Employers would like you to believe that job-hoppers’ resumes are automatically delivered to the paper shredder. Why, how convenient. Looks like you’re going to have to work for them forever, accepting pay increments that can’t keep pace with inflation.
While running off to a new company every 6 months isn’t going to do you any favours, the employment landscape is changing. Gone are the days when people worked for a company all their lives. Beyond a certain point (every 2 to 3 years) it’s probably wise to change jobs.
Why 3 years?
Eunice, the 30-year-old CEO of recruitment firm Career Shine, says, “2 to 3 years would be a good time to leave. In the first year, most people are still adapting to the culture and learning new things. After 2 years, if you are still not progressing within the company, then it may be a good time to leave, since you are encountering stagnant growth.”
However, if you’ve stayed less than 2 years at both of your last two jobs, Eunice advises staying in your current job for at least 3 years to avoid being labelled a job hopper.
“People are changing jobs quite often nowadays, so even those who change jobs every 2 years are considered acceptable by employers and not really at a disadvantage. But those who stay less than 2 years in every job will be labelled job hoppers,” she says.
If you look like a serial job hopper on paper because you have been forced out of jobs due to circumstances out of your control, you might want to state your reasons for leaving on your resume, Eunice advises.
“Some acceptable reasons to put on your resume include being retrenched or taking up a 6 month contract job. A 6 month job looks bad on your resume but if you state that it was a contract position, most employers will not hold it against you.”
“In general, anyone who stays in one company for 5 years will be deemed by employers as one with a good employment history, and it wouldn’t be advisable to stay longer unless they really like the company,” she says.
Here are some reasons why it might be time for you to quit, too.
1. Your salary won’t be stagnant
While workers in some industries get yearly salary hikes as generous as 10% to 30%, the average increment is around 4.4%. That’s just an average, though, and it means many workers are getting increments that fall short. In fact, I have friends who’ve gone years without an increment, slowly watching their earning capacity get eroded by inflation.
On the other hand, changing jobs can get you an increment of around 20%, earning you a salary you would have to work around 5 years to achieve if you stayed in the same company
Eunice says, “It is safe to say there will be at least a 10% to 15% increase in salary if you’re moving within the industry and your experience still counts. 20% is realistic and 30% is not unheard of.” In addition, she warns, “Some companies don’t have the policy of giving out annual increments, so it’s unwise to stay for too long in such workplaces.”
30-year-old bank executive Marissa has been working for foreign banks for 8 years. In that time, she has worked at three different banks. At one of the banks, she also had to send in an application for a 2-year-long overseas post, and then reapply to come back to Singapore, receiving a pay hike both times. In all, she has received 5 pay hikes just by changing jobs. “I usually will not move unless I am able to negotiate a 30% increment,” she says.
2. You will get promoted faster
A promotion doesn’t always come with a significant increase in salary, but it can give you more bargaining power when you interview for your next job.
However, at some companies, promotions are few and far between. If you’ve been in the same post for years and your peers in other companies are all being promoted ahead of you, that’s a good sign you’ll be able to secure a promotion by making the move to another employer.
Yvette, a 37-year-old lawyer who worked at a particular firm for 5 years, laments that it was only in her 9th year of practice that she was promoted to senior associate. “The firm had a number of associates with more than 8 years of experience but they just couldn’t be bothered to promote any of us.” Law firms generally promote their associates to senior associate after 3-4 years.
For Larry, a 30-year-old entrepreneur, his 5-year stint in the workforce saw him progress from being a web designer to an assistant project manager thanks to frequent job changes. “I realised that if I remained a web designer forever my pay would be capped at a certain amount, so I tried to learn as much as I could at each job in order to broaden my job scope in the next job.”
If you have the necessary experience but your company is plagued by structural or management problems that make a promotion unlikely in the near future, jumping ship might be able to give you a push to the top.
3. Build a larger network
When you’re the new kid on the block, you get to go through the exciting (or painful) experience of getting to know everyone at the office.
But after a few years on the job, you no longer have that open mind you used to have about the people around you. You know whom you like and whom you’d prefer not to be around. And, if you work in an SME and there’s no new blood, your professional network stagnates.
Moving to a new company every few years is a good idea as your network will get the chance to grow steadily. With more industry contacts, future job opportunities won’t be so difficult to scout out.
Karen, a 33-year-old bank executive, has worked in almost 10 different banks since she entered the industry 10 years ago. The longest time she’s ever spent in a job is 3 years.
While we don’t recommend job-hopping as frequently as Karen, she does think her industry contacts have benefitted her. “I used to rely heavily on recruiters to help me find jobs, but in the past few years many of my former colleagues have tipped me off to job opportunities in their companies.
4. Find your ideal job
If you’re one of the many unhappy Singaporeans who feel like going to work each day is like walking to the gallows, maybe you just haven’t found the right job yet.
Granted, due to the unhealthy work culture in Singapore, it’s not going to be easy, and it might take several years before you find a company that suits you.
For Bertha, a 28-year-old lawyer, it took 4 years and 4 different law firms before she finally found one that suited her.
“I’ve been verbally abused by partners for not staying in the office overnight, been made to wait in the office for my boss late at night while he was out drinking at Boat Quay and had to listen to sexist comments that would not be tolerated in a more liberal society. But I love my current firm and I’m glad I moved around as much as I did in order to find them instead of forcing myself to stay at my previous firms. I intend to stay here for a long time.”
In fact, Eunice warns against remaining for too long in any job with an unhealthy work environment. “A healthy working environment is important for one to be productive,” she says, recalling candidates with a history of going on MC a lot because they dreaded going to work.
(Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the respondents.)
How long did you stay in your last job and why? Let us know in the comments!