When Caleb Forbes landed his first post-university job at an Australian advertising agency at the age of 20, he assumed he would be at the company for years. But after seven months he was bored.
“I felt like I was at the top of my game,” said Forbes, who was a digital strategist at his first employer. But he felt he “had nowhere else to go” within the company.
Forbes moved to London shortly thereafter. He would hold four different jobs at three companies over the next five years. Forbes wanted a better job and higher salary — he was never quite satisfied. His longest stint in one position was 21 months.
Welcome to the world of a job hopper. Forbes’s story isn’t unusual these days and it is likely such frequent movement from one job to the next will become more common, said Rick Guzzo, a Washington DC-based partner with Mercer LLC’s Workforce Sciences Institute.
The main reason: the nature of employment is changing.
“There’s a lot more contract and part time work or flexible employment,” Guzzo said. “That leads to people having a greater number of jobs.”
What’s more, layoffs and salary freezes, among other things, have pushed people from one job to another. In some cases, a stagnant worldwide job market has limited opportunities for star employees, prompting them to seek new challenges at other companies.
Moving from company to company frequently doesn’t mean workers are climbing the corporate ladder faster. Depending on the industry and country, being a job hopper may be seen as a liability.
Many recruiters still raise an eyebrow when they see a candidate who has changed companies every two or three years, said Jason Peetsma, managing director of interim practice at Odgers Berndtson, a Toronto-based executive search firm. He said that bias is largely driven by the idea that if the candidate jumped from his last employer after a short period, he will likely do the same again — there is significant financial risk in hiring someone who leaves in short order.
On the flipside, Peetsma said there is also a risk in hiring someone who’s been with the same firm for decades. Companies prefer people with at least some experience adapting to new work cultures.
Still, research shows the less someone jumps around the better it is for career advancement — at least to the corner office. In 2005, Monika Hamori, a professor at Spain’s IE Business School, looked at chief executive officers at about age 55 to see if those who moved around more climbed the ladder faster.
She found that executives who stayed with one company became CEO after 23 years, while executives with a more diverse resume landed the top job after 26 years. One reason: workers within the same organization tend to be promoted more frequently and into better jobs.
“When you move into a new organization, that company is only familiar with past performance,” said Hamori. “On an inside move, people are more likely to be promoted on the basis of your potential.”
"Should you job hop for the money?
Staying put may be good for climbing the corporate ladder, but it usually won’t earn you significant salary increases. A number of studies show that changing employers can substantially increase a person’s salary.
Peetsma said he has found that people who move to a new company can increase their salary by 10% to 15%, while people who move up in the same company typically get a 5% to 10% raise when they receive a promotion. Long time employees often take what’s offered to them and don’t know what they’re really worth as they move up, he said.