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February 14, 2007
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Job hopping: How much is too much?

Between the ages of 20 and 30, most people have more than 8 jobs. This is a positive thing for a number of reasons. First of all, Daniel Gilbert, psychologist at Harvard, says that we really don’t know what we’ll like until we try it. So having a lot of jobs when you start your adult life is a good way to figure out what to do with your adult life.

But, job hopping is a good thing for everyone to do - not just twentysomethings - because it’s a way to maintain passion in your work. Frequent changes keep your learning curve high and your challenges fresh. Finally, frequent job hopping, coupled with high performance allows you to build a professional network much faster than someone who stays in one position over a long period of time. And a vibrant network will make finding jobs easier, so job hopping will not be a difficult path.

Human resource people complain a lot about job hopping. They say companies would rather hire someone who stays a long time at companies because that will mean the person will stay a long time at their company. Of course this is true.

It’s clear that job hopping benefits the employee, not the employer. But when the majority of young people are job hopping, and companies are having a hard time attracting young people to work recruiters don’t have the luxury of writing people off just because they job hopped. Recruiters write people off because their resume looks like they won’t contribute enough to the company.

So, the trick with job hopping is to make sure your resume always shows that you make a huge contribution wherever you go. That can be independent of job duration. You can show that you are loyal to a company by exceeding their expectations with your outstanding performance. Loyalty is about delivery. Show that on your resume, the same place you show job hopping.

A resume is not a laundry list of job and duties. It’s a document about a story. You resume needs to show the story of a person who contributes in large ways wherever you go.

Think about this. Someone wrote a great SuperBowl ad, then six months later went to Nike and launched a new shoe that’s a success, and a year later went to Google and rebranded some of their software to increase user base 50%. Most people would not care that this person was job hopping. Most people  would want to hire this person, even if he only stayed a little bit.

Of course, most of you don’t have such enormous accomplishments, but you probably do have accomplishments. And you do have a story about how you chose to leave when you did. When I explained my own job hopping, I talked about how I went to companies, launched great, successful software products, and then moved on. I never felt the job hopping held me back, though I always had to explain it in interviews.

That’s the thing about job hopping. People want to hear an explanation that makes sense. They don’t want to hear you failed, or didn’t get along with people, or have no attention span. Not every job will be the pinnacle of success, but a good resume writer can make every job look like it was some sort of success, and that your level of success increased with each hop, because with each hop you got more responsibility.

I know that a lot of you hop because you don’t know what to do with yourself. But you’ll probably be able to find some consistent string running throughout all your jobs. Maybe it was customer service, maybe all your jobs were sports-related, you’ll have to figure out the story. But a good story weaves everything together into something linear, and, if you’re lucky, it’ll point you toward what you should do next.

 


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Job hopping: How much is too much?

Job hopping: How much is too much? サ Brazen Careerist Between the ages of 20 and 30, most people have more than 8 jobs. This is a positive thing for a number of reasons. First of all, Daniel Gilbert, psychologist…

» Five ways to do better in phone interview » Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk

[…] Also, be ready for a question about the most obvious problem on you resume — often frequent job changes or big gaps in work. These are answers you should practice. Even if your answer isn’t great, a good delivery can make the difference between getting through a phone screen or not. […]

» Jeremy Sisson » Blog Archive » Promote Yourself With a New Job - Blog of Ultimate Power!

[…] From Job hopping: How much is too much?: But, job hopping is a good thing for everyone to do - not just twentysomethings - because it’s a way to maintain passion in your work. Frequent changes keep your learning curve high and your challenges fresh. Finally, frequent job hopping, coupled with high performance allows you to build a professional network much faster than someone who stays in one position over a long period of time. And a vibrant network will make finding jobs easier, so job hopping will not be a difficult path. […]

» Should you leave that job you hate? « A wide angle view of India

[…] Changing jobs is good for personal development If you take two people with similar track records, then those who have been in different jobs are seen to be better managers as compared to those who have never changed their job, or those who changed their jobs only at junior levels. (Sources: [1] and [2].) […]

28 Comments »

I thought you were posting the occasional video blog so you could get a break from so much posting. You are a powerhouse!

I was a job hopper for a few years because I worked in the non-profit world, and many of them are repositories for workers who can’t make it anywhere else. (Not all, of course!!) B I didn’t want to waste my time and career working for dysfunctional people and organizations (the stories I could tell of wasting donor dollars!) I went through 5 jobs in about 7 to 8 years. However, the 6th job was the charm–I’ve been at my current place for 10 years. One thing that helped is each of my jobs was in a similar area (arts and culture) and I built new skills in each job. I don’t believe changing jobs frequently ever cost me a job that I wanted. Or thought I wanted until I started working there ;-)

A way to reach middle ground in the job hopping spectrum…get transferred w/in your own company.

The benefits of this being:
1. Same company name on the resume
2. New job for you (especially if it’s a big company, you can move cities)
3. You can find out a lot more in the interview process about a new position at the company you’re currently working at than you can at a new company. So there’s a better chance (I would suspect) of picking a job you like
4. You keep the benefits of the network you’ve already built up for negotiating the bureaucracy of the current company while also getting to build a new network.

“Someone wrote a great Super Bowl ad, then six months later went to Nike and launched a new shoe that’s a success, and a year later went to Google and rebranded some of their software to increase user base 50%. Most people would not care that this person was job hopping. Most people would want to hire this person”

Some people would wonder if this person takes too much credit for the work of so many others.

“Job-hopping” never hurt me, and I’ve had 59 jobs over the last 40 years (hey, I started working at a very early age, okay?). You’re right, employers just want to know why you left a job. Most of the time I was leaving to go earn more money elsewhere. And, yes, this is exactly what I said. In a nice way, of course.

Wow, 8 jobs in 10 years? That’s remarkable. I guess I must be old-fashioned for having only worked for three different organizations during that time.

To me as a hiring manager, it’s a question of whether the job-hopping was sporadic or constant. If a person stayed at a couple of jobs for a reasonable period (even just 2-3 years), then I wouldn’t be too worried. If the longest a person stayed at a job was 6 months, I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to think that I could change that pattern.

* * * * * *

I agree, Chris. And changing every six months is really extreme. But I think that increasingly, people are able to add solid value to an organization in very short stints. Sort of like a freelancer, but on staff. Not sure on this, just thinking out loud….

-Penelope

This agonizes me now. I worked for Microsoft for six years, took time off to pursue side projects, accomplished what I’d taken time off for, went and got a job back on my career track again.

The company went under in seven months, and this was a company that survived the first high tech bust. It shocked EVERYONE - customers, employees, clients. No one saw it coming, least of all me.

One of the executives went to another company, and while he didn’t ‘bring’ me with him, he did everything he could to get me a job here. I love this guy and am glad to work for him, but the rest of the company is horrible. It’s the wrong culture, the wrong environment, the wrong everything.

So now I feel like I have to stick it out for a year at least, or I’m going to look like a job hopper and no one will be interested in me. But this place is literally giving me ulcers and I have tried EVERY trick to be positive, contribute as much as possible, and have completely sold out in order to fit in. But I go home and am catatonic because it takes so much out of my soul.

Do I risk it and try to get out? Or is it career suicide?

* * * * *
Hoppy, I agree with Mary (below). I say get out. If you get out in four or five months, eventually you might be able to leave the whole thing off  your resume. If you leave after a year, you’ll have to put it on your resume.

I am assuming that part of what you’ve done when you say you’ve tried everything is that you’ve told your boss how bad things feel, and what you need to have change, and he has not been able to make that happen. So he will understand when you move.

Good luck.

–Penelope

Hoppy–why in the world wouldn’t you be looking for a job now? Don’t grab at the first life raft thrown at you, or you could land in another ring of hell. But, if you get a job within the next few months in a good place and it builds your skills, it sounds like you would stay at the new place for years. You sound very loyal. I can’t imagine looking for and landing a good job could be career suicide.

Also, life is waaaay too short to give up your happiness and health for Hell Inc.

Mary, if you ever wanted to switch jobs again, it sounds like you’d be great as a career counselor! I’d take your advice. I am in Hoppy’s position, too, and actually started going to therapy to overcome those feelings of negativity and guilt resulting from displaced company loyalty. When you’re in a bad work environment with people you just don’t like, it makes it really hard to put on your most professional, cheerful face every day and give it you all. It’s not fair to the company or the employee, so a change is better for everyone (we hope…)

Susan–Thanks. Advice is easy to dispense when it is based on your own experience. I too had a job that I like to refer to as “the job that put me into therapy” with the type of boss that makes you question your own sanity and intelligence. The misery of the situation and the inability to quit becuase I had high debt, no savings, no health insurance made me feel like I was trapped. But, one way I got out was I took a skill building course (grant writing) at NYU Continuing Ed. It did get me the next job–Grant Writer at a relatively sane Museum where I stayed for about 3 years.

Early in my career, I only job-hopped into better positions that paid more money, and I even stayed at one company for seven years. But later, I found myself in a series of really crappy, horribe jobs where I job-hopped just to get out of them. A couple of bad bosses - one who threw screaming tantrums every week, one who micromanaged me so badly I nearly had a nervous breakdown - and a couple of bait & switch jobs, which were advertised as “senior-level” but were so far beneath my skill level I ended up bored to death - added up to a lot of years spent being miserable, hating that I had to go to work every day.

I finally gave up on finding a full-time job that would challenge me and offer me enough responsibility and went into contracting. I guess if I’m going to be a job-hopper I might as well be a professional one. Sometimes I end up in something boring, other times I end up working on a project that offers me some mental stimulation and that I enjoy. But even when I’m working on something mind-numbing and dull, at least I always know it’s only temporary, and I will soon be on to something else.

Maybe someday I’ll find another full-time job, but it will be a place where I’ve already worked on a temporary, contract basis. I’ll know what I’m getting into and not encounter nasty surprises like I’ve had in the past. Then again, maybe not! I actually get to take real vacations when I’m between assignments, and most companies only want to give two weeks!

Please be wary of some of this advice. I hire people and I can tell you for a fact job hopping is mostly seen as a negative. Why in the world would I invest 3-6 months of training, average for what my employees do, in a person who has never lasted more than a year in job?

Yes gaps do occur, yes everyone makes a bad career choice now and then but consistant job hopping tells me you are either unable to adapt to different work environments, flakey and unstable or you have a track record of bad decisions (picking the wrong company/career).

Take this advice with a grain of salt.

David, if it takes 3-6 months to train your hires into productivity, with all due respect, you are doing it wrong.

I work in an industry where you jump in and contribute on day 1, and by day 5, you are a go-to person. Most of my consulting engagements are 6 months-ish (some more, many less). And I am not remarkable.

Job-hopping for many people is nothing more than consulting and getting paid via w2. The only bit of sanity I would question is why someone job-hopping just doesn’t go ahead and call what they do contracting or consulting, admit to the time term ahead of time, charge a higher rate.

Unfortunatley, people will go w2 for health insurance, 401k, and such, even if 6 months. I would not hold it against them.

As for reality, I have been places 4 years, and I have been other places 1 year (overall 7 places in 12 years) - and never has job hopping come up in the conversation.

I’ve job hopped for most of my career (about 20 years). The longest I’ve stayed in one place is about 6 years, because it was the most challenging position I’d had to date, and where I learned some great skills. The shortest was less than a year, because of a family situation (death).I was recently asked why I ‘job-hopped’ so much recently (in the past 5-6 years). One of the reasons I’ve job-hopped was because others came to me with better jobs at better rates of pay.
But how do I explain this to a HR person? Most I’ve encountered are turned off by this, but I can demonstrate advanced skill levels, management experience and successful contrubutions to each company (and i’m looking again). Any thoughts on this are helpful!

* * * * * *

Instead of focusing on the pay increses, focus on the opporunities presented. For example, “I finished project x and accomplished [quantified acheivement that helped company’s bottom line]. Then I got an opporutnity to [learn/contribute/expand etc.] at company x, so I took it.”

This explanation shows that you made a difference to the company before you left, and you left to persue personal growth. This sort of explanation has always worked for me. The key is being good at quantifying you achievements whereever you have been.

–Penelope

Here’s a radical answer - don’t work at places that care whether you have “job hopped” if they dont like your reasons. If you are asked, detail how you have added value in each and every job you have had. Emphasize how quickly you hit the ground running.

Generally, if you are dealing with HR having a real voice as to whether you are going to be hired, you are dealing in the wrong place. If you have had that many jobs in 20 years, surely you have colleagues in your network that could find value for your services. In my experience, positions you get through networking do not have to go through the same kind of HR filters that getting hired as an outsider does.

For the last ten years, I’ve been employed by several startups who only lasted about a year or two. Their exist strategies were to sell the company as soon as they developed a large enough receivables base, or, in the case of a couple online recruiters, until they created a database of several hundred thousand names.

Most of the time, I was hired because I had contributed to the top-line revenue of my previous employers in a significant way. The biggest problem is that now I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to be involved with a company that has no interest in the long-term, or that is unwilling to invest in their employees. It has meant that I’ve had 12 jobs in ten years, with about 50 jobs over my thirty year career and that has made my resume nearly impossible to manage properly.

I would rather go back to a purchasing or inventory control career, which was my chosen field until I was wooed by the money and excitement of the Silicon Valley dot com expansion(which became the “dot bomb” fiasco). Since I’m perceived as someone who won’t stick around, there has been little interest from potential employers who want someone with a “stick-to-it” career path and not someone with as many sales positions as I’ve had.

Even though my sales career reflects the inventory and warehouse management path from my previous life — warehouse software, barcode systems and business intelligence, network discovery and design — I can’t seem to create enough interest in my potential benefit to a prospective employer.

Any advice about how to create a resume that doesn’t just look like a sequence of sales jobs that aren’t applicable to returning to a previous career track? I’m in my early 50’s, now, and I think that I’m hitting the “gray ceiling.”

* * * * * *
Hi Stephen. Sorry to hear you’re having trouble. Two ideas:

1. You can leave stuff out and then you look more stable. No one ever said a resume is an exact list of everyting you’ve done in life. It would be too long. So leaving stuff out seems like fair game to me. Just don’t leave big gaps.. If you can leave out short stints without creating big gaps then you end up looking more stable.

2. Get a job through networking instead of through sending cold resumes, and then you’re less likely to have trouble becasue of your age.

Any other suggestions for Stephen?

 –Penelope

I’m in a similar situation to some of those who have commented here - though perhaps a bit earlier on in my career.

I’m 28 and since college (5 years ago), I’ve had 5 different jobs. They’ve all been sales jobs and I’ve always left on good terms, but I’m finding now that a lot of companies/recruiters won’t even CONSIDER me because of my spotty work history.

The trend with me seems to be related to boredom. I can NOT, NOT, NOT stand to be in a job where I am not stimulated and excited to be working. The instant I feel like things are getting routine, I jump ship and scan the horizon for something that might keep me interested.

Is this a foul way to approach one’s career? Also - is ‘boredom’ reason enough to leave a job?

* * * * * *

I think boredom is a fine reason to leave a job. But I think a lot of boredom comes from ourselves, and not our job. For example, if a job is boring, did you get all your work done extra fast and then look around for an interesting project to pick up? Or, if you job is boring did you think about if your whole life is boring and maybe your job wouldn’t seem so boring if you could do more things you’re passionate about in your life?

So if you have gone down those routes already, and the job still really bugs you, then leaving seems fine. But it’s important to always stay somewhere long enough to make positive impact before you leave. This doesn’t require a lot of time - just a lot of talent.

–Penelope

I graduated in 2004 and I’ve been job hopping ever since. The longest I’ve stayed at a company was 2 years as a legal secretary. It’s great in that you learn more about your personality and about what you like and dislike in a job. The downside is that, sometimes you feel like you’ll never find something you’ll like and can stick with long term. Also, it’s hard to get an interview for a job you really want b/c employers see that you don’t have previous experience or you’re job-hopping. It’s unfair b/c job hopping doesn’t mean you’re not a hardworker or not serious enough. If HR would only understand this, I’m sure they could recruit some really great candidates that don’t have the “typical” resume.

I’m currently in a different field at a great company, but it’s been two weeks and I’m already looking for something new. Maybe I’m bored. Maybe it’s the tasks. Maybe it’s the people. I don’t know.

My friends keep telling me I need to make up my mind and stick with one job. That really PISSES me off because unlike them, I don’t know what I want to do. Kudos to them for knowing early on that they want to be in finance, medicine, education, etc., but that’s not the case with me. This is something you will encounter w/ people around you. Disapproval. You just have to be true to yourself and not let them get to you because, afterall, it’s your life and why stay in a job/field you don’t like?

I’m sure I’ll find something I like soon, but I’m still young and it’s okay to try different things.

By the way… as long as you’re making enough dough to support yourself and NOT relying on Mommy and Daddy then you’re all good. Job hop. Explore. =)

I am a chronic job hopper. I haven’t had a real job in nearly a year. I have been working as a temp in that time, for companies I have grown to despise because the people do not give me enough work to keep me busy, or they give me the most menial tasks. As such, and at nearly 40, I cannot be taken seriously by any company.

What can I do to stop this? I need to get a reality check. Thanks for letting me vent.

* * * * *

Isabella, I’m sorry to hear things have been so hard for you. When you are not getting interviews for jobs you want, it’s a pretty safe assumption that your resume does not convey you in a way that is working. So you might want to hire a career coach to help you get your resume into shape. Sometimes when you do that things fall into place right away, and sometimes you uncover other problems you need to solve. Both are productive outcomes, I think.

Penelope

Great post, Penelope!

I recently (7/8/07) wrote a post on job hopping, as well. As a supplement that day, I also did a short write up on your piece and pointed my readers over.

You do great work, Penelope! I LOVE your insight and information.

- Mike

In response to the idea that people who are really contractors chose W-2 work to get the bennies: Often something else is at play. I am a consultant-type by nature. I love to diagnose, troubleshoot, and solve problems. More than once, I’ve found myself in a job that shouldn’t have been a job at all. In one case, I was “assisting” a hiring manager hire for a group that consisted of only 7 people. In another, I was an administrative support person to one person with deficient computer skills and another with deficient time management skills — both of them much too low-level themselves to warrant having assistants.

The problem solver in me can’t be suppressed. In the former case, I gradually redesigned the hiring process and coached several lead workers to build their own team as the company grew. In the latter case, I quit and, in my exit interview, recommended training for colleague number one and coaching for colleague number two. (I offered to do either or both of those things, but it didn’t go over well!)

It’s a hard lesson, but I’ve realized I’m best off just positioning myself as a “problem-solver”, rather than selling my other skills in temp or perm situations and then drifting towards the most interesting or most irritating problems.

Hi,

There are hundreds of reason behind a candidate to sit in front of you. Even the candidate may not know the true reason/feeling for why he is attending interviews and try to quit his current employer. There are situations sky scrapping salary hike is demanded in unequal comparison with their ex-colleagues. A fantastic article at Another reason for Job hopping.

If you grasp the valid reason for the candidate’s change(change is unnecessary in most of the cases), you can negotiate the salary well. I often ask 100% hike if I do not like the inverviwing company after technical rounds. Everything depends on whether it is a buyer’s or seller’s market.

I am 30 yrs old and in my 7 years career, I had 3 jobs. The fact of thr matter it, in my last 2 positions , I was able to get 100% hike in salary. Not to mention, getting into two fortune 100 companies. I m lucky and blessd , I know but the problem is , I started looking around for a new job! Again, better pay and more challenges in work are my motivation Is this healthy? How can I justify leaving big employers as my current is one of the top 20 big companiesn in the world? help appreciated n handling the question of why do you wanna leave!

Staying in a job too long can also be a red flag. Just as my company isn’t likely to change a person who’s never stayed more than 6 mos. in a job, it isn’t likely to trigger initiative in a person who has stagnated in the exact same role for 15 years!

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