Job Hopping: How Soon Is Too Soon?

Changing jobs early is really a two-sided coin. On one side, a hefty pay raise. On the flip side, the risk of being labeled a job hopper. Is it worth it? How soon is too soon? And how often do you have to do it before it becomes problematic?

While researching this article, one thing jumped out at me (quite the pun, I know): job hopping seems to be an early career move. I've read many anecdotes of people going from $35k to $60k, or from $50k to $85k. But I can't remember someone breaking into an executive role through job hopping. Not saying it doesn't exist. But "commitment" is usually a valued trait when you'll have the responsibilities that come with a 6-figure salary. And this piece from the Harvard Business Review supports the view that executives generally need longer tenures to reach C-suite jobs.

What is a job hopper?

There's no clear cut number to define job hopping. It obviously varies according to seniority, industry and individual perceptions. If you're in Silicon Valley as a young developer, recruiters will be much more lenient than if you're an insurance company executive.

In general, the perception seems to be that one year is an early move, while two years is reasonable. But it's the overall career history that recruiters and hiring managers are interested in. After three or four jobs, a pattern emerges. (Along with bunny footprints, sometimes.)

Can you handle the risk?

Switching jobs frequently leads to higher income, early on in your career. If you hop around strategically (as opposed to haphazardly), you might be improving your salary for years, by reaching mid-career levels earlier. At the risk of raising the bar for your next move, because of the questions your journey might raise.

And maybe you'll plan to job hop just this one last time, but what if your next boss sucks? Or company culture really rubs you the wrong way? You'll have to look for something else. Again. Which makes it clear that you're a mercenary. A gun for hire, always looking for the highest bidder.

"Are you lecturing me on loyalty, in this day and age?"

"But wait a second!", you might interject. "When companies need to cut me off, they say it's a money issue without blinking. And off I go, thank you very much. So what right do they have to make it a loyalty issue on my end, when I want to jump ship?"

Fair enough. Even recruiters realize that companies might be to blame for the lack of loyalty. (From their perspective, the problem is called "talent retention." And it's a hot topic in HR circles.)

But when your resume is compared to your peers, in 10 or 15 seconds (maybe not 6 seconds), these concerns aren't top of mind. Recruiters are looking for reasons to weed out as many resumes as possible, and job hopping might just be that reason. Because your peers with a more stable track record seem more commited. It is a matter of perception, after all.

And put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. They know that finding and training a new employee is costly (some talk about $15,000 to $25,000 to replace a millenial). Why invest all that money in someone who's likely to leave in six months?

Not every job hopper is in the same boat

How hot is your field? How good are you, during job interviews, at establishing rapport and coming across as likeable? How good does your resume look if we forget about dates?

These are all aspects that you need to factor in.

Obviously, you'll need to decent stories to tell during interviews. And they have to reflect what past employers will say when called for references.

Job hopping while in school

College jobs aren't expected to be connected to your field, nor to be very stable. And there is some value in having a broader work history at this early stage. It can make your resume beefier and build some valuable skills (experience with the public, management, sales, dealing with deadlines, teamwork...).

However, some employers will prefer a more stable employee, even for low-wage, university jobs. But you can omit the least relevant bits of experience, to present a leaner resume.

I don't think it should be a big concern.

Is job hopping a millenial issue?

There are people that love the idea that this new working generation can't commit. And Gallup found that 60% of millennials say they are open to a different job opportunity -- 15 percentage points higher than the percentage of non-millennial workers who say the same.

However, different age groups behave differently, right? In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median figure for keeping a job is 4.6 years. But that varies greatly according to age: "the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 (10.4 years) was more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years (3.0 years)."

But how did Baby Boomers act at 25? And how will Millenials behave at 55? In other words, is this an age thing or a generation thing?

The data pulls in both directions.

According to a LinkedIn study: "Workers who graduated between 1986-1990 averaged 1.60 jobs during their first five years on the job, whereas those who graduated between 2006-2010 averaged 2.85 jobs."

But other (better?) data tells a different story: "Every month, about 3 percent of young workers (defined here as those between 22 and 29) change jobs, compared to about 4 percent in the mid-1990s."

And there is merit to the idea that "the millennials are just adapting to a newer, more agile economy." The difference in context has to be considered. Pardon me for stating the obvious, but the world ain't what it used to be. According to this research, many millenials do want job security (in order to start a family or buy a house). But job security isn't always on the table, it seems.

Final thoughts

What's my advice? If you're 22 or 26 with a fairly marketable degree, go ahead. Hop around a bit. But avoid a sequence of 3 jobs without ever reaching the 2-year mark. For instance, if there's no major irritant with your current job, you're in a good spot. How much is that worth to you? Maybe you could keep it 2 or 3 years, in case you end up in a worse situation, where you want to exit pronto.

Also, don't let your "job hopping strategy" be a smoke screen for your lack of perseverance. Sometimes, the smart thing to do is to hang in there and push through. Such life lessons aren't learned in a blog post, and getting a promotion looks quite good on your resume. It sets you up for your next move.

If you're mid-career or above, look at your last 10 years of employment. Up to 4 jobs is fine, but more than that and you'll start raising eyebrows. In that case, you better have a strong resume, which tells a good story and abides by the 3 laws of resume writing.

I'll close with a few interesting quotes, from the anonymous (and sometimes questionable) wisdom of internet users.

How job seekers view job hopping

  • "Hop like a rabbit. The only reason to stay loyal to a company is if you are happy with what you make or can't make more moving on to another company."
  • "Old people really care about that longevity bullsh*t. If your engineering companies are full of 50+, and they probably are, you could have trouble. Younger people know the truth that no one gives a sh*t and everyone just wants theirs."
  • "18 months used to be the golden standard, but nowadays, its closer to 12, especially if you've worked with smaller companies, startups, or in sales. No one even blinks at my resume when they see a job for 10 months."

How recruiter view job hopping

  • "There is a difference between a “rising star” who moves every two years, and a less than productive individual who keeps getting pushed out. Telling the difference is sometimes the hard part."
  • "Job progression counts, so if you're working at a series of retail customer service jobs for a year at a time but not really going anywhere or developing new skills, that would make me wonder. If you're getting promoted and showing progression and gaining skills and experience, that will make up for a certain amount of short tenure at jobs."
  • Why did you switch jobs frequently? "...better opportunity, growth, location change, etc. The reason matters."

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