How quickly should I be looking to advance from entry level?
January 24, 2012 4:21 PM   Subscribe

How long is too long to stay in my first job out of school if I'm hoping to advance?

I've been in my first job out of graduate school almost two years. It's a fairly entry-level position, but one that's often offered to those who have newly graduated from a master's degree. I'd be happier with the less entry-level aspects to it, and am thinking about ways to advance. My age (early 30s) does have some bearing on this.

In many ways, it's a good job in that I generally like what I'm doing, the pay is pretty good, and it's a permanent position in the public sector. While I would like to make more money, I could be satisfied with the income indefinitely. It's enough to pay a mortgage and save a bit, but without kids (not fully decided if I plan on having them or not).

On the one hand, if I were to take a big picture view to my current stage in my career, I would think it's time to start looking for a step up or to broaden my experience. This is based on the LinkedIn profiles of my co-workers at more senior levels who seem to have stayed in junior positions for no more than a year or two, three years maximum, before moving a step up. Or, they have a more varied background with solid organizations and then move up. That they're about my age does provoke comparisons, unfortunately.

On the other hand, positions I'm seeing that I could apply for are predominantly contract, and I really value my current job security. The temporary positions are more than likely due to the current fiscal climate in the public sector, but at least hiring hasn't stopped entirely. My current office is also tightening its belt and has limited opportunities for advancement.

So, basically my question boils down to whether I should be trying to improve on my experience and apply for contract positions or wait out the current economy until permanent positions start appearing again? My spouse's past health history re-emerging is also something I'm taking into account. Would I risk being less competitive with more years than average at a junior position? How many years would be too long in my current position? Is there such a thing? In some ways, if I could in fact count on the lifelong security of my current job, I could probably be satisfied. The general wisdom seems to be that no job is a job for life though.
posted by alusru to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should stay where you are, and only apply for jobs that you think would be fantastic and would leave more room for advancement. Otherwise, you're in a great place right now having a permanent job that pays all the bills and then some, and also adds seamless years of experience to your resume.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:28 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Alternatively, look at postings for jobs you would want to move to. Spend the next few-several months acquiring those skills at your current job before jumping ship.
posted by rhizome at 5:05 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think that you can't compare your recently graduated LinkedIn profile to those who graduated even 5 years ago. The job climate is just not the same. I don't know your industry, but I'm a landscape architect who works in the private sector. If I was advising another landscape architect working for the local municipality, I would tell them to do everything they can do to keep their current position, but really take advantage of all opportunities-- the incentives for subsidized certifications, networking opportunities, conferences... Do anything to better position yourself for the day that great job options are available in your industry again.

Don't rest on your public-sector-job-security laurels! Develop new projects, become a leader in your workplace, and really push yourself to keep moving forward in your career without having to find a new position.
posted by Kronur at 5:12 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would stay put, given the state of the economy and the fact that you're happy with your position. Keep looking, for sure, and apply for anything that looks promising, but don't feel like you need to take an insecure contract position just because it seems like you "should" be moving up.

However, I would say that you should do whatever you can to burnish your credentials. Can you take on additional responsibility? Take courses/get qualifications? You could use this as an opportunity to really develop your expertise in one area, or to expand your skillset. I think that as long as you can show that you were continuing to learn and grow during your time at your position, you'll be fine. Also, lots of employers like people who stay in one position - it's increasingly rare and it shows loyalty, dedication, etc.
posted by lunasol at 6:05 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

First, congrats on your pretty solid work situation with decent pay.

Secondly, I agree with what other people have said. Don't take another job unless it offers a big improvement with similar security, esp. with the spouse health situation. I think you can advance your career without immediately changing positions. Most importantly, if you can keep yourself entertained and engaged at work, it's good for you, your employer, and (usually) your resume/job prospects.

Ideas about how to advance your career without changing positions: consider all perspectives. What do you imagine would be eye-candy to a potential employer? What would your perfect job would look like? Can you incorporate some of those things in your current position? To get the banal bases covered in the fields I'm familiar with, I'd advise someone to check out their professional associations, stay updated with the literature, and brain-storm with your bosses to come up with projects you can be part of at your current job. This might be a good time to explore a part of your field that would be too risky to take a job in, but that you'd like to know more about. Also, think about whether you can incorporate any non-work volunteer interests with your work. Connecting with youth, organizing a group of coworkers to work on a habitat for humanity project... Think about how what new technology can do for your field, and get yourself a pet project related to something pie-in-the-sky. In some fields, employers feel that allowing employees to work on their own project 10% time keeps the employees sharp. Of course your choices need to be balanced so that any icing has plenty of cake to rest on.

I'm nearly 10 years older than many people in my position in my current field. It has worked out pretty well. I find that I bring a more philosophical perspective to setbacks and conflicts, and that I approach my work somewhat differently than my younger colleagues.
posted by manduca at 7:08 PM on January 24, 2012

Remember, too, that there are many ways to excel and many journeys to success.

When I was fresh out of school 10 years ago, I was eager to move up the ladder as quickly as possible, and hopped jobs with other ambitious young things. Some of my peers, however, stayed in one place for a long time, developed expertise in their fields, mastered their crafts, volunteered with professional organizations and eventually served in leadership positions, and nurtured and maintained friendships with those of us who moved up the ladder fast.

Some of those happy-to-stay-in-place folks are now getting restless and looking for work. They have contacts high up the chain, leadership experience through volunteer work, and a really solid body of work, and they're jumping over rungs and finding work alongside those of us who were in such a hurry a decade ago.

And I'm not the only once-ambitious 20-something who's turned into a tired-of-working-so-hard-to-get-ahead 30-something (or 40-something). I don't want to move and meet new co-workers and learn new computer systems and policies any more. I just want to keep getting better at what I do in one place, and to do it as well as possible.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:57 PM on January 24, 2012

If your happy, stay. Look for opportunities to branch out what you are doing, help more senior folks at your company and network there and look to get promoted within. Always keep an eye out on the job market for something you think may be better/more interesting/a step up, but I wouldn't let it consume you. Sounds like you are in a good position. It's the turtle versus the hare argument - you can try and race up the ladder, but many times, being at a company a long period of time translates into more.

I jumped around a lot, work-wise. My friends who stayed eventually got promoted, and once that started, they kept getting promoted more quickly than I could bump up by jumping in many cases. Right now, after 20 years, we're mostly on the same senior levels, though some of those who stayed have done much better.
posted by rich at 5:29 AM on January 25, 2012

I am a little younger than you. I was in my first job after graduating for 4 years. Moving to a new job after job#1 was a big deal for me, much bigger than I had anticipated. Meeting new co-workers, learning a new system, etc... it was harder for me than I thought it would be. The one advantage of hopping around a little at the beginning of your career is that you get used to that feeling of being the new guy/girl and learning how the new place functions. And I think the longer you leave it to make that first "leap", the more difficult it gets.

That said I don't think 2 years is long enough for you to be concerned that you've been at this position for too long. Ultimately as long as you're happy you should stay there... unless you feel like you're too comfortable and aren't being challenged anymore. If that is the story you should apply for something new, but only if it's legitimately fantastic.
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:50 AM on January 25, 2012

Thanks all for your helpful comments!
posted by alusru at 4:03 PM on January 26, 2012

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