How Long Should You Stay at a Job?

There are many factors in and out of your control that affect job tenure. Over time, your work history becomes an indication of how risky you are to hire. Let’s first look at how long people on average stay in a job. The 2016 Bureau of Labor report of all positions and industries shows that the average is 4.2 years. A deeper dive shows there’s a big difference in these numbers based on age. Workers 55- 64 stayed 10.1 years but those 25 – 34 stayed only 2.8 years. When you also look at the average tenure of employees at some of the largest tech firms you see numbers even lower. BMC had the longest tenure at 2.3 years, but that’s still less than the average for 25 – 34 year olds. Uber and Dropbox even averaged a year or less.

Why do Technology Employees Have Shorter Tenures?

With the average age of employees at many top tech companies in their late 20s and early 30s, there’s a generational difference in thinking about employee-employer relationships. In previous generations it was realistic for employees to work at a company their entire life. Stable employment, good benefits and even pensions were the norms, but now companies in the Fortune 100 that still have pensions are freezing those and transitioning to 401(k) plans. Ties to a company are weaker now and it is easier for an employee to pick up and leave for another role. Technology positions are also much more niche and project based. A particular skill set may only be needed for one step in the software development lifecycle. An SAP implementation consultant typically would not want to support the application post-implementation, and even if they did, an employer could pay someone less for that responsibility. With the speed that technology changes, staying with a company for 10 years could also hinder professional growth. You may know your employer’s system inside and out, but you also may have missed out on working with new technologies. If your employer doesn’t invest in new technology, you may be at a disadvantage to someone less experienced than you when searching for a new job.

What Does This Mean for Your Situation?

Like many things it all depends. Many of us have heard the adage that you need to stay in a job at least a year. If you prefer permanent positions rather than consulting, a string of one year-long jobs will still raise red flags for employers. No one wants to spend the time and energy getting a new hire up to speed, only to do it again a year later. There are numerous legitimate reasons to resign from a position sooner than you planned. A toxic work environment, unfulfilled promises, or a job changing scope with different responsibilities you don’t enjoy. It was no surprise Uber had the lowest tenure of tech employees, but a company’s dirty laundry is rarely in the public eye. You may have a good reason for short stints at a job or two, but if you’ve had five jobs in five years an interviewer will most likely think – its you, not the companies you worked for. If you’re interested in permanent jobs sometimes you’ll need to deal with a bad situation longer than you’d like. Employers nowadays, especially in tech, are not expecting their employers to be lifers, so if you consistently stay in a position for a few years, that typically won’t be an issue. If you’re interviewing for a consulting role job history really doesn’t matter, only that you’re the best fit to complete the project. Just be careful, you may end up being typecast with future potential employers thinking you’d never stay in a permanent role.