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Explaining and Evaluating Job Hoppers

Explaining and Evaluating Job Hoppers – A Right Recruiting White Paper


The phrase job hopper is a way to describe people who change jobs too frequently for employer comfort. That has been an issue for employers since I started in recruiting in 1980. The definition of “too frequently” has changed somewhat in the last few years, which is something we will discuss in this White Paper.


Job hoppers create two issues for employers, one economic and one personal. I will start by addressing both in a non-judgmental way.


From an economic standpoint, someone who leaves a job after a short period of time can cost an employer a lot of money. As a rule, a new employee does not become productive for at least 6 months, so someone who leaves a job after a year has only been productive in that job for half of their time of employment. It can be frustrating to an employer when they must re-engage a job search after a short period of time, which is also an unexpected cost, and then have to write off a salary just as the person becomes productive. From that perspective, there is indeed an economic price to pay when someone leaves a job after a short stint with an employer. For this reason alone, employers have always become suspicious when evaluating a resume that represents a series of short employment engagements. Rightfully so, I believe.


From a personal perspective, to many employers, job hoppers lack loyalty. They extrapolate a personal betrayal of prior employers in a resume with frequent job changes. They see themselves as loyal employers and are suspicious of those who may not show loyalty in return. This is especially true of both business owners and executives who have stayed with their company for decades as they have risen through the ranks. For obvious reasons, a job hopper represents the opposite of both categories. Right or wrong, this is a natural reaction.


I respect both concerns, but I also recognize that many employees have personal goals and have families that take priority. For those reasons, people often have to make decisions for change jobs for reasons outside of the employment scenario. But, for many employers this has become a huge issue because the definition of job hopping has changed. A decade ago, someone who had 2 jobs in 5 years was a job hopper. Now, it is not unusual to see someone with 4 jobs in 5 years. This creates a conundrum for an employer seeking talent in a competitive market. If you eliminate all job hoppers, your candidate pool will shrink dramatically.


I would like to do two things. The first is explain why job hopping is both more common and represents shorter job stints now. The second will be to give you some tools to help you work through the problem.


There are two reasons that people leave their jobs more frequently today. For those who don’t live in the employment world daily, like we do here, these explanations may give you some perspectives:


  • Reason 1: Technology

In the ancient past, 30 years ago, a person had to make a conscious decision to look for a job. They had to buy a Sunday newspaper, select the jobs of interest, make a resume, mail it, wait for a reply and then go through a series of interviews. Even in the post internet-age, the process was the same, but the time frame slightly shortened. The person had to actively apply for a job. In economic terms, that created a “stickiness” to the relationship. The pain (long commute, low pay, bad career track, etc.) had to reach a high threshold of discomfort before the employee acted. Frankly, changing jobs was a pain in the neck. Staying in a marginal job may have been easier to stomach compared to the active effort involved in a job search.


Things are different now. No one actively searches and applies for jobs anymore. The job comes to them. Some people get daily or weekly calls or emails telling them about an opportunity. For others, it may be monthly. Either way, if someone gets contacted by someone like me, they usually listen. If the job appears interesting, I have a resume from them 5 minutes later. No one is looking, but everyone is listening. The process is significantly easier than 10 or 20 years ago.


Those complaining about how often people change jobs now often come from a generation (like me) in which the decision to change jobs was more dramatic. I would suggest that if you consider how you would have reacted at age 28 if every two days, someone presented you with a good job opportunity at a good company, you might have jumped more often yourself. The reality is that a $10K – $15K raise on a $70K salary at the age of 28 negates a lot of loyalty. Right or wrong, fighting human nature is like fighting gravity. Over the long run, it is a losing proposition.


  • Reason 2: Acceptance

About 3 years ago, I noticed something had changed. I was recruiting for a mid-sized company that needed talent from large Fortune 500 companies to support their growth. We were looking for people at the 5-8-year experience level in marketing and engineering. I was shocked at two things. One, how many people with 5 years of experience had already had 3 employers. Two, each of those employers was a Grade A company. That last fact shocked me even more.


In the past, job hoppers paid an invisible price. Each job change lessened the quality of their employer. In recruiter-speak, there are Grade A, B and C companies, just like there are A, B and C candidates. Frequent employment changes used to lead to a degradation of employer quality on a candidate’s resume. Many candidates would not notice that because they would focus on salary almost exclusively. By their third employer in 6 years they would be down to a Grade C company because the Grade A and B companies would screen them out because of the excessive job changes on their resume.


But as I said, that pattern was not evident on the resumes that I saw starting in 2015. Candidates who would normally have been dismissed by Grade A companies after their 2nd job were continuing to be hired by top tier firms. There was no degradation in employer quality in their backgrounds. They were paying no cost for changing jobs.


Clearly, major employers are now not overly concerned about hiring a 28-year-old, who is on his or her 4th job. This is important to consider because, like it or not, they set the standard the defines career management. I can hazard a few reasons for that change in Grade A company attitude:


  1. A realistic understanding that the candidate pool is limited.
  2. A strong enough belief in their culture that convinces them that they can keep a candidate long-term despite a prior history of job changes.
  3. An ability to quickly bring a new person up to speed, which speeds up the time to productivity of a new employee.


My guess is that #1 led to #2 and #3. An adjustment and investment in HR systems and training driven by the competitive nature of recruitment now allows these major employers to redefine the risk of hiring a job hopper.


How does this affect your firm? Well, if you believe that the quality of your company is built by the quality of your employees, an outdated view of frequent job hoppers will eventually strangle your candidate pool. This is a time when you should be trying to expand, not limit, your candidate pool. The more choice YOU have, the better the candidate you get. Here is the section where I will give you advice. Here is what we do:


  1. If the candidate appears to have the skills our client requires we interview them.
  2. In our interview, we ask them about their career and cultural goals.
  3. Once we understand the answers above, we ask them about their job changes.
  4. Are the reasons for their job changes consistent with their career/cultural goals? If yes, we consider the candidate. If no, we eliminate them.
  5. Does our client’s structure fit the candidate’s career/cultural goals? if yes, we strongly consider the candidate. If no, we eliminate them.


In real life, we try to understand the person and not just the resume. The resume is an abstract. The person is real. Things to consider:


  1. When did they enter the work force? Someone entering in a bad economy may have had few job choices. That can have ripple effects for 5 or more years until they get themselves back on track.
  2. Was there a life event that led to a poor choice of employers for a few years? A need to provide family care? A spousal job change requiring relocation? These can muddy a good background.
  3. Did they make a bad employer choice while running away from a horrible employer? There are still bad, bad employers out there. Someone trying to escape a horrific employment situation may end up, in desperation, making a second bad decision in a poorly planned escape attempt.


These are all things that can justify a series of frequent job changes. Here are things to be concerned about:


  1. This job was too far. Then, that other job did not pay enough. Then, there was too much travel in the next job. A series of excuses that demonstrate decisions made on the fly.
  2. I didn’t like my boss here. I didn’t like the culture there. The next job was too stressful. A series of subjective judgments with no real definition.
  3. More money here. Then, more money there. Then, more money yet again. Sooner or later the world runs out of money.


The key, of course, is to speak to everyone you can with the skills and then consider them as a person, not a robot. We just filled a Controller job by asking a client to consider a candidate with frequent changes over the last few years. Our client was dubious but trusted us. That resulted in an offer, acceptance and start and a happy client and candidate.


As ever, thanks for getting this far. We hope we’ve given you some new tools and, of course, please consider Right Recruiting for your recruitment needs.



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