Job hopping: How much is too much?

Having the same job your entire career is no longer considered normal in today’s working world. Canadians are constantly changing jobs and companies, seeking better opportunities or a better fit with their lifestyle.

But a new survey suggests too many job changes can hurt your career. The magic number, according to the report from employment services firm Robert Half, is six job changes over a decade.

More than that and you’re considered a “job hopper” and might be red flagged when your resume hits the hiring squad.

Six jobs in 10 years seems like a lot of leeway for people who don’t want or like change. Others constantly seeking new challenges, or a job that truly fits, might start to worry. (Disclosure: My own resume shows I’m on the cusp of that job-hopper status).

“Leaving one job for a better one can be a smart career move, but too many employment changes in a short time span can give human resources (HR) managers cause for concern,” states Robert Half in releasing its results.

The survey, based on interviews with more than 300 HR managers across Canada, asked how many job changes would it take for a professional to be viewed as a job hopper. The mean response was six.

"Employers understand that the unpredictable job market in recent years may have resulted in shorter term employment,” said Robert Half’s international staffing operations president, Greg Scileppi. “But too much voluntary job hopping can raise a red flag and candidates should be prepared to address those questions from potential employers."

Scileppi said companies want to hire people that will contribute to the company’s business goals, which requires a certain level of commitment.

But job hopping isn’t necessarily a negative term, argues Peter Harris, editor-in-chief at job hunting website Workopolis.com.

“The whole notion of ‘job hopping’ seems to be dated,” he said in a recent post on the topic. “I actually think even intentional job hoppers can make better employees.”

How can quitting your job on a regular basis make you a better employee? Harris, a self-described job hopper, says changing jobs often gives workers a broader perspective of their industry. Always being new also means you’re working extra hard as you try to impress the latest boss. What’s more, job hoppers also have a better network because they’re met and worked with more people, Harris says.

But there are different types of job hoppers, according to BBC Capital editor Jennifer Merritt in a column last summer.

They include workers who are never satisfied, the people that have to hop because they’ve been laid off in today’s volatile employment world, and the go-getters that are being constantly recruited away to the next opportunity.

“It's critical for job-hoppers of all types to be able to clearly explain, in career advancement or economic circumstance terms, why they've made so many moves,” says Merritt. “Some employers are wary of job-hoppers, while others may think they're the perfect hire because many go-getter job-hoppers tend to be high-performers and more emotionally mature.”

Robert Half acknowledges there are pros and cons to job hopping. It offers 3 questions to ask yourself before deciding whether to stay at your current job or look for a new one:

Why do you want a new opportunity?
Are you looking for greater challenge or more money? A shorter commute or more flexible hours? A better relationship with your manager? Be sure to keep the job factors that are most important to you at the forefront of your decision and pursue a new opportunity only if it helps address those issues.

Have you looked within?
Don't assume you need to leave your company to find the job you want. There may be other jobs with your current employer that are a better fit.

Where is the greatest long-term potential and stability?
Is your best chance to build your skills and advance your career with your existing firm or another one? Which business is on the most solid footing? You don't want to make a move only to learn your career progression is stalled, or your new company is struggling.

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