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As the business world continues to move on from Covid-19, a range of trends and assumptions widespread during the height of the pandemic are being reassessed. Among them is the notion that “job-hopping” by younger workers is natural or even laudable.
Of course, job-hopping, especially by younger workers, isn’t new. Gallup called millennials the “job-hopping generation” back in 2016, and data suggest that job-hopping overall has been in decline since 2001. But the ultra-tight labor market of the past few years and other factors have put the phenomenon in the headlines again, especially with quiet quitting and demands from workers for remote work options.
That has made it top-of-mind for those responsible for staffing up businesses large and small. And those involved in filling roles tend to be much less forgiving of the habit than younger job hunters might think or hope.
Related: Should Employers Discount Candidates Due to Job Hopping?
Whenever the issue of job-hopping comes up, it is important to first acknowledge that employees are often not responsible for a CV that reflects a lot of movement. There are layoffs and bosses or colleagues who turn out to be overbearing or sexist — and even whole workplaces that are toxic. And there are a lot of other things that happen in life that are outside of one’s control and which can force someone to change jobs with a greater frequency than planned.
No one should ever be shamed for leaving a job that is unhealthy or for a job that disappears for reasons having nothing to do with one’s performance. And of course, people sometimes leave jobs for personal reasons that are even more important and rewarding than work, like starting or growing a family or caring for a loved one.
The downsides of job-hopping
By contrast, job-hopping is more about short-term gain and short-sighted behavior. It’s people leaving not because they are being mistreated or hitting a glass ceiling, but for a few thousand more in annual salary or a commute that’s a few minutes less. It’s sometimes about people becoming bored with the job they currently have. And when people start switching jobs because of the lure of a “shiny new object” or just because they feel like leaving, it can quickly become a pattern.
One of the most corrosive aspects of job-hopping is that the damage it causes to careers usually isn’t obvious to the workers themselves. Candidates who are otherwise well-qualified for a position will be moved to the bottom of the pile by hiring managers who have been burnt in the past and don’t want to take a chance of it happening again. And in some cases, they won’t even get into the pile, screened out by software designed to pinpoint CVs with excess movement between jobs. But as a job-seeker, you won’t even be aware of opportunities you may be missing, because people just don’t contact you — all you get is silence.
Related: How to Stop Job Hopping and Start Designing Your Dream Job
There is no official line beyond which the normal cycling of positions turns into job-hopping, and for the youngest of workers, it’s hard even for seasoned HR professionals to get a read. Two jobs in someone’s first two years out of college might not mean anything. But if someone has been in a career for several years, the signs can be all too obvious. Five jobs in eight years? You could have trouble getting the sixth. Fifteen jobs in 20 years? You may be unemployable.
For younger workers, a good rule of thumb is that anything less than a two-year commitment to a particular job can be troubling. And more than two or three jobs cut short is likely to have a meaningful negative impact on your prospects.
One interesting aspect of the current narrative around job-hopping is the notion that employers have no loyalty to their workers and that this lack of loyalty is something employees, especially younger workers, should repay. But job-hopping most conspicuously demonstrates a lack of regard for colleagues. This might not matter greatly if one is content to be a contractor or to be treated as one. But it doesn’t work if someone is hoping to be valued as a full member of a team and treated loyally by their employer.
There are other good reasons to resist the lure of job-hopping. Many positions become more rewarding over time, especially as they become more challenging. It is natural to assume that advancement in pay and title should come before an increase in responsibilities. But it is even more natural for successful organizations to give promising employees more responsibilities before they are officially promoted. In business life, it is often easy to forget that the best opportunities can be found by looking up, rather than out.
Related: More Often Than Not Your Best Career Move Is to Stay Put