Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Job Hopping

Careerbuilder's blog The Work Buzz has posted this thoughtful essay about the pros and cons of Job Hopping and what it means to employees. As recruiters we find that clients seem pretty concerned about candidates who have worked at several jobs over the course of just a couple of years. People who have 3+ years experience at one company do seem to have an advantage in our market.

Is job hopping the new normal?
By Anthony Balderrama
If you had told workers in the 1950s that most offices today would consist of workers staring at flatscreen monitors and working on personal computers, they wouldn’t believe you. Well, they’d probably ask you what a personal computer is. But once you explained it to them, they’d probably call you a liar and/or accuse you of being a foreign spy.

But consider how quickly most workplaces have evolved over the last 50 years or so. You can walk into any clothing store and, if they don’t have your size, the worker can immediately find out if one of their other locations anywhere in the world has it and get it shipped to you. We take it for granted now, but that definitely deserves a “whoa.”

But one significant difference between today’s workplace and your grandparents’ is less obvious. The attitude toward changing jobs has shifted. Once upon a time, job hopping was considered a career killer. The conventional wisdom of the day was, “Who wants to hire someone who can’t commit?” If you took a job, you were expected to stay with it for several years and in some cases for the duration of your professional life. Today, that’s not necessarily the case for all workers.

Today’s workers aren’t afraid to hand in their resignation letters if a better opportunity comes their way, even if they’ve only bee with the company for two years. For some employers, this tendency to jump ship is a problem because finding new employees is expensive. By the time they post a job ad, interview several candidates, perform all the necessary paperwork, and possibly train them, they’ve spent a few thousand dollars just to get that person through the door. That’s not even taking into account the difficulty of transferring a previous employee’s workload to a new employee without losing any productivity.

In India, some information technology companies have instituted a three-month notice policy. If you work at one of these IT firms, you are required to give three months’ notice before leaving for another job. Previously the standard practice was to give one month’s notice, while here in the U.S. the informal standard is a notice of two weeks. Though, each organization has its own policies.

According to the Times of India:
Attrition levels in small and medium sized IT companies are now in the range of 25-30%, and for tier-I players, between 14 percent and 17 percent. With overseas clients resuming IT spends, companies are in a rush to fill up positions that were allowed to lapse during the recession. Job hopping has become so acute that some companies are finding it hard to include attrition levels in their quarterly performance reports.

But a recent article by Bob Moulesong in the Northwest Indiana Times looks at job hopping from both the employer’s and employee’s perspectives and finds the upside to each. Yes, even for employers. As Moulesong explains, when workers move from position to position, they garner a variety of experience that they wouldn’t have if they stayed in one job for a decade. Their companies reap the benefits because their workers have more experience to draw upon and can teach the lessons from other organizations.

For employees, the benefits can be even greater. First, the experience you gain is invaluable. But, as Moulesong notes, more work means weeding out the right jobs from the wrong ones. You can spend five years studying a subject in college, but the moment you enter the proverbial Real World, you might discover that’s not actually how you want to spend 40 hours of your week. Hopping from job to job is an easy way to decide what works and what doesn’t. And, as the article mentions, when many workers were downsized in the early 1990s, people realized how fickle employers can be.

For that reason, job hopping in the aftermath of the Great Recession makes sense. Chances are either you or someone you know was laid off in the past three years or at least faced a pay cut. Employee-employer relationships are still sensitive and workers probably don’t feel as loyal as they once did.

If you’re a job hopper or think you might be, here are a few issues to consider:

1. Don’t label yourself a job hopper to employers.
Your résumé will speak for itself, so writing “I can’t seem to stay in one place for too long” in your cover letter isn’t necessary. Instead, emphasize your experience and the different types of organizations you’ve worked in. Mention the range of your experience, from small start-ups to international corporations, and highlight how you’ve made a difference at each.

2. Be mindful of how much hopping you do
If you start a job, get into a fight with an overbearing boss during the first week, and quit immediately, leave that information off your work history. It’s an anomaly on your work history and is so brief no one will notice. If, however, you have held 6 jobs in the past year, you might want to reconsider your hopping practices because you’re not staying anywhere long enough to make a difference. No sooner do you settle before you’re out the door again. But because they constitute such a significant amount of time when combined, you can’t omit these brief jobs from your history.

3. Explain why you hop
You may or may not be asked about your overactive job history during an interview. Some interviewer might not consider it noteworthy, but some will be curious as to why you’ve had three jobs in 7 years compared to other applicants who were at one location for a decade. Did you hit a ceiling at the organization and needed to look elsewhere to expand your skill set? Did the position evolve to a role that was drastically different than the one you signed on for? Were you laid off when the company when bankrupt? Did you move? You probably had good reasons to make the moves you did. Find concise ways to explain your decisions in case the questions arise and you’ll do well.

In today’s workplace, the rules are changing. If you’ve seen this changing attitude toward job hopping evolve during your professional career, what do you think about it? Or have you not seen evidence of this in your job search? Let us know.