I first wrote about the topic of job hopping back in 2007 and I feel the advice I gave then is still relevant in 2013, although the perceptions and attitudes of most hiring managers have evolved significantly. The post in 2007 was partly inspired by a past client (financial trading firm) that would only accept résumés of software engineers that were employed at their current company for a minimum of seven years. Today, it seems more likely that my clients would discourage me from submitting candidates that have had too long a tenure. Times have changed.
As a refresher, the term job hopping is used to describe a history of somewhat frequent moves from one employer to another after spending little time working for a company. Some use the one year mark as the measure of a hop, but multiple moves before a second or third anniversary should also earn you the label with most traditionally-minded recruiters and managers. However, being tagged a job hopper in the tech industry is not nearly as troublesome as many would want you to believe.
A survey of 1500 recruiters and hiring managers last year had the following results:
“According to 39% of recruiters, the single biggest obstacle for an unemployed candidate in regaining employment is having a history of ‘hopping jobs’, or leaving a company before one year of tenure. 31% consider being out of work for more than a year as the greatest challenge in regaining employment, followed by having gaps in your employment history (28%).” – Bullhorn survey
Unfortunately, this result was misinterpreted by an article on job hopping that appeared in Forbes earlier this year. Let’s see if you can spot the subtle difference.
“Nearly 40% 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.” – Forbes.com
Did you catch the difference? The Forbes article calls job hopping the biggest obstacle for job seekers, while the Bullhorn survey clarifies that job hopping is the biggest obstacle for unemployed candidates. One could agree that having a job hopper reputation while being unemployed is a tough combination, but anecdotally I’ve found that employed job hoppers have a much easier time. After all, job hoppers are clearly skilled at getting hired.
Why is it necessary to make this distinction between job seekers and unemployed job seekers? Because unemployment acts as a sort of multiplier or catalyst towards the “unemployability” of the job hopper, which explains why almost 40% of managers and recruiters would essentially call unemployed job hoppers the least attractive group. It is also useful to point out that in high-demand labor markets with relatively low unemployment rates such as the market for software engineering, the job hoppers almost always have a job.
The data also seems flawed for another reason. 39% cite job hopping as the biggest issue, while 31% point to lengthy unemployment. One would think that the gap between these two numbers should be much greater. In my experience, a candidate that has been unable to get a job for over a year probably has more serious marketability issues than someone who was able to get hired twice in a year. There could be countless extenuating circumstances to either situation, of course.
A few thoughts on job hopping and the alternative.
Extreme longevity at one company can be viewed as a detriment in a job search (worse than job hopping)
20th century hiring managers viewed your 15 years at COMPANY as a sign of employee loyalty, while 21st century managers feel that if you were any good another company would have hired you away by now. I typically consider extended stays (>10 years perhaps) with one employer as a potential challenge to overcome for a job seeker in today’s tech market. Making a series of moves that allowed you to progress your career and skills will often be viewed more positively than stagnating in one role for an extended period.
Don’t get fired
Job hoppers that lost jobs due to a documented and significant reduction in force or company closing shouldn’t have too many problems, as they aren’t viewed as true job hoppers (rather victims of circumstance). Those that made multiple moves to pursue better opportunities will only be negatively impacted if they are not staying in jobs long enough to improve their skills and to accomplish something valuable. Having a pattern of being fired, even only twice, is where the major employability problem lies for job hoppers.
If your performance is a known issue and you resemble a job hopper, find a new job before they have a chance to fire you.
Have at least one or two stints worthy of highlighting
One of the problems with making quick moves is that you often don’t have enough time to do anything worth putting on a résumé. As an exercise for writing this post, I looked back at the résumés of the candidates I’ve placed in the past two years. The results were telling.
Only about 5% of the candidates I placed had been in their current job for more than three years at the time of placement, and most had been in their past two jobs for less than two years each. Almost all of them, however, had an impressive stint of three to six years at a company within the last decade with obvious accomplishments. The sample size isn’t significant enough to call this a study, and my client base tends to be small companies that are probably less likely to exclude candidates solely based on some jobs per year metric.
It appears that candidates who have had two or three jobs over a short period of time will be forgiven for job hopping if they had at least one stable stretch in the recent past. Just as a former league MVP should be able to find a spot on a team’s roster even after a couple sub-par seasons, candidates that have somewhat recent success stories will overcome the stigma of job hopping.