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These days it is common for employers to drag their feet on promotions and raises, and job security is rarely assured. Often the "DIY promotion" in the form of changing jobs is a much more effective path for career advancement.

However, presumably there's a point when you change jobs so frequently that you begin to damage your own employability. How do you find the balance between climbing the ladder but also not infuriating employers?

My own thoughts:

  • Usually 3-6 months is about how long it takes to begin actually contributing to a company, so there's no point leaving that quickly unless it unexpectedly turns out to be a terrible job.
  • Recruiters seem to raise eyebrows when you try to leave after <1 year, but don't fight it too much.
  • A standard equity vesting schedule is a 1yr cliff and fully vested at 4yr. From this it sounds like 1yr is the minimum acceptable time for the employer, and they don't really expect you to stay >4yrs.
  • Companies that do have a promotion/raise schedule generally do it annually.
  • The common length of contracts is 1yr.

Based on all this, it seems fair to say that the optimal strategy is to always stay for 1 year, then start looking for a better job, unless you're promoted to something better than jobs you'd be applying to. While the employer would doubtless prefer you stay forever unless they fire you, it doesn't really seem catastrophic if you stay at least 1 year, and there's not a huge benefit to the employee staying longer than 1 year. Or is there?

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    Industry and locale specific, many do not have many people leave within a year
    – Kilisi
    Mar 25 at 22:23
  • Your assumptions are on point when it comes to certain fileds such as IT, but there are many others out there where such a strategy won't apply. One might also think it's a very narrow point of view to only look for promotions/raises/$$$. Office culture, self-realization at the workplace, work/life balance and so many things more should be taken into consideration as well..
    – iLuvLogix
    Mar 26 at 9:01
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    Hi Squiddle, you should state your general industry, as it's completely different depending on that.
    – Fattie
    Mar 26 at 9:54
  • It varies wildly. A candidate starting out and having some short stints after graduation is no big deal. Somone with a normal progression who decides to change careers might have some false starts. That's OK. The hiring manager is also a factor. Some have a problem with both cases above, some don't. Don't stay in a miserable job just because you think there's a required magic threshold of 1 year-- that can hurt you too.
    – teego1967
    Mar 26 at 14:34
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    The "depends on industry" contention is common, but I think it would be useful to explain how it depends. Implicit in my question is the claim that it does not depend, because very commonly diminishing returns begin precisely at the 1 yr mark. Both formally (eg. compensation structure) and informally (eg. how much is learned). Major exceptions like government work which provides a full 25-year advancement schedule and retirement plan seem to also prove the point in that most employers do not provide such multi-year advancement paths.
    – SquiddleXO
    Apr 3 at 21:24
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As a hiring manager, when I see a resume which consists of a collection of one year terms, I'll take a pass, unless the candidate has a very good explanation for the short tenures (which I'll ask for). Some legitimate reasons would be working via a consulting agency (where you kept getting 1 year assignments), or maybe changing geographic locations, but there are very few.

There are a few reason why I'm going to pass on someone who is a frequent job hopper.

First off, hiring is a big pain, and I don't want to go through that effort again one year from now if I don't have to. If you've left your last few jobs after one year, odds are you are going to do it again.

Second, like you said, it takes 3 to 6 months before you begin contributing to a company, and more than that before you start becoming really valuable. If you switch jobs every year, between 1/4 and 1/2 of your "experience" isn't really valid - you aren't solving the hard problems, designing new systems or products, refining the things in place, you're just learning the basics of how that shop works. Generally speaking, if there are two candidate, one with 3 years at a single job, and one with 3 1 year jobs, everything else equal, the first one is going to be vastly more experienced. (Which doesn't mean you should stay at a place forever, after a while you need to move to increase your experience).

Finally, moving every year tells me something about the candidate. It tells me either that they are very hard to please (regarding compensation, or what kind of work they are assigned), or that maybe they aren't as talented as they seem (maybe the reason none of their the previous employers successfully retained them was that they weren't worth retaining), or maybe they have a difficult personality (same point with retention). I might not know which of these is true, but none of them make this candidate look attractive to me.

The hiring process, at any place on earth, isn't "fair": its function isn't supposed to make sure that every qualified person gets a shot. Its function is for the firm to hire qualified people with the minimum effort invested in hiring. To be successful, the process needs to do its best to eliminate "false positives" - people who pass the screening process, but are actually underskilled for the role, or whose personalities hurt the team, or who are going leave relatively quickly.

In that regard, as long the open spots are getting filled with qualified people, it doesn't matter that there are other qualified people that are being rejected - so called "false negatives" - as this doesn't affect the company at all. Is this "fair"? No, but the process doesn't care.

Once you understand this, you'll realize that if you have a work history that might might set you up as a "false negative" you'll need to work extra hard to earn an interview. This might mean trying to find a job through a network of folks who will vouch for you, or by writing a cover letter (or some other means of communication) explaining your work history in a strong enough way that you convince someone to take a chance on you. It might mean that you stay at your current job longer than you would like, just so you have a stronger history when you next look to move.

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    3 to six months? I've finished projects in 3 to 6 weeks.. Mar 26 at 15:05
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    I have a resume that looks like a job hopper. My first job I left because it was on the other side of the planet from my home and I was homesick. My second I was blindsided by a company where I received no negative reviews before my termination. My third I was fired under circumstances such that I was paid hush money to not sue for wrongful termination. My fourth the company ran out of money. My fifth, the company also ran out of money. My 6th, the company was grossly incompetent to their client and fired me when I asked them to be better. Would you not even interview me?
    – Ertai87
    Mar 26 at 16:37
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    I don't think this is a good answer in that it is anecdotal and rests on unsupported assertions. Among other things, if staying <1yr was so bad the compensation would have been structured accordingly, such as a major bonus at the 2yr mark. More generally, employees are not hard to please - just value them at the same level (or slightly more) as other employers on the market.
    – SquiddleXO
    Apr 3 at 21:15
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    +1. As a hiring manager in tech I also would pass on a resume with a long string of 1 year terms - I don’t care why it’s happening, but it’s a pattern, and means I am unlikely to see good value out of them.
    – mxyzplk
    Apr 9 at 1:55
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    @nvoigt, do you mean 6 jobs in a whole career? I've had three in just the last 12 months - a change of main job due to redundancy (which itself followed my old employer transferring me internally in order to keep me away from redundancy in the first round), plus a casual job to keep me busy! Woe betide the employer who thinks just 6 jobs per career (at least in the private sector) is a sign of a job hopper.
    – Steve
    Apr 9 at 9:58
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It varies wildly from job to job, industry to industry.

  1. IT jobs, a contractor can hop jobs every few months without issue.
  2. IT management, 3-5 years not uncommon.
  3. Retail turnover can exceed 100% per annum, or in other words, virtually everyone quits in a years time.
  4. Blue collar jobs can run decades. A toolmaker, welder, or mechanic can work for decades with the same company. So less than 10 years could be considered unstable.
  5. Government jobs.... near zero turnover.

There is no universal rule.

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  • The norm may differ between industries, but this doesn't prove anything by itself. It may be the case that changing jobs every year is a bad strategy in some industries. Or it may be the case that people in those industries happen to be less ambitious or less strategic, and in fact would benefit from changing jobs every year. We can't know which is which without looking at the underlying factors.
    – SquiddleXO
    Apr 3 at 21:19
  • @SquiddleXO you're really not going to call blue collar people unambitious are you? Apr 4 at 1:35
  • Please note that my comment was about industries, not class of worker. I feel like putting straw in my mouth does little to move the discussion forward.
    – SquiddleXO
    Apr 7 at 18:58
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    @SquiddleXO "people in those industries happen to be less ambitious" seems fairly unambivalent Apr 7 at 19:27
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There's this article that I have read from CNBC that I think is useful (below). In short, 15 months is considered the minimum timeframe that you should be with a company (based on a hiring manager survey) before leaving to avoid negatively impacting your career. 18 months to be safe. Of course, there are ways around this. If you were with a previous company for long time if may offset a couple short tenure, and you may get a mulligan if it's a one time deal. (Example: Company #1: 14 months, Company #2: 6 years, Company #3: 3 months. If applying to company #4, you should be fine. Explain in the interview, you made a mistake with Company #3 and want to move to different environment to develop a long-term career.)

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/21/how-leaving-a-job-within-15-months-hurts-future-hiring-chances.html

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I think your analysis is sound. At least for software developers lol.

Like you said, too short a tenure isn't enough to make meaningful contributions.

I think the optimal time is 1-3 years. You can use your own discretion for what the optimal length of time is. You don't have to be at every job for exactly a year, after all. One job could be a year tenure, another could be a 3 year tenure, etc.

But that said, I think it's also actually good to switch it up, not just for getting promotions and raises but also just staying up-to-date with best practices and expanding your knowledge.

The way I figure it: you learn a ton in your first year at a job. You learn a lot your second year, as well, but not as much as you did in the first year, etc. Each successive year you're at a company you learn less and less. And to maximize your competitiveness as a candidate throughout your career I think it's most effective to switch it up every so often.

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