Career Resource Center

How Long Should You Stay at Your First Job Out of College?

As you adventure throughout your career, you will probably face some tough and major choices.  Often, the first choice recent graduates make is whether to stay at a current job or leave and find a different position.

Most of the entry-level employees tend to start at the bottom and work their way up.  In order to work your way up, you have to learn new skills, conduct on-the-job training, and gather hands-on work experience.  To determine whether it’s time to move on or stay where you’re at, you’ll need to ask yourself a few important questions:

  1. Am I moving closer to my long-term goals.  If the answer is now, you may need to consider looking elsewhere or seeking a promotion at your current employer.
  2. Am I learning new skills and gaining valuable experience?  If you’ve learned everything you can and you’re simply treading water, it might be time to look elsewhere.
  3. If I leave, will I be leaving for the right reasons?  In life, it’s often overly easy to convince yourself that you need to switch jobs when toughing it out is actually the better option.  Just because something is difficult, time consuming, or frustrating doesn’t mean it’s no longer worth doing.  Choosing to do what makes you happier in the short term may not make you happier in the long term.

Life lesson:

  • It’s common in today’s world to hear that you need to do something that you love, something that makes you happy, and/or something that fulfills you.  Although these are great things to aspire to, they’re actually terrible concepts to guide your career.  When you’re launching your career, it’s usually too early to tell whether something makes you happy or fulfills you.  Furthermore, people are rarely “fulfilled” when they’re just starting out.  Instead, this is the time where you do what you need to do so that you can do what you want to do later.

Your first job after college often isn’t your dream job

The first job for a college graduate is a great learning experience.  You can learn many valuable skills, as well as learn from the industry’s best minds (hopefully), and you can take those experiences with you onto the next job.  As a new graduate, it doesn’t hurt to think about your first job after school as an extension of your education.  Sure, you have a boss instead of a professor, but your boss is there to help you learn valuable life skills and expand your expertise.  Being open to feedback and accepting that you may not know everything will help you get the most out of your first job.

Pay your dues

As a new and first-time employee, it is not uncommon to want to rush and get ahead of the game.  Unfortunately, that is not how it works, and you do have to pay your dues.  This means checking your ego at the door, learning something from everything, ask questions after asking yourself first, and learning the virtues of patience.  Everyone starts out small and must work their way up the ranks, so don’t expect your bosses’ chair until you’ve earned the right to sit there.

Leaving your current position might have unintended consequences…

Hiring managers cringe when they see recent college graduates and new hires leave a company too quickly.  To some employers, it shows that you never wanted to learn the ropes but instead use them as a stepping-stone to a better job.  A hiring manager might even think that you left quickly because you couldn’t cope with the workload.  Leaving a position too quickly can not only burn bridges you may need later in life when looking for a job, but it may come off as rude and disrespectful.  Recruiters recommend staying at your first job out of college for at least a year before making the choice to move on.  It is important to remember to take your time and learn as much as you can from others.  Talk to your supervisors, learn from others in your field, and volunteer for tasks that no one wants to do.  You will not regret taking these actions down the road, and it will show your employer that you are a hard worker.

Be realistic

Many new graduates tend to make one big common mistake: they’re unrealistic about the first five years of their career.  Students leave college thinking that they are on top of the world and will move up the ranks very quickly.  However, it’s seldom that easy and quick.  Becoming an industry leader takes time and effort.  Building a respectable reputation and skillset rarely happens quickly.

Look for big opportunities at your first job

If you work hard, you may be able to earn a promotion faster than you thought or would at different companies.  Choosing your first position wisely is incredibly important.  There are many companies with a high turnover rate, so make sure you’re doing your homework on any company you’re interested in applying for.  High turnover rate can be a very big red flag, so use the interview process to your advantage by asking questions and learning why so many people leave.  Finally, don’t forget to read reviews of employers you’re interested in.  Websites like Glassdoor have a public review platform where current and former employees can review their employers.

Keep compatibility in mind

Sometimes the current job and employer just isn’t a good fit.  Team leaders may want employees to take on an unreasonable workload or the job description may not accurately reflect on the position.  The overall environment may not be conductive to a positive workflow for you and the other possibilities for incompatibly are endless.  Don’t rush to leave if you don’t like the job right away.  Give it at least three months, and if you still don’t think it is a good fit, start researching new positions.  Once you start looking, don’t settle for the first job you find.  Keep your options open.

What if you leave before your first year is finished?

People suggest staying at your fist job for at least one year but that is not a concrete rule.  There are times when you can, and should, move onto bigger and better opportunities before a year is up.  If you do decide to leave your current job before one year, it is advisable to stay at your next job for two or three years.  Leaving the next job early establishes a negative work pattern and can make you look like a job hopper.  This can have a negative impact on your career, your earning potential, and your wellbeing for years to come.

Job hopping can send the message that you are not committed to the job, or you may cause problems within the team.  You do not want hiring managers to get the wrong impression of you, so be careful when thinking about leaving a job in under a year.

Once you have decided to leave, leave gracefully.  Don’t tell the boss or other employees how you really feel about the job.  Keep up a good appearance and treat everyone with respect and dignity.  It is very easy to burn bridges during a job hunt, and the chances to rebuild them are few and far between.

Knowing when to leave a job and move onto bigger and better things is hard.  There are a lot of factors that contribute to moving on, so don’t rush it.  It is easy to get board at a job and want to move on, but sometimes waiting is the right thing, and you will learn more then you thought you ever would.

If you need help maximizing your earning potential and taking your career to the next level, our expert writers and consultants at Resume Writing Group are here to help with your career.


Further reading:

Maximizing Your Earning Potential

Creating Long-Term Success in Your Career

How to Negotiate the Highest Salary

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