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How to know when to change jobs: The truth about how long you can realistically expect to stay in one job.

By USQ 08 Apr 2019
Office worker with thought bubbles either side showing different career options


According to recent research conducted by the job search website SEEK, three out of four Australians are either actively looking for work or are monitoring the job market (Williams, n.d.).

It’s clear a lot of us have change on our minds.

But how often is too often when it comes to changing jobs, and how do you know when it’s time to move on?

The changing world of work means expectations are also changing with regards to how long you should stay in a job. For example, it’s no longer a realistic career expectation that you’ll ‘climb the corporate ladder’ via a series of promotions while working in the same organisation. Career trajectories are now more likely to be interspersed with new ways of working, which include gig, project, portfolio, and freelance work, and employees are increasingly hired for casual and fixed-term contract positions.

What this means is that it’s becoming the new norm to have multiple jobs across your professional career, which obviously influences how long you can expect to stay in one job.

Statistic - Gen Z will have 17 jobs across 5 different careers during their lifetime
It has been predicted that those who are in Gen Z will have 17 jobs across five different careers during their lifetime, and while currently the average person stays in their job for four years, this is set to drop to three years by 2020 (McCrindle, 2014). Supporting these claims, GradAustralia found that over 70% of students surveyed in 2017 expected to spend less than five years with their first employer. The students who expected to be with their first employer longer than five years were in the fields of law, teaching, health, and engineering (Blau, 2017).
Statistic - Over 70% of students in 2017 expected to spend less than 5 years with their first employer

To help you decide how long you should stay in your current job and when it might be time to move on, consider these four things:

1. Why do you want to change jobs?

There are lots of reasons why people decide they want to change jobs, from lack of available progression opportunities to relocation or changing career paths. Surprisingly, research has shown people are more likely to look for new opportunities due to job dissatisfaction or other lifestyle factors rather than because they want more money (Williams, n.d.).

Whatever the reason, it’s always best to try and address your concerns with your employer before jumping ship. You may find that they are willing to making some changes in order to keep you on, or they may know of another opportunity within the same company and be willing to provide you with a recommendation. This will be beneficial for you as well as your employer, because they don’t lose your corporate memory or have to train someone new and you don’t have to go through the process of searching and applying for a new job and having to start over again at a new company.

Statistic - 3 out of 4 Australians are either actively looking for work or are monitoring the job market

2. Have you given your new job a real chance?

If you’ve just started a new job and are already thinking about quitting, let’s take a minute to really think about this. Finding your feet after starting a new job can take some time, so it’s important you give yourself the opportunity to settle in before you call it quits.

Michelle Lynch from USQ’s Human Resources department is passionate about talent acquisition and recruitment. These are some of Michelle’s tips to help you give your new job a good shot:

  • Focus on creating relationships with those around you, getting a feel for the company culture and how things work. Make an effort with your colleagues to introduce yourself and get to know people.
  • Sit down with your manager and clarify their expectations.
  • Get organised and establish good habits to keep you motivated and on-task.
  • Ask leaders and peers for information to help get you up to speed quickly. Prioritise what information you need and write down questions so that you don’t forget. Pick the right time to ask questions.
  • Remember that everyone has been the ‘newbie’ before and it’s natural to feel nervous or lack confidence when starting in a new job.

Bachelor of Business graduate and millennial (Gen Y) Toby says, ‘I think my generation and younger – despite everything we do well – can be impatient and expect things to happen instantly. But job satisfaction doesn’t work like that. If you’re one of the few graduates who walk into a job they love straight out of university, then full credit to you. But don’t be disheartened if you don’t. The most important thing for me in every job is to recognise the things that I do love doing, learn as much as possible, and then, if need be, make the necessary changes’.

I also think my generation and younger – despite everything we do well – can be impatient, and expect things to happen instantly. But job satisfaction doesn’t work like that. Be patient.
Author profile image of Toby

3. Are my expectations realistic?

It’s important to ask yourself this question as you don’t want to quit your new job simply because you have an unrealistic idea of what it should be like. There will be aspects of any job that you might not be 100% happy about, and this is particularly true of entry-level jobs. The grass isn’t necessarily always greener on the other side and you don’t want to spend your entire career chasing a job that doesn’t exist. It’s also worth noting that job satisfaction can ebb and flow throughout your career and even while you’re in one role.

It’s ok if, ultimately, you decide to move on from a job, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, have a realistic idea of what you want from your next job and, preferably, already have that next job lined up.

4. How will my career story look to prospective employers?

There’s no one rule that specifies the exact fixed time you should stay in a job. Recruiters often look beyond the timeframes on a résumé to the story, so you need to consider what your career journey says to prospective employers.

For example, if you have been in a couple of short-term positions in one company, but have climbed the ladder each time, a prospective employer is likely to assume you have great potential. On the flip side, while ‘ten years’ experience’ sounds impressive, if you’ve essentially repeated the same tasks and role every year for ten years without progression, this isn’t going to work in your favour.

Make sure you take control of your career before someone else does and consider these factors before you change jobs.

Statistic - The average person stays in their job for 4 years, but this will drop to 3 years by 2020

As the modern workforce and way of working continues to evolve and change rapidly, we might feel the need to try and keep up by changing jobs every few years. However, it’s important to be strategic about your career moves and really consider the four questions above before rushing into a decision. Remember to give yourself a chance to grow into a new job but also remember that staying put in one job shouldn’t mean you’re standing still, without ever developing your skills and experience. Hitting refresh every now and again can reinvigorate your enthusiasm for work.

Whether you’ve just joined the workforce or are looking for a change, USQ’s Careers and Employability team can provide you with the support and career advice you need to be successful (no matter how you define success).

Learn more about Graduate Employability and what it can mean for your future career.
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Australian Association of Graduate Employees Ltd. (2016). 2017 AAGE employer survey: summary report. Camberwell PS, Victoria.

Australian Association of Graduate Employees Ltd. (2018). 2018 AAGE graduate survey: summary report. Camberwell PS, Victoria.