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Career management: the “rule of 8”

April 2nd, 2024

I get regularly asked how long one should stay on a given position. When is it too early to change? When does it become too long? Certainly, a critical question, as mobility and a good career management are keys for success! I personally always tried to apply two principles – and to follow a « rule of 8 ».

Two simple principles: impact and learning

I suppose that most will agree that everyone will want to stay long enough in a role to learn and to grow. Depending on the complexity of the job, this can range from a few years to several years. So, a few months or a whole career might not be the best way to manage your career?

A second sound principle is to aspire to have an impact: have you made a significant impact in your current role? If you feel you’ve achieved what you set out to accomplish and there are no further challenges or opportunities for growth, it might be time to consider moving.

These two principles probably need to be put into the context of your company: are there career advancement opportunities? Are relationships and networking important: these can take time to build?

There is of course no absolute and definitive answer to career management questions, and the two principles do not offer a very precise guidance. This is why I came up with a simple key: I use the number 8!!!!

The « rule of 8 »

  • The simple « rule of 8 »: no one should really spend more than 8 years in the same position.

We will all work between 40 and 45 years: I guess having at minimum 5 or 6 different jobs or roles in our career is what all can keep us on the edge, always learning and sharing without getting bored (and boring!). I hope it is common sense.

  • The « advanced »(!) « rule of 8 »: divide your age by 8: this should be the average time spent in your current position.

The idea here is that a career is not linear. One may rotate faster in the first years, and then stay longer on a job with more maturity and seniority. So, for example at age 40, being 5 years on a job is a good average. At age 56, holding a position for 7 years is reasonable as your responsibilities (managerial or as an expert) are probably broader… and your salary is hopefully higher: the time for return on investment by your employer might be a bit longer!

Before 6 months, after 2 years, never in between!

Sometimes you just changed your role and things are not doing as well as you imagined them: the role is not what you thought, the working environment (leadership, coworkers etc.) is disappointing: what should you do? In my view it is totally ok to leave in the first 6 months. Afterall in many countries there are probation periods of a few months: time for the employer to « test » the new colleague – and vice-versa.

I have talked to many headhunters over the years: everyone understands that things do not always go as planned and that you had just a short stint in a position. No real harm is done to your career.

But after 6 months you need to hold on the job for a minimum of 2 years in my view. Irrespective of the « rule of 8 », after 2 years you have some impact to show and some learnings to take away with you. But if you leave in this « black out period » between 6 months and 2 years, any recruiter (internal or external) will see a potential failure…

Happy to get your feedback and experience!