The Pros and Cons of Job Hopping

People are on the move these days.

Maybe they’re changing jobs because of a physical move – for work, for a spouse’s job, to be closer to aging parents, or just for new scenery. Maybe they got laid off. Maybe they’re just looking for a new challenge. Whatever the reason, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2012 that the average worker stays at the same job for only 4.6 years.

The job hopping trend is growing, as younger workers tend to change jobs even more frequently than the overall average (they’re median tenure is 3.2 years).

Whether you view job hopping as the plight of the workplace or an exciting trend, it seems like the days of 50-year careers with the same organization are waning – at least for now. The current climate of layoffs and downsizing has created a generation of workers who are building loyalty to their careers, rather than loyalty to an employer.

The benefits of job hopping

Let’s face it – very few of us have got the whole “What do you want to do with your life?” figured out by the time we graduate college. For those whose goal is to find a career that suits their skills and passions, a little real world experience on the job can help them figure out what they want to do.

Job-hopping can help you continue to hone and develop skills – both technical ones and the soft skills that come from working in many different office cultures, and under multiple management styles.

The red flags

It’s become acceptable for employees to move around a little to find their bearings, but the resume of a 35-year-old who’s never spent more than 18 months in the same position will probably raise red flags with HR.

When you’re considering a move, be sure to examine your motives. Weigh the potential opportunities, salary increases, and work culture change against the potential negative drawbacks of being perceived as capricious. Consider looking for a new position within your organization rather than jumping ship entirely – it looks better on a resume, and might still scratch that itch you’ve been feeling to move on.

When explaining your job history to a potential employer, be careful in explaining why you’ve held so many positions. It’s one thing if you’re looking for new challenges or ways to develop your career, but if your potential employer gets the impression that you moved on because the job was too hard, you got bored, or you didn’t get along with your coworkers, they may be wary of hiring you.

Moving within the government

According to the BLS study, employees are more likely to stick around in the public sector. Federal government employees have a median tenure of 9.5 years. (The local and state government boast tenures of 8.1 years and 6.4 years, respectively.) But those numbers still mean that people are changing jobs multiple times over their careers.

Transfers between government agencies are possible to positions of the same, higher, or lower grade levels, according to the Office of Personnel Management, and generally come about as a result of the employee applying to an open position. Many of the positions on USAJOBS are only available to current federal employees – click the “Federal Employees” radio button to limit your search to those.

Lateral reassignments within the same agency are another good way to change roles. If you find an opening within your same occupational series, it may be considered a non-competitive transfer – though if it’s under a different occupational series you would have to apply and compete for the position. Be sure to check with your organization’s HR department to get the specifics of making a lateral move.

Considering a move? Check out this blog post: 4 Tips on Changing Your Government Job.

Putting a positive spin on job hopping

What story does your resume tell?

When an interviewer looks at your resume, will they see a collection of random short-term jobs? Or is your resume a solid list of career moves that build on each other, demonstrating your wide range of experiences, ambition, and broad skill set?

Structure your resume in such a way as to highlight how each position expanded on the last, building up your experience and skills in a way that looks strategic and beneficial to your employer rather than random and flighty. Highlight your successes in each position – make sure your resume shows that although you didn’t spend much time in one position, you’ve made substantial contributions everywhere you worked.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Peter Sperry

The military, the Foreign Service, a small number of other federal agencies, and the executive development programs of most multinationals all incorporate rotation in assignment. They recognize the difference between 40 years experience and 2 years repeated 20 times. They also recognize the difference between progress on a meaningful upward career path and mindless bouncing around doing the same basic job for different bosses. Those of us who are not employed by such organizations, have to recreate it for ourselves. General rule of thumb: if the current job has become so repetitive you are no longer learning, it is time to move on. Conversely, if the new job merely pays a higher salary for what you are already doing, it is probably better to stay put and wait for a more meaningful opportunity.

Ash Brandt

Until more agencies reward loyalty, truly support learning and professional development, and provide stable work environments, people will continue to move around in pursuit of promotions , challenge, and security. That’s just reality. This isn’t our grandfathers’ civil service where a person would work at the same stable agency for 40 years to retire to a nice, guaranteed monthly pension. I am responsible for my own retirement, so why would I stay at a lower GS level when I could move for more money to invest in my future.

Also, lets be honest, many federal agencies are in terrible condition from reorganizations and budget cuts. My first agency when i got out of grad school was so broken that it offered virtually ZERO training, no support of professional development, very little supplies to do the job, and atrociously incompetent HR division located in DC that ignored us, wouldn’t answer questions or fix their many mistakes in our pay and benefits.

I stayed there for a year to satisfy my service agreement, but I hit the door as soon as possible. So did most everyone else who started after the reorganization. It was truly intolerable. Why on Earth would anyone want to start out a federal career in an environment like that??? People are going to move, especially out of the lower-ranked agencies.