Job Hopping the RIGHT Way is Good for Your Career

Once upon a time, a reputation as a job hopper was the kiss of death for anyone seeking employment.

If your job history revealed a succession of short-term stays with different employers, you would be branded as flighty, disloyal or lacking in judgment. Not to mention a poor planner.

But the rise of independent retirement portfolios, corporate instability, lackluster raises and fast-changing job descriptions has altered the calculus for many workers eyeing a change in employment. And from the employer perspective, sometimes a job hopper is actually a smart hire -- one who brings:

  • experience working in diverse environments;

  • a unique range and blend of skills;

  • and a broader-than-usual view of their chosen industry.

Especially in fast-changing fields like technology, the opportunity to hire someone who has been trained by another company can be an enticing proposition for a potential employer.

Nevertheless, job hopping still has its downsides:

  • Burned bridges may limit future options.

  • Hiring managers may worry about your loyalty.

  • A succession of quick moves might engender suspicion that you are unfocused, lack judgment or suffer from "the grass is always greener"-itis.

Perhaps worst of all, a prospective employer might wonder: what will she do when the going gets tough here?

The cost of recruiting, hiring and bringing a new employee up to speed is substantial, and nobody wants to hire someone he thinks will be out the door before adding at least as much value as she cost to bring on board.

Still, job hopping is increasingly common, especially among younger employees. A recent survey of hiring managers found that 55 percent had hired someone they considered a job hopper; and nearly a third said they have come to expect employees to change jobs frequently, especially younger workers. While the average time American workers have been with their current employer is 4.6 years, the tenure of those aged 20-34 is half as long, at 2.3 years.

These statistics alone suggest that shorter job terms, especially early in your career, will not hold you back the way they once did. And if that didn't convince you, this just might: a Forbes blogger says his math shows that those who stay more than two years in a job on average will earn 50 percent less over a lifetime than those who job hop. It stands to reason, when you think about it: while average raises in 2014 are projected to be a ho-hum three percent, changing jobs can often garner you an increase of 10 to 20 percent.

So, how do you job hop the right way, wending your way towards jobs that are better suited to your talents and desires, and that also pay more money? Here are a few tips:

  • Unless it's a complete disaster, try not to move before giving a job at least a year. Stays of less than twelve months are a red flag to hiring managers. It's also important to make a good impression before you leave.

  • Make sure you are maxing out the opportunities that exist for you to grow and learn with your current employer. Sometimes small tweaks such as an adjusted schedule or a new team assignment can make a world of difference. And if you deserve a raise, or a better raise than you got, ask for it.

  • When looking to move, think about your career, not just the job. Will this new position add significant value to your resume? Will it be different from your current job in ways that are meaningful to you and make you more marketable in the future?

  • Think about the through-line for your own story. How does a potential new position build on what you are good at and help you develop your personal "brand"?

  • If your resume already carries a record of several short-term stays, develop a pitch that will market your diverse experiences as an asset. You've shown you are agile, flexible and ready to learn. You're willing to take risks, and you bring with you a broad network of contacts. There's a lot for employers to love in such an applicant.

  • Keep in mind that your goal should always be to ready yourself for the position that will work for you for more than just a year or two; no matter how restless you are, you will likely want to settle down at some point, for a while at least. And even the most open-minded employer will eventually quail at a resume of seemingly endless one- and two-year stints.

  • Finally, if your reason for job hopping is a desire to try out different industries and sectors or to gain experience with different types of positions, consider temporary work as an alternative to serial job changing. Taking temporary assignments does not carry the stigma associated with quitting too soon, and offers a chance to gain a variety of skills, experiment with different kinds of assignments, demonstrate a range of abilities and build a track record of success, all without burning a single bridge. Call it the safest -- and possibly the most productive -- kind of job hopping.