The endless career change loop

Career change

Here’s what I mean by an endless career change loop:

  • You get a new job and are vaguely excited about it
  • The onboarding process isn’t great, but you think “That’s OK, it isn’t great at most places”
  • Eventually you meet 2-3 people you didn’t know of during the hiring process who seem to do something very similar to what you do
  • Now you’re worried about your job role a little bit but you still find ways/reasons to brush it off
  • But now your manager isn’t communicating — and sometimes is even a real jerk
  • Like 41% of the global workforce in a given year, you decide to look for a new job
  • But because you’re not very far into this position, openly looking deems you a “job-hopper”
  • HR departments stigmatize job-hoppers
  • Unless you have good connections, it becomes hard to get past the gatekeeper level
  • You stay at the less-than-stellar job 12-18 months longer than you anticipated you might
  • In general, it’s pretty depressing
  • Then you move to a new job
  • Go back to the first bullet point

Some people do this every three-four years for, oh, 40-50 years and call that “career development.” Hint: it’s not.

Bottom line: pretty much the only way you can make a quality living for yourself monetarily in the modern age is/are:

  • Relentlessly focus on execution at a big company and get in with the right “rabbis”
  • Job-hop
  • Do it yourself

Unfortunately, all three are somewhat of a challenge (for different reasons). But now we’ve got some new research (ish) underscoring the problems of the great career change circle.

The career change, monetarily

This is from Forbes in 2014, but got some attention recently. The basic idea: staying employed at the same company for 2+ years will earn you 50% or less over your lifetime. Yes, less. Remember the days when your grandmother said “get a good job with a good firm?” Those days are mostly gone.

Here’s a pull-quote from 2014:

The average raise an employee can expect in 2014 is 3%. Even the most underperforming employee can expect a 1.3% raise. The best performers can hope for a 4.5% raise.  But, the inflation rate is currently 2.1% calculated based on the Consumer Price Index published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that your raise is actually less than 1%.  This is probably sobering enough to make you reach for a drink.

Now, the 2016 numbers were a bit better:

  • Lebanon: 11.5% wage growth for 2016
  • China: 6.3% wage growth for 2016
  • India: 4.7% wage growth for 2016
  • Germany: 2.7% wage growth for 2016
  • United States: 2.7% wage growth for 2016
  • Canada: 2.6% wage growth for 2016
  • United Kingdom: 2.3% wage growth for 2016

Real wages are averages adjusted for inflation.

Let’s say we went 1.5% to 2.7% U.S. from 2014 to 2016 for real wages. That’s not bad. But 20-25 years ago, 5% real wage increases annually were normative in advanced economies. That’s come down quite a bit.


I’m not out here trying to write a macro-econ paper, but I can give you two quick reasons:

Broader, more nuanced: Market forces, increased globalization, etc.

Easier to say at a cocktail party: Upper levels of companies hoarding more wealth for themselves, including creating job titles for their friends

What does this all say about loyalty?

Nothing great, but it shouldn’t be breaking news that both employee loyalty (to the company) and corporate loyalty (to the employee) have been in decline in recent years. I personally kind of came to think that most work is a means to an end for many, but some still take it very seriously — whether or not that’s true or how they believe they need to behave is a case-by-case evaluation.

Can we do anything about the career change hamster wheel?

Get off it. The three bullets you need are above. Either:

  • Hit the Gig Economy (which has many flaws itself)
  • Find a “rabbi” at work and execute like a dog for him/her
  • Keep doing the career change every four years deal

It’s your call, Jedi. But as hiring processes become increasingly worse, I’d probably avoid the third bullet. Health insurance can be a racket on the first bullet, and executing like a dog for a higher-up sometimes gets you nowhere (50% less career earnings). It’s a tough road out there. Career change is just one part of it.

Oh, and while we’re here, bosses do have a major role to play in development and pursuit of career goals, including framing up “career conversations,” but many never understand this — and that plays big into the career change circle we all get on.

Ted Bauer


  1. I had a longer response to this, but had some issues posting it. Did you find when you lived in Minneapolis that hiring managers were more concerned about job-hopping than in, say, NYC?

    • I’d say a little bit I felt that. My bigger thing was that while recruiters are bad all over, it felt like Minneapolis recruiters had no idea how to contextualize a job move/transition that wouldn’t make sense to them. Some NYC recruiters were better at saying “OK, sometimes you try shit and it fails, I get it.” Minneapolis recruiters were like “Why would you do this if you didn’t know it would turn out perfect?” That got frustrating.

      • OMG dude….I know exactly what you mean. It has been my experience that Minneapolis recruiters/hiring managers/HR types mask extreme risk aversion/timidity towards taking bold moves as perfectionism. Many times I have been asked “Why would you move to Minneapolis from NYC without a job lined up?” (I did have a job lined up, but still, it’s maddening that people here have trouble understanding why someone would want to try their skills out in a new market, particularly one that by all accounts was a great fit for my background/skills/interests). Orgs in other cities I’ve lived in were less concerned about that, I found…toxic as NYC work culture can be at times, I have found that the gods of hiring there are generally more accepting of people who take less of a straight-line career approach/feel the need to move on after a short time.

        I’ve read that MSP will have trouble recruiting newcomers in the next couple of decades, and as I’ve maintained throughout my time here, being weird to newcomers—even if it isn’t malicious in intent, which most of the time I believe it not to be—doesn’t help solve that problem when most people already write the place off as a frozen hellhole.

        I see it at work here with management from time to time too. Looking for a “silver bullet” solution when something a little rougher around the edges would work just fine. That’s seeped into my personal decision making process, too. I do really appreciate being more deliberate and thoughtful about things, but when that becomes analysis paralysis (as it often has here) I can’t really see how it helps.

        Anyways, cheers, great stuff as always my friend

Reply If You'd Like