My last job required me to sign a two-year commitment. And while a professional obligation for that length of time might scare some people, I was actually thrilled.

Because at that point in my career, despite the classic adage that you should spend at least one year in a position, I had yet to spend 12 months at the same company.

My reasons varied, and to be honest, some were better than others. So take it from someone who has been there and left a few jobs—there are times when you can justify a short stint (to yourself and future employers) and times when you really should stick it out if you can. Unsure which category your situation falls into? Read on to find out.

It’s OK to Leave When: The Job Won’t Make it to Your Resume

When a former boss gives you a recommendation, you hope he or she will sing your praises, using words like “dedicated” and “professional” to describe you. And, let’s face it: Leaving several months after taking a job can definitely sour a manager’s opinion of you.

But that’s not necessarily something you need to fret over if you don’t plan on including this job on your future resume. Say, for example, you’re in the nannying job from hell—but only to pay the bills while you simultaneously take on an unpaid internship. You don’t need to list the former on your resume, so it’s okay to end things two months shy of a year for the sake of your sanity (no matter what Mrs. X thinks).


Exception: You’ll be Burning Bridges in the Industry 

There’s no harm in an early exit from a job you never plan to mention again—for the most part. But if your boss is well-connected across your industry or you’ve built your professional network through work-related contacts and events, you should think twice between ducking out shy of a year.

Why? Because it's a small world. And even if you send out your resume sans current job, the hiring manager may put in a call to his or her acquaintance (a.k.a., your boss) to get some unofficial scoop. And you definitely don’t want to be known as the employee who left your team in the lurch.

It’s OK to Leave When: You're Underutilized

Sometimes an organization just doesn’t have the funds, staff, or bandwidth to support you. Imagine, for example, that you were hired to help the company expand overseas, but a recent change in leadership means all efforts moving forward will be focused domestically.

If you’re spending your days just trying to find ways to be productive, you have every right to pursue new opportunities. Of course, this should be the last resort (the first being discussions with your superior about other responsibilities or roles you could take on). But if you both know that this isn’t the right place for you, it’s okay to move on sooner than you’d originally planned.

Exception: You’ve Never Told Your Boss

You don’t have enough work. You’re bored and miserable. And everyone knows—everyone meaning your mom, your roommate, and your cat. Because when those weekly one-and-one meetings with your supervisor fell by the wayside, you never rescheduled them. Come on, she must know that sending you one report a week to proofread couldn’t possibly fill more than your Monday morning—right?

Wrong. Sure, a good manager keeps tabs on what his or her employees are working on, but if you really are bored out of your mind, it’s your job to speak up and try to resolve the situation. Stick around and give your current company a chance to make you happy. Who knows: It just might.

It’s OK to Leave When: Your Dream Job Awaits

We all have one: the dream job. The public or political figure you’d move across the country for, that fellowship that would take you abroad. I remember seeing charity: water’s 2009 World Water Day video during a YouTube presentation at a conference that year and thinking: Wow, if I ever qualify for a position at that organization, I’m applying!

Believe me: Dream jobs don’t come every day. So, if you have a chance at yours, take it.

Exception: You Haven’t Thought It Through

There’s something terribly romantic about leaving the daily grind for your “dream job:” You’re advancing your career and following your heart. That is, unless it’s not really your dream job—it only looked that way from the sidelines.

The point is, don’t jump ship without doing serious due diligence, even if the opportunity you’re presented with seems like your perfect match. The last thing you want to do is leave your job for your favorite candidate’s political campaign, only to find out that you hate life on the campaign trail.

It’s OK to Leave When: A Personal Matter Supersedes

You can’t plan everything, and you may encounter a situation where even if you would like to stay at your job, you feel you must leave in order to address a personal matter. Perhaps a loved one needs a caregiver, or maybe your significant other just took a dream job on the other side of the country.

If this is the case, be honest (and as open as you feel comfortable) with your boss and colleagues. Taking the time to say, “It’s not the company, it’s me,” shows consideration and that the circumstances are out of your control, which will preserve your boss’ opinion of you as a hire who would have stayed.

Exception: You Don’t Know How You’d Spend Your Days

It’s one thing to leave your job because your personal life requires an overwhelming amount of attention. But don’t fall into the trap of leaving your job simply in anticipation of what’s to come.

For example, the first time I left a job to move for my husband’s career, I left a few months shy of a year. And what did my days in my new city hold for me? Feelings of low self-worth. Because all I did (for months!) was send out job applications—and wait. I wish I had waited to secure at least part-time work before I moved (which conveniently, would have allowed me to finish out the year in my prior role).

Before you quit your job for personal reasons, ask yourself: What will I be doing each day? If it will take up all of your time, that’s one thing; but if you fear you just won’t have the bandwidth, consider talking to your company about taking leave or cutting your hours. You don’t always have to quit your job the day after you’re faced with a personal decision.

Remember, no advice is applicable 100% of the time. The “one-year-rule” is a good guide, but if your instinct and experience are telling you otherwise, don’t be afraid to look for exceptions to the rule.

Photo of man at work courtesy of Shutterstock.

Updated 6/19/2020