Job Hopping: Why Three Jobs in Three Years Is No Problem for Millennials

Job Hopping: Why Three Jobs in Three Years Is No Problem for Millennials

BY Dawn Kawamoto Posted: 21 Nov 2016

While making their mark on the world, millennials have gained a reputation for job-hopping. But can it be a career killer? Apparently not, especially if millennials are in tech.

“The tech industry is made up of a ton of millennials, with 25- to 29-year-olds founding and running multi-million dollar companies for the last decade at an unprecedented level.  This could be a reason why they are way more open to job hopping,” said Matt Walker, lead recruiter of RockIT Recruiting.

And John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, agrees. He noted that the tech industry, compared to other industries, may be more lenient in its viewpoint on job hopping, because IT professionals want to learn, grow and work on interesting and challenging projects and have the advantage of supply to demand when it comes to filling tech jobs. 

And the Surveys Say

It turns out that millennials, born from 1980 to 1996, jump jobs with greater frequency than others, according to a recent Gallup report that surveyed workers from a range of industries. The survey found that 21% of millennials changed jobs in the past year – more than three times the amount of non-millennials. And on top of that, only 50% indicated they feel strongly about staying with their current employer a year from now, compared to 60% for non-millennials.

The catalyst for these moves is a belief it will be a career booster, according to Robert Half Co.’s Accountemps survey. The report found that 57% of survey participants believe that switching jobs frequently can lead to higher compensation, learning new skills and moving up the career ladder faster.

Pros and Cons of Job Hopping

“The pros are you can see how multiple teams work early in your career to determine where you thrive, you can work on new exciting things rapidly, and you can, in the short term, increase your salary in the current market a little faster,” Walker said. “The biggest pro may be if you stay for a year at a startup, you'd vest a quarter of your granted equity, so with five jobs in five years, you have five different lottery tickets to play.”

Reed also noted that depending on an individual’s career track, job-hopping may allow IT workers to diversify the technologies that they’re working with or the kinds of projects they’re working on.

Of course, there are problems that crop up with job-hopping.

Some companies may be reluctant to bring on IT workers who haven’t stayed put in one place for some time, Walker noted, adding it could potentially take away a future opportunity to work at that coveted company. 

But, perhaps more importantly, leaving after six months or a year, it’s likely an IT millennial won’t witness the full-life cycle of a product or business.

“If you are at a company, even a small startup for less than a year, you will probably not be around for many changes, pivots and updates to the main product, lessening the experience you can tout if you are able to bring something to fruition and then stick around to fix the bugs, and adapt to the customer base,” Walker said.

So…Tell Me, Why Three Jobs in Three Years?

Depending on the frequency of changing jobs, a hiring manager is likely going to ask about it, warned Reed, adding, if for nothing else, just to understand the job candidate’s motivation.

In drilling down into the worker’s motivation, the hiring manager is trying to figure out what the worker is looking in his or her next position – and increase the odds they will stick around if hired.

And even with startups, Walker noted there is still a stigma if someone consistently jumps around and that, at some point, a millennial will need to show that they have the ability to work at one place for a few years.  He noted the average time a Silicon Valley engineer stays at one company is six months to 1.5 years, but that if every job a millennial holds throughout their career is less than one year it will ultimately raise some red flags.

In a survey by PayScale, it found employee turnover was highest among these tech companies: Amazon.com, with a median age of its workforce being 32 years old, had a median tenure of one year; Alphabet, with a workforce median age of 29-years-old, had a median tenure of 1.1 years; and eBay, with its median employee age of 30 years old, had a median tenure of 1.9 years.

How to Answer the Job Hopping Question

“Anyone who has held a number of roles in a short period of time should definitely be prepared to respond to a question about their job history. Interviewees should be able to highlight the value they brought to the organization in their time there - talking through the exact projects, strategies and solutions they were able to provide are extremely important at this point with a potential employer,” Reed advised.

Millennials will also want to make sure they have a good story to tell.

“Say you have four jobs in three years from college, but one is a startup that failed, another was the company you joined out of an internship and realized it was just too big, and another is your own startup idea.  You can easily explain why those were not fits, and that you are looking for the next thing for you,” explained Walker.  “Get a story that flows and makes sense.”

He added it’s important to stay positive. He noted that while a job applicant can mention that she had a “horrible manager,” it is important to quickly back that up with a fact or two, and then note the positives of the place where she had worked, and what was learned from that experience.

However, said Walker, “If you have a problem with every job you’ve ever had, the one constant, well, is you.”

Managing a Short-timer Reputation at Work

Millennials who’ve skipped from one job to the next are usually aware they may have a reputation as a short-timer. But, fortunately, it’s generally not a big deal.

With startups, the two biggest issues that co-workers care about is whether their team member can get the work done and, secondly, get along with co-workers, Walker said. 

He added that while hiring managers may fret about employee turnover, the senior workers who have lived through a few boom and bust periods in tech know that company loyalty does not go both ways and tend to be forgiving about job-hopping.

Nonetheless, if a new team member is worried about his short-timer reputation, Reed suggested the newbie make it a point to develop genuine relationships with the team and ensure that he is able to make the most of their time within the organization.

“Older generations come from a time where their parents, mentors and even they themselves graduated, found a job and stayed loyal to their employer throughout the majority of or all of their careers. That is no longer the general thinking around how careers develop, which has resulted in a shift in mindset from employers and professionals alike,” Reed said. “People are no longer willing to wait on growth or settle for stagnation in their careers, which has probably helped create the shift.”

Dawn Kawamoto is a freelance writer and editor. She is an award-winning journalist who has written and edited technology, management, leadership, career, finance, and innovation stories for such publications as CNET's News.com, InformationWeek, TheStreet.com, AOL's DailyFinance, and The Motley Fool. More recently, she served as associate editor for technology careers site Dice.com.

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