Can Job Hopping Hurt Your Career?

Edward Muzio's grandfather worked in the same company his whole life. His mother labored in the same industry until she retired, though for different employers. But between the two of them, Edward and his brother have worked in six different career fields during 30 combined years. Muzio, president and CEO of Group Harmonics, Inc., in Albuquerque, N.M., says accelerated movement -- often called job hopping -- is becoming the norm. "Not long ago we all said that the average person changes jobs about seven times in his or her lifetime; now we say it's probably more than 10 jobs over at least five different careers," he explains.

It's a generational trend, experts say. Generations X and Y are more comfortable switching jobs every few years than their predecessors were, and as they scale the ranks of the job market, such changes are increasingly accepted and understood. But some call it a lack of commitment that's damaging to workers and employers.

Is Job Hopping Now the Norm?

Some experts say frequent job changes don't mean death to your career -- they're just part of work-life. "I don't think you can be judgmental [and say it's] good or bad -- it just is, it's a fact of life in today's workplace. It's fruitless to impose a judgment on it. If people don't move with change, they get left in the dust," explains Sally Haver, senior vice president of business development at The Ayers Group in New York.

Rich Gee, an executive career coach based in Stamford, Conn., agrees, and suggests finding a new term for job hopping. "It's just the nature of the beast of employment: Expect people to leave after two to three years, and be happy if they stick around longer," Gee says. Brooks Savage, CEO of The Executive Staffing Group in Raleigh, N.C., sees it differently. "When you don't have someone stay in a post two to three years, how do you learn?

To get a degree out of college at least takes four years," he says, noting neither he nor his clients are interested in resumes of job hoppers -- people who change positions every year or so. He'll also ask candidates about any jobs where they spent less than five years. Savage questions the commitment of individuals who don't stick around long, and says the U.S. job market could change dramatically if commitment levels don't increase.

Job Hopping Pros & Cons

Ultimately, it's important to plan carefully when evaluating a job change and not switch too often, experts say, citing pros and cons:

  • Pro: Pay increases. "The way you make a large jump in your payscale is when you leave a company and go to another one. It's proven time and time again," Gee says.

  • Pro: Networking. Gee says different gigs expose you to new networks of people, which can be a real asset.

  • Pro: Learning new skills. New environments sometimes teach workers new skills and how to function more quickly, says Kathy Jeffery, vice president of human resources at WhittmanHart Consulting in Chicago.

  • Con: Landing in a worse situation. "You might jump into a new job that's worse than your old job," Gee explains.

  • Con: Moving too soon. "If you're really leaving places rather quickly you may not be extracting the full value from what that particular workplace has to offer you," notes Haver, of The Ayers Group.

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