Until recently, job hopping was considered career suicide.
Hiring managers were wary of resumes loaded with several short job stints; they’d think you were an unstable or disloyal employee.
But things have changed. As job longevity becomes a thing of the past, employers and recruiters are beginning to have a different outlook on job hopping.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of years that U.S. workers have been with their current employer is 4.6. Tenure of young employees (ages 20 to 34) is only half that (2.3 years).
“When the bulk of the workforce constituency was the Baby Boomers–stoic, long-term-oriented and collectivistic in nature–job hopping was highly frowned upon,” says David Parnell, a legal consultant, communication coach and author. “It was the norm to stay with an employer for 30 years, grab your pension and ride off quietly into the sunset. With the entrance of the dot.com bubble and Gen X (and eventually Gen Y) came a much more instant gratification, self-oriented nature to the workforce. Where a single move within a five year span may have labeled someone as a pariah, in some industries nowadays, a move per year isn’t unheard of.”
Ryan Kahn, a career coach, founder of The Hired Group, star of MTV’s Hired, and author of Hired! The Guide for the Recent Grad, agrees. He says the perception of job hopping has changed over the past few years, “now becoming common to many.” In the past this would have been something that would deter employers—but because of its frequency today, “job hopping is replacing the concept of climbing the corporate ladder,” he says.
So what exactly is job hopping, and why do people do it?
Frank Dadah, a principal account manager and general manager at WinterWyman, a recruitment firm that specializes in search and contract staffing in the Technology, Accounting and Finance, Human Resources, and Investments and Financial Services industries, says job hopping is moving from one company to the next for either a lateral move or promotion. “It is usually considered job hopping when you move from one company to the next every one to two years, have done it multiple times, and the reason for each move is due to something other than a layoff or company closing.”
As it turns out, job hopping can be extremely advantageous for certain types of people—if they do it for the right reasons, says Laurie Lopez, a partner and senior general manager in the IT Contracts division at WinterWyman. “For those in technology, for example, it allows them the opportunity to gain valuable technical knowledge in different environments and cultures. This can be more common for those specializing in development, mobile and Project Management. While job hopping has a negative connotation; this is more about a resource providing value to a company, and then realizing there is nothing more to learn in that environment. In order to keep their skills fresh, it is necessary for technologists to remain current in a highly competitive market. Job hopping is more common with employees that are less tenured, and feel confident in their skills to be able to move on without burning a bridge and can add value immediately in a new opportunity. With employers being more open to hiring job hoppers, we expect the trend to continue.”
The experts weighed in on the pros and cons of job hopping. Here’s what they said:
Diverse background. “[Job hoppers] probably can point to experience in a number of different industries and different size companies, and exposure to a variety of challenges,” says Tracy Cashman, a partner and general manager in the IT Search division at WinterWyman. “Someone who has a diverse background is often more attractive to a potential employer because they potentially bring new ideas and ways of doing things. Just make sure to keep some kind of record of what projects you accomplished where, and make sure one to two people at each company will serve as a reference.”
Access to more information and resources. “With the entrance of the Internet came a previously nonexistent pipeline of information that functioned as a massive catalyst for change in the employment market,” Parnell says. “The skill sets necessary to keep up with this change must be diverse, dynamic and ever-evolving. In most cases, the environment necessary to foster this growth can’t be found under a single roof. Working in several different environments provides access to different resources – both human and informational – that one couldn’t gain through a single employer.”
Exposure to different businesses and people. “Job hopping gives employees the opportunity to expand their experiences and shop around their talents,” adds Kahn. “By working at multiple companies you will get to see ways that others are conducting business, while expanding your network to a whole new pool of professionals.
You’ll have a large, resourceful network. “Social and professional networks are more active and influential than ever before,” Parnell says. “While networking used to be important, today it is vital in such a competitive market. Different employers provide access to different networks in which to plant roots and farm relationships; one day these may prove helpful or even career-saving.”
A chance to find the right fit. Job hopping gives you more opportunities to figure out what you like and don’t, and what is important to you in a position and company, Cashman says. “That way, when you are finally ready to settle down for several years, you know what you are looking for.”
Exposure to different jobs. Job hopping gives an employee the opportunity to see what other job are out there, Kahn says. “This could lead to an upgrade of title, salary, benefits or even work environment.”
An opportunity to show off some of your best attributes. Job hopping allows you to show employers that you are flexible, adaptable and a quick learner,” as well as someone who is not afraid of change or taking risks,” Cashman says. “For some industries and companies this will be a selling point.”
More money. “More often than not, an employer and their employee have a conflict of interests: the employer wants a lot of work for little pay, and the employee wants little work for a lot of pay,” Parnell explains. “While they often meet in the middle when initially negotiating salary–because the future employee has some leverage prior to an acceptance–the subsequent raises are usually lackluster. Jumping to a new position almost always results in more money than a simple raise will provide.”
Employers will be hesitant to invest in you. “When jumping from job to job you are showing future employers that there is a high likelihood that you will do the same to them,” Kahn says. “Also at most companies, putting in the years of work with them proves your loyalty helping to strengthen your job security. Loyalty goes a long way and from the employers perspective gives them dependability that they can count on.”
Parnell agrees. “It is usually quite expensive to recruit, court, hire and ramp up a new employee,” he says. “Should they leave in a short period of time, it can be quite costly to an employer. This fact alone makes a spotty employment history very suspicious and scary to a potential employer.”
You’re job may be less secure. If your employer is forced to lay off employees, you might be the first to go (given your track record of leaving companies quickly), Cashman says.
Lack of satisfaction. “Like the professional version of parenthood, one of the greatest satisfactions in a career is to be a part of a product’s (or services) genesis and ultimate release,” Parnell says. “Where most products and services have a relatively long life-cycle, a job hopper will never experience such a satisfaction.”
You may damage relationships. More and more, employers are turning to professional reference checkers to verify information and otherwise double-check their potential investment in a new employee, Parnell says. “In an environment where relationships are more important than ever, gaining experience by job hopping seriously compromises one’s potential for developing deeper, more reliable contacts that can act as guarantors.”
They may question your judgment. The employer might wonder if you’re prone to making bad decisions. “One or two short stints might be acceptable if you went to a company that went bankrupt or were caught up in a layoff or just plain chose the wrong fit–but many of these might indicate you are someone who doesn’t have good judgment,” Cashman says. “Bad judgment is definitely not on the list of desired employee traits.”
They’ll fear you’ll leave at the first sign of trouble. “The employer will wonder if you jump ship at the first sign of trouble, or if you always think the grass is greener someplace else,” Cashman says. “It’s one thing to read the tea leaves and move on if it’s clear your company is struggling, but a potential employer likely wants to see some history of loyalty and the ability to be part of the solution when the going gets tough.”
Lesson learned: There are many benefits and drawbacks to job hopping–but if you do it for the right reasons and maintain healthy relationships with past employers, the pros should outweigh the cons and you’ll be seen as a flexible, resourceful candidate.
“The most important thing is to be able to demonstrate that no matter where you worked or for how long, that you were someone who was critical to the success of a project or the company as a whole,” says Steve Kasmouski, president of the Search Divisions at WinterWyman. “Your resume should tell the reader why you were important to the success of some project or company and should show that you have grown over time gaining increased responsibility, scope and success.”