Can we end the job-hopping stigma?

Let's end the job hopping stigma

Human Resources has been chasing ‘the seat at the table’ for probably three generations now, but many organizations still treat it as a compliance function and many outright ignore it. From a senior management standpoint, the reasoning is simple: HR doesn’t generate revenue. (Although there are many ways to change that.) From a rank-and-file perspective, I’d argue that most people can’t see the first word of the term ‘Human Resources’ in action; it often seems like they’re not operating according to human principles and ideas, but rather just according to process and protocol.

One key example of this is that tons of recruiters you’ll meet or interact with still exist according to an idea that job-hopping is bad in some way, or that it shows you’re flaky, not committed, can’t focus, etc. Many recruiters also love the ‘linear resume’ (no gaps), but that’s also something that from a sheer human standpoint should be dying out — so someone wanted to go to Switzerland for a few months at 25, right? Does that mean they’re somehow a less qualified candidate than someone who sat in the cubicle for those same five months? In reality, they’re probably a better candidate because they expanded their worldview a little bit. Many recruiters miss this boat.

The job-hopping stigma has been around for a long time. Is it about to change, though?

The New Face of Job-Hopping

Before we get into this, obviously realize a couple of factors:

When you put those three things together, here’s what you come to:

  • Different workforce
  • But, they’re broke
  • Companies by and large don’t give a crap

And that brings us to how we can shift job-hopping to a positive thing:

There are a lot of arguments for jumping ship every few years. The economy isn’t what it used to be—and never will be again. Workers who stay with a company longer than two years are said to get paid 50% less, and job hoppers are believed to have a higher learning curve, be higher performers, and even to be more loyal, because they care about making a good impression in the short amount of time they know they’ll stay with each employer.

Job-Hopping and Salary

So let’s start with economics, because from a Maslow perspective (“hierarchy of needs,” which also might be a crock), we need some scratch in this life. (I know this all too well, as I’m currently unemployed.)

The fact is — and I’ve seen this at dozens of jobs — when you stay at a place for a while, you can become “an executor” for the top dogs (“He/she is a company person!”), which typically means you do a bunch more work, see your family and friends less, and pretty much don’t make an additional cent. (Although maybe your bonus is slightly larger, which is nice.)

See, tenure should be a good thing — it should mean a person is learning, growing, and possesses a lot of institutional knowledge about that specific place. That should be fiscally rewarded. Oftentimes to senior leadership, tenure just means “Here’s a person who can run point for me for about a decade until I’m ready to raise them one salary band.” Talent strategy and talent pipelines are very messed-up at most companies.

That’s all a long way of saying: If you want to make more money, you probably need to job-hop.

See above about the negative savings rate? Yep.

Job-Hopping and Learning Curves

Now, there’s also this:

“I think that the most important, critical change in people’s mental outlook is to view employees as smart contributors from the beginning,” advises McCord, who now coaches and advises companies and entrepreneurs on culture and leadership.

That’s Patty McCord, former chief talent officer (head of HR) for Netflix, a relatively innovative company. She also said this:

“If we changed our perspective and said, ‘Everyone here wants to come in, do a great job, and contribute,’ then they either fit or they don’t,” she adds. “You build skills faster when changing companies because of the learning curve.”

So here’s the shift we’re discussing:

  • Old Model: Stay at a place 40 years, get that gold watch
  • New Model: Jump every three years, ‘hit the ground running’ (also a farce), build skills, contribute, leave for something else

This shift is actually very logical, because since the 1950s I’d argue companies have evolved from ‘a safe space that protects employees’ to ‘mega-institutions that protect their bottom lines.’ I had a job once where I had an issue with some superiors and had to go through HR, right? I had an HR lady tell me “Our job is to protect senior management.” I actually think that’s potentially illegal to say, but I didn’t push it. I just slinked back to my cubicle.

So the shift, again, would be:

  • Old Model: Veteran grinders
  • New Model: Hired assassins rotating in and out

And look, if companies don’t really care about talent — and many claim they do but really don’t — then this model should be perfectly fine for everyone involved. We just need HR to catch up with how we hire and evaluate resumes.

Job-Hopping and Productivity

There are a few more pieces to this puzzle, starting here:

People used to think that the longer you kept an employee, the more worth they are to you, because you train them and they get used to their job and then they do it. But, in fact, an employee who stays on the job and isn’t learning at a really high rate is not as engaged, so they’re not doing as good work. So it turns out, the employee who stays longest, you get the least work out of, and the employees that job hunt are the most receptive of becoming extremely useful, very fast.

This seems logical to me. If you’re moving a bunch and you’re trying to make an impact at each place, those are steep learning curves predicated on doing good work and proving yourself. If you’re at a place 10 years, you run the risk of (a) homophily and (b) becoming actively disengaged.

That said, this is all “you run the risk…” stuff. Plenty of people work at a place 20 years and love every day, and plenty of people job-hop and despise it. These are constructs; every individual is different in terms of their needs and wants out of work.

We generally know these things about work and job switching from research:

Job-Hopping and Purpose

If you want to see a cool video about why purpose matters (especially at work), watch this from Stanford Business School and Jennifer Aaker:

So now we’re at a place where we’ve somewhat established that:

  • Job-hopping can lead to more learning, and faster
  • Job-hopping can create a world where people want to make an impact quickly
  • Job-hopping can help with your personal bottom line (salary)
  • Job-hopping makes total sense given how much employers really care about ‘talent strategy’

Job-Hopping and On-Boarding

The final piece of the puzzle, then, is on-boarding. If someone is only going to work for you for three years, six months is 1/6 of their time there. That’s 16 percent! So you need an effective on-boarding approach to make sure the first six months aren’t a wasteland, or you just lost close to 20 percent of a person’s productivity for you. Thankfully, we know a couple of things about on-boarding better:

So there we go — I think we just figured out how to bust a few holes in the ol’ “Job-hopping is bad!” HR narrative. What say you?



Ted Bauer


  1. I think that the employers out there are still those old schools. Perhaps when most of the millennials are in the management level, then the job-hopping stigma may go away.

  2. This post was awesome, a really thoughtful way to delineate how organizational staffing has changed and will continue to change that more HR and hiring managers ought to take heed of.

    I’m so sick of the “job-hopper” stigma. You want good employees who will stick around and work their asses off for you for more a few years? Offer job training, pay good wages, give them a chance for promotion when they prove they’re ready for the next step, and allow forgiveness when your hires make mistakes, as *every single person* is wont to do when they’re new to a job.

    Failing that, every hiring manager can stop asking interviewees “what’s your five year plan?” immediately.

    • We really just need to get that old-school crew of HR ‘leadership’ — who basically thinks their job is to protect senior management, who BTW is already protected by virtue of being senior management — out of there and get a new mindset in.

      • Agree wholeheartedly, Ted. Time to “turn and face the strange”, as Bowie once said. Thanks!

  3. Owning and operating a recruiting firm for 15 years, the biggest obstacle to someone getting hired with a less-than perfect resume (i.e. job-hopper) I found was human resources. Way too many act like gatekeepers rather than a department tasked to finding talent. Seldom did the issue of job-hopping come up when I dealt directly with end decision makers – regardless of the position. Seldom did it NOT come up dealing with HR.

    If human resources wishes to ‘gain a seat at the table’ then the assumption of the jobs need to change as much as the company does. Act like more like a talent scout and less like a receptionist screening calls (no offense since that is their job) and respect and acknowledgement will follow.

      • Thanks for the kind words Ted. I hope my rather abrupt comment wouldn’t come across too harsh. As a recruiter I was often called a non-conformist in the candidates I presented to clients. I looked for not only how a person would fit today … but how they would enhance the position in future – while enable personal growth. This view very often led to clashes with human resource departments.

  4. So…I have been on both sides of this, in that I did a little hanging around but really for something like 20 years I did contracts. Lots and lots of contracts. Sometimes I might work for one consulting firm for 2-3 years at a time, sometimes it was just one 2-6 month engagement. I also ran my own shop or went 1099 direct a few times. Doing this, I specifically used a strategy of moving from large to small to large to small companies. The reason was really simple. Over this long of a term things are changing a lot in technology, switching this way let me see many business models, and take the innovative stuff from the small companies to the large ones….and take the stability lessons, scalability, etc. to the small ones. This made me valuable and experienced in a way I could not get by staying in one job, it also gave me an opportunity to market new skills frequently and from the method I chose I was learning a lot…esp. in the first 10 years.

    Now I have been where I am at for a much longer time, better part of a decade. My contribution here is different and is more along the lines of helping create the whole framework for the company data…which is gratifying in a different way. I am also older which means I have different priorities and am no longer climbing as much as when I was younger. Not in every field but in tech I can see “hopping” as valuable depending on why/how it occurs. I have also seen it correctly interpreted as positive and negative. For example someone who has too many hops and rather short contracts (as opposed to a mix of contract lengths as the business typically sees when you are contracting development/engineering) could mean the candidate either doesn’t gel well with teams or talks well but can’t back up with effective results…creating a lot of foreshortened contracts. To find out which you have to ask a lot of questions.

  5. Love this! I am a “job hopper” well actually got laid off from Oil n gas and the “gap” in my unemployment from then to my now present job was still an obstacle of some sort. Its unfair too because I am a fast learner and hard worker no matter what industry Im in or what postion I get. Ive heard people say it doesn’t look good to hop around and also heard that hey maybe you didn’t like that job and wasn’t a good fit. stayed a year..and decided to move on. I hope that I can grow at the company I am at now…but I am not afraid to jump ship after 2-3 years..because of someone who does not know how to source talent.

Comments are closed.