I think it’s time for the business world to get new spectacles so they can adjust or correct their view on the fast paced and ever changing world of job seekers. Don’t worry! I’m not talking about teaching an old dog new tricks.
I am talking about the ‘job hopper’ stigma.
You see, you might think that you encounter a ‘job hopper’ if a Gen X candidate presents a resume with 10 Career Changes averaging 2.5 to 3 years in each job, or a Gen Y candidate presents a CV with 10 jobs since 1995. There is a big difference between a strategic job changer and a hopper who moves every 6 or 8 months from job to job. Check the video at the end of the blog post if you want more insight on what I am trying to suggest in my blog.
I think that it’s time for many of the hiring and recruiting professionals to change their goggles. Seriously! Ask yourself, are you wearing old fashioned, out-dated goggles? Could it be that you need some vision and perception correction on your view of what has happened to the job world since 1990? Could it be that your view is holding you back from hiring valuable, experienced, ready-to-go candidates?
One of the habits of the business world that I’d love to see end, even if it were to take people with it, is the stigma against ‘job hopping’. This stigma denies employees of the one bit of leverage they have, which is to leave a job and get a better one.
The old arguments
The argument made in favour of the stigma is that (a) businesses put a lot of effort into training people, and (b) very few employees earn back their salary for the business in the first year. Well I guess we all know from the daily news, blog posts, twitter feeds, etc, that what we all experience in ‘real life’, I mean the stuff that happens once you get on the job, is that both of these favourable arguments are nonsense.
Regarding the first point, about the huge amount of effort put into training new hires, it’s not true. It may have been the case in 1987, but not anymore. The idea that companies still invest significant resources into new hires as a general policy is out dated. You see, the reality is, they don’t. Sink or swim is ‘the new normal’. Get with it or get out. That’s where the mindset of the employee is right from the start.
The companies that are exceptions to this will sometimes lose a good person that they have invested in, but they also tend not to have the systemic retention problems that leave them wringing their hands about ‘job hoppers’.
Regarding the second point, this is true in some cases and not in others, but I would generally blame this (at least in the technology sector) on the employer. If someone who is basically competent and diligent spends 6-12 months at a company and doesn’t contribute something of value (perhaps a time-saving script, a new system, or a design insight) that is worth that person’s total employment costs (salary, plus taxes, plus overhead) then there is more than likely something wrong with the corporate environment.
Perhaps the employee has been loaded up with silly work of minimal importance or not given enough latitude or responsibility. New staff should be able to start making useful contributions right away, and if they can’t, then the business needs to improve the feedback cycle. That will make everyone happier and it will enhance the shelf life of the candidate.
The old goggles are preventing hiring professionals to see what really happens.
The collective corporate perspective of ‘job hoppers’ is that they’re a waste of money because they cost more than they are worth in the early years. However, that’s not true. We don’t need to go far to get lots of examples of new employees or managers changing the course of ailing products, technologies, service ideas or brands. Not to beat my own drum, but I singlehandedly rebranded a big company that had not engaged in any branding or marketing for over 5 years and I delivered the change in less than 12 months. I was the new guy – the Go To man.
Another example can be found in the field of programming. Plenty of companies can pay young programmers market salaries and turn a profit. In fact, companies doing low-end work (which may still be profitable) often fire older programmers to replace them with young ones. What this means is that the fiction of new hires being worth less than a market salary holds no water. Actually, employing decent programmers (young or old, novice or expert) at market compensation is a position of profit. (I’d call it an arbitration, but having been involved in real arbitration I prefer to avoid this colloquialism.)
The ‘Real Reasons’
The first reason why companies don’t like ‘job hoppers’ is not that new hires are incapable of doing useful work, but that companies intentionally prevent new people from doing useful work. The ‘dues paying’ period is evaluative and the ‘dues paying’ period mostly leaks at the top.
The second problem that companies have with ‘job hoppers’ is that they keep the market fluid and, additionally, transmit information. ‘Job hoppers’ are the ones who tell their friends at the old company that a new Start Up is paying 30% better salaries and runs open allocation. They not only grab external promotions for themselves when they ‘hop’, but they learn and disseminate industry information that transfers power to engineers, creative staff, designers and the sales guys.
Finally, job hopping is often a slight to a manager’s ego. Bosses like to dump on their own terms. After a few experiences with the “It’s not you, it’s me” talk, after which the reports often go to better jobs than their former boss’s, managers develop a general distaste for these ‘job hoppers’.
These are the real reasons why there is so much dislike for people who leave jobs. The job hopper isn’t stealing from the company. If a company can employ a highly talented technical person for 6 months and not profit from the person’s work, the company is stealing from itself.
Try on some new glasses – be brave – go for the new fashion!
All this being said, I wouldn’t be a fan of someone who joined companies with the intention of ‘hopping’, but I think very few people intend to run their careers that way. I have a resume that some would call a ‘job hopper’ as my average tenure over the last 12 years was 3 years on each job. You see, when I take a job, I have no idea whether I’ll be there for 8 months or 8 years. I’d prefer the 8 years, to be honest. I’m sick of having to change employers every 3 years, but I’m not one to suffer stagnation either.
My observation has been that most ‘job hoppers’ are people who learn rapidly and become competent at their jobs quickly. In fact, they enter jobs with a pre-existing and often uncommon skill set. Most of the ‘job hoppers’ I know would be profitable to hire as consultants at twice their salary.
Because they’re smart, they learn fast and quickly outgrow the roles that their companies expect them to fill. They’re ready to move beyond the years-long dues-paying period at two months, but often can’t. Because they often leave once they hit this political wall, they become even more competent by moving on.
The idea that the ‘job hopper’ is an archetype of ‘millennial entitlement’ is one I find ridiculous. Actually, we should blame this epidemic of job hopping on efficient education and the rapid pace of information which is in our hands every day. I have this regular hands-on experience with information. I feel that it makes me competent and I am sure this applies to many Gen XYZ candidates who have embraced the flow of information as a positive tool for their personal and business development.
First, smart people get bored on the pokey track, and in a world that’s increasingly full of distractions, that boredom becomes crippling. Second, the constant threat of redundancies and restructures, up and downsizing and the ever repeating corporate mergers have made us Gen XYZers very ‘flighty’ so to speak. We are excited by challenge and opportunity and we are scared to death when we encounter business traits with scratchy surfaces and blurred vision where half truths and legacy products and strategies reign. We crave stability and we tend to live for the future. We have learned to live in the now and the future. The past is, well, exactly that!
You have to “Move Out to Move Up”
Many ‘job hoppers’ have experienced corporate abuse. They often signed up to serve and they were keen to deliver with all their talent and genius only to learn that their resourcefulness and creativity were used for a quick fix. Seriously! Tell us the truth and give us the real story and we stay but if you continue to use our energy and talent as the Go To solution for a quick fix then don’t be surprised if we leave once we see through it.
Selling the Rolls Royce and then delivering less than a Volkswagen
Another real contributor is lack of values. You see Gen X and Gen Y are strong on that. We know that many corporates are sick and tired of environment, ethics, equal opportunity, carbon talk and all the other things which tend to matter to us. At work, where the ethical rules are often undefined, group cohesion is often prioritised over individual morale, as individualism is viewed as dangerous.
This makes rapid promotion of such high-potential people a political liability that most companies don’t even want to get involved. So, if the Rolls turn out to be less than a Volkswagen, what do you do? ‘Job hoppers’ are the people who rely on external promotion because they often grow faster than it is politically feasible for a typical corporation to advance them. I am thinking Billy Joel here “Only the good die young”.
There is no risk in hiring a ‘job hopper’!
For all the negative things said about job hoppers, I know few who intentionally wish to ‘hop’. Most people will stay with a job for 5 years or more, if they continue to grow at a reasonable pace. The reason they move around so much is that they rarely do.
So is it worth it to hire ‘job hoppers’, given the flight risk associated with top talent? I would say, without hesitation, “yes”. Their average tenures may be rather short, but they tend to be the high-power contributors who get a lot done in a short period of time. Also, given that one might become a long-term employee if treated well, delivering both top talent and longevity, I’d say there’s a serious call option here.
Job hopping shouldn’t be stigmatised because it’s the corporate system that’s broken. Most corporate citizens spend most of their time on low-yield make-work that isn’t important, but nevertheless exists because of managerial problems or undefined purpose.
The smart people who figure out quickly that they’re wasting their time tend to want to move on to something better. However, closed-allocation companies make this extremely difficult and they also tend to have politically rickety promotion systems. Without the ‘job hopping’ stigma, they’d be able to quit and leave when this happens, but that reputation risk encourages them, instead, to withdraw and stay. I have seen this many times and for companies, this is much worse.
Now that we have dispelled the myth that people who spend, say, 1.5 years on average in their jobs are ‘job hoppers’, I think it’s time we find a new term to describe these high performing individuals who desire challenges and genuine growth opportunities.
So, feel free to comment if you agree with my raves and rants and, if you are one of these hiring professionals, well – you have the choice! Pick a ‘job hopper’ and turn him or her into your best asset. Don’t worry, we are used to quick decisions. Just hire us!