Menu Join now Search

Job Hopping: Career Killer or Savior?

Job hopping: it’s career suicide, that is, if conventional wisdom and my father are to be believed. They tell us to stay at a job for at least two years, and that the longer you stay in one place, the more dependable you’ll appear, and that staying in one place improves your chances for success when you look for a new job. They tell us that too many jobs in a short period of time makes you look like a flake. Forget job offers. Instead, you’ll be getting offers of advice on how to mask all that job hopping on your resume.

But how bad is job hopping really? Is there anything to gain from all that moving around? Let’s find out!

Here, we look at the benefits of job hopping, its role in this economy, the right and wrong ways to do it, and how to put a positive spin on it the next time you’re looking for a job.

The Changing Landscape
Career dynamics have shifted dramatically over the years. Gone are the days when college grads joined a company and stayed for life, rising through the ranks to win the corner office.

According to Business Week’s Richard Florida, people under the age of thirty change jobs almost once every year and a half (compared to the national average of once every three years).

It’s not surprising. Workers feel less incentive to stay put. Pensions, in the traditional sense, are virtually obsolete. We’re increasingly paying the price for our employer-sponsored healthcare. Loyalty is no longer about putting in your time or paying your dues. It’s about providing measurable value and being rewarded for it. Corporate culture has changed, and employees are responding to it in the only way that makes sense to them.

Chris Murdock, recruiting expert at LandingJobs and former senior sourcer for Yahoo, says job tenure—and expectations around it—have changed. “It used to be that people would stay at a company for life, but nowadays, if you’ve been in a company two years, you’re the seasoned professional,” he says. “Some even think if you’ve been at a company for five years, you should move on. That it’s too long.”

Job hopping as an Asset
It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but some experts now say there are benefits to job hopping—and not just for the employee.

For one, they argue, it can help those early in their career figure out what they want to do. Let’s face it: no personality test or career adviser can compare with real-world experience.

On her blog Brazen Careerist, career expert Penelope Trunk wrote about job hopping as a path to career stability. In her post, she says it’s “nearly impossible to find something right without trying a bunch of options.”

Trying different jobs also means building a more diverse skill set.

“[Job hoppers] continue to hone their skills and develop new ones,” says Ron Katz of Penguin HR Consulting. “And not just the tactical/technical skills. They also develop the strategic skills, the ones that transfer from to job and assignment to assignment.”

And what effect does all that hopping around have on performance?

Trunk says job hoppers tend to be top performers because they have no choice but to deliver results. “If you don’t need to get another job anytime soon, then you don’t need to perform well in the next six months. You can coast,” she says. “Job hoppers don’t coast, or their resume will look bad.”

Another benefit to job hopping, at least in the short term, is monetary gain. Career consultant Tammy Kabell says you can negotiate a 10 to15 percent salary increase with a new company, a significant gain from the average 3 to 5 percent you’ll get annually if you stay put.

And it’s not just the job hopper who benefits. “Employees that move from company to company are like bees collecting pollen … and sharing that info with a new employer each time they come on board,” says Kabell.

“This is especially evident when a smaller employer hires someone who has experience from a large company. That employee brings with them excellent training, policies, procedures—basically the best practices of companies with much larger budgets and possibly a longer history and therefore a longer evolution than a smaller or newer company.”

Job hopping in a Recession?
Voluntary movement appears to have slowed, at least for the time being. At the end of 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics measured the quit rate at just 1.6 percent, lower than the recent average.

And it makes sense. Not only are fewer jobs available, making it impossible for some to make a move, but employees are less willing to leave their current gig for a job they know little about—especially since new hires are at a greater risk of being laid off should the company face financial trouble.

Nevertheless, some proponents of job hopping say it’s still worth doing, even in the current economy.

On her blog, Rebecca Thorman argues that members of Generation Y should not let the economy stop them from moving around . She says, “Those who can perform will always be able to find a new, exciting position. And Gen Y knows how to perform, especially under pressure.”

The economy may also make short stints—if you are able to get them—appear more acceptable on your resume. LandingJobs’ Murdock highlights the early ’90s dot-com bust, where C-levels, VPs, and directors were moving around at unprecedented speeds. So while short stints of employment might normally be a red flag, employers might come to expect it in a volatile economy.

But this doesn’t mean you should be rushing full speed ahead to hand in your resignation. Not everyone has the luxury of youth, parental support (financial and otherwise), or a hefty previous salary to fall back on.

Like all career decisions, the decision to change jobs before the two-year mark needs to be weighed carefully.

Hop Carefully, Hop Well
Most experts, even those who support job hopping, make the same point—don’t leave until you’ve accomplished something.

“Your resume needs to show the story of a person who contributes in large ways wherever you go,” Trunk says on her blog.

It’s one thing if you’re moving on because you have completed a project and brought significant value to the company along the way.

It’s something else entirely if you leave one job after another for reasons that are not going to seem valid to your next potential employer.

Reasons you shouldn’t switch jobs:

Your job is too hard. Being averse to any real challenge is not a quality many employers will respect or admire. If your job is too hard, do what you need to do to get up to speed. Ask for more training or take a class to brush up on your skills. Don’t demote yourself or bow out.

You’re bored. While boredom (and lack of a challenge) can be absolutely toxic to your professional development, it is not an excuse to move on. At least not until you’ve explored other options within your company. There’s probably a lot more you could be doing if you just asked.

You just can’t get along with people. It’s one thing if the corporate culture just isn’t the right fit, but if you’re moving from job to job, each time because you’ve fallen out with your coworkers or your boss, it might be time to do some soul searching. Think about it: the only common denominator in the equation is you. So instead of moving on every time you have a tiff, think about what you might have done to cause it.

You’re motivated by money alone. Moving to a new job is the fastest way to get a pay raise, sure. But jumping from job to job for the sole purpose of monetary gain is a big mistake. If increasing your salary is your only incentive for job hopping, you’ll end up unsatisfied in the long term.

Another important factor to bear in mind is your age, and where you are in your career. If you’re twenty-three and fresh out of college, job hopping can yield long-term benefits. On the other hand, an older, more senior executive may find the consequences to be direr. Career Coach Joni Daniels says that for older workers, “job hopping means losing ground.”

And no matter what, know that there are always going to be recruiters and hiring managers who will frown upon your frequent moves. If they do call you in for an interview, they will likely demand an explanation for your movement.

Be prepared to face objections, says Sherri Elliot, author of Ties to Tattoos: Turning Generational Differences into a Competitive Advantage.

“Many hiring managers are Baby Boomers. They come from a generation that believes in loyalty, longevity, and paying your dues, and they typically have not embraced the new job hopping trend,” Elliot says. “Make sure your resume shows that you’ve substantially contributed to every company for which you’ve worked.”

Murdock says to be proactive. Even more than non-hoppers, you’ll need to network aggressively to become more than just a resume, wherever you apply. “If you think you’ll be perceived as a job hopper, and you think your resume is being ignored because of it, get on the phone and find someone who works there so that you can overcome those objections.”

Like so much of your career history, the benefit of frequent job changes depends entirely on where you are in your career, your reasons for wanting to jump ship, and your long-term goals.

There’s no doubt about it: the hard and fast career rules set by our parents and grandparents no longer apply. The important thing now is to add value wherever you go, be smart about your moves, and be prepared to explain your choices, whatever they are. And by doing so, you might just turn yesterday’s red flag into today’s competitive advantage.

Originally published on Excelle