Job Hopping: When to Hop and When to Stop
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You’ve probably heard the term “job hopping” before—and likely not in a positive way. Plenty of people assign this label to job seekers who have resumes filled with short stints of employment.
Traditional advice would have you believe that those frequent changes make you look flighty, disloyal, and unreliable. According to this view, employers will take one look at your career documents, write you off as a job hopper, and move your resume straight to the recycling bin.
But is that actually the case? Well, it’s not always so cut and dried. Let’s dig into what job hopping really is—as well as whether or not it’s really the red flag that people make it out to be.
What Exactly Is Job Hopping?
Merriam-Webster defines job hopping as “the practice of moving from job to job,” and that’s pretty accurate. It means you’re frequently changing roles and employers, often staying in each position or with each company for under a year or two (at the most).
While there’s still a stigma attached to it, it’s become increasingly common—especially among younger workers (with many pointing to millennials as the most notorious ob hoppers of all).
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the median amount of time workers ages 25 to 34 stay with one employer is only 2.8 years. That’s significantly less than older workers, with those ages 55 to 64 staying with one employer for 9.9 years.
How Much Job Hopping Is Too Much?
Even people who don’t satisfy the “job hopping” criteria are bound to change jobs and employers a few times throughout their professional life. So, where’s the line between job hopping and simply changing jobs?
The answer can vary. However, one career survey from Robert Half found that making five or more role changes within 10 years is when you might start to raise eyebrows with future employers.
Hiring managers expect to see different jobs on your resume—that in and of itself isn’t the issue. But, if it looks like you’re switching things up every year or so, that can make you seem like a bit of a flight risk.
What Is the Difference Between Job Hopping and a Career Transition?
The lines can get blurry here, so let’s clear this up a little further by talking about what makes a career transition distinct from actual job hopping.
This is another area where there isn’t a tried and true answer, but perhaps the biggest differentiator is a clear path of advancement. A career transition will show growth and upward mobility, whereas job hopping looks more like unfocused moves.
For example, look at the following two career trajectories:
Career Path A:
Career Path B:
Customer Service Representative
Customer Service Representative
Customer Service Representative
Customer Service Supervisor
Customer Care Associate
Director of Customer Experience
Career path “A” looks way more like job hopping, as that candidate was moving around between similar positions with different employers—indicating there were other problems (beyond advancement) that led them to jump ship.
But, career path “B” shows defined growth from an individual contributor all the way up to a director level. That’s just an example, and it doesn’t mean that you need to show this same degree of development between every single one of your positions—you might still have some that are similar.
However, looking for the connections between different roles and what might have inspired a move is an effective way for employers to distinguish between strategic career moves and haphazard job changes.
Why Do People Job Hop?
We’ve all heard the muttered remarks and the negative criticisms about job hopping, yet it still happens. In fact, people hold an average of 12.3 jobs between the ages of 18 to 52, with nearly half of those changes happening before the age of 25.
So, why do people still job hop, despite the oft-repeated warnings? There are a few reasons that could be behind those changes, primarily:
- Career advancement: Have you heard the old “the only way up is out” saying? From increased responsibilities to a higher salary, many people move through job changes to grow in their careers.
- Culture fit: Not every workplace is a good match for everyone. Some workers make quick exits because they realize they aren’t compatible with the company culture and would be better off somewhere else.
- Career uncertainty: Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what you want to do professionally, which means workers might use different positions as opportunities to learn more about different career paths.
- Life changes: Our jobs are a big part of our lives, but not our whole lives. Anything from making a move to a new city to the need for a different work schedule can drive a person to make a career change.
However, much of job hopping decisions also come back to reactive decisions. When some people experience something negative at work—whether it’s hard-to-hear feedback, conflict with a coworker, or something else—they find it easier to leave that situation entirely by finding a new job, rather than sticking around and working through it.
That’s the type of job hopping that’s the most dangerous, as you lack commitment and never really learn to address and manage difficult situations.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Job Hopping?
Job hopping is typically talked about as a detriment to your career, and that’s undoubtedly true in certain instances. But, much like anything, there aren’t only drawbacks—there are some benefits too.
Let’s start with the good news and cover the potential advantages of making frequent job changes.
1. You Build New Skills
Different work environments give you different opportunities to try new things. When you find yourself in a new job with a new employer, you’ll have increased chances to take on unfamiliar responsibilities, refine various skills, and tackle fresh challenges.
Those can be a boost to your resume, despite the fact that you switched roles to make them happen.
2. You Find What You’re Passionate About
Testing out different jobs and employers gives you more flexibility to figure out what you enjoy, as well as what isn’t a good fit for you.
Of course, it’s always worth asking your current manager and employer for other opportunities to try new things—you might be able to learn about your passions and interests without having to make a move.
3. You Make More Connections
New jobs give you opportunities to meet new people and build more relationships—with coworkers, bosses, vendors, customers, and more.
In short, more jobs can lead to a much bigger professional network than you’d be able to build by staying in the same spot.
While job hopping provides opportunities to gain skills and relationships, it has its downsides too. Here are a few of the most notable ones.
1. You Raise Red Flags for Employers
There’s no denying it: frequent job changes make employers wary.
“A true career takes weathering some storms,” says career coach Carlotta Zimmerman, J.D. “If you’re constantly bailing the minute things look bad, or you don’t get along with a coworker, or you’re bored, the only reputation you’re building—among hiring managers who bother to consider you, that is—is of someone flaky and untrustworthy.”
Even if you have solid reasoning for all of those changes, that can be hard to translate to your resume and job applications. So, be aware that frequent and repeated job hopping can do some reputational damage.
2. You Lose Quality References
Even though you’re building a larger network, constant changes mean you never get the chance to work with the same people for an extended period of time.
That makes it tough to build a roster of high-quality references. People simply don’t get to know you well enough in order to provide an honest and glowing recommendation or testimonial about your work ethic, skills, and results.
Plus, past bosses and colleagues might be less willing to agree to be a reference if they feel slighted by a sudden and early departure from your position.
3. You Lack Follow-Through
Careers don’t often offer short-term gains. And, in many cases, the projects you work on in different positions take years to come to fruition.
If you’re always moving around, you never have the benefit of witnessing the fruits of your labor, so to speak.
That not only hurts your resume (because you’ll struggle to get quantifiable results to highlight), but also your morale. It’s easy to feel like you’re constantly spinning your wheels without getting any meaningful traction.
How to Avoid Looking Like a Job Hopper During Your Job Search
Obviously, the best way to avoid presenting yourself as a job hopper is to carefully consider any career moves you make. The more you can limit short stints at different jobs, the better. But, there’s no way to rewind time and undo the past. So, if you already have some brief roles in your career history, how can you avoid having that sabotage your chances of landing future positions?
Here are a few tips to help you approach your job search with confidence.
Consider a Skills-Based Resume
A skills-based resume (which you might also hear referred to as a functional resume) takes the spotlight away from your different positions and instead shines it on the various skills and knowledge you’ve picked up throughout your career.
The bulk of your document will be dedicated to different buckets of skills, where you’ll list bullet points to provide details about real-world applications of those competencies.
The bottom of your resume will list some of your most recent jobs, employers, and dates. So, while that information is still there, it’s brief and it’s not taking center stage.
Filter Through Your Jobs
The goal of your resume is to present you as a qualified, relevant, no-brainer fit for whatever role you’re applying for—not to provide every minor detail of your professional history.
That means that if you have a certain job that was super short-lived and not very relevant to your career goals, it could be worth leaving off entirely.
That will leave you with a small resume gap. But, sometimes that brief period without a job looks better than a quick start and stop date with a different employer.
Be Ready to Address Questions Head-On
Even if you’re strategic with your resume, be aware that you might still be asked about your different jobs (and potentially even your reasons for leaving) during phone screenings and job interviews. Common questions include:
- Why do you want to leave your current job?
- Why did you leave your previous position(s)?
- What’s one thing you disliked about your most recent employer? What did you like?
- How do you think our organization is different from your previous employers?
If you have a lot of job changes on your resume, you might even be asked directly about why you’ve made so many moves.
When answering questions about your previous employment, it’s important to be honest and professional (much like with any question you’re asked in an interview).
For example, if your previous boss was a micromanager who made your work life miserable, saying something like, “While I learned a lot in that role, I quickly realized that the management style wasn’t the right match for me” provides some clarity about why you left.
However, don’t spend too much time dwelling on the negatives. Place most of your emphasis on why you’re excited about this new opportunity, and the value you think you can bring to the table. Sticking with that same answer, you could tack on a line like this one: “That’s why I’m so excited about this position. In my research, it seems like you have a company culture that values independence and autonomy, and that’s the type of environment where I really thrive.”
So…Should You Job Hop?
Despite what traditional career advice would have you believe, there isn’t a black and white answer to whether job hopping is good or bad. A lot of it depends on your unique circumstances—after all, nobody would advocate that you should stay in a horrible job or a toxic work environment.
Even further, while frequent job changes used to be the exception, they’re far more normal now. In fact, one in four workers admit that they’re considering looking for new career opportunities once the pandemic is over.
Ultimately, you’re the only one who can decide whether or not you should switch to a new employer and position.
Does a long string of short jobs look great on your resume? Not exactly, and the advice of trying to stay in jobs for a year or two definitely still holds some water. But, don’t let that blanket rule hold you back from finding happiness and fulfillment in your career. In the end, that’s the career goal—and people get there in different ways (and with different jobs).