For most people, gone are the days when they'd stay at a job for 20 years or more. Today, most people move around to multiple companies over the course of their careers. However, it's possible to change jobs too frequently and get tagged with the "job hopper" label – which can make you look like a poor prospect to future employers.
Here's what you need to know about how to avoid being labeled a job hopper.
What does job hopping mean? Hiring managers look at a candidate's pattern: Is this someone who seems inclined to leave jobs quickly, or do they generally stay for at least a few years? In most fields, multiple stays of two years or less will look like job hopping. Particularly for mid-level to senior jobs, most hiring managers are looking for at least a few stays of four or five years or more.
Why is job hopping a problem? Savvy interviewers believe that the best predictor of how someone will behave in the future is how they've behaved in the past — their track record. So if someone has a pattern of leaving jobs relatively quickly, an interviewer will assume there's a good chance they won't stay long in a new position either. Since employers are generally hoping that anyone they hire will stay for at least a few years, a resume that shows little history of this is a red flag.
In fact, according to a survey last year from the recruiting software company Bullhorn, 39 percent of recruiters and hiring managers say that a history of job hopping is the single biggest obstacle for job-seekers.
Does this mean you have to stay at a job that you hate, just to avoid being labeled a job hopper? No. Leaving a job only becomes a problem when it's a pattern. If you have one short-term stay on your resume, hiring managers are unlikely to care. It's when it looks like your normal behavior that it becomes a problem. That means that you can leave a job quickly if it's not for you – but that you can only do that once (or maybe twice) in your career without starting to raise concerns for prospective employers.
What about short-term contract jobs? Job hopping means that you've had multiple short-term stays that weren't designed to be short-term stays. So short-term internships, temp work, contract jobs, campaign work, and anything else designed to be short-term from the start doesn't look like job hopping. Just make sure that your resume makes it clear that these positions were designed to be short-term from the start, by noting "contract job" or something similar next to it.
Additionally, employers generally don't mind shorter term stays in retail or food service jobs, and they're used to seeing short-term jobs when you were in college.
Can you get hired if you look like a job hopper? Obviously job hoppers can and do continue to find jobs. But a history of job hopping can make your job search significantly harder and prevent you from getting the jobs you really want.
Isn't this unfair, since companies are offering their employees less loyalty than before? Yes, companies that don't offer their employees any loyalty do have a double standard when they expect it in return. But the reality is that they do it anyway, and you'll be judged for job hopping. Sure, it's not fair, but you need to be aware that it will be perceived as a negative.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.