Job Hopping with Intention: Pros, Cons, and Considerations


Job Hopping: It’s Not As Bad As You Think

Not long ago, moving “too soon” from one job to the next was a big no-no. Employers frowned on job applicants whose resumes seemed to signal that they couldn’t stay put.

These potential hires, employers reasoned, were somehow unfocused, unstable, or maybe just plain difficult to work with. This phenomenon was labeled as job hopping.

Some employers still feel that way, and always will. But it’s become more common for people to move from job to job during their working years.

While this can benefit the job-hopper in numerous ways, there are still drawbacks to hopping around. So, if you fall into this category, make sure you understand what job-hopping is and why you’re doing it before you hop from job to job.

What Is Job-Hopping, and Why Do People Do It?

A job-hopper is someone who stays at a job for approximately one to two years, though some job-hoppers may stay as long as five years. This isn’t necessarily a long-term gig or temporary work, though job-hoppers may use either of these as part of their job-hopping.

But why would someone stay at a job for only a few years? Don’t they give up benefits, seniority, and bonuses?

Yes, that’s true. But, sometimes job-hoppers are dissatisfied with where that job leads in the future, so they hop to another job that has a better career path. Job-hoppers may also switch because they don’t end up liking their job.

Still, other job-hoppers get bored easily and want to find things that challenge them. Once they’ve mastered a job, they can’t imagine staying in that same position for a few more years (or even months), so they hop to something different to keep themselves engaged or challenged.

And, then there the job-hoppers who are trying to learn new skills that can benefit them professionally over the long term. For example, a designer that hops into a copywriter position may be a more valuable employee because not only can they work with Photoshop or other design tools, but they understand the creative elements of successful advertisements.

Is Job-Hopping Bad? Perceptions Are Changing

Millennials, in particular, are known for their tendency for job-hopping, not shy to jettison established career paths in search of something more fulfilling or to try out an opportunity that looks more exciting.

And, recent research says that Gen Z is likely to follow the same job-hopping path. In some fields, like software engineering, job-hopping is expected. Many companies want their staff to have a variety of skill sets because they’ve moved from company to company.

However, that doesn’t mean job-hopping is something only for the young. A study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that baby boomers held an average of 12.3 jobs between the ages of 18 and 52. And, many of these jobs were not long-term jobs, with 75% of these jobs lasting five or fewer years, and 36% lasting less than one year.

Brie Reynolds, career development manager and career coach at FlexJobs, adds, “Professionals don’t have to be quite as concerned with job-hopping as they once did. People are changing jobs and careers more frequently, so the standards for what employers expect to see on a resume are shifting.”

The Benefits and Pros of Job-Hopping

Job-hoppers gain more than another entry on their resume. While some of the gains are tangible, other things are less tangible but incredibly valuable to employers.

Communication and Adaptability

Soft skills like communication, networking, and general relationship management with colleagues are undervalued on paper but highly valued in practice. If you’re job-hopping, you’ve got to build new relationships with a new team every time you change and learn a whole new way of doing things. Your resume may not explicitly state “great people skills” or “highly adaptable to changing work environments,” but you do have those skills.

Those are the soft skills that employers want in every employee, no matter what your other “hard skills” are. The trick is to make those skills stand out on a resume and in an interview by highlighting them to the employer and explaining how the company will benefit from what you’ve learned while gaining diverse experience.

Increased Salary

When you stay at the same job for several years, you likely know approximately how big your annual raise will be and how big your bonus will be. And, while there’s something comforting in knowing exactly what’s coming, over time, you may find that your salary gains aren’t as much as you’d like.

Sometimes, job-hopping can be the most effective way to increase your salary. Data from the Federal Reserve of Atlanta shows that over the last 20 years, switching jobs resulted in a larger salary than staying in your current job. As of February 2018, job-hopping could nearly double your long-term salary outlook.

Another study conducted by ADP found the biggest salary bump occurs when you stay at a job for longer than two years, but no more than five. In fact, most job-hoppers saw a 6% wage increase if they switched jobs, and it was as much as 11% for the 25 and under crowd.

Diverse Skill Set

When you job hop, you combine multiple skill sets across various fields into one, flexible, unique-to-you career. You can be a photographer, designer, writer, and consultant all at one time. And job-hopping will allow you to develop all those skill sets—sometimes even all at the same time!

As the world of work changes, many career fields are looking for “full-stack” employees who can handle every step of a process from start to finish. Job-hopping benefits both you and companies that are keeping up with the changing tide of employment.

The Drawbacks and Cons of Job-Hopping

Like anything in life, you have to weigh the pros and cons before you act. While you may gain new skills or a higher salary, take into account everything you might lose when you’re a frequent hopper.

Fringe Benefits

One of the biggest drawbacks of job-hopping is that you’re never in one place long enough to “establish” yourself. While this could mean professional relationships, there’s more to a job than your colleagues.

When you job hop, you always have to “start over.” That means you may not have as much vacation time as you want as quickly as you want. It could also mean that you’re constantly changing insurance plans and switching doctors every few years.

You likely also lose in retirement income. Even if you have immediate access to a 401(k) or other savings vehicle, if you job hop, you may not stick around long enough to have an employer match contributions to your account. When you leave, you may lose all of that extra contribution. Furthermore, some companies have waiting periods before they allow employees to contribute, which could mean losing out on gains.

The Stigma

While some employers are changing their view on job-hoppers, many are not. Frequent job-hopping is still a red flag. Employers may worry about your loyalty, or that you only stick around long enough to learn what you not and then leave, which is expensive for them.

Job-Hopping Syndrome

Job-hopping syndrome is not a disease. It is, however, a condition that job-hoppers need to worry about.

When you have job-hopping syndrome, you switch jobs multiple times for a variety of reasons (or the same reason every time) and are never happy where you land. This tends to happen when you job hop without thinking through why you’re making the change.

Another way to look at this is you’re job-hopping without intention. You get so excited about a larger salary, better title, or different challenges that you don’t stop to figure out if the switch is a good one. Then, you get to the job, and after a few months, realize this wasn’t the right hop, so you start the process over again. And over and over and over again.

Job Hopping the Right Way

Once you’ve decided that job-hopping is the right path for you, make sure you’re doing so with intention, so you don’t end up with a case of job-hopping syndrome.

Determine What You’ll Gain

Start by asking yourself if the next job is the right move. Figure out if you’re going to learn new skills that will benefit you professionally in the long run.

Don’t hop just for a bigger salary or better title. Make sure you’re moving up the career ladder, or that this new role is substantially different from your old roles. Is the new job really a new position with new challenges, or is it just a lateral move with a fancy new title?

Don’t Make Your Move Too Soon

How soon is too soon? Many employers look for new hires who’ve spent an average of a year or so at each previous job they’ve held. Temporary and contract work can provide great opportunities to move around in your career and learn new skills at the same time—plus, you have a built-in reason for explaining why you moved on to something new!

Leave on Good Terms

When you decide it’s time to move on, be sure to give sufficient notice and try to depart without leaving negative feelings in your wake. Ideally, you should make sure that if your former boss gets a call about you from a prospective new employer, your former employer will have good things to say about you. Exit with class, not abruptly or in anger.

When It’s Time to Job Hop

When you’re ready to job hop, make sure you’ve got solid, professional reasons that back up why you’re a job-hopper and can explain how that benefits the employer.

Have a Rationale

Be prepared to explain your resume to potential new employers, offering good reasons why you left each position, and providing a logical answer to any questions about why you’re in the market now. Were you presented with a great opportunity for career advancement that you couldn’t pass up? Offered more money? Given a chance to relocate to a new part of the country or the world?

Reynolds advises that “For any instance where you left a job after only a year or two, you should have an explanation of the situation that will put a nervous potential employer’s mind at ease. Don’t focus on things like if the job or employer was terrible. Instead, talk about how a new opportunity became available that you couldn’t ignore, or you wanted the chance to expand your skills in a certain area.”

Be Truthful on Your Resume

Leaving unexplained gaps or a fuzzy employment timeline in your resume can be a risky move, not to mention dishonest. Employers are likely to move you to the bottom of the job applicant pile if your resume seems “off.” The last thing HR wants is extra work trying to figure out what kind of jobs you held, with whom, and when. Be clear, concise, and honest while highlighting your diverse skill set.

Evaluate Your Job-Hopping

Periodically, make sure job-hopping is still benefiting you. That starts by evaluating the potential gains and losses before you take another job. It also means sitting down once or twice a year and reviewing your resume to see if job-hopping is still the right path.

When Job-Hopping Works

You’ll know that job-hopping is working when you still love what you do. It may not be the same job or even career you had 5 or 10 years ago, but you love your job and are engaged with it. More importantly, you loved your previous jobs and only left because the next job offered skills or benefits you couldn’t get with the old job.

Job-hopping also works when you see that you stayed at your jobs for longer than six months, or, at least, didn’t feel dissatisfied at that point. This indicates that you love what you’re doing and that you don’t run at the first sign of trouble.

Lastly, job-hopping works for you when you identify the new skills you’ve gained, and you can explain how they’ve benefited you professionally. Even better, you can point to a skill from a previous job and explain how it helped you get the next job. Your resume shows that you’re moving forward in your career, even if that’s not a straight line from the mailroom to the boardroom.

When Job-Hopping Isn’t Working

When you don’t job hop with intention, your work history will show it. You don’t gain much in skills, and your resume won’t show you moving forward in your career.

Your resume is a story of your career, and it should be a cohesive story. Job-hopping from industry to industry is OK. But, there needs to be solid reasons why you’ve changed and how it benefits you professionally. If you can’t tell that story, your job-hopping isn’t working.

If you notice that there isn’t a forward motion in your career, and you seem to end up in the same position with the same responsibilities over and over, something in your job-hopping isn’t working.

If you keep thinking that the next job will be better, only to discover you’re just as unhappy. Or if the only reason you keep job-hopping is because you dislike the work, that’s a clear indication that job-hopping is not working.

And, when you leave multiple jobs before the six-month mark, you’re no longer job-hopping. You’re quitting. And that’s a clear sign that job-hopping isn’t working for you.

Sit down and try to figure out why this keeps happening. Are you in the wrong industry? Would you rather do something else with your time? Maybe job-hopping isn’t the right choice. Maybe you need to change your career.

Job-Hoppers Chart Their Own Path

Job-hopping with intention is just that: intentional. It takes planning, self-evaluation, and careful choices to make job-hopping work for you.

Job-hopping out of anger or frustration doesn’t work. You may gain in title or salary. But, in the long run, you may lose out professionally. That doesn’t mean you can’t change your path. It may mean you need to reevaluate your career path and figure out what’s next.

Not sure if job-hopping is right for you?


Adrianne Bibby contributed to this article

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A version of this article was originally published on September 19, 2016.