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The ultimate job-hopper's survival guide

11/3/2015
The ultimate job-hopper's survival guide

When Barbara, 36, relocated to Atlanta from Boston for a marketing job, she realised almost immediately it was the wrong decision.

“I knew I couldn't last,” said Barbara, who preferred not to give her last name because she still works in the profession. “There was a horrible structure and no room for creativity.”

So the social media manager made the bold decision to leave the new role after only two months, rather than stay for a year to smooth future employer concerns over such a short-term stint.

To support herself between jobs, Barbara did some freelance graphic design work. In the meantime, she struggled with whether she should include the two-month stint at the Boston firm in her resume.

After much deliberation, she decided to include it, but initially wasn’t sure how to address it with a potential employer, or explain why she left. “The whole thing felt like a failure,” said Barbara, who landed in a similar marketing role at another architecture firm after three months of searching.

Many professionals are right to be wary of leaving a position they've held for less than a year, say career experts. Candidates who changed jobs four or more times in 10 years are most likely to be labeled job-hoppers, according to a 2014 survey of 160 CFOs by recruiting firm Robert Half International. And 93% of hiring managers say they would overlook a candidate for taking on too many short job stints, according to findings.

While more acceptable to hiring managers than in the past, those short stints can still hamper the hiring process if addressed incorrectly.

“You need to be able to explain why that occurred and what you learned going forward,” said David Jones, a Sydney-based managing director at Robert Half. And it’s more important to vet the subsequent role to make sure it’s a good fit. “You can’t make one mistake and move into another mistake,” he said.

Younger job candidates have more leeway when it comes to ditching a job earlier than planned, said Michael Butler, who is head of HR for Bristol, UK-based Radius World Wide and is based in Boston in the US.

“If you can get two years out of someone early on in their career, you are doing pretty well,” said Butler. Older candidates past their thirties should aim to switch no more than three jobs in about ten years, Jones said.

Company context

The type of company where you work for a short stint can make a difference too, said Jones. Employees at start-ups won’t be penalised for leaving after a brief period, for example if the start-up loses funding or goes under, and will still have great experience on their CV, Jones said.

However, employees at large companies are often expected to stay for at least a couple of years, which gives them time to figure out company politics and achieve some professional goals. When seeing an applicant from a large firm, future hiring managers “are definitely looking for that stability,” he said.

Attitudes vary by country, say hiring managers. For example, leaving a job in less than a year in Japan is still considered taboo. Yet in expat-filled Singapore, and even China, job-hopping is increasingly becoming the norm, said Jones, whose team focuses on the Asia-Pacific region. Countries including the US and areas of Europe are more liberal when it comes to hiring candidates with short stints on their CVs, added Butler.

To be sure, there are benefits to short stints if you’re working to round out your skills. For example, someone with a technical background can improve their skillset by taking on a client-facing, sales-focused role.  This is a particularly good move for someone who has reached a ceiling at his or her current company, said Butler. “An employee needs to be [job hopping] strategically to get different sector experience,” he said.

Be honest

No matter what your reason for leaving a job, honesty is the best policy when it comes to your resume, particularly as social media and sites such as LinkedIn now make it easier for recruiters to do a background check and uncover previous experience.

It's for this reason that most experts also suggest keeping even a two-months-long stint on your CV rather than omitting it altogether. It’s important to acknowledge the short-term position and explain what you’ve learned about yourself and your career goals during the role, in order to show the interviewer that you’re serious about advancing in your career.

And, changing the dates of a previous job to cover up a gap in employment is unethical, Jones adds. “You can’t lie at that point,” he said.

But, if you have too many short-stints on your CV, it could raise a red flag to employers, signaling to them that you're not giving it your best shot when taking on a new role.

Sometimes it can take months to adjust to a new position, especially if you’ve been in your previous role for years, said Gautier Vasseur, partner at executive search firm Pedersen & Partners, who is based in Shanghai. Vasseur often cautions employees against leaving at first impulse.

Adjusting to different firm's protocols and the culture of how its employees behave can be difficult at first. Rather than leaving at the first sign of trouble, it’s important to wait out the first several months and get to know as many people as possible at the firm. “I've heard so many times, ‘This was my best job ever, but the first six months were terrible’,” he said.