Compare two different people.
Alexis, is someone who confessed to playing for most of her university summers. She would use the university student card to get cheap hostel rates, and travel most of the time. She would rarely do internships, unless they were mandated by the school.
John, on the other hand, was traveling for overseas internships in the likes of Peru, and China. He regularly scored first-class marks for his essays.
He was shortlisted for university awards and was even teaching a module by his third year of university.
Who would you have predicted would succeed in the workforce?
If your answer was John, you would be forgiven.
Except it wasn’t.
It was Alexis.
She ended up being so well-liked in her first job that she was asked to stay over and over again.
But she left after two years. John too, left at the end of his two year contract.
But John wasn’t able to find a job. Despite 106 applications, and 31 interviews, John was just not accepted anywhere.
Alexis on the other hand, went to a job at a more established company.
Fast forward one and a half years.
Both John and Alexis meet again.
Where do you predict both of them are in their careers?
John leads a small team of 4 now. Alexis too, has done so well in her job that she’s been sponsored for conferences overseas.
What was the key determinant in helping them to progress that far in their careers?
The myths of job hopping
By now you might be wondering how this has to do with you, in deciding how long you should stay in your first fulltime job.
In the research for our book, we spoke to 21 different careerists, to try and figure out the keys to their success.
What we found was surprising.
Myth: You cannot grow at a single company
For example, you might think that in today’s economy, you have to constantly switch jobs to grow.
But take the example of Sascha, who’s today the Vice-President in Siemens ASEAN.
He stayed with them for 15 years.
As younger people, we tend to think that jobs are like lily pads. If you find yourself sinking on one lily pad, you should move on.
But this isn’t true, especially if your company has good growth opportunities. Think about yourself in school.
Over the 6 years you grew up in the primary school, you started being more comfortable, and getting better. You didn’t have to learn the basics again. Like where the water cooler is.
Michael Watkins, the leadership expert, estimated that it takes about 90 days before a new hire starts bringing value to his new company. Think about it.
You would take 90 days to assimilate to a new company. Why do you want to put yourself through that over and over again?
You might not need to change, if your company is giving you new growth opportunities and has a clear structured development plan for young hires.
Myth: Staying too long in your first job will keep you stagnant
Yes, it’s true that your first job shouldn’t be your last job. You should be taking more responsibilities, and slowly taking on bigger roles.
But your first company can be your last company.
Especially if you keep taking the chances to grow in your company.
When should you shift?
Between April 2020 and September 2020, I found myself hitting my stride. I was beginning to find my way in the company. I was given greater responsibilities. I was taking charge of initiatives.
I even got a pay rise in September 2020.
But then I got into an argument with a manager in October 2020.
In March 2021, I was given a job offer in a new organisation.
Here’s a question.
Would you have left?
You might face the same. You were initially interested in the job. But after 10 months, you find yourself slowly doing the same things. Nothing much changes.
Above you, you find bosses who are stuck in their old ways.
Would you shift?
I didn’t leave.
At that time, I had the same reasons you would probably have right now.
- I thought that leaving too fast would look bad on my resume. How would employers react to knowing that I had only stayed 1 year in a job?
- I wanted (selfishly) to get my bonus!
- I felt like I wasn’t good enough for the opportunity that was being offered to me.
But for the next 6 months, I checked out. Call it quiet quit. Whatever. I stopped caring more beyond what I already did.
What are the decision factors for you to decide whether to leave?
From the 37 hours of interviews we went through, here’s what we found.
What environment do you grow best?
Look back over the course of your life. What has tended to be the characteristics of the place where you’ve grown most?
Recall when you felt truly alive, and looking forward to what you were doing. It may be at school. Or even in a hobby you did outside of school. What about that made it special?
Are there great people developers as supervisors?
You can’t just look for the most competent supervisors or the brandname companies. Rather, you need to look for people who know how to develop people. That’s a completely different skillset.
When I look back at my first company, they were famous for their technology. But the supervisor there didn’t seem to care that for many of us, this was our first real job, and that many of us didn’t know about the technology we were dealing with.
Soft skills weren’t taught.
I will compare this to the second placement I had as a student social worker. My supervisor then would take time to point out to me that how I was speaking was intimidating people.
He gently modelled to me how better sharing of one’s points would look like, telling me,
Sometimes it’s important to make clear when you’re sharing, and when you’re asking.
For example you might say, ‘I’m adding a comment’ if you want to share an idea.
What’s important is not to phrase a comment as a question.
They found that amongst those who spoke about their bosses driving their development, there was a significant nuance.
There were more who learnt from ‘negative’ role models, than positive ones.
“This person is almost Teflon coated. He didn’t take any of responsibility for the shortcomings of the outcome.
We didn’t like the fact that, you know, at the end of the day when there is blame to be attributed, our great leader wasn’t there to defend us in that sense.
That left a very deep impression on me and I was a very young officer and I told myself, ‘I will never be this person.’”
If you’ve a bad boss today, that may not be sufficient reason to stay.
Is there a challenging opportunity to go to?
Again, if we look at the data in terms of how leaders became leaders, they cited challenging assignments as the most important.
Challenging assignments at work are the most significant stimuli for leadership development. 92% of interviewees cited challenging assignments as having a lasting impact on their development as leaders. Only 11% of interviewees cite coursework and training as a source of leadership learning.
Developing Public Sector Leaders in Singapore, Jeffrey Yip and Meena Wilson, 2008
Peel beneath those challenging assignments, and you already see what you should be looking for in your next role.
Take the example of Adeline Tiah, a seasoned marketer. Her marketing career started differently.
Whilst choosing her first job, she had two choices. A bank, or a local telco start-up in Singapore.
She chose the telco, because she figured there would be greater flexibility to try different things. Things were less established, and there would be a chance to take on a challenging opportunity.
Do you currently see yourself being challenged in your current role?
How long you should stay, depends on how excited you stay
Yes it’s true that you shouldn’t always listen to your emotion. But if you’re coming to a point in your career where you’re thinking,
Gosh. This is a drag.
This is too easy. I am not learning anything new.
OR this is too hard, I’m really being overwhelmed.
You need to find the in between of things that are too hard, and things that are too easy.
Same with your colleagues and bosses. They need to come in the Goldilocks zone of people who are too toxic, and people who are just about fun.
It’s hard to find. But it’s a journey.
A simple rule of thumb is,
If you doubt things will improve in 1 year, then leave.