You should change jobs every 3 or so years - here's why

The workplace has changed. Career path and trajectories have changed. Gone are the days when you got one job and stayed in it for the next 30 years and then retired.

Employee and Employer expectations have changed. My parent's generation were the ones that worked at the same job for 20+ years. My mom for example has basically had 2 jobs in her 30 plus year career. She worked at her first long-stretch job for 15 years until the company shut down and then she was out of work for a bit until she got the job that she currently has and she's been with since the 1990s. At that time and probably at the time your parents were getting their first jobs, job security was the big buzz. You would want to lock in and secure the job that would promise you job security and you'll pay them back in loyalty.

This system worked partly because people went to school and studied one thing and then mastered it and became good at it and then you spent the rest of your time climbing up the ladder within the one (or two) organizations that you worked at. That model no longer works for a number of reasons.

We are currently in an Information Age where knowledge has exploded and most of what would have required you to study for years is now available at our fingertips literally through smart phones: a quick google search/wikipedia search/YouTube video will get you what you need.

Does this mean that going to school has become obsolete? Nope. There is definitely still a place for education. However, career paths need to change to adapt to the current and new normal. Companies don't even last 30 years like they used to.

There are 2 things to keep in mind:

1. If you leave your job, your employer will replace you so quickly and often with someone new who will not put up with what eventually made you quit in the first place.

2. If you STAY at your job for more than 3 years - let's even say 5 years your salary will probably not increase significantly in that time but your responsibilities likely will. Worse still, once your team or your employer becomes used to pilling up new things onto your plate, they will get familiar with you and therefore not really consider you as a superstar or acknowledge the growth you have made in the role you're in.

Side note: leaving your job in less than 2 years often doesn't give you the breadth of experience and therefore may influence you when trying to have references as you may not have had the opportunity to work with your colleagues enough that they could put in a good word for you.

So why 3+ years at the cut-off?

Year 1: You are getting accustomed to the role, you are learning what the job entails, you are using your "I'm new" card. It allows you to go through a full year cycle of what the rhythm of work is like in your team: what are the busy periods, what are the quiet periods, what are the deliverables and opportunities to grow.

Year 2: You now have a full year as a reference point and you have the chance to do things differently, propose new approaches and make your mark. Year 2 is critical because this is the year for you to deliver results. Depending on your workflow, results will look different but this is really the chance to say you took the team from A to B.

Year 3: Bonus points/exit. This is the time for you to either get accolades for the impact you had in year 2 or its the time to take the work to the next level. This is where you should be looking to move on to your next role.

The next role does not have to be a promotion

Your next role could be a lateral move that allows you to bring your expertise and the results to the new role. Check out this blog post I put together on how to leverage lateral moves to advance your career. If the work is cyclical, then you can bring all the lessons you learned in year 1-3 in the previous team to the new team and allow you to make some quick wins without too much additional effort. This then positions you to expect more and even move on to a promotional role.

The next role can also be a promotion where you have proven your skills from the previous role and therefore are ready to take on more responsibilities. Give yourself time in the new promotional level role to get accustomed and perhaps consider staying there for 3+ years as you master the additional responsibilities.

But what if...

If I keep job-hopping how will I show that I can be a stable employee if I keep bouncing from one role to another?

Fair question: here are some work arounds:

  • Change roles within the SAME organization so that you are gaining different and varied experience within the same organization or department. A change in roles doesn't mean a change in companies.

  • Leverage lateral moves so that you are not just seeking promotions even if your resume or even your experience may not be at par with the higher level you are seeking.

  • Consider sticking to a role that STILL allows you to grow beyond 3 years or that allows you to gain valuable and varied experiences if you can then leverage this in your next role at a higher level.

How will I gain permanent employment if I keep hopping

  • Be strategic about your moves and be clear on what YOU intend to gain out of the role. Every single position that you have should serve a purpose: whether that is becoming permanent, or gaining a new set of skills, or promotion or filling a void in your resume. Go into each role CLEAR about what it is the role is going to fulfill and then when that role is fulfilled, it is time to move on.

Bottom line: Professional and work culture have changed and gone are the days when employees stick to a role indefinitely. Don't lock yourself into a role and allow yourself to grow and stretch by rotating roles every 3+ years and definitely less than every 5 years.

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