Six different jobs in 10 years. If you think that’s a lot, you’re in good company — that’s the average cutoff point when employers consider a candidate a “job hopper,” according to a survey by Robert Half of more than 300 Canadian HR managers.
And while frequent job changes may seem commonplace, for some employers it can be a major deterrent when flipping through a candidate’s resumé.
“They may not be willing to risk employing someone that they think may have one foot out the door,” said Derek Wood, branch manager at the Waterloo, Ont., office of Robert Half.
“It can be expensive and very time-consuming to hire and train new employees. So if you’ve got two candidates of equal talent — one’s got a history of job hopping and the other one doesn’t — they may lean to the other candidate.”
Job hoppers seen as risky hires
Employers may shy away from job hoppers because of the inherent risks involved in hiring someone who isn’t likely to stay, said Shari Angle, vice-president of talent and communications at Adecco in Toronto.
“It’s very costly to an organization if you hire someone who turns over rather quickly… All of the time that it takes for the recruitment process is an investment that could have been made elsewhere. So if you’re doing it multiple times for the same position, it becomes quite a hindrance to the organization,” she said.
“There’s also an employee morale issue that comes (with turnover). So it becomes very frustrating to employees who are being stretched while the job is vacant... and then you finally get that relief, and then you’re stretched further because you’ve got to now help and assist with the onboarding and the training process, and then the person turns around and leaves.”
If the position is a client-facing one, there can be reputational issues for the company as well if customers are seeing constant turnover, said Angle.
Asking the right questions
So, how can an employer tell if a job-hopping candidate is a risky hire? Looking at her resumé is usually not enough, said Wood — her motivations can be better understood in the interview process.
“The key is that you’re asking them about what their long-term plans are,” he said.
“Have a very good discussion as to what their reasons for leaving each of those positions were... are they making snap decisions in their career to make a move? Which could mean they’re maybe less engaged or less invested.”
Also, looking closely at the candidate’s former job titles and responsibilities can be a clue to the motivations behind their moves, said Mark Bania, managing director of CareerBuilder Canada in Toronto.
“(Pay) very close attention to the responsibilities… Sometimes it’s as easy as looking at the title to see that this person received a higher-value promotion at this next position — but it’s not always that easy. So looking at the actual responsibilities or duties or accomplishment underneath each of those previous roles is more often than not the best way to identify this,” he said.
“That’s one of the most surefire ways to understand if this individual left because they were an overachiever and wanted to be further challenged, or if it’s because… they weren’t able to ‘cut it’ in their previous role and (job hopping) was an easy way out.”
It’s possible a former job hopper will show some staying power once they find the right fit but, again, the interview process is the best way to gauge whether that is a possibility.
“It becomes a bit of a matchmaker exercise to make sure that person is right for your organization,” said Wood. “There are people that just haven’t found their niche yet... and maybe your company is that match. But unless you’re asking those questions about their personal motivations, it can be tough.”
Generational trend or sign of the times?
There are those who consider job hopping to be a generational phenomenon, associating millennial workers with frequent job changes. But that’s not actually the case, according to Lauren Friese, Toronto-based founder of Talent-Egg, a job site and career resource for students.
“It’s a big stereotype of generation Y or millennials that they are job hoppers. I think it’s an especially interesting stereotype in a time where the phrase ‘precarious work’ has become so prevalent as temporary and contract-type opportunities are becoming more popular. So it’s interesting because job hopping has a negative connotation and the blame is sort of right away put on young people,” she said.
“There’s a lot of economic factors, a lot of macro factors that are leading to job hopping potentially becoming just the way of the future. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing… It’s more of the concept of ‘Me Inc.,’ where you’re working for yourself and finding various opportunities throughout your career.”
And the sheer volume of opportunities candidates now have access to is a tempting factor, said Bania.
“The average worker a couple (of) decades ago would stay with the same employer for potentially 15-plus years. The average we’re seeing today is that the average person stays with the same employer for 4.6 years,” he said.
“It isn’t necessarily as much of a generational phenomenon as it being the world that we live in today. Information is far more accessible now than it has ever been and, historically, it’s very easy to understand how an individual could stay at the position they’re in, simply because they don’t know what else is in the market.”
Moving around not always a bad thing
Although it does have negative connotations with some employers, job hopping is not necessarily a bad thing — especially in some industries and with some employers, said Wood.
“Sometimes it comes down to the employer. For one person, someone being at the same employer for the last 10 years… there are those who would view that as positive. That is a stable, desirable candidate. Whereas another employer may look at that resumé and say, ‘Stagnant, limited exposure to different environments and skills,’” he said.
“So flip it to a ‘job hopper’ resumé. The first employer may say, ‘Jumpy, doesn’t know what they want, (I’m) not willing to invest in someone who’s got one foot out the door.’ Another employer might look at that and say, ‘Well, I like that they’ve had progressive moves, they’ve gotten exposure to different environments, different skills, different software systems, different management styles — that’s desirable.’”
Hiring someone who has experience with different organizations can also be highly beneficial toward bringing new ideas to the table and shaking up the status quo, said Wood.
“It’s about someone who’s been able to learn new technical knowledge, new skills, being exposed to different environments, different cultures… that can be very valuable for an organization.”
How to reform serial job hoppers
It is possible to retain a would-be job hopper long-term if you can offer the sort of opportunities he’s looking for, said Angle.
“There is the opportunity to reform serial job hoppers by offering them opportunities within your own organization,” she said.
“If you can add value to them at their career in your organization — and I don’t mean by promoting somebody every six months, it doesn’t necessarily take that — but just offering stretch job assignments, understanding when… they’re not feeling challenged, providing them with training opportunities, even just establishing a career plan with them… that goes a long way (toward) somebody being more loyal.”
Another important practice for deterring job hopping? Have open discussions about the employee’s goals and motivations, said Friese.
“The first thing to do if… you have an individual employee that (was) job hopping and you want to keep them is to have a conversation to understand why. Ideally, those conversations are happening before the decision is made. Once somebody has made a decision to leave your organization then it’s very, very hard and probably not in your best interest to try to lure them back.”
It really boils down to making sure your internal practices internally revolve around valuing employees, said Bania, adding that a positive workplace culture goes a long way toward retaining employees.
“If I don’t feel valued as an employee today, it’s very easy for me to go on to my smartphone and start researching organizations where employees say that they feel valued.”
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