IT Employment

Job-hopping may not be your best move

If you've been staying on the job only long enough to grab a better offer from another employer, watch out. You could come up short in the long run. In this week's TechWatch, columnist Bob Weinstein discusses the hazards of jumping from job to job.

Regardless of which survey you’re looking at, money remains a powerful motivator for changing jobs. It’s so powerful that job-hopping has escalated from a trend to a lifestyle. Employers—especially technology companies—are pulling out their hair trying to hold on to talented techies.

Jumping jobs has reached a record high, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The average employee changes jobs every three or four years.

For young people, the numbers are far more dramatic. A 22-year-old college graduate will average more than eight different employers before he or she reaches age 32. Every 15 months it’s on to a new job.

Reasons for rampant job-hopping
First, job-hopping is a rebellion against the concept of lifetime employment that was preached by big companies from the 1950s through the mid-1980s. Rampant downsizing starting in the late ‘80s changed all that. Then the credo was “Me first, job second.”

Second, job-hopping is also a by-product of a strong economy in which the demand for workers far exceeds the supply.

Consequences of job-hopping
There’s no question job-hopping is the fastest way to boost your salary. But is it worth it to jump ship every time someone dangles more shekels, stock options, and benefits in your face?

Amy Fried, a new-media recruiter at New York City executive search firm Roz Goldfarb Associates, says you can get away with frequent job changes until the age of 24. But, once you’re into your mid-20s, it’s time to get serious.

“If you’re positioning yourself as a mature professional, a job change every year isn’t going to be received well with most employers,” she said. “I’d be hesitant about representing someone who jumped from job to job on a whim. Ultimately, it decreases your standing in the professional community.”

William Bridges, a Mill Valley, CA, management consultant and author of “Creating You and Co.: Learn to Think Like the CEO of Your Own Career,” wonders how long prosperity will last.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see an economic downturn with employers striking back and not hiring job-jumpers,” he said, “Someone who has left a trail of resentment will not be in a good position to secure a great job. Life catches up to them.”

Yet, Bridges says it’s easy to be seduced by more money in an economy desperate for experienced techies. The tough part is knowing when to quit job-hopping and settle down to building a career with one company.

“The smart person is sensitive not only to changes in the marketplace but also recognizes when it is inappropriate to stop switching jobs every couple of years,” he said.

Differences for contract workers
However, Bridges said the contract worker is in a different situation and can get away with frequent job changes. There is neither pretense nor disloyalty about their frequent changes because they’re not full-time employees but project-based workers. As soon as a project ends, it’s on to the next gig.

“These people are still going to be needed regardless of which way the economy goes,” Bridges said. “In many ways, techies are better served if they set themselves up as project workers.”

That’s, of course, a matter of opinion. One must consider the temperament of a person. Many people are just not cut out for the project-oriented lifestyle because of its instability. Ultimately, it can take a heavy toll, especially if you have a family.

Job-hopping in the executive ranks
A survey by Norwalk, CT-based career information service, ExecuNet.com, found that the five major motivators for changing jobs are:
  1. Money
  2. Personal development
  3. Location
  4. Company reputation
  5. Job security

In a survey of high-end executives capturing salaries in the 100K-plus range, ExecuNet found that the same reluctance to hire job-hoppers exists in the executive ranks.

“Companies are going out of their way to retain good workers, especially senior executives,” said ExecuNet Executive Director Dave Opton. “It’s not just about money and stock options…it’s also quality of life incentives such as flexible schedules, telecommuting, and liberal vacations.”

Opton says many senior executives are looking for old-line, solid, profitable companies where they can build a career and not have to worry about whether the next round of financing will pay their salaries for another year.

Moral of the story
Think carefully about each job move. Ask yourself why you’re doing it, how frequently you’re changing jobs, and how it will look on your resume.
Have you changed jobs several times in the past five years? Why did you leave your employers? Was there an opportunity for more money? Management training? Post your comments or send us an e-mail.
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