Will Leaving an Employer Before the 2 Year Mark Send Up a Red Flag?

Q: After being with my present employer for a year and three months, other firms have started contacting me to discuss employment opportunities. What concerns me most is that I have heard that there is an unwritten rule that to leave an employer prior to reaching the 2 year mark will send up a red flag for all other potential employers. Is that true? Should I really be concerned with that? Thanks.

A: To begin, I do commend you for focusing on this issue as you consider pursuing new opportunities. In a minute, I'll talk about why the length of time that you've had your job is an important element in making a decision to transition to a different opportunity. But first, you should know that reaching the two-year anniversary is simply not the only consideration, and as such, should not be the principal guide in your decision-making.

On the basis of your question, it seems as though this is your first job since graduating from law school. Assuming that to be the case, the most important issue to think about is why you want to make a move. It certainly feels good to receive calls from potential employers or recruiters. However, the fact that you could get a new job doesn't necessarily mean that you should. In fact, frequent moves (more than 2 or 3 over the course of a career) can be extremely damaging to your marketability. Although you may have great reasons for making a move, frequent moves suggest a lack of stability or loyalty and that's a difficult stigma to overcome.

Ultimately, the reason that you have for making the move is more important than the date on which that move is made. Future employers will be more willing to overlook a move early on in your career if they understand that the reason was legitimate (relocating for family reasons, a slow down in work at your current firm). In other words, it is better to move early on in your career for example, to move to a firm where you would have an opportunity to work all of the time in your chosen practice area, than it is to more at an arbitrary second year anniversary mark just because you could. Therefore, there may be many reasons why you are interested in another opportunity which, when explained to a potential employer, would allay their fears about your level of commitment. You are at a critical time in terms of your development as an attorney, and if the training, mentoring, or amount of work you receive is sub-par, then it behooves you to consider environments that will better support you and your progress as an associate.

The other issue you should consider is whether there is a risk that the opportunities that exist today will not be available in the coming months. Given the state of the economy, it is unlikely that the opportunities for you will decrease -- they will likely increase. Coupled with the fact that all other things being equal, it is better to stay as long as possible with each employer, that may weigh in favor of sticking around. Ultimately, though, you need to carefully weigh the two considerations.

  • What does this potential employer offer to me that would overcome the fact that I have stayed with my current employer only a short time?
  • How invested is this potential employer in you in particular? Has a recruiter contacted you, or is the partner you know calling you directly about an opportunity?

The better you understand what the position is, and how good of a fit that particular position is for you, the better position you are to understand whether it is worthwhile to embark on the interview process.

In conclusion, I would remain focused on what it is you are looking for in your career. If you don't have any major complaints or concerns where you are now, it may not make sense to fix something that isn't already broken. However, if you are presented with an opportunity that appears to remedy a problem you currently encounter, then it may be worth pursuing. Be extremely careful and deliberate however, this first move should be to an establishment where you intend to stay long-term. A move early on is mitigated if you remain at your second place of employment for a considerable period of time. If you move, and begin looking for another position in the same time frame, you are compromising your marketability.