How the Dynamics of Job Hopping Have Changed in 2020

Feb 19, 2020
Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith
Managed Recruiting
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Once upon a time, when you accepted a job, you envisioned staying with that company for years—if not for your entire career. In exchange for a reliable salary, benefits, and pension, you provided loyalty. If the company had a career path, you trusted that if you worked hard, management would place you where you belonged.

Downsizing in the 1980s and 1990s, followed by the Great Recession of 2008, severed that company-employee social contract. Employees learned that their loyalty wasn’t rewarded as companies quickly shrunk and flattened layers. Those employees—and now the generations that follow—realized that employees need to manage their own career paths. That management often meant quitting to work at other companies that offered new opportunities.

As recently as a few years ago, employees were cautious about how frequently they changed jobs. Companies looked suspiciously at candidates who were only in a position for a year or who had multiple jobs on their resume within a short period, wondering how long the candidate would stay with the new company. Would the investment be worthwhile? Career counselors advised job seekers to stay in their roles for at least two years; otherwise, they’d look unreliable.

Job Hopping is on the Rise

Today’s job market is different. It’s a candidate’s market, and when seeking career growth, if that growth isn’t offered—or isn’t offered quickly enough—in house, today’s employees aren’t shy about looking elsewhere.

A decade ago, job hoppers were considered unstable, but that stigma has decreased. As short-term employment becomes more frequent and more accepted, hiring companies will have to reconsider how to handle candidates who have a history of job hopping.

Who is Job Hopping?

As you might have guessed, Millennials job hop the most. Data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) shows that people aged 25 - 34 stay in a position for an average of 2.8 years, compared with people 55 - 64 who stay for an average of 10.1 years. 

But before you start Millennial bashing, BLS data also shows that job hopping may be based more on the age than the generation. When Baby Boomers began their careers, they changed jobs frequently, too. BLS reported that people born from 1957- 1964 averaged 12.3 jobs from age 18 - 52. Most of those job changes occurred between the ages of 18 - 24 when they averaged 5.7 jobs.

It makes sense that early in careers, regardless of what decade that is, people switch jobs more frequently as they focus on the type of work and environment that provides the right fit for them. We’ll see over time if Millennials, like Boomers, increase their tenure with companies as they age.

Why Do People Change Jobs So Frequently?

Remember the first day of a new job? It can be overwhelming to learn new systems, get comfortable with the team and even to figure out where the nearest break room is. It can take months to feel settled in, yet employees are voluntarily quitting their jobs at record rates. Why would someone choose to go through that process every two years or less?

A recent study of 25,000 people lists these top reasons for quitting: 

  • Poor management performance
  • Lack of employee recognition
  • Overwork
  • Company culture
  • No growth opportunities

According to SHRM, employees who left in their first year said compensation, work schedules, and type of work were their primary reasons. 

That first year on the job can inadvertently become a weeding process. Nearly 40% of the people who quit in 2017 did so in their first 12 months on the job. Almost half who left, did so quickly, within 90 days of being hired.

Why Consider Hiring a Job Hopper 

For all of the talk about the negatives of having or hiring job hoppers, short-tenured employees can add value to your organization. We’ve curated a list of the top reasons employers should hire job hoppers.

  1. Job hoppers are often top performers. They switch companies because they seek better opportunities at an accelerated rate. Just like with college basketball’s one-and-done players, would you rather have a superior employee on your team for a year or an average one for four years?
  2. Job hoppers have the skills needed in dynamic organizations. They take risks. They have confidence and can walk into new situations and adapt to new processes, management styles, and people. This agility is essential in the work environment.
  3. They are used to a high learning curve and can ramp up quickly, so they can contribute faster.
  4. Job hoppers who come from the same industry bring a useful perspective of how other organizations operate and a network of connections beyond your organization.

 

Types of Job Hoppers

Not everyone changes jobs for the same reason. Monster identifies different types of job hoppers.

  • Time-related role: this person works on a project that has a defined time limit, such as preparing for the upcoming Olympics or election.  
  • Project-related role: this candidate’s primary job is to complete a project, such as installing software or building a house.
  • Mobile roles: jobs such as training consultants or oil engineers travel and change assignments frequently.

Some people switch jobs to acquire new skills, such as to learn a language, live in a different part of the world, or experience a different industry. Some job hoppers may not have a natural desire for change but have a spouse whose job requires frequent moves.

Although we’ve outlined some overlooked benefits of hiring job hoppers, not every candidate will be a star. And even though we’ve uncovered valid reasons why an employee might switch jobs frequently, there are also reasons candidates job hop that aren’t easy to overlook  Some are actually duds - and better at interviewing than actually doing the work.

How can you tell when hiring a job hopper is a good idea? Know the right questions to ask.

What to Look For and Ask a Job Hopper Candidate

When you see a candidate’s resume or talk to an interviewee who has had a lot of jobs within a short time, before automatically deciding no, look closer.

  1. How many jobs did the candidate have, and within what period? If the candidate had three jobs in the first 18 months after college graduation but kept the same role for the next two years, those first moves may have been part of the exploration process, and now the candidate feels clearer on their career path. 
  2. Did those jobs require increasing levels of responsibility, or were they just more of the same? If it’s the latter, the frequent moves may speak to the candidate’s ability to master responsibilities quickly.
  3. Were the previous jobs located in different geographic areas? If so, perhaps the moves were related to a family relocation, versus an indication of flightiness.
  4. What industry are you hiring for? In some areas, such as tech, turnover is frequent, so it shouldn’t be surprising.

With that said, not every job hopper will have a solid reason for moving from job to job. If the candidate couldn’t get along with any manager in any position (and of course, it wasn’t the candidate’s fault!), frequent moves could indicate a problematic employee. If the candidate didn’t move for more responsibility, better pay, improved work/life balance, or other benefits, they may be stagnant, and won’t be beneficial to the organization. 

The best way to determine if a candidate with a job hopping history is a good choice for the company is to ask about the frequent moves and listen carefully to the answers.  Press for specific accomplishments.  What did they do for the company and what was their specific role in achieving success? Don't be afraid to dig deeper—ask follow up questions.  Push for details.  And don’t be afraid to do some digging on your own—if you know someone who worked with the candidate, see if their story checks out.

Final Thoughts:

Job hopping is a complex issue. With the gig economy and generational changes, it isn't as frowned upon as it was 40 years ago.  Some candidates switch jobs for the right reasons (to get better experience, leave a bad environment, etc.). But other people are poor performers, have a history of making bad decisions, or can't get along with co-workers. As an HR leader, you need to be able to differentiate when hiring a job hopper means gaining a star and when it means being stuck with a dud.

Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith
Managed Recruiting

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