If you talk to people in the Baby Boomer generation or older, it’s not uncommon to hear that they worked at the same job for decades. Some may have held only a few positions in their lives, while today, a young worker may hold a few positions within just a few years. The median number of years workers between 25 and 34 have been at their current jobs is just 3.2 years, according to January 2012 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the median tenure for employees 65 years old and older is more than 10 years. The national median is 4.6 years.
Staying at a job for shorter amounts of time is becoming a trend among Millennials, but hiring managers don’t necessarily like to see that you’ve only spent a year or two at your past several jobs. This behavior of switching jobs frequently is known as “job hopping” and can actually affect your chances of landing your next dream gig. Holding several jobs over a short period of time can signal to an employer that you may not stay with their company long if they give you a job.
Unfortunately, you sometimes just can’t help job hopping. The unstable economy has produced plenty of layoffs, startups fold leaving employees out in the cold, and people have to move for any number of reasons. If you’re a job hopper, whether intentionally or not, it’s worth it to learn what it says to potential employers, how you can play it in your favor, and when you should just suck it up and stick it out in a job.
What Job Hopping Might Say About You
Regardless of your reasons for leaving a job, those short terms on a resume can trigger alarm bells in a potential employer’s mind. They’ll probably ask themselves why you’ve moved around so much and form judgments about you based on your job hopping alone. Here are just a few red flags that might run through a hiring manager’s head.
You’re a waste of money. Leaving a job quickly often makes employers worried that you’ll also be eager to leave their company. New employees take time and money to train, so hiring a person is an investment. Job hoppers? A potentially bad investment. Why spend the money when the person is going to turn around and leave a year later?
You’re restless. For young people, the nine-to-five grind can be quite a shock to the system when you’re fresh out of college. University life gets students used to changing their schedule and subject matter every semester, so working the same job for more than six months can give some people the urge to move on. Even if this doesn’t describe you, short periods of employment can give the impression that you don’t have the discipline to stick it out when the excitement of a new job wears off.
You’re unfulfilled. Not every job will be your dream job, and employers understand that. But they don’t want to think that you will never be satisfied in a position they give you. “I think a good percentage of younger workers have a tendency to have a ‘grass is greener’ philosophy,” says Bradley Sona, a managing director at Execu-Search, a recruitment firm. “They are more inclined to leave their job than older workers because their focus is in a different place.” There’s nothing wrong with moving on to a better opportunity, but the jumps can imply that you’re not content in any job.
You’re not focused on the long game. Companies typically have goals that extend five, 10, or more years into the future, so short-term employees aren’t always great assets to reaching those goals. Employees who are focused on the long-term aspects of the job will work harder, try to pick up new skills to be promoted and move the company forward, and keep the best interests of the company in mind. Sona says job hoppers can appear to lack this commitment and loyalty to the company.
When Job Hopping Makes Sense
Although job hopping raises some initial red flags, it doesn’t always have to be negative. The right kind of job changes can prove that you’re serious about your career and taking advantage of better opportunities, an ambition that employers can appreciate. “There’s a difference between switching jobs to boost your career and switching jobs because you don’t like the company or you wind up not liking the job,” says Kristen Fischer, a certified professional resume writer and author of When Talent Isn’t Enough: Business Basics for the Creatively Inclined. “A savvy career professional will move when it’s a step up — not move because they don’t like something.”
The key to successful job hopping is to make sure every change is moving in one direction: up. If an employer can see that your career was advanced through each move you made, it can show them that you were following ambition rather than dissatisfaction. Alan Corey, author of The Subversive Job Search, says that if your jobs seem cohesive, with similar roles in related industries, employers may see you as someone who is becoming an expert in a field. Your vast experience in one area can make you an appealing candidate.
Besides gaining more on-the-job experience, it can be smart to move on when you’ve stopped learning new skills at your current job and don’t see the opportunity to learn more in the future. “If someone stays in a position for too long and their responsibilities never change, their skill set may plateau,” Sona says. “If they ever do need to find a new job, they may have a more difficult time because their skills may be outdated. In addition, a new job may teach a professional new skills and technologies, which may give them the opportunity to take on more responsibilities and expand their experiences.”
These reasons for moving between jobs can be easily explained to a potential employer; it shows your desire to grow. Earning potential, on the other hand, may not be what every hiring manager wants to hear, but it is a valid personal reason for grabbing the next opportunity. Because many companies may have suspended their review process and raises since the recession started, Sona explains, staying at one job could hurt you significantly financially. If you started a job in 2009 at $40,000, you would likely get a higher salary increase when leaving for a new job the next year than if you were to stay with the company. If you move to a third job, you could be making around $60,000, according to Sona. Had you stayed at the first job for three years, your salary might only be about $45,000.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
So when is the right time to leave a job? There’s really no magic number for how you should stay in a position; every hiring manager has a different idea of what is long enough. Corey says six-month or one-year stints can be explained as contract work, but that you should try to have a job on your resume that lasted at least two and a half years to show that you have long-term potential. And once you find a job that’s a good fit for you, it’s best to stay with it longer than past jobs.
“I believe that once someone has settled into their career and has decided where their interests lay, if circumstances allow them to, they should stay at their job for six to eight years,” Sona says. “This time frame shows stability but also doesn’t allow you to become complacent to the point where you stop challenging yourself and cease to grow as a professional.”
If you’re thinking about starting the job hunt and handing in your two-weeks’ notice, make sure you understand why you’re leaving and whether it will ultimately help your career. Leaving because you don’t like your coworkers or boss or because the work has gotten boring is a bad idea, according to Fischer. These problems often plague every work place: personalities clash, and the novelty of a job wears off. These may be contributing factors to looking for new opportunities, but you should be able to justify the move to interviewers.
Fischer suggests asking yourself the following questions to ensure you really know what you want next and if you’re prepared to get it:
- What is the goal of leaving this job?
- What kind of job move do I want to make?
- Do I want to move up to a higher role or make a lateral move?
- Do I want to change career fields?
- Will I need more education to make the move I want?
- What are the pros to staying longer at this job?
How to Spin It
On Your Resume: To get your foot in the door of a new job, you’ll need your resume to represent you well, not turn off employers when they see several short jobs. If the job lengths are very short but the positions themselves are still relevant, Fischer suggests putting them in an “additional experience” section. You could also leave a short-stint job off your resume entirely if you make sure it doesn’t leave a gap that would need explaining. By excluding the months and only indicating the years you held your positions, you could potentially leave a short job off altogether.
In an Interview: If an interviewer asks you why you’ve hopped from job to job, make sure to emphasize the positive reasons for it. Rather than explaining monetary or environmental reasons, Corey says, be sure to focus on educational opportunities you took advantage of, such as learning a specific skill or working on a specific project. But don’t go overboard trying to explain away your job hopping if the reasons weren’t so positive. Instead, Sona suggests, give an honest answer and then move on to why your experience makes you a good fit for the job at hand. Sona also tells clients to be careful not to get defensive or place the blame on anyone at their former workplaces.
Job hopping may be much more common among young workers today than it has been in the past, but that doesn’t mean employers are happy to see frequent job changes on a candidate’s resume. By making sure that every new opportunity you take is a step up or teaching you new, valuable skills, you can leverage those short stints into a great career. Consider how each new position could build your expertise, and then look for a job that you can stay with for the long run.