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When Is Job Hopping a Bad Thing? January 21, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership.
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I’ve got a couple of job openings in my team right now and I’ve been reading a lot of resumes. Most resumes these days are carefully-crafted. They’re edited and re-written, reviewed by friends and colleagues, and possibly even professionally assembled and formatted. The job titles and key words and phrases all start to look the same, turning resume reading into a forensic exercise, deciphering clues to figure out who this person is. Once we’re satisfied that a candidate has met the minimum requirements for the job we start looking for reasons to include or exclude them from further consideration. Overall it’s a highly-subjective process, but it’s easy to figure out how many companies this person has worked at, how much time they’ve spent in each job, and whether there are any unexplained gaps in the employment history.

Each transition or discontinuity reveals something about the candidate, but what? There’s a name for people who change jobs frequently: a job-hopper. Most hiring managers or interviewers seem to think that job-hopping is a bad thing, maybe a confused wanderer who lacks commitment or dedication or loyalty, or a poor performer or agitator who can’t hold a job because they’re fired or eased out after a brief probationary period. Of course in the current climate of privacy and confidentiality it’s impossible for a hiring manager to find out what happened from previous companies or managers (unless you have a trusted insider in your personal network who’s willing to blab), so all you can do is ask the candidate and believe or not believe their story.

Hiring managers seem to favor applicants who have worked long stretches at a few companies, or at least they’re less suspicious of those applicants. Why is that? I think it’s because we don’t want to hire someone who is likely to stay on the job for only a short time. It’s a fear of future turnover, with the corresponding transition costs and headaches.

On the other hand, how long do we really expect anyone to stay in their current job? When the job market is tight people tend to seek job security and stay longer, but as the economy improves mobility will surely increase, particularly for those who have attractive skills and are looking for new opportunities and career growth. Shouldn’t we give more consideration to what a person has accomplished during their time in each job, not just how much time they spent? Is the business better served by a strong performer who may leave in two years, or a less-strong performer who is more stable? I guess the answer depends on the business.

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