Experienced managers often turn cautious when they get a resume from a job hopper. They have good reason to wonder about a possible problem.
Bad job hoppers are easy to spot. They rarely stay at the same company for long. They may last in a job only months to no more than a year or two. Older ones literally may have 10 to 20 companies on their resumes.
Younger workers move around more often in their careers as they try to find the right job, right boss and right company. But at some point, constant moving becomes a red flag to hiring managers and human resource professionals.
Some job hoppers hop a lot because they have behavior or job performance issues. Their bosses or co-workers eventually want them to leave. They may receive a low or no raise, a poor evaluation, a verbal warning or more seriously a written warning.
Others just get bored. They have a career version of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They never seem to find that right job, boss or company because they get antsy. More than once in my management career, I saw decent employees leave for a much worse environment for vague reasons that baffled everyone.
But job hopping isn’t always bad for a career. If done right, it can enhance a career.
What is ‘Normal’ Job Hopping?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average employee spends a little more than four years with their current employer. Age makes a difference in how long they stay.
“The median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 (10.1 years) was more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 (2.8 years),” the bureau said in its most recent biennial report about employee tenure.
Older employees are more likely to have longer tenure because they have found the “right job” but also because it is harder for them to get hired elsewhere.
Still, a worker aged 25 to 34 who hops more often than 2.8 years is hopping more than average. Someone that age who keeps changing jobs in a year or less is taking a chance with scaring off potential employers. The shorter the tenure, the higher the risk.
How to Job Hop into a Better Career
Both the U.S. military and executive development at plenty of major corporations have a standard practice of time limits for assignments, rotations, enlistments and other commitments.
Two to three years are common commitment lengths for a good reason. It often takes that much time to master the job and learn all the necessary skills that go with it. Career advice experts such as Amanda Augustine at TopResume also recommend spending at least two years in any job.
As a former longtime manager, I suggest the ideal tenure at the same company consists of two jobs over a five-year period. It’s enough time to learn multiple skills and show stability to future employers.
The rare people who love their jobs and their companies may never want to leave. But doing two or more jobs with a company for at least five years has important benefits:
- It’s a chance to learn new skills that go onto a resume
- It’s an investment in a possible future with that company.
- It increases the odds of a promotion.
- Some companies still offer pensions with a five-year vesting schedule.
- Future employers will see multiple jobs in the same company as an example of employee initiative, growth and stability.
But beware of job hopping within a company. A manager who spends a great deal of time and effort on the hiring process will have a good reason to feel anger or frustration with an employee who jumps to another department after only six months. That hop may come at a later cost.
If it’s time to leave a company for whatever reason, consider doing so after at least two years if not more for positive reasons including a pay raise, promotion and new skills. Time the exit. Do it rationally rather than impulsively. Just don’t do it every two years for the next 10 to 20 years.
But Sometimes It’s Better to Leave ASAP
Staying that long isn’t always possible. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to leave a company in less than two years. They include:
- The spouse gets a job in another city.
- A layoff is imminent.
- The boss is a jerk.
- The job isn’t what I thought I would be doing.
Good managers and HR people will often ask why an employee left a certain company after only a brief stay. They should readily accept reasons such as a spousal transfer or an imminent layoff.
They are more likely to question a reason such as the boss was a jerk or the job wasn’t a good fit. Some employees will claim the boss is a jerk when in fact the employee had behavior or performance problems that led to disciplinary action by the boss.
A single example of a short tenure over a long career will usually not lead to concerns by a future employer. Multiple short tenures raise greater concerns. Hiring managers and HR people who have enough experience often won’t even bring such a person in for an interview unless they have some other exceptional skill, reference or quality.