By Terri Williams
Good Call —
Over the years, work has changed drastically. Gone are the days when a job was viewed almost like a marriage, with the company promising to protect and provide and the employee pledging to be faithful and loyal. Such unions usually lasted until death or retirement. But that was during a time when companies stayed in business for several decades or longer. These stable companies earned stable profits and paid stable wages.
A variety of forces combined to change the workplace landscape. The internet – the great disruptor – removed territorial boundaries and created global competition. The recession added a powerful body blow. Younger employees entered the workplace with radically different views regarding the role of work and the importance of work-life balance.
This environment gave rise to the increasingly common practice of job-hopping.
Redefining Job Hopping
While job-hopping used to be a negative term, its traditional definition may no longer apply in the current economy. According to Liza Sichon, a San Francisco-based executive coach, speaker and human-resources consultant, “Job hopping meant someone who had a tendency to move from company to company, and it was not viewed positively since loyalty and longevity were values managers looked for.”
Sichon says our current economy is flexible, and talented workers have many options. “Companies are more open to part-time, contract work, outsourced work, and returning parents from maternity leave, which makes the traditional loyal employee extinct.”
Such workplace changes also have altered our perception of job-hopping, resulting in much less of a stigma than in the past. Erica Golden, a career consultant, talent strategist, speaker, and author in Silicon Valley, CA, explains the change: “On average, we all spend much less time in a job than we used to – in fact, the average job duration in the U.S. is now less than 5 years.” That’s a drastic shift from the “30 years and gold watch” attitude of previous generations of workers, she says.
In addition to shifting demographics and the rise of a contingent workforce, Golden says automation within industries has helped normalize the notion of moving from one job to another at a much quicker pace than in the past.
One potential result: Job-hopping may eventually become the chic, trendy thing to do. Bonnie Hagemann, CEE of Executive Development Associates Inc. in Oklahoma City, OK, tells GoodCall another change may come: “As the workforce becomes more and more fluid, I suspect job-hopping may receive a new name, some cool term that is given to those who choose to live their life experiencing and contributing to many companies instead of focusing on one or two.”
How Employers View Job-Hopping
Workers have a much more positive view of job-hopping. Bill Driscoll, New England district president of Accountemps, says a survey conducted by his company found 42% of workers in the U.S. think job-hopping benefits their career. However, Driscoll tells GoodCall that a Robert Half survey of human resources managers reveals that roughly five job changes in 10 years can raise red flags.
And Robin Schooling, a Baton Rouge-based HR executive, agrees that while job-hopping may have lost some of its original stigma, quite a few hiring managers and recruiters don’t view frequent job changes favorably.
One factor that may shape an employer’s view of job-hopping is the reality that a worker who decides to leave represents a lost investment, and Hagemann believes that’s why companies prefer that employees stay put. “It takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to find talented people to do great work, and when an employer finds them, they certainly don’t want them to just pass through,” she says.
But while a number of short-term jobs may not make applicants appealing to every employer, Niki Jorgensen, manager of HR services at Insperity, says, “Some companies appreciate the drive of job hoppers to constantly grow and build their career, or the desire of previous companies to hire them.”
Advantages of Job-Hopping
So what are the benefits of job-hopping? According to our experts, there are several, including the opportunity to gain new skills and experiences, which can help advance an employee’s career. Kyle Kensing, online content editor at CareerCast, tells GoodCall, “Advantages include the ability to take on new responsibilities, and thus learn new skills to add to the resume.” He says this is important because workers who remain in one job for an extended period of time without gaining new responsibilities can become complacent. “Tenure is great, but not at the expense of building a more diverse skill set.”
Moving quickly from job to job also serves to quicken the time it takes for career development – and subsequently, career advancement. “I often tell my clients to think of it this way: the more you increase your exposure to new opportunities, the more you can capitalize on those opportunities for growth, skill building, and advancement,” Golden says.
Working more jobs also provides opportunities to meet new people. Golden says job-hopping is a great way for workers to expand their network. “And since the vast majority of people find their next gig through networking, you’re actually increasing your future employability by growing your network in this way,” Golden explains.
Job-hopping provides other benefits as well. According to Karen Young, SPHR, SHRM-SCP of HR Resolutions in Harrisburg, PA, “Breadth and depth of exposure to different workplaces and environments helps overcome the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ syndrome.” By adapting to various work environments, the job-hopping employee is able to work well with an assortment of people and also bring new ideas to the table.
Don’t discount the benefits of these experiences. According to Golden, “The broader your portfolio of work experience is, the more expertise you can bring to the table, the more likely your compensation can go up, too.”
In fact, compensation is one of the major benefits of job-hopping. Jorgensen tells GoodCall that this practice can increase a worker’s salary or provide an opportunity to gain a more prominent position in the workforce.
And let’s be honest, why doesn’t want to increase their income? According to Dino Grigorakakis, vice president of recruiting at Randstad Technologies, job-hopping can have a significant impact on lifetime earnings. “Average annual increases in compensation don’t match the wage increases possible in taking a new job.” Grigorakakis explains that most companies have a set range for raises, so whether you’re a “good” worker or a “great” worker, there’s still a limit on how much your salary will increase within a particular company. However, he says that workers who job-hop have the opportunity to experience significant increases in pay every time they change jobs.
Disadvantages of Job-Hopping
But before workers start writing their resignation letters, it’s important to hear the other side of the story. Sometimes job-hopping can be downright detrimental to an employee’s career, casting him or her in an unfavorable light.
Los Angeles-based career coach and consultant Nichole Wesson tells GoodCall, “Anything less than one year on a job may raise flags with employers, who may think the candidate is moving from position to position within a short time for salary alone.” This is problematic because the employer may assume the worker will “jump ship” again after finding a more lucrative job.
Regardless of how qualified the applicant may appear on paper and during the interview process, Kensing says, ”The prospective employers may be leery; why invest the time bringing in an employee to train, just to see them leave in a short period of time and start the cycle anew?”
Jorgensen agrees. “Hiring and onboarding new employees often requires a significant amount of time and money, and some businesses may avoid spending company resources on a candidate who is likely to depart in the near future.”
She points out that some job-hoppers may be forced to depart against their wishes. “As new hires, these employers may be more vulnerable when or if layoffs occur,” Jorgensen warns.
And while job-hopping may help to quickly build up skills, sometimes, it doesn’t provide time to develop a track record. According to Schooling,” One of the disadvantages to regular job-hopping is not having the ability to build up actual results or accomplishments; that’s hard to do when you only stay at a company for a year or less.”
In addition, while changing jobs frequently allows employees to meet lots of new people, these may only be surface-level friendships. Kensing warns that job-hopping makes it difficult to develop camaraderie between colleagues. “If you’re regularly on the move, it’s difficult to build relationships, which in turn hampers the ability to cultivate an important career network.”
Changing jobs frequently may also produce a series of negative emotions in the job-hoppers themselves, wearing on their confidence, and making them increasingly uncomfortable. “Job-hunting isn’t typically fun for most folks, and many people are afraid to present themselves to a potential new employer with a professional history speckled with a lot of jobs,” says Golden. They’re concerned with how they may be viewed, and Golden says these emotions can severely undermine their confidence during the interview process.
Even though employees may be thrilled at the possibility of new job opportunities, Golden says people are creatures of habit, and job-hopping provides a certain level of uncertainty. “Many workers are more comfortable knowing the clear path ahead of them on a 5- or 10-year career plan.”
Another potential reason for discomfort is constantly shifting gears. While Golden says all workers must adapt to changes, she adds, “My career-coaching clients frequently tell me they dislike being the ‘new kid at school’ so frequently – having to learn new tools, systems, and processes each time you change jobs can be frustrating for many.”
The list of disadvantages is already quite extensive. Driscoll adds three more potential problems. “Job hopping also can cause workers to experience issues such as burned bridges, a reputation as a quitter, and questions about their decision making,” Driscoll warns.
Job-Hopping Do’s and Don’ts
Our experts tend to agree that job-hoppers should have a logical reason for frequently changing jobs. Sichon believes workers need a career plan. “Start with being honest with yourself and take a good look at your core talents, motivations, and personality; it is important that you know what gets you excited at work and what your natural talents are and what kind of work environment brings out the best in you.” Once a person knows that, Sichon recommends looking at jobs that match core strengths and talents.
Also, don’t make the mistake of just job-hopping to get a higher salary. Weigh other factors as well, such as the availability of opportunities to continue increasing skills and advancing up the career ladder.
If money is the primary reason for job-hopping, Driscoll recommends evaluating the entire compensation package before deciding to leave. “Other benefits like telecommuting, flextime, or generous vacation time can make up for a smaller paycheck,” he says.
Sometimes an employee may not have to job-hop to get a salary increase. According to Rhonda G. Chicone, PhD, a professor at Kaplan University’s School of Business and Information Technology, “A smart employee should check every couple of years as to what they are worth in the job market, and if they think they are underpaid, they should raise the issue in a professional way.” Chicone recommends asking about a salary increase during the yearly performance evaluation. In most cases, she says an employer will consider a raise to keep a very good worker at the company.
Another factor that job-hoppers should consider: some are leaving to gain new skills, but it’s also important to remain at a company long enough to develop those skills. When employees leave too soon, Driscoll says they may miss the opportunity for that experience and skill set to mature. “If you are leaving a job to learn new skills, be sure you first explore professional development options at your current firm, such as company-sponsored training programs, tuition reimbursement, job shadowing, and mentorships,” Driscoll advises.
Sometimes an employee wants to leave a company because he or she doesn’t fit the company culture. Driscoll admits a company’s culture isn’t likely to change and understands an employee may want to leave if it’s a bad fit. “Just make sure you thoroughly research a prospective employer’s company culture, advancement opportunities, and long-term stability – as much as you can – before you change jobs,” he says.
Even as an employee is trying to leave, he or she needs to handle working relationships with care. Jorgensen cautions against burning bridges. “Management and colleagues may feel slighted or disappointed by an employee’s exit, but the departing employee should do everything in their power to maintain professional and respectful work relationships.” She warns that even if the employee doesn’t plan on working for that particular company again, developing a bad reputation can follow workers throughout their careers.
How to Explain Job Hopping on Your Resume
One area of concern for job-hoppers is knowing how to explain short spurts of work – and also determining how much information to divulge. Kensing thinks it’s important to be honest with potential employers. “Take that ‘where do you see yourself in 5-to-10 years’ question seriously, because if you paint an honest picture that does not include the job for which you are applying, the employer knows what to expect.” Kensing says the potential employer can determine how it can help the applicant reach those 5-to-10-year goals.
Wesson agrees that honesty is the best policy, and recommends adding a brief explanation when a position on their resume is less than one year. “Adding the reason for a short employment stint on their resume next to the company name is a good way to give some insight to a recruiter when they are reviewing resumes.”
In addition to being honest, Wesson says it is important to show the potential employer that the skills and experiences gained in these short-tenured positions can be beneficial to the company. It’s a sentiment echoed by Hagemann, who says that on paper and in person, it’s crucial to demonstrate the ability to produce results. “It’s critical that you provide more value than you cost and that while you are there, you give it 100% of your attention.”
While it may appear that a potential employer would automatically frown upon an applicant that admits to job-hopping, Hagemann offers another view. “If I can get an A-player for one year or a B-player for three years, I’m going to choose the A-player because they will probably do as much in one year as the B-player will do in three years.”
This is why it is important to be honest. Hagemann explains, “It helps me as an employer to know that I only have you for one year – that way I can plan accordingly.”
Thinking through how their intentions will be perceived can help job-hoppers formulate the correct response when asked about their history. Jorgensen says, “Consider the potential transition as seen from the perspective of a recruiter: will the move appear to be understandable and advantageous, or unfair to the previous employer?” Once any possible implications have been identified, Jorgensen says the job-hopper can devise a plan for addressing any questionable scenarios.
Since Golden has worked on both sides of the hiring equation (as both a recruiter/HR professional as well as a career consultant), GoodCall asked her for some suggestions for creating resumes and LinkedIn profiles that contain job-hops:
- Use the chronological style format (listing your work history in reverse chronological order) to describe your professional background—it’s the preferred format by the vast majority of employers and hiring decision makers.
- Don’t think that a functional style resume (highlighting functional skill sets, and including just a limited work history at the end) will help “mask” the time spent working for any employer—it usually ends up shooting you in the foot, because most employers just think you’re probably trying to hide something.
- Consider “chunking” a lot of different roles together. For example, if you spent the past few years doing contract or consulting work for different employers, group similar roles together and list them under one overall position title such as administrative support (contractor), or web design consultant, etc. Then list the overall time span you spent in those roles.
Job Hopping With Contract & Consulting Work
For workers who like the idea – but not the stigma – of job-hopping, Hagemann says there are other alternatives, such as contract or consulting work. “Today, an employee can go to work for a national staffing firm and then work across the country doing work in company after company because in temporary staffing firms, the employee doesn’t work for the employer where the work is done but instead technically works as an employee of the staffing company.”
One benefit of this arrangement is that the employee gets to work with a variety of companies without actually changing employers.
Hagemann also recommends consulting work as a way to gain the type of experience usually achieved through job-hopping. “Consultants typically travel from company to company working on projects, and this is a great way to experience many cultures and types of work rather than actually job hopping.”
Is It Ok to Job Hop in Some Industries?
Is job-hopping more (or less) acceptable in certain industries than in other sectors? Yes, according to the experts. “Some industries are just incestuous, and people move between companies regularly,” Young jokingly declares. So which industries are more or less likely to either tolerate or embrace job-hopping?
Golden tells GoodCall, “Longer job tenure still exists more in oil and energy, manufacturing/industrial, and aero/auto/transport industries; on the other hand, jobs in media and entertainment or education fields tend to have higher rates of quickly shifting from job to job.”
LinkedIn research finds that job-hopping is also common in Professional Services and in the Non-Profit and Government sectors.
Professions with low job-hopping rates tend to be those that require a substantial amount of time to gain education and professional experience and those where employees have consistent long-term career goals. “Think of all those lawyers who sign with their firm and stick with it, for decades, to make partner,” Schooling says. Hagemann provides the example of a research scientist who may work
with a specific team for several years in search of a scientific breakthrough. “A geologist who works for an oil company may need to spend years understanding a certain part of the country in order to provide the greatest impact in the work,” she says.
Golden believes medical doctors need to build a record and reputation of stability. “Physicians tend to be more employable by hospitals, clinics or research institutions – or even within private practices – when they’ve built a body of work over a longer period of time with a few employers, than if they’ve jumped around.”
She compares that to a web developer. “As a hiring decision maker, you’re going to be a lot less concerned whether someone in that line of work has been with a single employer over a long period of time, or if they’ve ‘job hopped,’ working sequentially or simultaneously for many different employers or clients.” Because this is the type of job that tends to be project-based, or can be performed as a contractor or an employee, Golden believes that results are much more important than longevity.
And that’s why IT is one industry in which job-hopping has become quite common. According to Wesson, “In high demand and hard to fill positions, job hopping is less frowned upon – for example, those in STEM fields have skill sets that are very competitive.” Because IT workers are heavily recruited, Wesson says companies understand they may be lured away to work for competitors.
The Bottom Line
As job-hopping continues to lose its stigma, workers are more likely to roll the dice when weighing their employment options. As Schooling says, “Today, there is a growing realization, especially since the 2008 recession, that individuals have the ability to chart their own path for career success – just because someone has left and started over again doesn’t mean they are not committed to professional excellence.”
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to “A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics,” a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.