How long should you stay at your first job after college? Is it 6 months? Is it a year? Or is it 3 to 5 years?
Today we’re going to discuss how long you should stay at your first job after college. I’m going to tell you what the general consensus is online. I’m going to tell you what my personal opinion is, based on my experience.
And I’m going to share 5 factors you should consider when making this decision.
Let’s get into it!
The General Consensus
I asked around and researched this topic a lot when I got my first job out of college. Career resources and articles generally say that you should stay at your first job for at least a year.
A year is long enough to show that you were committed to that company and had some level of loyalty that kept you around for one lap around the sun. If you quit after a few months, that can potentially be perceived as a negative thing.
But there’s always a story behind why someone leaves a company.
It’s a bit of a blanket statement to say that everyone should spend a year at their first job. There are so many variables that can influence why you should stay at a job, or why you should leave a job after a certain period of time.
This post will walk through 5 important variables to think about to help you make the best decision for YOUR career.
My Personal Opinion
I have 3 sample sizes that help me form an opinion on this subject.
The first is my own experience. The second is what I have witnessed from friends and colleagues. The third is what I have seen as someone that has helped hire candidates.
With those three, I believe the minimum amount of time you should stay at your first job out of college is six months.
I’m all for employees doing what they can to advance their careers as fast as possible. I’ll always root for someone to get a higher salary, or a cooler job title with more responsibility.
The reason people recommend a year is that if you leave before a year, you’ll risk being seen as a “job hopper,” which is someone who frequently gets hired by companies and quits in a short period of time.
I just haven’t witnessed that come up in any of the situations I have been in.
If you have stayed for six months and another company that you want to work for needs to fill a position, they are going to hire you if you are a competent and fitting candidate.
We’re talking about your first job out of college. Employers know that you are fresh out of school and finding your path. If you are a fit and have good reasons to back up your decision for leaving one company for another, you are going to be fine.
When leaving would raise a red flag
It would only raise a red flag if you have had a consistent history of leaving companies in under a year’s time. If you have had four jobs in two years, that would be concerning. But this is your first job. Leaving your first job after six months won’t be held against you.
With that said, there are many things to consider when you make your decision to leave or not.
The 5 factors that you should consider include one that we have already talked about, which is time. The second is opportunity for advancement. The third is alignment with career goals. The fourth is experience. And the fifth factor is your track record and accomplishment at your current company.
5 Factors to Consider When Deciding How Long to Stay at Your First Job
We’ll talk briefly about this first factor since we have already covered it.
Basically, this is a “check-the-box” item. Has it been six months yet?
If it has, you can continue onto the next factors. If it hasn’t been six months, it’s a little early and you might be leaving before you can realize the benefits of some of these other things we’re going to talk about.
2. Opportunity For Advancement
To me, this is the biggest determining factor when deciding how long you should stay at your first job. It’s the opportunity for advancement.
I think it’s safe for me to assume that you want to advance your career, right? If that’s the case, then you need to look at where you have the best opportunity to advance your career.
Are there opportunities with the current company you are working for, or do you think you are better off elsewhere?
At my last job, the company was beginning to cut costs and let a bunch of employees go. On top of that, my team seemed pretty set in place in terms of positions. It didn’t look like a promotion or raise was coming my way anytime soon. So I looked for other options and I found one.
Think about where you’ll have better chances of progressing. Think about the job market and the demand for your knowledge and skillset. If you know the demand is high and you see a bunch of job postings on LinkedIn that you think you qualify for, start sending out applications to test the waters.
3. Alignment With Career Goals
The third factor to consider is alignment with career goals. We all have goals for our careers and those goals are constantly changing.
For most graduates, their first job is not their dream job. For others, they may have landed what they thought was their dream job, only to realize they didn’t like what they were doing after several months.
Ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing now aligned with what I envision for my career?”
If it’s not, then you should take the next opportunity to jump to a position that aligns more closely with your goals. Maybe it’s a new position, a new company, a new industry, or even a new city.
Life is too short to continue working somewhere that doesn’t light you up everyday.
Up next is experience. And when I say experience here, I’m talking about the professional experience you accumulate.
Time and the experience you gain from working somewhere aren’t linearly related. At some jobs, someone can gain more experience in three months than someone else can in a year. It depends on your position and the situation you are put in.
If six months have passed and you feel like you’ve already gained about 90% of the experience you possibly can from one position, then you aren’t leaving much on the table if you decide to leave.
On the other hand, if it’s been six months and you feel like there’s a lot more left for you to learn, it may be beneficial to stick around longer to boost your knowledge and get your skills up.
Maybe you need to refine your Excel skills. Or maybe you have a mentor that has been showing you the ropes in the industry.
But if your current job has nothing left to give you, you have gained enough to be ready to move on.
5. Track Record and Accomplishment at Your Current Company
The final factor you should consider is your track record and accomplishment at your current company.
What have you done that you can speak about? Do you have any accomplishments you can bring up in an interview with a potential new employer?
As a professional, your marketability to other companies is the experience you have and the impact you have made with previous employers.
If you came out of college and made an impact in your first six months, employers are going to like that. Because if you were impactful with one company, you could make an impact with them.
But if you have nothing under your belt, it could be hard to appeal to a new employer. When they ask you “Tell me what you have done at your current job” you may be at a loss for words.
So look at your track record and identify key moments of impact that you were a part of. Maybe you helped close a deal that brought in $1 million in revenue. Or maybe you built a macro in Excel that automated a process and cut the time to do it down to a fraction of what it took before.
These accomplishments will provide evidence of your ability.
That’s the last factor out of the 5. To recap, the 5 factors you want to consider when deciding when to leave your first job after college include time, the opportunity for advancement, alignment with career goals, experience, and track record and accomplishment at your current company.
The decision to leave is more than just saying, “Hey it’s been a year now, it’s time for me to leave.”
The mixture of these 5 factors may result in you leaving in six months, or two years. It depends on your situation. But just know, that if you can back up your decision to leave with good points, there will be employers out there that are willing to hire you.