How Long Should You Keep Your Entry-Level Job?

the internship

How long is a piece of string? You’re thinking "well, it depends", aren’t you? There is no answer to how long you should keep an entry level job, just as there’s no answer to when you should have your first kiss or learn how to drive. There are socially accepted norms, just as there are with anything, but it’s up to each individual to decide.

The one thing that can universally be agreed on, however, is that an entry level job is the place to start. Some people say that Millennials have a sense of entitlement and think they should just be able to walk straight in to a higher level position. However, even Millennials do realize, deep down, that high positions happen through promotions - it might be possible to rise quickly, but not start at the top.

So, you’ve done it. Made it through school, through university, and managed to snag yourself a job. But because today’s society is all about doing more and doing better, you’re not happy just sticking with that job.. The question is, how quickly should you be aiming to make the move and how long is too long to stay put?

This is what the internet says...

Two years (an average of 18 months) is the earliest you should start thinking about leaving. It isn’t too long, but it’s long enough to have settled in to the real world and learned the basics of your industry so you can do well in your next position. While your first job is your first experience of working and having a paycheck, and does act as a stepping stone for you to move higher, you shouldn’t be ignoring its benefits: it’s a chance to learn before you take on more responsibilities, it’s the best time to take risks and make mistakes, and it’s your first taste of what the job is actually like in practice rather than the theory you learned at university.

On the other hand, while most people agree with two years, others say there’s nothing wrong with five or more if you use your time wisely. However, there are others that remind you that people do leave earlier if they really hate it. This is your first experience of what this job is actually like, and if you truly despise it or decide it’s wrong for you, then you won’t - and shouldn’t - stick around. If you are going to move on, though, consider these factors: you’ll need to choose your next job very carefully to avoid becoming a job hopper, a job you hate could still be a job where you learn invaluable skills, and it’s silly to give up the paycheck before you’ve secured something new. Leave when the time is right, not when the time is up.

...But it’s more important to listen to what your gut says


Imagine if you lived in a rigid society like The Hunger Games or The Giver, and the law stated that entry-level employers had to kick you out at the end of your second year. Some people would be fine with that rule, and go on to bigger and better things. Other people would suffer because they hadn’t properly utilized their time, they weren’t ready, or they really loved their entry-level role and company.

Employers aren’t following that rule, and you also shouldn’t feel pressured into moving on before you’re ready. It doesn’t matter if it’s been two years or twelve, if you’re happy where you are then you shouldn’t leave for the sake of leaving. The point of entry-level jobs is to prepare you for higher level positions, and you shouldn’t be moving on until you can do it perfectly and you’ve learned everything you can from it.

Additionally, timing is important. Not the timing of when you decide to move on, but the timing of whether it’s possible; if there aren’t any higher positions for you to move on to, then you don’t want to give up what you have and end up with a gap in your resume. When you’re ready, and there’s a job for you to go for, everything else will fall into place.

To leave or not to leave?


When you start thinking it’s time to move on, take a moment for some self reflection. Why is it time to move? Are you unhappy, or are you just feeling pressured by societal standards that really should be seen as guidelines rather than rules? If you don’t feel that you’re fully prepared to move on, then it’s simple: don’t. Stay as long as you want and as long as you’re happy- but beware that you can start to earn less the longer you stay.

Here are the questions you should ask yourself when you’re considering making the jump, remembering that the most important thing is how you feel, not how everyone else feels you should be progressing.

  • Am I happy? If yes, why would you throw all that away just because you "should" move on? While it’s good to be comfortable, however, pay attention and be aware of the point when comfort becomes stagnation.
  • Am I challenged? The real answer to "how long should you keep an entry-level job" is "until it stops challenging you." If you’re at the point where everything is easy and you’re unable to take on more responsibilities, then it’s time to seriously consider moving up.
  • Am I where I should be? If you’ve made it into your first job, then you should have some kind of career plan. Take a look at that plan and consider where you are in relation to it; is this job helping you along that path, or is it a detour? If it’s not helping you proceed, then get back on track.
  • Am I still learning? Entry-level roles are low-stake roles that allow you to learn the real-world things you didn’t learn in the safety of your classroom. Learn as much as you can, and don’t even think about leaving until you’ve exhausted all your opportunities for self-improvement - including asking your employer what they can sign you up for.
  • Is up the right move? Consider exactly what kind of change it is you’re looking for; are you really ready for a higher level position with more responsibilities, or could you be happy with the new experiences a lateral move could give you? Maybe what you really want is to get away from unpleasant circumstances, and you’re forgetting that entry-level positions don’t have to be horrible.  

Only you can answer this question

You shouldn’t just leave because you "have" to, you should only leave when you feel your entry-level job has properly prepared you for the next thing. Different people move at different rates - and different industries work in different ways - and only you know when you have the experience, confidence and track record to make your mark on the next rung of the ladder.

Your career is the thing you’re going to be working on for the rest of your life, so why rush it? If you aren’t ready to move on, then don’t; find your pace and stick to it, regardless of how many of your university classmates are racing ahead of you. As long as you’re on your career path and you’re where you want to be, then feel comfortable that you’ll be the one laughing when they’ve burned themselves out by working too hard.

Consider finding yourself a mentor who you trust to ask for advice on what you should do and when, and don’t be afraid to work outside your job building up your skills and reputation with some volunteer or freelance work that will help make you more marketable.

Entry-level jobs are stepping stones, but they shouldn’t be looked at as a bridge that’s about to crumble if you stay on it for too long. Anyone who’s standing behind you with a long stick trying to push you along should be ignored: turn around, focus on where you’re headed and just make sure you have some kind of plan on how you’re going to get there. For as long as your entry-level job is helping you, challenging you and treating you well, there’s no reason why you should feel you need to make a move you aren’t ready for.

How long did you stay at your first entry-level job? Let us know in the comments section below.