Time Working In A Company: How Short Is Too Short?

“You’ve been working there for 10 years? Wowwww!”

I recently had a chat with a group of friends and we landed on the topic of duration of service in a company. I notice that among my Gen-Y peers, there is a split in how people view long service. Some view long service as a sign of achievement in a time where Gen-Ys are seen to be less loyal than the older generation. Some view that 2-3 years is a good time to leave a company, that no company deserves your loyalty that long by which time, several aspects of your job would plateau and the organisation would gain more from you than you from the organisation. Some view 1 year is too short a stay before you leave a company while some view 1 year, at the appropriate level and access to management is sufficient to determine fit, alignment of values and growth prospects and enable you to decide to leave or stay.

In my 10 years of working, I have worked in 4 different companies. One of which, I worked only for 1 year 1 month.

My view of the matter is that it doesn’t matter how long you spend in a company. What matters is that there needs to be a strong justification as to why it is so.

When I look at my CV, there is story I am able to tell that explains every move.

Big picture, I see my career in its entirety. I see my career in blocks of one decade each, from graduating to post-retirement. Each decade has an objective and a plan. Regardless if my move from one employer to another is planned or unplanned, I’m always certain it is to fit a bigger plan.

Every move has an explanation that ties to either a learning objective in an area I’m keen to learn, an opportunity to challenge myself or simply an unexpected change in life expectation (e.g. I had to leave an amazing job in another state as I was getting married and realise I do not want to have a long distance marriage). For every move in employment I am able to explain three (3) things: what I wanted to learn; why I wanted to learn it and how I will learn it. I’m often conscious of the question, “what would a recruiter/HR person see when they see my CV?” and I realise, the Whats, Whys and Hows of my career move is sufficiently strong to play down the possible negative connotation of spending 1 plus year in a company.

But that’s if you are given an opportunity to explain yourself – what if you don’t? One of the flaws of corporate culture is we allow ourselves to assess people based on a 1-2 pager CV and we make far reaching assumptions without even meeting the person. We read a line from a CV and see a person has moved every 1-2 years and we assume, “this person is not resilient”. We see a person who graduated from a local university and we say, “this guy would not be as good as a foreign graduate”. Good recruiters, hiring managers and HR practioners should have a multi-dimensional view and should be able to assess quality of candidate not based on number of years spent in previous companies and that the decision to call a candidate for interview should not be based on assumptions derived from a CV.

So if you look at your CV and worry that your stints in companies are too short, that recruiters may think you move jobs too often, my advice would be for you to think through and rationalise an answer. Make sure you are able to explain each transition and if possible, tie it to a personal learning objective. Its fine to rationalise why you decided to leave a company too – its logical that any move would have both push and pull factors. “I decided to leave as I feel the challenge has plateaued”, “It was a bad time for the industry and in my assessment if I were to stay, I would not be able to learn much and decided to pivot and challenge myself with a new industry”. In my experience hiring people, a negative experience in a company does not make a person negative, its an opportunity for me to assess a candidate how he or she views his or her predicament, i.e. how positive that person truly is.


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