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Why Some Employers Look Beyond the Job-Hopper Stigma

The length of time an employee spent at a job used to matter a lot. Career advisors followed an unwritten rule that an employee should stay at a job for at least two years to add meaningful skills and experience to their resume. But in a post-pandemic world, remaining at a job that long is becoming the exception, not the rule, especially among younger workers.

In a recent Gallup poll, 21 percent of Millennials said they’ve left employers within the past year after working for them less than a year. A separate study by management consulting firm Oliver Wyman found that 70 percent of Generation Z workers say there’s nothing wrong with job hopping, and they are in fact always on the lookout for new job opportunities.

That attitude prompts the question: How do employers feel about candidates who hop from one opportunity to another?

“It used to be a big red flag, but not so much anymore,” said Lisa Bertrand, assistant director of admissions at Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law in White Plains, N.Y. “The ‘Mad Men’ days of staying with one company forever have passed due to frequent layoffs, the pandemic and the rise of the ‘side hustle.’ ”

Bertrand, who helps oversee 1,000 employees, added that other employers she knows are open to hiring job hoppers, depending on the reasons for their frequent moves.

That’s true in other parts of the country as well.

“In reviewing applications, I still look at the amount of time at a particular job or in a particular industry, but it doesn’t carry as much weight for me as it once did,” said Jenna Carson, HR manager at Music Grotto, an instructional music website based in Portland, Ore.

“From talking with peers also involved in recruiting, this seems to be an industry-wide shift,” she said. “Employees are more entrepreneurial than in past generations. They consider their quality of life as well as their careers, and they’re looking for a job that truly motivates them to contribute their best.”

Celebrate Job Hopping?

At DreamHost, a web hosting company in Brea, Calif., with 350 employees, not only is job hopping common, but it’s celebrated, said Ed Wesley, vice president of people and culture. “We look at job hopping as an opportunity to ask, ‘What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on? What technologies did you use?’ ” he said. “It’s an opportunity to see what kinds of projects excite the ‘artist’ so we can decide if what we’re working on will match their desire to create.”

There’s no set rule for how long an employee should stay at a job, Wesley noted. “For each person, I think it’s different,” he said. “How long are they engaged? If they become disengaged to the point of no return, it’s time to find happiness again.”

Carson agreed that job tenure can depend on individual circumstances.

“I don’t think there’s a minimum or maximum time someone should stay in a job,” she said. “Some employees simply didn’t find the growth they were seeking in a position, or the challenges they sought, or didn’t feel they were a valued contributor to the employer. These, in my opinion, are valid reasons for leaving a position.”

For Sarah Gonzales, co-owner of a sales and marketing consulting firm in Washington, D.C., it’s important for candidates to talk about why they switched jobs in the past.

“If I encountered a candidate who had served in more than three positions over the past five years, I would want to probe the reasons behind the frequent job moves,” she said. “Are they likely to have conflicts with colleagues? Do they get bored easily or view their position as strictly transactional? Or did they have a compelling personal reason for moving jobs or cities?”

Conversely, if a candidate stayed at a certain job for what seemed like far too long, that could also be a red flag.

“I would question someone who stayed in an entry-level position for 10 years without any promotions or skills growth,” Gonzales said. “Time in a position isn’t always a plus. It might be a sign of complacency, indifference or a lack of confidence.”

Spotting an Ideal Candidate

Since length of time in a job isn’t as critical today as it was in the past, employers are evaluating other factors in hiring decisions. For Gonzales, a candidate who arrives for an interview with knowledge about the company and well-researched questions is likely to be a good hire.

“When an interview feels more like a dialogue or brainstorming session than a stilted Q&A, I have the first signal that I’ve found someone who will be a good culture fit for our team,” she said.

Bertrand looks for candidates with positive energy who have valid reasons for leaving past positions, while Wesley’s hiring strategy involves looking for candidates who are enthusiastic about what his company does.

“[We] hire people who really are passionate about the work we’re doing and see our vision for how the Internet should be,” he said. “We hire people who resonate with our values.”

If HR professionals are concerned about employees leaving a position after a short period of time, they should focus instead on their employees’ engagement, happiness and overall job satisfaction, said Wesley. He added that DreamHost’s turnover rate is less than 2 percent.

“We decided to change our strategy a while ago from a Human Resources Department to a People Department,” Wesley said. “When we hire HR professionals, I look for team members who have customer service experience. We serve people. We are the internal customer service department.”

reprinted with permission from SHRM 05.2023

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