Job Hopping: Smart Career Path or Big Red Flag?

By Robert Half February 1, 2016 at 5:45pm

Not too many years ago, job hopping wasn't even a term for accounting and finance professionals. Loyalty to one employer was the standard. Today, that type of career path is becoming as rare as lifelong pensions.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. workers stay with each employer for an average of 4.6 years; for those in their 20s and early 30s, the average tenure is just three years.

While job hopping may be the new normal, especially for millennial workers, that doesn’t mean the practice won’t raise a red flag with some employers. For example, human resources managers polled for a Robert Half survey said a candidate who had changed jobs voluntarily more than five times in 10 years would give them cause for concern.

Still, the majority (57 percent) of young workers (ages 18-34) said they thought changing jobs every few years was the right strategy. So, what’s your plan? Should you stay or go? Here are some pros and cons to consider before making an abrupt switch to your career path:

Advantages of job hopping

There are benefits to making successive career moves. For example:

  • More money — The top reason for changing jobs frequently is higher wages, according to 31 percent of respondents to a Robert Half survey. Since salary negotiations are common when starting a new job, changing positions can be a good time to ask for the salary you think you deserve, assuming you’re qualified for the position and you’ve done your research. (Check out Robert Half's Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals for that.) However, if the only negative about your current position is compensation, the smarter strategy might be to ask for a raise and/or other benefits before sending out resumes.
  • More experience — Switching jobs regularly offers you an opportunity to expand your skill set. The more employers you work for, the greater the chance you will be exposed to different types of software, accounting platforms, job responsibilities, clientele and finance specialties.
  • Upward mobility — Sometimes, the only way to get ahead in your career is to find a new job. Candidates who have job-hopped frequently but assumed higher levels of responsibility along the way can impress some hiring managers with their drive. (Moving up steadily within one company can be just as compelling, however, as it shows drive and commitment.)
  • Change of scenery — A job change gives you the opportunity to hit the reset button on your career. Finance professionals may switch jobs because they want to work for a different boss or experience another corporate culture — or simply to escape irritating coworkers. (However, if not getting along with your colleagues is the impetus for a series of short tenures, the problem could lie with your own personality and performance. Then no amount of scenery-changing will prove satisfying in the long term.)

Disadvantages of job hopping

There are also some significant downsides to changing jobs frequently:

  • A reputation as a quitter — To a hiring manager, jumping from one company to another within a relatively short period may be a sign you have problems committing, especially if you make a series of lateral moves.
  • Missed opportunities — One problem with leaving a job too soon is that you may miss the chance to earn in-demand skills. Take enterprise resource planning (ERP), for example. Employers prize finance employees who are proficient in Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics GP, SAP or Sage. If you are learning valuable ERP skills in your current role but leave before you can master them, you could be losing a valuable opportunity to enhance your marketability.
  • Miscalculating the upside — Make sure you thoroughly research a prospective employer’s company culture, advancement opportunities and long-term stability before you change jobs. The last thing you want is to begin another job search within months because your new position fell short of your expectations.

Job hopping may be losing its stigma as more millennials enter the workforce, but you should always take time to consider thoroughly whether making a change is right for you. Compile a list of what’s important to you professionally, and compare those values to any new opportunities that come your way. If you find a good match, then hop to it.

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This blog post first appeared in the Career Insider newsletter from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). It has been updated to reflect more current information.

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