These days, job-hopping is practically a way of life. Gone is the idea of spending four decades at one company, ultimately retiring with a gold watch and a pension plan.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years workers stay at a given job is only 4.6, which allows them to rack up as many as 10 gigs in a lifetime.
The problem: Many employers still see job-hopping as a deal breaker. Nearly 40 percent of recruiters and hiring managers say that a history of hopping is the single biggest obstacle for job-seekers, according to a recent survey conducted by recruiting software company Bullhorn.
We found four serial job-hoppers who were willing to dish about their adventures in the labor market. Then we asked a crack squad of career experts for advice on how these hoppers can find a gig that will make them want to stick around.
Jay Mehta, 36, unemployed
A few months ago, Jay Mehta was laid off from his latest IT job in Dallas, along with a handful of other employees, because of budget cuts. "The difference is that those guys have been working for the same two or three companies for the last 14 years and didn't see it coming — I've worked for 10 places," Mehta says, who has been laid off twice, including from his last gig.
Mehta wasn't always a job-hopper. For the first eight years of his professional life, he worked for just two different companies. "I thought that promotions were deserved after a lot of hard work and employer loyalty," he says. "But I was wrong." In those two jobs, Mehta's salary increased only marginally, and he couldn't seem to save enough money. Then, in January 2002, he was laid off due to downsizing.
Mehta struggled for an entire year looking for another full-time job in IT and the experience changed his outlook on employment. "I figured it wouldn't be long before something like that would happen again. Although I wasn't sure when the next economic slowdown would come, I knew that I wanted to be debt-free and ready for it before I ever got laid off again," he says.
So Mehta shifted his loyalty toward making money, rather than to any one company–switching jobs eight times in the next six years. "I gained a lot by virtue of job changes," he says. "My salary has increased significantly compared to friends I know who have stayed with the same company."
Job-hopping seems to have paid off for Mehta, who now owns his home and car outright and is completely debt-free. There's just one problem: He's been unemployed since mid-March, so he is looking for a new gig again — although Mehta doesn't believe that his hopping has hurt his chances of finding employment. "I'm currently unemployed, but I'm not complaining," he says. "If I've laid off companies for money, it's OK if a company lays me off for a lack of money."
What the Pros Say: Deborah Brown-Volkman, a career coach and president of surpassyourdreams.com, is afraid that employers might see Mehta's work history as detrimental. "While he's gained something from his job changes, what's missing is focus. His story is more about him. A prospective employer might ask, 'What's in it for me?'" To combat this, Colleen Georges, a professional résumé writer and career coach, suggests Mehta consider starting his own IT consulting firm. "This can provide needed income and potentially transform into something more lucrative in the long term, offering the independence and variety he enjoys," she says.
"My job and prospects were pretty much secured, and I was on a career path that would last at least the next 10 years of my life," Flight says.
But, right after he moved, the company lost funding and rescinded its offer.
Having drained his savings for the move, Flight took the first job he could find... as a barista. But the pay wasn't much, so a few months later, he quit for a higher-paying gig as a waiter, while still applying for court services positions.
Four months in, Flight finally found a job in his desired career path, but after just three months, lack of funding forced him out of yet another job. "I was tossed back into the ether of the over-educated and underemployed milieu," he says. "Since May of 2009, I've had eight different jobs working for eight different companies."
Recently, a prospective employer told Flight that his job-hopping was ruining his résumé. But he's not ashamed of his work history. "I've seen people spend 10 years at a job only to continue being passed over for the newcomer from outside the company," he says. "The rest of my generation saw it, too. So when we want to advance, we know that it's going to take a hop and skip to a different company and job, with a better title and paycheck. We're just trying to make it in the world."
What the Pros Say: "Flight is right that he entered the labor market at a particularly bad time for young people," says Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do at Work: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Career. Vanderkam suggests trying to find a job through Kyle's connections, where his résumé matters less. She also recommends that he do freelance work in his desired field. "There's no shame in working as a barista to pay the bills, but you also want to show that you're serious about building your career," she says. "Over time, freelance work can lead your career into new and exciting places."
Angela Johnson, 43, treatment facility counselor
A lot has changed since Angela Johnson began work as a graphic designer in the late '80s. "The technological boom of personal computers means that everyone now has the capability to design their own stationery, and we get all of our information online, rather than through books and pamphlets," says Johnson. "The print graphic designer has almost become a thing of the past."
Although she was discouraged by downsizing, Johnson wasn't ready to give up on the industry. So she hopped between more than 10 different companies over 20 years, trying to land a job that she could fall in love with. "I kept leaping to the next opportunity — only to find the same circumstances. Each company became a carbon copy of the previous one: low pay scale, low morale, no benefits and depressed colleagues," says Johnson. "I realized that my dream job didn't exist anymore."
In 2008, Johnson decided to go back to school to become a medical assistant. "I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, rather than work long hours chained to a computer," she says. While in school, she worked at a nursing home and hospice. And since November 2011, she has held a full-time position as a counselor at a residential treatment facility. "The pay is rather low, but there is an atmosphere of family," she says. "So I see myself staying at least five years or so."
She also plans to get a master's in nursing to further advance in her new career. "I've found along the way that it is necessary to make a few leaps of faith, rather than get stuck in a job that you absolutely hate," she says.
What the Pros Say: "Sometimes disappointment in one career field can pave the way to discovering a more meaningful and personally fulfilling direction," says Georges. She suggests that Johnson tailor her résumé's introductory summary to her new career field, prominently highlighting her nursing home, hospice, and residential facility positions — and condensing only the last 10 years of Johnson's print industry positions into a brief section titled "Additional Experience."
"This will take the focus away from less relevant experience and frequent moves, and instead direct hiring managers to pay attention to her education and experience in the health professions," Georges says. Brown-Volkman adds that confidence is also key when Johnson talks to new employers: "She should hold her head high, and shed any embarrassment, or else she will come across as weak in interviews — it's not the words you say, but how you say them."
Charity Rowell, 39, student
This job-hopper supported her parents and little sister in Springfield, Mo., after graduating high school. "I didn't dream about becoming a customer service representative, telemarketer, receptionist — or spending almost 20 years of my life moving from one unfulfilling job to the next," Charity Rowell says. "My duty was to make sure that the bills were paid on time."
Rowell found employment wherever she could, sometimes with the help of staffing agencies. "When all is said and done, I believe that I have worked for about 14 companies in at least five or six different industries," she says.
Finally, during one of her exit interviews, Rowell's supervisor lit a fire in her by suggesting that she'd be a great fit for a career in human resources. "Before I discovered HR, I spent most of my time in the workforce as a customer service representative — you know, one of the people you call to yell at because something is wrong with your bill, account or service," Rowell says. "I got tired of feeling like I was doing more of a disservice to people rather than helping them."
So Rowell went back to school to pursue a business degree and start a career in HR management. She hopes to graduate this year, but she's worried that her job-hopping history will haunt her when it's time to look for a position in her new field. "I don't want all of the work I've achieved, or the growing that I've done in the past four years, to be ignored just because of a list of employers," she says.
What the Pros Say: Workplace expert Anita Bruzzese recommends that Rowell limit the positions she includes on her résumé's work history. "I'd focus on the jobs that show you gained some key skills, such as communication, working in a team environment and meeting deadlines," she says.
Vanderkam stresses another important point: "Sometimes learning what you want to do in life takes time. The good news for Rowell is that earning a degree gives you a bit of a career 'reset' at graduation."
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