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Help or harm: What does job hopping do for your career?

Out with one job and on to the next might seem like a great idea. But it's worth considering the longer term.

Out with one job and on to the next might seem like a great idea. But it's worth considering the longer term. Photo: Getty

Job mobility is at its highest in a decade, with younger people more likely to chop and change positions, according to recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.

For the second year running, 9.5 per cent of employees switched companies, including almost 15 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds.

That’s compared to 11.2 per cent of those aged 25 to 44, or only 5.9 per cent of 45 to 64-year-olds.

Which begs the question: Is switching jobs frequently perfectly natural for ambitious workers – or could it actually damage your career?

Career coach Athena Ali, of The Get Noticed Coach, is a job hopper from way back.

Now 50, she changed jobs every 12 to 18 months in her 20s and 30s, which was considered unusual at the time.

“I guess without there actually being a strategy, there really was. And it all really boils down to the fact that I valued myself,” says Ali, who notes she has always had a strong work ethic.

If she felt she was undervalued, or an employer wasn’t delivering on expectations, Ali would move on.

But she always framed the situation positively to potential employees, and focused on talking about the work, rather than personalities.

‘Increase your experience’

She says her frequent moves gave her experience with different types of companies and positions, while allowing her to stay up to date with technology and professional development.

“Nowadays, I think while employers would like you to stay for at least five years, moving around can actually increase your experience, particularly when you’re young.”

And she says employers should generally be more forgiving of job hoppers in a market where it’s harder to find good people.

Careers expert Sue Ellson says people commonly leave jobs because of friction with the boss.

“But I also think it’s a bit of the society we live in. I mean, you swipe for dating, you swipe for food, so everybody thinks, ‘well, if I don’t like [my job] I could just move on’,” she says.

Some people, for example those with quality LinkedIn profiles, just attract more offers, she says.

Ellson says job hopping has its pros and cons, depending on which industry you work in, and even which country.

“Countries like Singapore, if you stay in a job longer than two years, you’re actually considered out of date,” she says.

In Australia, many IT workers for example, undertake six-month contracts, and are continually learning.

“But if you were an admin person, and you were disappearing, or a business development manager or senior manager, and you only stayed long enough so nobody discovers your mistakes, then yeah, that’s obviously an issue.”

There are some drawbacks to frequent job switching, believes Ellson, such as having to constantly adapt to the cultural sensitivities of each organisation.

And you may risk missing out on promotions.

“In my personal view, it takes six months to be unconsciously competent in any job. That’s when you just automatically do things without even thinking about it,” she says.

“If you’re changing on a regular basis, and you chop off that six months every time you switch, that is an issue.”

‘All in the storytelling’

Career management expert Sally-Anne Blanshard believes the jobs market is “quite forgiving of frequent moves right now”.

“It’s all in the storytelling – which needs to be authentic and backed up with employer or peer references.”

She said there are many reasons that people job hop.

For starters, workplaces are arguably more complex than ever, particularly with a mix of hybrid working styles, and many different generations working together.

And younger generations are very willing to walk away if they’re not happy.

After COVID-19, many people have also found it hard to “find their place”, Blanshard said.

“They’ve been overpromised, underdelivered – maybe roles haven’t eventuated as they had hoped.”

However, during a “war for talent”, many recruiters are happy to consider frequent job hoppers as long as their story matches up, she said.

“If you can authentically share your story as to why you’re in the market, there’ll be no question.”

To ensure a job is the right fit, job seekers should ask plenty of questions during the interview process, ensure their values align by asking for examples, and be clear on the type of work set-up (for example work from home or hybrid) that suits you, she said.

As for recruiters wanting to attract longer-term employees, Blanshard says they should be very clear about their value proposition, while also making sure that stacks up for existing employees.

Clear, open communication and support is also essential, as is giving people autonomy.

Finally, onboarding “needs to be a big affair” and ideally structured over a week or two, she says.

“A really poor onboarding process just creates gaps, question marks, and you don’t want that from someone that’s heavily invested in wanting to join your organisation.”

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