How long do you have to stay at your job before quitting?

December 6, 2017

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Knowing the right time to quit a job is an art. Because it depends on so many individual factors, no universal guidelines can help you make the best decision. There are however some tips that could help tip the balance.   

It is widely acknowledged that despite the changing nature of today’s workplace, job hopping is still seen as a red flag by many recruiters. So, what is the socially-accepted minimum amount of time you can spend at a job so it won’t affect your future career negatively when you leave? Most experts say 18 months is about right. This is a key milestone as reaching it would prove that you have survived at least one evaluation cycle – typically a yearly event – although it’s worth noting that new employees are not usually evaluated earlier that six months into the job, and that’s why 18 months is a more adequate measure than 12. At a more personal level, 18 months in one job indicates that you have experienced some kind of learning curve, managed to adapt into the company and the role, and had enough stamina to endure anything you didn’t like about it.

What if, for some reason, the job is so bad that sticking with it for 18 months would mean daily suffering? If that’s the case, then ‘how it looks on my CV’ becomes of secondary concern. Unbearable jobs should be left without any fear of making a bad impression on future employers. The only thing you have to think about is a good (i.e. truthful, unemotional and sound) explanation that you could offer your next employer. Some HR consultants even suggest leaving the experiences you really don’t want to remember, yet alone explain, out of your CV altogether. However, this works well only in cases where you have another project — such as a period of study or an unpaid internship — that can fill the gap.

The next milestone is four years. This is a good benchmark for claiming ‘full credit’ for your work, especially if during these years you were promoted at least once. If, however, the prospects of promotion seem vague, four years is still a good time to quit without raising concerns about your performance. A less attractive scenario is when your CV features a stagnant position with the same level of projects and responsibilities for more than four or six years.

Another expert might claim that it’s your feelings around leaving a job and the impressions you leave with your former boss that are far more important than timing. Quitting a job is always an exercise in diplomacy, no matter whether you leave it after nine, 18 or 72 months.

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