How Long Should I Stay Here?

Each year, our organization hires a group of recent college graduates into our human resources intern program. The interns spend the next two years traveling throughout the Department learning the ins and outs of processing HR actions, the culture and a bit about themselves. The program culminates with graduation and an honest Q&A session with our SESers in Washington, DC. During the most recent class’s graduation, one of the interns asked our executives how long should she stay in one position? One executive said ideally 2 to 3 years and another said 5 to 6 years.

As I sat there listening, I briefly reflected on my own career. It is a mosaic of experiences. I spent a year in the private sector as a data analyst; a year as a statistician and researcher with a non-profit; two years as a grant analyst with a different non-profit; two years in the retail sector; and, a handful of internships lasting from 6 weeks to 9 months in the public sector. Even now, I am just two years into my current position in the federal sector.

I love my job and what I do, however, I have begun to passively look for opportunities to move into other sections of my Department and organization to round out my skills and development. I am also actively looking for rotational opportunities outside of the standard day-to-day HR work. I am not in a rush to leave, looking carefully for opportunities as they come may way, but not ignoring looking for them too. As I do this though, I have a few questions.

First, for those more experienced in the federal sector: How long should someone in the federal sector stay in one position?

Second, for those who are newer to the federal sector: Does your resume resemble mine with continual job hopping? How long do you plan to stay where you currently are?

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Peter Sperry

Stay where you are until something better becomes available. There is no arbitrary time frame for when that might be and it could change from 2 years to 10 years as you move through your career and find ever fewer positions available at the next level of the pyramid.

DO NOT leave a good solid job you enjoy until you have fully vetted your next move. Test the grass before crossing the fence. Jumping for the first shiny opportunity to come along can leave you unemployed in midcareer with no option to return to your previous position and the difficult job of writing a resume that explains what happened.

DO look around constantly. Learn what is required for current opportunities even if you are not ready to apply for them. Most will come around again and your review of requirments will help you prepare for when they do. When you are ready to move, sell yourself in the interviews but also make the interviewers sell themselves. Do not be afraid to ask questions like “Why would I want to work here?” and “What is your supervisory style?” Refuse any job offer, no matter how good, if you think you would have difficulty working with your immediate supervisor and/or their boss. These two individuals are the prime determinants of your workplace satisfaction and ability to advance in your career. A good relationship with them can overcome all other obsticles. A bad relationship negates all other advantages a position may offer.

If you make a mistake and end up unemployed and needing to rebuild your career, do not hesitate to drop back several rungs on the ladder to get a solid foundation before you start climbing again.


If you haven’t checked it out, I love the Framework to Managing your Career guide – https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/happiness-is-a-balance

He talks about a doom loop – basically you want to be in a position that you like what you are doing, but aren’t good at it yet, eventually you will like it and are good at it. That’s the time to leave as soon after you’ll move to being good at it but don’t like it and then you’ll get jaded and don’t like and aren’t good at it

Les Garrison


Katelyn, I would love to do an intenship at your organization as I am a recent college graduate. I am a political science graduate.

Please advise,



Terrence (Terry) Hill

Your career sound pretty typical for the newer generation of employees. I wouldn’t worry too much about changing careers. It show that you are ambitious and searching for your niche. I’m more suspicious of those people who stay in one position their own lives. At least you have a broad perspective and show resilience. You only live once, so make sure that you find a position that uses your strengths and lets you make a contribution to something meaningful.