Conventional wisdom says job hopping is bad for your career. Jumping from position to position makes you look unfocused and disloyal, and a long list of short-term jobs will send your resume straight to the trash bin. A majority of HR professionals (71%) surveyed by career website Beyond said they weren’t willing to hire people who job hopped, with anyone with less than three or four years at a string of jobs looking like a risky hire.
For someone who is ready to move on but has only been at his current position for a year or two, that’s pretty depressing news. But it turns out there’s a right way and a wrong way to job hop, and if you make smart choices, frequent career moves can work for you. Young people especially can benefit from seeking out new opportunities, as they try to gain experience and figure out what they really want to do.
“This is something people should do in their career,” career coach Ryan Kahn, the founder of the Hired Group, told Inc. [T]hey need to diversify their work environments to find out what they love and hate.”
Job hopping is also one of the best ways for younger workers to boost their salary. Unfortunately, millennials may not be getting the message that they need to say goodbye to their current employer if they want to get ahead. Though they’re often stereotyped as fickle job hoppers, the average person between 25 and 34 has been at their current job for three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s not much different from the job tenure numbers in the 1980s, according to FiveThirtyEight.
“Research has shown that millennials are staying with their employers for a longer time than previous generations did at the same age, locking them into lower wage positions,” wrote Tom Allison and Konrad Mugglestone in a 2014 report on where young people work for Young Invincibles. “While these early-career positions are vital for job training, decreased job mobility may also reduce opportunities for wage growth in our generation, repressing incomes for years to come.”
Keeping an eye out for new opportunities is essential in the early stages of your career, but that doesn’t mean you should jump ship whenever you feel the urge. Moving on after a year or even a few months can be fine, but if you do it too often, you start to look like a flake.
“If you have one short-term stay on your resume, hiring managers are unlikely to care,” according to HR expert Allison Green. “It’s when it looks like your normal behavior that it becomes a problem.”
Being able to explain the logic behind your moves is also key. Hiring managers are less likely to look askance at short-term contract positions or temp work, as long as you make the nature of the job clear on your resume, says Green. Playing up the skills you gained from switching employers and focusing on your accomplishments can also help, Jason Niad, the managing director at Execu|Search, a recruitment firm, told Fast Company. If you can’t provide a good explanation for your frequent moves, employers may worry that you’re difficult to work with or can’t perform.
Whatever employers may really think about so-called job hoppers, they’re probably going to have to get used to dealing with them. As companies have slashed jobs, frozen wages, and cut benefits in recent years, many workers both young and old have abandoned employer loyalty.
“Pay is not increasing, benefits are being reduced. It causes people to say, ‘I don’t have loyalty so I’m going to go look,’” Burt Parks, the manager of contract staffing for the Rochester Business Alliance Inc., told the Rochester Business Journal. “They don’t have that sense that people are going to take care of you.”
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