Why Job Hopping Now Can Hurt Your Job Prospects Later

Hop ScotchA few years ago I saw a resume for a candidate who had no more than two years or so at any one job. That’s usually a red flag — a high enough red flag to make me drop the candidate from the list. But I was pretty desperate for another pair of hands, and if she’d jumped around a lot, at least she’d jumped between brand-name companies. So, I decided to have her come in for an interview.

It was a mistake. It became pretty obvious pretty quickly that her job-hopping wasn’t about qualifications, it was about fit. Her explanation for all of the moving was either “bad luck,” “economic downturn,” or something like that. It’s true some people just make bad choices a time or two, but 10 jobs over 20 years signals something else. From the way she didn’t make eye contact, slumped in her chair and mumbled more than she spoke, I knew she wasn’t going to work easily with others. (We can be a pretty open, sometimes loud bunch here.) The final straw was when she couldn’t tell me why she was the one I should hire. She kind of shrugged.

Okay, so I wasted an hour. But I did learn how resumes often tell the true story whether they’re intended to or not.

This all came back to me when I saw a post on Laurie Ruettimann’s blog, the Cynical Girl (which if you haven’t read, you should.) A user asked her about job-hopping on a resume.  Succinct as always, she said, “job hopping every two years looks weird if you are over the age of thirty.”

Gen Xers and early Gen Yers are expected to have at least one entry on their resumes that’s longer than three years. The economy was in a different place between 1995-2005 and it wasn’t all that hard to keep a job for thirty-six months. You were expected to do it.

This new cohort of job seekers is different. They suffer from fewer job opportunities + depressed wages + lower test scores (fact). We expect less of them. Job hopping every two years is okay because they are dumb and lack options.

I won’t get into the “dumb” part. I’d say naïve, but then I’m not as tough as Laurie is. But the bottom line is, job-hopping’s not a good thing. It raises questions, and if a manager’s got a bunch of resumes on his desk he’s looking for reasons to drop some so he can focus on the people he thinks are the best fits.

So this isn’t really so much about resumes as it is about career management. Even if you don’t like your job, you want to hang in there for as long as you reasonably can. If it’s so godawful that you just have to get out or get insane, then by all means quit. Just don’t do it again on your next job, or your next.

Yes, sometimes life happens and you can’t avoid it, but a lot of job hopping will give me pause while one instance won’t. And if you’re thinking that you’ll explain everything during your interview, remember that the whole point of the resume is to GET you the interview. If you’ve been dropped because of your job-hopping, you’re not going to get in the door to have the opportunity.

Source: The Cynical Girl
Photo: Paul Farmer

18 Responses to “Why Job Hopping Now Can Hurt Your Job Prospects Later”

  1. Whether or not job-hopping is a good idea really depends. Contractors with significant hands on experience demand much higher pay than full timers. In a full time/long term situation, you’re almost always moved to different technologies. Your skillsets can quickly atropy. If you are a contract developer, I’d encourage long (1+ year) contracts. Really at least 2 if you can. That way its obvious what you’re doing (retaining a highly desirable skillset) and that management liked you (because they obviously extended your contract several times). I will admit though that contracting for a long time could take you out of consideration for higher level jobs in the future. At some point, unless you plan to contract forever (which I wouldn’t), you need to get in with a full time position that has a clear promotion path. Just be careful when signing on full-time. Hopping from different full-time positions does look very bad. Typically the only reason for leaving a full time spot within 3 years is likely that either you or the manager made a mistake.

  2. Ryan Smith

    I disagree that job-hopping shows that you are “dumb” and especially that you “lack options”. If anything, hopping jobs every 2 years shows that you have plenty of options available. Alot of people that do it are getting incremental raises each time so they think it’s a good move. In the beginning of a career, it’s probably a good way to jump up up your pay. You can quickly get a breadth of knowledge by picking up what each company does. In my opinion, it’s a good idea to set much greater goals each time like maybe raise your expected salary by $10k if you decide to make a move.

    But at some point you have to settle-in somewhere and get promoted. Otherwise you’ll always be the “new guy” trying to learn the ropes.

    • Hi Ryan –

      I think Laurie was referring to kids coming right out of college, not the people who’ve got experience. I don’t agree with calling them “dumb,” but I do think they’re pretty naive in their expectations. I know a lot of kids who — seriously — don’t think job hunting is all that important to… finding a job.


  3. Ravi Rao

    You sound really jaded, paisan. I’m going to reiterate what’s already been said to you — and the posters here are actually doing you a favor. Two years on various jobs aren’t necessarily ‘red flags’. They’re standard practice in Silicon Valley, which has historically used a large contingent workforce. You do understand that at-will employment is a highly evolved practice here ? This means that employers routinely ‘sunset’ legions of workers after about two years or even earlier, for any or no particular reason. This isn’t Pennsylvania, and the notion of Eisenhower-era ‘job security’ is gone for good ! Chalk it up to a cycle of technological obsolescence, the never-ending quest for corporate profits, outsourcing, or whatever. But I do think you need to get a true subject matter expert lined up, posthaste. Your entire article is tainted from the onset.

    • Hi Ravi –

      Thanks for your note, though obviously you and I have an honest disagreement. There are always exceptions of course, but I’ve yet to talk to a recruiter or hiring manager — and I mean in IT — who doesn’t look skeptically at a resume with a whole lot of two-year positions on it. We’re not talking about contractors, obviously — that’s a whole different thing. Job security is gone across the country, you’re right about that, but even then a constant pattern of moving is going to hurt you in the eyes of the people who matter most in this: the people making the hiring decisions. If you’re constantly moving around, you’re not doing yourself any favors.


      • Ken Kirkham

        As I mentioned in my other post most recruiters and hiring managers couldn’t turn on a computer with out help. They are making decisions about IT that simply are not relevant. IT is not like hiring a janitor where you want them to be in a position forever. It requires constant growth and an increase in knowledge. Those people who look at short term employment as a problem are old-school and are the problem not the job-hopping nerd who learns more with each job and becomes a truly valuable person. After 32 years in this business in many position I can tell you that over that time IT hiring has not improved and the people who make the decisions are just as ignorant today as they were in 1979.

      • Ken Kirkham

        As I think more about your article I believe that anyone who stayed in a limited IT role for more than 4 years is someone I would not consider for hiring. It means that the person has limited knowledge and will require training more than a person with 2 2-year positions. IT people need change to stimulate learning and a long term job tens to limit growth.

        Just another aspect of the misinformation about job-hopping being a negative. It is a negative for uninformed hiring persons but not for someone looking for a good IT person.

    • @RAVI I have been in the Silicon Valley since the early ’80’s. As an engineering and program manager, I’ve hired consultants and contractors, and permanent employees.

      If I am hiring for a permanent employee position that requires 10 years experience, if any candidate resume has more than 5 positions on his resume with less than 2 years on average at each company AND it does NOT indicate that they were a consultant during that period, I, and practically every manager I have ever worked with, would NEVER even bring him in for even a phone interview.

      If I am hiring consultants and contractors, this is entirely different matter. It is expected that they will jump around as they work job-to-job. Many of the really great consultants will show repeat business with multiple customers on their resumes (but for short periods of time).

      California is indeed an employment at-will state. And if employees are laid off 3 times within a 10 year period, this is understandable and I have made allowances for this in my hiring practices. But if if looks like a candidate is doing what we call “job churning” – I’m sorry I will not play the game and waste my time. When I am hiring for either a permanent employee or a consultant/contractor (for a particular job) I do so honestly and I find “job churning” to be dishonest.

      Finally, I want to make one other point. I have been on both sides of HR recruiters. In general, I have NOT found them to be very useful either from the standpoint of a hiring manager or as a candidate. As a hiring manager, I have found them to get in the way of the hiring process and they withhold good candidate resumes for one reason or another (and this is consistent problem I’ve had since 1992 and for 4 companies in Silicon Valley).

      For one company, the situation with one HR recruiter got so bad (she was purposely only sending me unqualified candidates and forwarding resumes for qualified candidates to another manager for the same type of position), I insisted she be terminated for cause.

      As a hiring manager, I have tried and tried to get across what I am looking for in a permanent employee and have found that at the end of the day if you keep it very, very simple for the HR recruiter (e.i. Java developer with 5 years of experience doing WepApps) I can usually get enough good candidate resumes so that I can start the interview process.

      Now as a candidate for a position and dealing with an HR recruiter, my objective is always to get around them to the real hiring manager. Again, they really do not add much other than to be a barrier to my objective in speaking with the hiring manager.

      To be balanced, I do want to relate what folks at some of the software gaming companies do. It is my understand from managers there, that employees are hired and laid-off very frequently at these companies (within a couple of years). The reason for this has to do with their product life cycles. If you are a software developer in the computer software gaming area, I do take this into account. As an example, remember I hired a CGI programmer with 4 years of experience and he had worked for 5 companies in that time. Those 5 companies were the usual suspects in the computer gaming business. He was a fantastic programmer and after 3 years left for Rhythm & Hues (again for the project).

      Anyway, this is a different view but from a manager who has been in the Silicon Valley for many years.

  4. Ken Kirkham

    Job hoping is often required. Individuals who take a position learn as the go and increase their knowledge and worth to the company. Unfortunately, most companies fail to understand or recognize the need to keep good people on staff and would rather let them go than increase their pay. These more knowledgeable individuals then seek another job that will pay more. This continues until the person reaches there comfort level with their own knowledge and tend to stay at a position for a longer period of time.

    The primary reason IT personnel job hop is to improve their position. HR personnel are often totally lacking in any understand of IT and it shows in ads. HR will post an ad asking for someone with 10 years of experience with Windows 2008 or assume that all IT people are programmers as well as administrators. This global misunderstanding creates environments where IT professionals must change jobs in order to attempt to find a fit for their skills.

    Until companies start treating IT professionals as professionals and not just the janitors of the network there will be a lack of long term it employees.

  5. James Whitaker

    It really looks you are describing a woman with Asperger Syndrome. They are all over IT. If a manager has half a brain and takes the time to learn even a LITTLE bit about it, and learns to adapt to their style, Aspies make the most effective, most loyal, and most appreciative of all employees you could ever hope to hire.

    Unfortunately, Aspies face people like you everywhere they go.

    They often don’t look people in the eye because of sensory processing problems looking at other people’s faces. Nobody anywhere bothers to learn how and why Aspies think the way they do, so nowhere in most Aspie’s experience (especially the undiagnosed Aspies) do the people around them ever learn to appreciate the difference or the advantages that Aspies bring to the table. Aspies typically have zero concept of their personal presentation, their minds are off on minute details that essentially wind up re-purposing the parts of their brains that would be handling their “body language” in favor of things that are actually relevant.

    The IT industry treats IT workers as throwaway people, and that is extremely true for Aspies. Lots of two year stints doesn’t show an unstable person, it shows she has been treated as a throwaway person. That woman you brought in probably has more knowledge and background than is on her resume. Most Aspies tone their resumes DOWN because they have so much information packed into their heads that nobody would believe it.

    Aspies are mind-blind. This means that they do not have the ability to model the workings of the psyche of most other people…. It has been my experience though, that if you get a bunch of Aspies in a room together they DO click and get along and pick up instinctively on how each other is getting along. That woman shrugging basically tells me that she is acknowledging quite simply her inability to read your mind, and being very direct about it. Aspies by and large will NOT attempt to bullshit you with any kind of line of crap – they just don’t have the wiring to do that. They will not even try. If you have not told her what your agenda is and what the competition for the job is, she has no “data” with with to compute an answer. An Aspie is just going to shrug. You cannot get more honest or direct or reliable or trustworthy than that.

    The sheer arrogance and degree of naivete of your viewpoint expressed above is staggering, Sir. When someone like that comes in the door, you grab them FAST, and teach the rest of you team by example how to appreciate her, and she is not then likely to face the same “fit” issues.

    I’m sorry, but if you pass on hiring and publicly insult people like her on a public forum, you are as unqualified to be a manager as a person could possibly be, and certainly NOT QUALIFIED to be in such a public forum advising the industry about hiring practices in IT. It is because of people like you that Aspies face more prejudice everywhere they go than any racial group, than any social group, than any church group….

    YOU SIR ARE THE PROBLEM, not her. People like you point the blame to ANYONE but themselves. Go back and read that article again. Do you realize the kind of pain you bring to people like her? People actually read your articles and listen to you and take people like you and your opinions seriously!

    Thank you for reading.

    • Hi James –

      Thanks for a thoughtful comment. Of course, I have to say I think you’re making a lot of assumptions here, and generalizing about people who hire or manage. And, I’ll allow myself the leeway of saying you and I have never met, so I don’t think either one of us is in a position to judge the other.

      While perhaps the person I described had Asperger Syndrome, I’m not convinced that this was the case because of other aspects of the conversation. To be frank, five years ago — when this took place — I’d never heard of Asperger’s. I base what I say on what I’ve learned in the intervening years, though I am not by any means saying I’m an expert. But certainly you’ve pointed out how someone might make a decision that’s based on incomplete knowledge.

      Of course, the way to solve that problem is education. It wouldn’t be a bad thing for managers to learn about different things that can pop up in their particular industry. You might say they should take that upon themselves, but I’m not sure how you learn about something you don’t know exists in the first place. Unfortunately, that’s very much the case with many conditions. And, I don’t see companies large or small trying to get their arms around this particular challenge any time soon.

      You are obviously well-versed and passionate about the subject. If nothing else people who are familiar with a particular condition or illness can share their knowledge with colleagues and bosses in the hope that at least that small group will be better prepared if a similar situation arises.


      • James Whitaker


        You are leveling blanket statements above to literally tens of thousands of managers and people in hiring positions. You are telling them to be extremely prejudiced against anything that looks like her.

        It has my jaw completely on the floor.

        RED FLAG. Cannot go unchallenged.

        By writing articles like the above, you are telling people to be prejudiced against this type of behavior in a job candidate, that your prejudice is a GOOD THING.

        Asperger Syndrome and other forms of high functioning autism are not mental illness. To even mention such a word as “illness” in this context shows your mind blowing (aggressive!) prejudice and naivete. Your mental models of this have almost zero parallels with reality. Asperger Syndrome is not attitude problems. It is a detail oriented brain topology in a usually very healthy, thinking, feeling person who is probably a lot smarter than you… especially the women in IT, they are always smarter than the men… holy cow.

        You don’t know that you don’t know what you are talking about!

        You are not thinking anything through. Your response to my response is a complete fumble. This kind of fumble seems to be the best response I ever see anywhere.

        The correct response is something like “oh my God, I am hurting thousands of people’s careers out there when I could be HELPING them…. my role is supposed to be HELPING THE HEALTH OF THE INDUSTRY AND THE WORKPLACE”… But no. No mea culpa… nothing.

        And with all you claim to have learned about Asperger Syndrome in the intervening years, you STILL feel it appropriate to write and defend an article like the above… ??!?! To claim that you have learned anything about in since then just makes your article and attitude all the more infuriating because you are unable to see that you blew it badly…. that you feel a NEED to propagate and defend this kind of prejudicial misinformation.

        Can you see why I say that YOU ARE THE PROBLEM?

        People look to you for decisions on how to act and make decisions. It matters when someone like you who now claims to know what Asperger Syndrome is continues throwing their weight around… and you clearly haven’t even cracked open a book.

        You are winging it, fumbling… and the gravity of the situation hasn’t sunk in yet.

        Adult Aspies have had a lifetime to learn how to try to emulate non-autistic behavior. Their ability to do this varies from person to person they interact with. I have known Aspies that are slicker than Obama in personal presentations in the right situations… stereotypes just do not apply. Most are extremely dynamic under certain situations.

        You have WAY LESS than zero knowledge about what you are talking about because everything crammed into your brain apparently has to be un-learned.

        How can anyone get through to you? I am asking you… how does someone get through to YOU? Guilt, Shame, Anger, asking you to be accountable? Telling you to read books on Aspies in the workplace? What works with YOU?

        • James –

          Asperger’s Syndrome is not an illness, and I didn’t say it was. But your original comments about managers’ misconceptions could certainly apply to job candidates who have some kind of debilitating disease that does not affect their ability to do a job well. That’s why I said “condition or illness,” not “illness” alone.

          You’re looking for an apology from me, but I don’t believe I have anything to apologize for. You seem to believe I’m suggesting that managers kick to the curb people with Asperger’s. I didn’t say that, nor even imply it. My post — which I stand by — is telling people who are looking for work how managers react to too many job changes. You can like the managers’ reactions or not, but they’re there and candidates should know about them.

          As for my example, if you could say in this specific situation I passed on a candidate with Asperger’s, without knowing anything about the condition, that would be one thing. But you are simply guessing this person has Asperger’s in the first place. You’ve not met her, you didn’t see her application, you weren’t in the room when I spoke to her, you know nothing about her. So, it’s a bit innocuous for you to try to call me on the carpet..

          Finally, it sounds like you want managers to recognize the symptoms of a condition and then proceed accordingly. That’s a good argument to make, and if you ever wanted to write a post about that, I’d be happy to talk about it. That’s not a flip comment but a true offer.



  6. Janice

    You make it sound like a choice. Most people I know who have a resume like the one you describe have it because they’ve been laid off multiple times. They’re not job hoppers, they are casualties of the economy (both good and bad). When the economy was good in the late 90s, the layoffs happened because small companies tried to grow too fast and couldn’t sustain the growth. For the last 10 years, layoffs happened because of economic hardship. Almost everyone I know has been laid off at least twice since 2002 and several people quite a bit more than that. Exacerbating the situation, it often takes several years to find another full time position after a layoff (and even contracts can be few and far between).

  7. Ravi Rao

    @ R. EMMETT O’RYAN: quit shilling for DICE and this junk article, hotshot ! Who in Silicon Valley really cares about your meandering, off-topic response ? The point is, EVERY issue that I’ve raised is valid. And kudos to others who’ve seen this article for what it really is.

    DICE, this one gets my vote for WORST HR-related article of 2011. Pathetic !

    • Interesting, are you so intimidated by the response of someone who really has experience in the Silicon Valley? If you seriously think that my response to your earlier comment was off topic, either you did not fully read it or you have such a large redwood tree on your shoulder that it has made you myopic. Take a pill dude and chill!

      You said, “Two years on various jobs aren’t necessarily ‘red flags’. They’re standard practice in Silicon Valley…” I do not know where your experience is but in the software development/engineering area this is NOT the standard. And as I said, it is only in one niche that I have ever heard of this practice in the Silicon Valley – the computer gaming business.

      My view is that of both a manager’s and a candidate’s. You are free to take it or leave it.

      If your resume looks like this – with lots of positions that are less than two years – I would recommend that you start taking responsibility for your own career and find out why. Having such a chip on your shoulder certainly does not help.

  8. Ravi Rao

    @ R. EMMETT O’RYAN intimidated? This holier-than-thou article DISINTEGRATED as a function of reader feedback. You and DICE lost this one. Lesson ? If you don’t want feedback, then don’t solicit it. Thanks for the public service.

  9. Mark,

    A thought provoking blog entry.

    I’ve held a couple of jobs long enough that I was told it was unusual as “IT guys move around a lot.” On the other hand I’ve held other jobs for not very long; either because I was offered what I thought was a better opportunity elsewhere, or the company for whom I went to work went south either partially or completely; and I don’t mean across the border.

    Given my druthers I prefer to stay put, develop relationships, become the “go to guy”, learn, be challenged, and rewarded. Sometimes, when faced with a fork in the road, I made the decision I made because I believed it was the right thing (from a moral/ethical perspective) to do; not that a different decision would have been the wrong thing from that perspective.

    I don’t believe a long-term position limits growth unless the company is not growning, or management is not providing a growth curve. Excellent leaders and managers provide growth opportunities. Sometimes there is growth until new management takes over and the situation changes.