How Many Years Should You Work for the Same Company?

by Darwin on March 28, 2013

A few years back, we were talking to a family member about their latest job. They’re a white collar professional (six-figure earner), so we’re not talking about jumping between minimum wage retail jobs which wouldn’t be uncommon. It seemed like every 18-24 months they were with a new company. My wife asked, “Doesn’t it look bad when you’re never with one company for long? It’s like you keep jumping around and you’d just do the same thing with the next employer, no?”. They replied, “This is how it is now, you’re SUPPOSED to be switching jobs every year or two.  If you don’t they wonder what’s wrong with you”. (they’re now with the same company for ~3 years now, new record). This seems foreign to me, and as a hiring manager, I’d certainly be wondering the same thing if a candidate can never seem to stay put for more than 2 years but the data bears this out.  Personally, I feel most jobs require 6 months to a year to even really get up to speed and start “giving back” after the initial learning curve, especially if you’re adapting to a new corporate culture, new systems, making new contacts, etc.  I don’t see how this makes sense, having constant turnover like this, but evidently in some industries, this is the norm.  According to the labor department, average employee tenure is just 4.6 years (CNBC). Now, I’m not sure if this is more a function of all the mass-layoffs and the recession or what, but I have to imagine in past decades this number was much higher. Here are some thoughts on the matter and interested in your thoughts:

  • Sector Dependent – The person in question above was in an IT/software type job. You hear about job jumping in Silicon Valley constantly, but country-wide, it’s probably not uncommon to see people jumping around like this constantly compared to working for a large blue-chip where there are only a couple firms like yours in the country. Old economy jobs seem to have longer tenures than new economy jobs. Likewise, if you’re a teacher or other public sector union member, you may be less inclined to move because in a new municipality  you may start at the bottom of the pay scale again with no seniority (since they pay based on tenure, not performance – what a shame [my wife’s a teacher and is way better than some 25+ year teachers that make way more])
  • Mobility is Key – One big issue is how willing or able you are to move. Young people without kids, often unmarried, can move at will – in fact, some find it exciting to jump around various parts of the country or world when they’re young. Someone like me? I’m not inclined at all to move. I think aside from the housing crash, this mobility topic is also driving a lot of rent over buy mentality. Who wants to be tied into a mortgage and closing costs when they want the flexibility to jump jobs?
  • Remote Work Arrangements Drive Turnover – This is big in the IT/software field. First, working from home (see how much I save working from home just once a week) started as a perk, or a way to attract top talent who may not have wanted to move to your locale. But then, as entire industries and peer groups began to all offer remote work, then it became a free-for-all. Why would anyone stay with a company when the barrier to exit is so low? You can stay in your own house and jump employer to employer for the rest of your career and never worry about the implications of the next job not working out – just take another one! For me, the risk is too great that if I exhaust the one or two other employers in my field that are within driving distance, I’m done. Boom. No more opportunities without having to move.
  • How Long is Too Long? I have the occasional talk with an external recruiter and they do say I’ve been with my firm too long. Of course, that kind of talk is in their best interest because it drives job moves and commissions for them. But I often hear in my industry (biotech/pharma) that anything over 10 years and you start to look stale.  That doesn’t mean I look stale internally per se, because many of our senior leaders are 25+, but externally.  They like to see you advancing through various companies a couple times across a career.  But if you’re jumping every two years, is it normal to have a resume with 15+ companies on it??

See, my problem (if you’d call it that) is that I don’t rank moving my family around the country chasing the next gig higher than some stability and staying in the same home. We like where we live, the community, what we’ve done to the house, etc. I never moved as a kid and I still have some of my childhood friends. Families that move every 3 years? Their kids don’t have that. Another contributing factor I suppose is that I’m not as enticed by every offer I get. I like my job and I have some side income to supplement what may not be the greatest compensation when I consider that other offers are higher. I suppose if I were making less money I’d be more enticed to move my family.

What Are Your Views?

How Long Do You Plan on Staying with the Same Employer?


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