How Often Should You Change Jobs?

When do you know its time to move on?

There was a ten-year period in my career where I changed jobs 4 or 5 times.  I started to notice a pattern:

Year 1: Figure out what is actually going on in the company, and how to do your job

Year 2: Try to institute a bunch of productive changes, to improve things

Year 3: Nothing really works, get frustrated and leave

I never stayed at a job more than 2-3 years.  It was a serious case of “grass is greener” syndrome.  But you know what I found? Every job I moved to, by Year 3 I was facing pretty much the same frustrations.

You know that old adage, “If everyone you meet has a problem, maybe they’re not the problem?”.  (OK, the real one is more profane but you get my point.)

Finally, after all those job changes, I ended up staying past Year 3 at a company (for other non-work-related reasons, namely I didn’t want to move yet again) and I discovered something.  Starting at about Year 4 is when everyone else starts to hit that 3-year-mark and leave, and pretty soon around Years 4 and 5, you’re the Old Guy all of a sudden. And that’s when, if you keep trying to institute change, you now have the ability to actually be an agent of change.

I’m sure there’s more to it than that.  I’m always trying to self-improve my soft skills, so perhaps by the time I was at this latest position, I’d learned more about communication and change management and organizational behavior that I was better able to institute change (I’ll discuss this more in a future post).

But my point is, patience is a big part of change.  Once, when I took over a software team that was really struggling, it took right at about 2 years to REALLY get things better, and this is just from an execution standpoint.  Then it took another year for the fruits of that harvest to begin to show themselves. And this was a two-pizza-size team populated with some very strong and intelligent developers.

There’s many factors to consider when you’re wondering whether or not to move on.  But if the major driving factor is a desire for change, and its only been 12-18 months, then its very likely that you just haven’t given it enough patience.

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