One common question I see software engineers (especially newer ones) ask, is “How often can I switch jobs? How much is too much?”
I’ve seen many rules of thumb floated around the internet especially for programmers just out of college getting their first job. One of them is “stay at your first job for at least 2 years”. Let’s start there.
Does a programmer need to stay at their first job for 2 years?
No, you certainly don’t need to stay at your first job (or any job) for at least 2 years, but ideally you would. There are two main reasons for this “2 year” timeframe.
- Domain knowledge and application architecture takes time grasp, especially for new developers. It depends on your industry and scope of your application, but if you’re working in a complex field like healthcare, it’s going to take you months if not more than a year to really get comfortable with the subject matter you’re working with. The same goes for understanding the technical architecture your company uses (how the data is stored, what the objects are, where certain business logic is contained, what the best practices are, etc). It may be 3-6 months before you really understand everything sufficiently enough to feel effective and get good development experience.
- The job market for someone with 2 years of development experience is vastly larger and more lucrative than something with 6 months experience. Changing jobs, doing interviews, and everything else that comes with the process is a pain. The odds of finding a new position that is worth switching for when you have so little experience is slim.
All of that being said, if your dream job comes along before you’ve been in your first job for 2 years, don’t hesitate to take it just because there’s a vague rule that says it’s best not to.
Now let’s get back to our original question.
Is it possible for a developer to switch jobs too often?
In theory, it’s possible that you switch jobs too frequently but in reality this is an overblown concern. It’s very common for software engineers to change jobs frequently so it’s not unexpected or shocking to see a resume with shorter stints. Ideally though, you should eventually get a job or two where you remained for longer than a year to show you’re capable of holding a job for a good amount of time and you’re not a problem yourself.
Instead of focusing on “am I trying to switch jobs too often”, I would instead focus on the “why” behind you wanting to switch jobs. If you have a good “why” that you can explain to a potential hiring company, then the frequency that you’re switching jobs likely won’t harm you.
Good reasons to switch jobs – higher pay, a promotion/more responsibility, wanted to go down a different career path/work with different technology, other benefits (work from home, better work location), life events (needed to move, etc)
These are all reasons that should go over well and be completely understandable by your interviewing company (unless of course they want you to work unreasonable hours and that’s a reason why you left a job in the past).
Bad reasons to switch jobs – bored with work, didn’t like coworkers, work was too hard
While these may be good reasons to you, these are bad reasons to give a potential employer as they point more towards deficiencies with yourself that’s likely to carry over to this new position.
Trimming Your Resume
As your career goes on, if you end up having some short stints in your history it’s OK (and likely preferable) to omit them from your resume. This is especially true if the experience at the job isn’t adding much to your qualifications for the applied position.
Be prepared to talk about the gap between jobs if an interviewer asks, but odds are they’ll just gloss over it.