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Home  > Article

Hoppin' Along to the Next Job

By Amy MacMillan

Do you leave a company before your seat gets warm? Many young workers "job hop" their way through their twenties, but is there now a backlash toward this trend?

Traditionalists may view job hoppers as "unreliable," he says, but "that's an old paradigm."

Your grandfather's generation strove for the company's gold watch; you strive to get into the next pre-IPO company that's going make you a goldmine by age 30. You're determined to catch the next big wave, even if it means switching jobs as often as some people switch the oil in their cars.

Is this kind of "job hopping" jeopardizing young employees in the long run? A joint Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition poll has found that people who switch jobs frequently are seen as lacking "clear career direction" and are motivated by compensation. Has there been a backlash?

Who's in the driver's seat?
Angela Camara, a spokesperson for the SHRM, points out that while young workers consider it commonplace to jump around, "Most employers are still saying we want some stability." Though the work place has generally become more flexible, employers "haven't fully warmed up to job hopping," she says.

Seven out of 10 job seekers polled online by The Wall Street Journal believe that a person would have to change jobs once every two or three years to be considered a job hopper. The majority of HR professionals, on the other hand, define a job hopper as someone who changes jobs once a year or once every two years.

Either way, job seekers and HR professionals agree on why people switch jobs frequently: 49 percent of HR professionals and 44 percent of job seekers believe that people switch jobs frequently in search of higher compensation. Not all survey respondents buy into the notion that "someone who changes jobs more than once a year has a broader work experience," or exhibits "greater flexibility in a fast-changing world."

John Putzier, the president of FirstStep, Inc., a human resources improvement company, agrees with Camara. "HR people still have a traditional view on job stability," he says.

"The employers are not in the driver's seat, and that drives them crazy."

Putzier says that "intermediate" workers - those with three to seven years of experience - are likely to switch jobs more frequently. "A fresh entry-level person is still trying to get his or her sea legs after three years, they've gotten some training. They aren't overpriced yet, and they don't have a basis for comparison."

Demand for skilled talent
When Paul Manzon graduated from Boston College in 1995, his family assumed he'd settle down at a good company for several years. Now 27 and on his third job, Manzon says, "If you spend more than three years at a company you're dead!"

According to Manzon, a too-long tenure could translate into a learning stalemate. "Now, the idea is that you do two years, you learn a skill, and you take it somewhere else."

Manzon was attracted to his current position at an e-retailing company, because he wanted to work for a "hot start-up," and stay connected to the online world. "The fear is that you will become obsolete," he explains.

Although the "e-explosion" has seemingly fueled the job-hopping trend, it's really a function of the economy and the demand for skilled talent, says Putzier. Job hopping won't hurt employees as long as they have a skill that's in demand. Traditionalists may view job hoppers as "unreliable," he says, but "that's an old paradigm." He warns that employers who take a negative view toward job hoppers will limit their availability of people to hire.

Putzier advises young workers to focus on the skills they are acquiring by switching jobs. "Don't get bogged down in titles and career paths," he says.

Hop strategically
Alicia Van Arsdale, recruiting coordinator at Interwoven, a Silicon Valley company that makes software for web sites, says she's not too concerned when she interviews someone who has switched jobs every two years. If it's less than a year, however, she may hesitate.

"I think a year-and-a-half is safe to be at a job," Van Arsdale says. When she's confronted with a candidate who has spent just a year or less at a job, she wants to know how that person will change if she going to make an offer. "We are not interested in hiring people for a year. We are looking for someone to give us a commitment," she says.

As an alternative to job hopping, Van Arsdale advises restless young grads to stay longer at companies by arranging to move internally, as opposed to quitting once the challenge is gone. "If you're at a good company, you'll want to move from department-to-department, where you will gain more skills." Van Arsdale says many companies will be amenable to this kind of arrangement because, "A company - if it finds a good person - is not going to want to lose that person."

Job hoppers who need to convince employers they are serious about staying with the company can soothe employers' hesitations by offering to start off with a lower salary and fewer options, then arrange to move up after a year, suggests Van Arsdale. Workers with a job-hopping history can also reassure employers by emphasizing the various skills they have picked up in various positions.

Manzon says money will not be the only motivator for him when it's time to switch jobs again. Prior to taking the MobShop position, he was offered a position with a compensation package at another company that was "three times what I believe I'm worth." He turned down the company because it was too "old world."

He now feels sufficiently challenged in his position: "Companies like this - they'll make you a VP at 27. Age means nothing - it's all what you know."

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