have a natural progression of learning and development. During the initial phase, you're acquiring new skills and adapting to the company culture. As time goes on, you begin to hit your stride, contribute meaningfully and take on more responsibilities. Then, at a later stage, it’s likely you’ve mastered your role and taken it as far as you can. That is the point when promotion is usually on the horizon – and you have to assess if that move up is better for you than a move out to a new firm. Staying means building on the work you have already done and the networks you’ve made in the business. But moving can mean a bigger step up (sometimes), and the chance to experience a new culture and build new networks. The decision here is around which is more important for your career.


2. Skills acquisition:

The amount of time we spend in a job often aligns with whether we are still acquiring skills that will contribute to our longer-term career goals. If you find that you've plateaued in terms of skill development (with or without promotion), it might be an indication that it's time to explore new challenges. However, if you're still continually learning and expanding your skill set, staying a bit longer might be beneficial to continue to reap the rewards of your efforts and of the loyalty you’ve shown your employer.


3. Impact and contribution:

Many surveys and statistics show that job satisfaction often hinges on your sense of impact and contribution. Are you making meaningful contributions to your team, department, or organisation? Can you see the impact your work is having in terms of achieving goals and moving the team and organisation forwards? If, indeed, your efforts are being recognised and your work is valued, it might be worth staying longer to see your contributions translate into lasting results and build on the success that brings. It’s also easier to discuss achievements in the interview for a new role when you know the full extent of what those are – such as revenue growth or percentage of sales conversions.


4. Career pivot vs. stability:

The decision to stay in a job might also depend on your broader career goals. Are you looking for stability and gradual growth within a particular industry, or are you open to pivoting to a completely different field and transferring what you’ve learned to a new arena? If you're considering a career change, a shorter stint might be acceptable if you've already gained the necessary experience to transition successfully.


5. Company culture and fit:

The cultural fit between you and your organisation can significantly impact your job satisfaction. If you find yourself aligned with the company's values, enjoying positive relationships with colleagues, and resonating with the work environment, it might be worth extending your stay to cultivate those connections further. On the other hand, if you find yourself at odds with the culture and the relationships are hard going, that’s a clear sign to change roles and in most cases, the sooner the better, especially if any toxicity is creeping in. We have a separate post of cultural fit here.


6. Recognition and advancement:

Recognition and advancement opportunities play a pivotal role in career satisfaction. If you've been consistently performing well but aren't seeing the promised recognition, it might be time to evaluate whether the company is delivering on its commitments. On the other hand, if you're being regularly recognised, rewarded and offered options for advancement, staying longer could lead to much more significant opportunities.


7. External market trends:

Keep track of the pulse of the external market – look at the industry trends and developments. For a very topical example, if your current role is becoming obsolete due to technological advancements (such as automation or AI), or simple due to shifting market demands, then it might be prudent to start exploring new opportunities. Similarly, if your skills are in high demand elsewhere, a shorter stint could make sense, enabling you to progress faster.


8. Personal fulfilment:

Don't overlook your personal fulfilment and work-life balance. If you find that your current job is taking a toll on your mental or physical well-being, it's crucial to prioritise your health. While challenging times are part of any job, consistently feeling overwhelmed or unhappy might indicate that it's time to move on, and indeed indications are that this was a strong motivation behind the Great Resignation post-Covid.


9. Building a network:

Staying in a job for a reasonable duration allows you to build a network of professional contacts and references. These connections can be valuable assets as you progress in your career, opening doors to new opportunities and collaborations. These connections are not built overnight but through effective mutual working. And they’ll continue to be useful once you do move to another role elsewhere.


10. Looking jumpy:

At some point, the growth, learning, and impact you're experiencing might start to plateau. Recognising this inflection point can help you make an informed decision about whether to stay and invest further or explore new avenues. However, it’s also important to note that more that leaving two or more jobs in quick succession can make you start to look ‘jumpy’ – someone who, for whatever reasons, is unable to stay in one job for a significant length of time. For such people, it’s much harder to have an impact, form networks and discuss real achievements. So even with all the previous points in mind, if you’re not unhappy in your role and you did already move recently, consider staying longer to stabalise the CV and avoid any question marks over sticking-power. This is especially true for freelancers and gig workers coming back to full time positions.


In conclusion, the optimal duration to stay in a job depends on a multitude of factors, including your growth trajectory, skill acquisition, impact, career goals, company culture, and external market trends. While the general industry accepted ‘norm’ is around of 18 to 24 months (time enough to fully assess your growth and potential within a role), it's crucial to stay attuned to your personal and professional needs. Regularly evaluating your satisfaction, skill development, and alignment with your career aspirations will ultimately guide you toward making the right decision for your future career journey.