Can job hopping damage your career?

Employers are wary of job hoppers, as they are regarded as disloyal and lacking in direction. However, the definition of a job hopper has changed over the years.

When it comes to changing jobs, how often is too often? Recruitment experts weigh in on when "job hopping" becomes a career liability.

At a glance

  • In most cases, it can take up to three months to fully understand a new role and an organisation’s culture.
  • Average tenure on a job has been growing shorter, meaning there is less stigma around moving jobs frequently, but it can become a problem if resigning quickly becomes a pattern.

By Jessica Mudditt

The first few months in a new job are often exciting, with new faces, fresh ideas and a brand-new challenge ahead. However, sometimes the initial enthusiasm is fleeting and a sinking feeling replaces it.

Was it a mistake to accept the new role? If the doubts grow stronger, a decision must be made about whether to persist and stay, or cut and run.

First off, try not to panic, says Nicole Gorton, director with recruitment agency Robert Half.

“Realising a new role isn’t what you thought it was going to be is not uncommon, and it isn’t the end of the world. The probation period is a two-way street for both employer and employee to evaluate long-term fit and has fewer obligations tied to a resignation.”

Unfortunately, sometimes promises made during the recruitment process do not marry up with the day-today reality of the role. 

“At the moment, good accountants are hard to find,” says Yulius Santoso, director at Lucky You Found Me.

“Employers are making lots of promises and creating expectations, and it’s a recipe for disaster. If a person was promised nine-to-five work hours, for example, but they are regularly expected to work until 9pm, they are going to be disappointed,” says Santoso.

Gorton contends that if the actual role holds no interest, is beneath your skill level or offers few opportunities for advancement, it is probably best to resign quickly, because such issues are unlikely to be solved.

“At the end of the day, employers don’t want new hires who would rather be somewhere else, so resigning early prevents the company overinvesting their resources in you. It may make it easier to find a replacement among those who also interviewed for the initial role,” she says.

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Three months is the sweet spot

Tracey Petrie, managing director of White Cloud Recruitment, believes that, unless there are “screaming red flags” such as being allocated no budget or bullying, it is preferable to persist in a new job for at least three months.

“Three months is usually what it takes to get the hang of a job – to understand not only the role, but also your business managers, peers and the culture of that organisation.”

Before you make your decision about whether to stay or to go, all the experts suggest asking for a face-to-face meeting with your manager to raise your concerns.

“Discuss your expectations and the skills you would like to develop,” says Gorton. “This gives them the opportunity to rescope your efforts or outline a roadmap to take on more complex tasks. If you feel that your concerns have not been addressed or cannot be resolved, resigning may be the right option.”

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Being labelled a job hopper

In Australia, the average tenure in a job is three years and four months, according to 2020 data from the Department of Education. However, this varies significantly with age.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, for those under 25 years old, the duration is shortest, at one year and eight months. It is highest among the oldest workers – those aged over 45 have an average tenure of six years and eight months.

Employers are wary of job hoppers, as they are regarded as disloyal and lacking in direction. However, the definition of a job hopper has changed over the years.

“Twenty years ago, a job hopper was someone who left within 12 to 18 months, because it was considered proper to stay in a job for at least three to five years,” explains Petrie.

“Now people move on every 12 to 18 months. If you move jobs every six months, and that’s a permanent thing, it is a worry.” Even an open-minded employer may ask a candidate to justify recent and frequent role switching.

“Be prepared to discuss why you felt the next opportunity provided more growth, or explain what the underlying issue with the role was – and how you’re looking to proactively resolve this in your next position,” suggests Gorton.

If resigning a job quickly is becoming a pattern, some self-reflection is necessary. It may also be helpful to speak to a career counsellor or a trusted colleague.

“You will be forgiven for making a mistake once. Maybe even twice. But when it’s three or four times, it’s no longer a mistake. It’s a bad habit,” warns Santoso.

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Graceful early exit

If you decide to leave shortly after starting, serving out the required notice period is a basic minimum to avoid possible reputational damage. Should there be no agreement in place, give at least two weeks’ notice.

Job searching and interviewing should be conducted with the utmost discretion, outside work hours and via your personal computer and email accounts.

Leaving an organisation after a short period is a difficult decision, and one that is likely to cause a certain amount of angst.

“I think it comes down to listening to your gut instinct,” says Petrie. “If you feel that you are not being authentic to yourself, or you are being told to do things that don’t sit well with you, or being spoken to in a way that doesn’t sit well with you, then you need to get out.”


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