Technological advancement, less job security and social media influences have changed the outlook on job hopping over the past 15 years. Here’s why it’s no longer a career killer.
If the words “job” and “hops” appeared together in a sentence 50 years ago it was more likely to be in an ad for a master brewer than as a positive descriptor for someone who frequently changes employers.
Back then, those that flitted too frequently between jobs were viewed with deep suspicion. These days it could just as easily be the selling point that helps get a would-be employee over the line for their next role.
Research in 2019 conducted by Robert Half, specialist recruiters in the fields of accounting, finance and technology, appears to bear out more than just a softening of attitudes towards those who regularly change jobs. Defining job hoppers as employees who’d had five employers in ten years, some 97 per cent of the 920 hiring managers surveyed across Australia and New Zealand said they understood the advantages of changing jobs frequently.
The research also found that 71 per cent of the hiring managers would employ a job hopper.
"We deal with lots of candidates who job hop; there's absolutely no doubt in my mind it is becoming more prevalent,” says Andrew Brushfield, director of Robert Half Australia.
“Back in the day, 15 to 20 years ago, bringing in candidates who job-hopped was a lot more difficult than it is now. Now, it’s almost commonplace.”
Changing jobs frequently
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures also suggest a solid uptake in job-hopping, at least in recent years. In the 12 months to February 2019, 8.5 per cent (1.1 million) employees said they changed employers or businesses, up from the 7.9 per cent (900,000) figure from the same period over 2014-15.
The factors behind the upswing are multiple and complex: more contract work, less job security, rapid technological improvements and a more diverse range of employment options that in some instances come with skills shortages.
Lynne Cazaly, employment facilitator and author, says it may even have some roots in social media and the concept of having it all.
“I wouldn’t mind betting people are aspiring to the perfect role, with the perfect company and the perfect boss,” she says. “They move on when that isn’t right.”
In terms of driving the changes, employers firmly believe a millennial will most likely be behind the job-hopping wheel. Some 76 per cent of the Robert Half survey respondents saw those born between 1977 and 1995 as fitting the job-hopping description compared to just 38 per cent of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964).
Cracking the code of what a job-hopping millennial desires is no straightforward task, but a 2016 Gallup research paper in the US titled How Millennials Want to Work and Live concluded it was up to organisations to make functional changes centred on purpose, development, coaching, ongoing conversations, employee strengths and how work fits into life to best benefit from the way a millennial will typically see their employer.
Millennial job candidates
Brushfield says employers appear quite willing to adapt – for millennial and job-hoppers of other generations.
“What’s in the forefront of employers’ minds right now is getting the best candidate,” he says. “Back in the day, getting the best candidate was often having someone who showed stability.”
Still, chopping and changing roles too regularly can become a risk – for both the employee and the employer. At a certain point, job-hopping can be viewed as professional instability or a marker that a prospective recruit may have other issues, such as a lack of requisite skills or the inability to fit into a team.
For Cazaly, the danger signs are a non-contractor regularly changing jobs every few months; for Brushfield, it’s more about looking for red flags early in the recruiting process.
“Humans will look after themselves first and foremost, so if they feel like they can get away with something they often will,” he says.
“References are vital because you’ll uncover someone who has put mayonnaise on something or try to own something that they shouldn’t be owning.”
Establishing a person’s motivations and balancing them out with the needs of the company is equally important. Recruiting for experienced employees isn’t a cheap exercise, and while a candidate may seem ideal, if they have a track record of leaving a position every year, that may not necessarily be a good fit for an organisation that is seeking a longer-term solution.
Where does that all leave the company stalwart, someone who has been a loyal servant to the one employer for 10 or 20 years or more? Not necessarily in a bad spot – as long as you have a track record of changing roles and growing your skillset.
“I know someone who has spent 22 years with the same employer, but would be a great candidate,” says Cazaly.
“He has had a range of roles and deep, rich industry and domain-specific experience. As long as you are progressing, I think it is quite OK, too.”