Why Serial Job Hopping Hurts Your Career (And How To Fix It)

These days, job hopping is practically a way of life. Gone is the idea of spending four decades at one company, ultimately retiring with a gold watch and a pension plan. According to theUS Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years workers stay at a given job is only 4.6, which allows them to rack up as many as 10 gigs in a lifetime. The problem: Many employers still see job hopping as a deal breaker.

Nearly 40 per cent of recruiters and hiring managers say that a history of hopping is the single biggest obstacle for job-seekers, according to a recent survey conducted by recruiting software company Bullhorn. We found four serial job hoppers who were willing to dish about their adventures in the labour market. Then we asked a crack squad of career experts for advice on how these hoppers can find a gig that will make them want to stick around.

Jay Mehta, 36, Unemployed

A few months ago, Jay Mehta was laid off from his latest IT job in Dallas, along with a handful of other employees, because of budget cuts. "The difference is that those guys have been working for the same two or three companies for the last 14 years and didn't see it coming — I've worked for 10 places," Mehta says, who has been laid off twice, including from his last gig.

Mehta wasn't always a job hopper. For the first eight years of his professional life, he worked for just two different companies. "I thought that promotions were deserved after a lot of hard work and employer loyalty," he says. "But I was wrong." In those two jobs, Mehta's salary increased only marginally, and he couldn't seem to save enough money. Then, in January 2002, he was laid off due to downsizing.

Mehta struggled for an entire year looking for another full-time job in IT and the experience changed his outlook on employment. "I figured it wouldn't be long before something like that would happen again. Although I wasn't sure when the next economic slowdown would come, I knew that I wanted to be debt-free and ready for it before I ever got laid off again," he says. So Mehta shifted his loyalty toward making money, rather than to any one company — switching jobs eight times in the next six years. "I gained a lot by virtue of job changes," he says. "My salary has increased significantly compared to friends I know who have stayed with the same company."

Job hopping seems to have paid off for Mehta, who now owns his home and car outright and is completely debt-free. There's just one problem: He's been unemployed since mid-March, so he is looking for a new gig again — although Mehta doesn't believe that his hopping has hurt his chances of finding employment. "I'm currently unemployed, but I'm not complaining," he says. "If I've laid off companies for money, it's OK if a company lays me off for a lack of money."

What The Pros Say

Deborah Brown-Volkman, a career coach and president of surpassyourdreams.com, is afraid that employers might see Mehta's work history as detrimental. "While he's gained something from his job changes, what's missing is focus. His story is more about him. A prospective employer might ask, 'What's in it for me?'" To combat this, Colleen Georges, a professional résumé writer and career coach, suggests Mehta consider starting his own IT consulting firm. "This can provide needed income and potentially transform into something more lucrative in the long term, offering the independence and variety he enjoys," she says.

Kyle Flight, 30, Salesman

In 2009, Kyle Flight graduated with a doctorate in government, a job offer from a court services company and plans to move to Chicago with his significant other. "My job and prospects were pretty much secured, and I was on a career path that would last at least the next 10 years of my life," Flight says. But, right after he moved, the company lost funding and rescinded its offer. "I was tossed back into the ether of the over-educated and underemployed milieu — I've had eight different jobs working for eight different companies."

Having drained his savings for the move, Flight took the first job he could find … as a barista. But the pay wasn't much, so a few months later, he quit for a higher-paying gig as a waiter, while still applying for court services positions. Four months in, Flight finally found a job in his desired career path, but after just three months, lack of funding forced him out of yet another job. "I was tossed back into the ether of the over-educated and underemployed milieu," he says. "Since May of 2009, I've had eight different jobs working for eight different companies."

What The Pros Say

"Flight is right that he entered the [US] labour market at a particularly bad time for young people," says Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do at Work: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Career." Vanderkam suggests trying to find a job through Kyle's connections, where his résumé matters less. She also recommends that he do freelance work in his desired field. "There's no shame in working as a barista to pay the bills, but you also want to show that you're serious about building your career," she says. "Over time, freelance work can lead your career into new and exciting places."

Angela Johnson, 43, Treatment Facility Counselor

A lot has changed since Angela Johnson began work as a graphic designer in the late '80s. "The technological boom of personal computers means that everyone now has the capability to design their own stationery, and we get all of our information online, rather than through books and pamphlets," says Johnson. "The print graphic designer has almost become a thing of the past."

Although she was discouraged by downsizing, Johnson wasn't ready to give up on the industry. So she hopped between more than 10 different companies over 20 years, trying to land a job that she could fall in love with. "I kept leaping to the next opportunity — only to find the same circumstances. Each company became a carbon copy of the previous one: low pay scale, low morale, no benefits and depressed colleagues," says Johnson. "I realised that my dream job didn't exist anymore."

In 2008, Johnson decided to go back to school to become a medical assistant. "I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, rather than work long hours chained to a computer," she says. While in school, she worked at a nursing home and hospice. And since November 2011, she has held a full-time position as a counselor at a residential treatment facility. "The pay is rather low, but there is an atmosphere of family," she says. "So I see myself staying at least five years or so." She also plans to get a master's in nursing to further advance in her new career. "I've found along the way that it is necessary to make a few leaps of faith, rather than get stuck in a job that you absolutely hate," she says.

What The Pros Say

"Sometimes disappointment in one career field can pave the way to discovering a more meaningful and personally fulfilling direction," says Georges. She suggests that Johnson tailor her résumé's introductory summary to her new career field, prominently highlighting her nursing home, hospice and residential facility positions — and condensing only the last 10 years of Johnson's print industry positions into a brief section titled "Additional Experience."

"This will take the focus away from less relevant experience and frequent moves, and instead direct hiring managers to pay attention to her education and experience in the health professions," Georges says. Brown-Volkman adds that confidence is also key when Johnson talks to new employers: "She should hold her head high, and shed any embarrassment, or else she will come across as weak in interviews — it's not the words you say, but how you say them."

Charity Rowell, 39, Student

This job hopper supported her parents and little sister in Springfield, Mo., after graduating from high school. "I didn't dream about becoming a customer service representative, telemarketer, receptionist — or spending almost 20 years of my life moving from one unfulfilling job to the next," Charity Rowell says. "My duty was to make sure that the bills were paid on time."

Rowell found employment wherever she could, sometimes with the help of staffing agencies. "When all is said and done, I believe that I have worked for about 14 companies in at least five or six different industries," she says.

Finally, during one of her exit interviews, Rowell's supervisor lit a fire in her by suggesting that she'd be a great fit for a career in human resources. "Before I discovered HR, I spent most of my time in the workforce as a customer service representative — you know, one of the people you call to yell at because something is wrong with your bill, account or service," Rowell says. "I got tired of feeling like I was doing more of a disservice to people rather than helping them."

So Rowell went back to school to pursue a business degree and start a career in HR management. She hopes to graduate this year, but she's worried that her job-hopping history will haunt her when it's time to look for a position in her new field. "I don't want all of the work I've achieved, or the growing that I've done in the past four years, to be ignored just because of a list of employers," she says.

What the Pros Say

Workplace expert Anita Bruzzese recommends that Rowell limit the positions she includes on her résumé's work history. "I'd focus on the jobs that show you gained some key skills, such as communication, working in a team environment and meeting deadlines," she says. Vanderkam stresses another important point: "Sometimes learning what you want to do in life takes time. The good news for Rowell is that earning a degree gives you a bit of a career 'reset' at graduation."

Recently, a prospective employer told Flight that his job hopping was ruining his résumé. But he's not ashamed of his work history. "I've seen people spend 10 years at a job only to continue being passed over for the newcomer from outside the company," he says. "The rest of my generation saw it, too. So when we want to advance, we know that it's going to take a hop and skip to a different company and job, with a better title and paycheck. We're just trying to make it in the world."

Confessions of Job Hoppers [LearnVest]

LearnVest's mission is to empower people everywhere to take control of their personal finances so that they can afford their dreams. They believe that financial planning should not be a luxury, which is why they've developed an advice-driven program that is personalised to your specific financial goals and situation.

Image remixed from Alan Bailey (Shutterstock).


Comments

    The last sentence of both paras for 'Kyle Flight, 30, Salesman' are the same

      Don't know if poor editing or brilliant artistry in portraying the repetition in this man's life.

    Having been a contractor since graduating from Uni in 2004 i've had maybe 10 different contracts within that period. Some lasted 3 years and others (due to visa restrictions when moving to Aus) only 6 months.

    I love the changes and new challenges that each contract brings, and i don;t think i'd get that in a permanent role in a big company. I find it disappointing that companies would look down upon prospective employees who have had to job hop. Usually it's not been their fault and they should really focus on the positives that this brings. Adaptability, endurance and that all important ability to deal with change and difficult decisions.

      Employers don't look down upon prospective employees who have job hopped because they're big meanies. They are cautious because hiring someone that may not stick around can be a hugely expensive process for them, so they wish to avoid that where they can.

      If it's clear that the employee has left several positions for reasons outside of their control then that is unlikely to concern the employer.

    If companies see job hopping as a deal breaker, why are people able to change jobs every 4.6 years? Hardly seems like a problem to the employers...

      I think most employers would think that 4.6 years is a perfectly adequate length of employment for most positions. It becomes (more of) a problem when job hopping happens every couple of years or so.

        This. 4.6 years is NOT considered job-hopping by anyone I know. The hoppers are the guys that stick around for 8-24 months and move on for bigger dollars or a promotion before they've provided much value to the organisation after getting the hang of their current role, which takes at least 6-12 months in most professional situations. To me, 4.6 years is actually a lot of time to spend in a job. In IT, many companies for whom I've worked haven't lasted that long, and many that have still cull experienced people in layoffs every few years to make room foe cheaper new grads, plus, many that have are small companies providing no advancement path. If you can't advance every 4-5 years, it's time to move on.

    All of these "professional"'s suggestions seem to revolve around how the employee has to keep the employer happy. What happened to the employer keeping the employee happy to ensure they stay longer than 6 months!?

    I've had 7 jobs in the last 5 years (just started the most recent), and at each step I've learned valuable lessons, gained way more knowledge than my fellow graduates who stayed at one place, and I've more than tripled my salary. Not once has my job hopping been an issue for good employers - Each and every employer who saw all my skills, next to all my jobs, then asked "why?" was actually more impressed by the wide range of skills and depth of knowledge I've managed to keep over the few short years I've been in the workforce.

    TL;DR I call bullshit on the "professional"'s in this article.

      Just because you have learned more, and are more impressive and productive because of your job hopping, does not mean that employers won't be concerned by you leaving their position prematurely.

        Yep. If I spent most of my time at work learning so that I could up my pay rate in the future, rather than in providing value using what I already knew, I'd be impressive, and employers would be right to worry that I'd soak up as much learning from their org as I could and leave the moment I hit diminishing returns.

          Yep.

          If, as an employee, you've done it before, there's the likelihood that you'll do it again. If you've done it several times before, it's pretty much a certainty that you'll do it again.

          I deal with candidates that argue their position - I resigned to get another position in which I had better learning opportunities. It would be wrong to argue that the employee shouldn't do that - they should, for the benefit of personal development, but there is a cost that comes with that.

          The employers have to protect their interests and they're right to have concerns with those that have shown to be flighty.

            I fully understand and agree with what you're saying.

            It should be noted that out of all my jobs, I've only left 2 where I felt like I could do better elsewhere - in both cases I was being paid under the minimum wage for my Modern Award. Out of the remaining jobs, I was made redundant at 3 due to no fault of my own (startups who's money ran dry), and the last one I left because the work was not as described during the interviews / first couple of weeks.

            In the last case, it should be noted that timing was on my side, and I was offered a better paying, better skill aligned job (via a cold-call on LinkedIn) at the same time I was getting disenfranchised with the work.

            Again, any good employer who has asked "Why?" gets a similar response and has never once had an issue. It should be a fully 2 way relationship, and if with my skills I can get past the Resume step into an interview, then they should be asking me questions about my previous positions, just as I should be asking them specific questions about the work, the culture, the previous employee I'm replacing, etc, etc...

            Last edited 25/05/13 4:51 pm

              I don't think any of us know what you mean when you say " any good employer who has asked "Why?" - why what? Say the full sentence, there's no character restrictions here.

              As I said in another comment, job hopping doesn't include being made redundant, and I don't think any employer would begrudge someone leaving a menial, illegally paying position.

              Job hopping is more in regards to resigning from permanent position to permanent position.

              Yes, employment is a two way street, and yes you should be asking questions, and considering the suitability of the position, and the company to you. But don't expect an employer to change their position or culture to suit you. Sure, that can happen, but very rarely.

    RE: Mehta

    "His story is more about him".l I totally agree with this. Job hopping hopefully does benefit the employee as they wish it to, and no one can blame them for acting in their own best interests. Having said that, that's likely to be a major concern for an employer. Employers have already trained up staff just for them to leave the company. It's a huge expense and employers are wise to avoid such risks where they can.

    RE: Flight

    He's been unlucky. That doesn't make him a bad applicant, but just lacking experience. If he's realistic about that then that should be fine. He just needs to carry on trying to secure an entry level role from which he can build. Job hopping from a variety of casual positions wouldn't really be a concern for a potential employer of a professional position. It shows that he understands what he has to do in order to secure an income, and he's showing a degree of determination to ensure that that's what he does. As long as his resume and general presentation is all good, he should be fine.

    RE: Johnson

    Yep, good advice again - "She suggests that Johnson tailor her résumé’s introductory summary to her new career field, prominently highlighting her nursing home, hospice and residential facility positions".

    If you've changed career focus then have your resume represent that. Still include other experience, as it's all relevant to some extent, but list it less prominently and in career summary format - i,e, just the bare bones information.

    RE: Rowell

    Frequently changing low paid, demeaning and demanding positions such as those in the retail, hospitality, customer service or telemarketing fields is quite normal and to be expected. Most of those roles have extremely high staff turnovers for a number of reasons, and an employer can hardly be surprised by employees leaving such flawed roles.

    Having said that, listing 20 jobs with periods of employment being weeks or months is enough to frighten off many employers, so it is very attractive to lessen the amount of jobs listed. I wouldn't encourage anyone to misrepresent their background on their resume but it may be appropriate to simply list a career summary. 2004 to 2008 - Various short term, casual positions including Telemarketer, Waitress. Customer Service.

    There may not be an ideal solution, but if effort is put in order to present the work history in a positive light then it will generally be accepted as such.

    For Rowell, her qualifications will be important for a job in HR, as will her variety of experience. At the end of the day the resume is there to secure the applicant an interview with the employer, so it doesn't have to explain absolutely everything.

    I feel like that advice for Flight is a long-winded way of saying, "Sorry, I don't have any ideas that you haven't tried already or that are applicable to your situation, sucks to be you."

      I agree with you, but at the same time what do you expect?

      There is no genie in the lamp that can swoop down and hand Flight a job just because he wants one. Even if there were, it'd be nice to think that the genie could invest their time on more pressing priorities.

      You could argue that Flight has no place applying for sales roles if he doesn't have any experience, but then no one has clear details about his background and abilities. Maybe he's a natural born salesman and with persistence he'll get his foot in the door - maybe that will happen tomorrow, maybe it never will.

      You could argue that he should not work in hospitality, but to secure a demoralizing job that has at least some exposure to Sales, such as telemarketing, or securing a commission based sales position selling cleaning products door to door - but then we all have bills to pay and there are many good reasons not to work in demoralizing positions.

      If Flight is realistic, has ability, and has a well prepared resume etc, then there's no reason that his persistence shouldn't pay off. It might be hard in the meantime, but then welcome to life.

    I've been in the workforce for a dozen years and have already had 3 distinct careers. This is modern life. Some industries are based on freelancing (like media production) and having 10 noteworthy jobs in a year would not be uncommon. It annoys me when so-called experts say that job hopping looks detrimental when employers are just not offering stable employment anymore, seems like they are out of touch to me. Employers can't complain about people not having a stable work history when they themselves have casualised the workforce. In my case I have become accustomed to finding the elements of my previous experience that shows my preparedness for a new role. I'm a jack of all trades and a master of none, but that means I have a great breadth of skills to call upon when needed, just need to know how to emphasise the right ones.

      I think that most employers don't look down on those that leave casual jobs.

      There's a difference between resigning from a part time telemarketing job after 3 weeks, and resigning from being the CEO of Qantas after 3 weeks.

      I think the so-called experts are giving their opinion based on generalizations, as it's pretty much impossible to make comments that would be applicable for everyone's circumstances.

      If leaving jobs every month is normal in the industry in which you work, disregard the article. I don't think anyone's arguing that this is all factual and written in stone - it's just meant to help, isn't it.

        I don't think @sparta is talking about Casual jobs, I think he's talking about Full Time jobs which are treated as Casual by the employer. Basically saying that the employer is not putting in any effort to keep the employee which would have meant the employee would stay instead of moving on somewhere else.

        Kind of like the employer is saying "We want you to work for us for the next 5 years, but we're not going to invest any time, money, training, etc, into you.", then they act surprised when the employee leaves, and henceforth have an unreasonable hatred toward those who have "Job hopped". This goes back to my comment above about good employers and a two way relationship.

        Last edited 25/05/13 4:32 pm

          "when they themselves have casualised the workforce"

          He's talking about casual jobs.

          "We want you to work for us for the next 5 years, but we're not going to invest any time, money, training, etc, into you."

          That's the reality of, I would say, most jobs. It's not a good thing, and I'm sure the employers concerned would agree with that. but the reality is in a capitalist society that we all have to make choices, and that holds true for employers.

          Employers aren't holding back from investing into employees because they're money grabbing, slave driving, opportunity denying meanies. They're doing so because they have real financial pressures, that if unmanaged, will inevitably lead to the demise of the venture.

    I'll start showing loyalty to a company when they show loyalty to me. It's as simple as that. If companies can do nothing better than offer fixed-term positions that may be terminated at 5 weeks' notice, then guess what, I will show them the same curtsey. The moment something more lucrative comes along, I shall be handing in my notice.

    Employees don't owe the companies they work for loyalty. If any potential employer looks at a history of sensible job hopping with disdain, they better be offering something that's worth staying for.

      Most people find that an income is worth staying for.

        That's a very management-level view. Money tends to be down the list on why people stay, see http://www.allthingsworkplace.com/2009/11/one-more-time-what-do-people-want-at-work.html

          Please. You show me someone that doesn't go to work because they have bills to pay.

            I agree with both @Mandy and @drinniol. Check out this amazing YouTube clip: RSA Animate - Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.

            Also, I'd like to put my hand up and say that I do quite a lot of "free" work on the side (just as the video above points out people playing music in their spare time, I actually do the same tasks as my professional career but in my space time [ie; I develop websites at work, and do it for free at home]).

            Last edited 25/05/13 4:53 pm

              Quick question, how many people here go to work in order to be paid so that they can pay their bills, put food on their table, and a roof over their head?

    I think Jay Mehta's perspective matters more than anything else. Jay doesn't see himself as being short changed at all and that's what really matters.

    He's very happy with the situation has paid off as house and car.

    Whether he finds a job now or not is irrelevant considering that he doesn't have any financial commitments ... Unless of course he needs a job to pay ongoing bills (which I doubt given his laissez-faire attitude apparent in his very wise statement) .

    “I’m currently unemployed, but I’m not complaining,” he says. “If I’ve laid off companies for money, it’s OK if a company lays me off for a lack of money.”

    I think it's about time we stopped looking as the word unemployed as a handicap and celebrated for the freedom it brings provided we have extinguished responsibilities.

    Seth Godin has some very interesting perspectives on the changing world of employment - he says that looking for stability in a company / job is actually risky ... and I agree wholeheartedly!

    Yes I agree in regards to Jay Mehta's perspective. He is taking responsibility for the situation that he, largely, has created. He's accepting that job hopping has benefited him and now makes him appear quite risky for a permanent position. By all accounts he might well be right that job hopping has worked out fantastically for him. In regards to personal and professional development as well as being financially beneficial. It might have not worked out for him that way.

    Or one could find a job that rewards their people.

    Two examples:
    iiNet http://www.iinet.net.au/about/careers/why-iinet.html
    Commonwealth Bank of Australia http://www.commbank.com.au/about-us/careers/our-workplace-and-you/employee-benefits.html

    I personally work for iiNet and love it. People are good and management is approachable. Not to mention, there is Cake Day. Management will also recognise when you do well through monthly bonuses and prize draws.

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