You got your first job. Congratulations! So, when should you consider leaving? How long should you stay? Although it may sound premature, knowing when to leave your first job is a crucial issue to consider. Timing is everything, and you have your new professional reputation to protect.

You don’t want to leave your first or second job too soon because you might look unreliable. But if there’s something wrong with the job or the company, or it doesn’t align with your professional goals, maybe a quick exit is the best thing for your career trajectory.

Traditional wisdom for college graduates says to stay at your first job for at least a year. But there are exceptions to every rule. For example, you might stay for a few years if you’re growing in your job and factors like job satisfaction, a stable situation, and enough pay may keep you in your position for quite a while. However, there may come a time when you sense that your long-term goals aren’t being met. Then, you’ll want to strategize a move to get you where you want to be.

Let’s look at these timely milestones and discuss how long you should stay in your first job.

Before Three Months: Early Warning Signs

Unless your ultimate dream job offer comes your way just as your new job starts, you’ll likely stay awhile to see how it all works out. But face it, not every job is what it appears to be on the surface and there are several reasons you might want to leave an unsuitable position.

The first red flag may be discovering that the work being done isn't what was originally applied for and doesn't align with career goals. This situation, known as "bait and switch" hiring, can be very unpleasant, so it's best to try and leave the job quickly, as there may be concerns about fair promotion opportunities and proper treatment from the employer.

Here are more red flags to watch out for:

  • Lack of support from supervisors or colleagues that hinders your performance.
  • Not receiving clear expectations of what you’re expected to do and to what standards. This may mean that management isn’t doing its job well. 
  • If they bury you in excessive work right off the bat, this may be what to expect for the length of time you’re there. You may be an expendable workhorse to them.
  • If you find the company culture in conflict with your personal values or work style, there may not be a bright future for you there.
  • If you discover any ethical or legal issues involving the company, management, or employees, you may need to get out of there quickly.

Leaving a bad entry-level job within your first three months typically looks better on your résumé than staying longer in a position that isn’t right for you.

It takes courage and hard work, but don’t get stuck in a losing situation.

But beware, leaving your second job as quickly as your first can mean future employers see you as a job hopper. Occasionally leaving a job after a short amount of time is understandable, but if you make a pattern of it it could work against you.

Between Three Months and One Year: Evaluating Fit and Opportunities

Getting past the three-month mark is a good sign. Hopefully, everything is as promised in the job description, and there are no glaring red flags to consider. First jobs can take some time to settle into, but once you know the ropes, you can begin exploring whether it will satisfy your professional needs and offer you career development opportunities. 

Entry-level employees start with basic tasks and training, but after a few months, you should start seeing more progress in your role and responsibilities. During this time, you can seek feedback from your manager and colleagues. Get to know them, their expectations, and how they view you in your new position. 

After three months, some adjustments may come to your duties, role, or responsibilities. If this is your first employer, you can seek a mentor within the company to guide you through any potential minefields.

The period between three months and a year is when you must carefully assess whether this position will meet your long-term career goals. Leaving after a year is typical for new graduates. You need to plan ahead if this is your intent, particularly if you aren’t achieving the professional development you need in your current job.

After One Year to Three Years: Seeking Growth

A career after college is often described as a ladder. You progress upward step by step, job by job. How effectively you climb the ladder is dependent on what jobs you take and when you take them.

Staying in a stable and professionally rewarding position is a satisfying place to be. It is also easy and comfortable to stay put even if your career may benefit from a change. Only you can decide what’s best for you, so take some time to consider what growth opportunities are available to you and whether a new company could offer you more.

Beyond Three Years: Long-Term Prospects and Strategic Moves

After three years in your first job, or even up to five (another traditional milestone), you may begin to question whether you’re on the right career path. As you age, it becomes increasingly important to make sure your professional goals align with your personal goals. You only have one life. You want to live it well.

If transitioning to higher-level roles—in this job or the next—is vital to you, then this move requires a solid strategy. At this stage of the game, you also want to plan for a graceful exit from your employer or current position into the next one. This is increasingly important if you want to grow your career rather than doing something that can jeopardize your reputation. You don’t want to burn bridges. Keep your network active and build your career.

Always think about where you are on the ladder and whether that’s where you want to stay. Maybe it is! Leaving a good job isn’t necessarily a good idea - make sure any changes you make act as a stepping stone to the next stage of your career.

Your priorities matter. Be clear about them and do what it takes to achieve them. 

So, How Long Should I Stay at My First Job?

Deciding when to leave your first job is a personal decision. These reasons may help you make up your mind:

Reasons to stay:

  • Are you learning relevant, new skills? 
  • Are you being promoted regularly? 
  • Do you fit in and feel satisfied?

Reasons to leave:

  • Are you getting stale?
  • Are you working but not growing professionally?
  • Is there too much office politics or a toxic work environment you need to leave behind?

If the reasons to leave outweigh the reasons to stay, well, you know what must be done. Your career growth trajectory is what you want to consider most.

Looking Ahead: How to Get More Out of Your Job

If you've decided to move on from your current position, you want to make sure you're getting as much as possible out of your next job. If you've thought about your job hunt carefully, the job you're going into should hopefully align with your goals much better. However, there are still things you can do once you've been hired to maximise the positive benefits you get out of it:

Set Clear Goals

Starting a new job can be both exciting and challenging. To make the most of this crucial period, begin by setting clear, achievable goals for what you want to accomplish in your first 90 days, six months, and year. Discuss these goals with your manager to ensure alignment and to receive their support and guidance.

Seek Feedback

Regularly seek constructive feedback from your supervisors and colleagues to find out what they expect from good employees and whether you're up to that same standard. This can be done through formal performance reviews, casual check-ins, or by directly asking for input after completing significant tasks. Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement and to reinforce your strengths.

Network Actively

Take the initiative to introduce yourself to colleagues in different departments and participate in company events, meetings, and social activities. Developing these relationships can provide you with a broader understanding of the company, foster collaboration, and create opportunities for future career advancement.

Take Initiative

Demonstrating initiative is key to making a positive impression, so volunteer for new projects, tasks, or committees that align with your interests and career goals. By taking on additional responsibilities, you show your eagerness to contribute and learn, but it can also highlight your potential to your supervisors and open up opportunities for advancement.

Learn Continuously

Commit to continuous learning by taking advantage of training and development programs offered by your company. Many employers host workshops, seminars, online courses, or certifications relevant to your field, which will help you stay informed about industry trends and best practices, keeping your skills up-to-date. This dedication to learning not only enhances your performance but also prepares you for future roles within the company or industry.


Will leaving my first job quickly hurt my career?

Leaving a job too quickly can raise concerns for future employers about your reliability. However, if you have a valid reason—such as a toxic work environment, ethical issues, or a clear misalignment with your career goals—future employers will likely understand, especially if you explain it thoughtfully during interviews.

How do I explain leaving my first job quickly in future interviews?

Be honest and concise when explaining why you left your first job, but focus on the positive aspects of your decision, such as seeking better alignment with your career goals or finding an environment where you can grow and contribute more effectively. Avoid speaking negatively about your previous employer.

Should I stay at my first job if there are no immediate promotion opportunities?

If there are no immediate promotion opportunities, consider whether the job is still providing valuable experience and skills that will benefit your long-term career. If the experience is beneficial, it might be worth staying while also seeking ways to expand your role or take on additional responsibilities. Most people won't get a promotion until more than a year after they start their first job, so it's important to be patient, but don't let better opportunities pass you by if they come along.

What if I get a better job offer soon after starting my first job?

If you receive a better job offer shortly after starting your first job, carefully evaluate the new opportunity in terms of alignment with your career goals, potential for growth, and overall fit. If the new offer is significantly better, it may be worth making the switch, but be prepared to explain your decision to both your current and future employers.

How do I negotiate for better opportunities or promotions in my first job?

Prepare a clear case for why you deserve better opportunities or a promotion, including your achievements and contributions to the company. Schedule a meeting with your supervisor to discuss your career aspirations and how you can further contribute to the company.