If you are like most young professionals working in social impact organizations or nonprofits, you have probably asked yourself several times (maybe even this week): “How long should I stay at this job?”
Current ideologies about careers have shifted. We no longer think of ourselves as ladder climbers, investing in one organization for decades and retiring with a healthy pension and years of loyalty to one company. Instead of being linear, career counselors refer to the new career trajectory as “squiggly.” Some predict Gen-Y will switch careers an average of three times a decade. While traditional wisdom suggests staying a minimum of two years at any given position, is that even possible in the face of high turnover and constantly shifting businesses?
While I agree that the new career path is different, I would like to offer an alternative perspective from the person reading your resume: Staying in one organization for a while makes you more marketable in the long run.
Don’t stress, this doesn’t mean that I’m going to throw out your resume if you’ve jumped jobs a couple of times. Trust me, I have seen my fair share of shifts in my 20s. There are plenty of reasons to leave a job early: unethical practices, sexual harassment, company-wide layoffs. But the reasons most young people leave nonprofits can be a bit less cut-and-dry: lack of upward mobility, not feeling challenged, frustrations with management, or simply a better opportunity.
That being said, the longer you stick around at your job, the more you invest in yourself as a professional. Allow me to offer a few good reasons you might consider “sticking with it:”
It takes time to make your mark
Being able to affect change in an organization takes time, determination, and patience. If you have only been there for a few months, it is unlikely your supervisors will see you as someone who really “gets it” or “understands what we are about.” The longer you stay, the more change you are able to affect incrementally. Then when you apply to your next job you can say “I built our social media following” or “I founded our young professional support group” or “I started an outreach program for low-income children.” When I read language like that on a resume, I am excited to think of the things you could potentially build at my company.
It takes time to build trust
Two years is great, but you are more likely to build the respect of your supervisor, your donors, your board members and your clients by sticking around. A constant figure in shifting organizations symbolizes investment and commitment. While you are building trust you are also building a network: Those clients, donors, and co-workers may help you find your next position if they see you as someone who is committed to his/her work. Loyalty begets loyalty.
It just looks good on your resume
I know that “resume building” isn’t the sexiest reason to stay at your position, but it is a reality when you decide to look for a new job. For all of our talk about job-hopping, hiring managers still value longevity. This is for three reasons:
- The longer you stay where you are, the more loyalty you show to the organization and the cause. In social impact, loyalty is valuable. Trust me, this line of work ain’t easy. When a recruiter sees you have stayed in an organization despite difficult times, he/she is thinking “this person will show the same loyalty to my company.”
- Hiring is an investment so too many jumps and shifts on a resume can be a red flag. Why would a company want to invest in someone who is probably going to leave in 6 months? I have interviewed many young people who speak about their short time-spans in previous positions as “trying to find myself.” I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but recruiters aren’t usually interested in helping you find yourself. We’re looking for someone who will do hard work, invest deeply in a cause, and stick around when the going gets tough. Even if you aren’t sure this is the line of work you want to do forever, we want to know that you will stick with it long enough to be beneficial to us both.
- You continue to widen your skill set and develop institutional knowledge. The longer you stay at a nonprofit, the more you learn about what it really takes to make that organization work. While you may be a member of the communications team, you will probably learn over time about fundraising campaigns, donor communications, managing upwards and branding. You can learn from mistakes, yours and theirs, and continue to expand the things you are capable of doing in your next job. A deep understanding of all aspects of nonprofit work is a valuable skill set that takes time to develop.
This advice isn’t easy. I know from experience, working at nonprofits and socially-driven companies can be difficult. Small nonprofits rarely offer huge salaries and great benefit packages. While you may start your job excited to make a difference, it can be hard to stick with it when work gets hard and you don’t have the financial incentives to keep you there.
But that’s exactly the point: when a recruiter sees longevity on a resume, he/she knows what you have been through and respects you tremendously for your commitment. It takes a particular kind of persistence and dedication to have a successful career in social impact. Those are qualities that are hard to find in our world of instant-gratification with new opportunities opening every day.
So before you start thinking about your next career move, I would encourage you to make sure you have made the most of your current opportunity. There is no formula, no set number of years, and no cookie cutter mold to success, especially in this field. Careers are no longer linear, organizations do not exist in static bubbles, and switching fields entirely is no longer frowned upon. That being said, if you do decide to hang in there, you will find that loyalty has unexpected rewards in the long run…at least from the recruiter’s point of view.
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About the Author | Ashley has worked for 5+ years recruiting staff for domestic and international organizations aimed at finding effective solutions to poverty. She currently serves as Fellowship Director for The Work First Foundation, where she manages a program that connects recent graduates with work in urban poverty and public policy. Ashley began her work in career counseling at America Works, where she counseled low-income clients on resume writing and job search in New York. She later worked as Community Engagement Manager for Mercado Global in Guatemala, where she organized internship programs and oversaw private fundraising. Ashley graduated from Barnard College in 2006 with a B.A. in Anthropology. Read more of Ashley’s career tips and advice at www.savetheworld-careers.tumblr.com or follow her on twitter @AshleyAPutnam