The unstable economy has produced plenty of layoffs. Startups fold, and people have to move for any number of reasons. Job hopping has, for many, become the new normal.
If you’re a job hopper, whether intentionally or not, it’s worth learning the negatives it presents to a potential employers, how to effectively answer concerns… and when it might be best to 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 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. 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 you’ll 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. “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. Short-term employees aren’t always great assets to reaching those goals. Employees who are focused on the long-term 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 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 you’re serious about your career and taking advantage of better opportunities; 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 sees your career was advanced through each move you made, it shows you followed 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.
“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.”
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
So when is the right time to leave a job? There’s no magic number for how long to stay in a position. 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 you have long-term potential. Once you find a job that’s a good fit for you, it’s best to stay with it longer than past jobs.
“Once someone has settled into their career and 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.”
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 Job Hopping
On Your Resume: 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 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, emphasize the positive reasons for leaving. Don’t go into details of any drama that led to the departures. Instead, give an honest answer and move on to why your combined experience makes you a good fit for the job at hand.
Job hopping may be much more common among young workers today than in the past, but that doesn’t mean employers are happy to see frequent job changes on a resume. By ensuring every new opportunity 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 builds your expertise, and then look for a job you can stay with for the long run.
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at OnlineCollege.org!
About the Author: Melissa Venable, PhD is an Education Writer for OnlineCollege.org. Melissa’s background includes work in higher education – private, public, and for-profit – as an instructional designer and curriculum developer. Melissa is also an experienced instructor, academic advisor and career counselor. She is actively involved in research related to online education and the support of online students. Her work has been published in The Career Development Quarterly, TechTrends, the Journal of Computing in Higher Education. Follow Melissa on Twitter!