On the Job

A Job Hopper Ponders His Future

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, February 7, 2008; 8:03 PM

The typical American worker may have had a half dozen different jobs or more by the time they decide to settle in for retirement.

This worker has had five jobs at four companies over a 12 1/2-year period, and the last three jobs have each lasted for less than a year. Now he is wondering how much job switching is too much:

I was wondering if anyone could tell me if I'm burning my bridges with all of my job-hopping.

I started at a large firm and worked for them for about eight years. I then took another job where I remained for three years. After that I worked for a company for about eight months and then returned to the first company. I remained there for about nine months when a great opportunity arose with another company out of state. I have been at this company for a little over two months and due to unforeseen circumstances, I must return home. I think I can return to my old job back at the first company, but I would be going back with my tail between my legs. I have left all my employers on good terms except for the one where I spent eight months and I'll never go back there.

Am I polluting my resume with all of this hopping around? Am I reaching the point where I will be unemployable because of this record?

Jim Gray, president of his own human resources consulting firm in Charleston, S.C., says that 20 years ago this worker would have written his career obituary by job-hopping, but not in today's culture.

"You would have been dead in the water," Gray says of the view hiring agents once had of workers who skipped from job to job. "Now the question is, 'why you were at one company for 18 years?' "

Gray says that "in most cases you had another opportunity" that seemed better at the time for career advancement, and no doubt more money, too.

For workers under 40 and for many companies as well, Gray says "loyalty is just not rated as high" as it once was. More important, he says, is the question of whether you have grown as a worker and assumed increasing responsibility in the jobs you've taken, especially to the extent that it would benefit a former firm to take you back. And a key consideration for younger workers is whether they can build a solid relationship with a leader and mentor.

But even if job-hopping is not the stigma it once might have been, Gray says job hoppers should be prepared to explain it.

"Is there a plausible explanation?" Gray asks. "What was he going to, not what was he leaving from?"

And then there are questions about the future that job hoppers should expect, especially if they are seeking to return to a previous employer.

"What are your career expectations?" Gray says he would ask a prospective returning worker. "How can we engage you better than these other firms have? What has to happen for you to want to stay with us?"

But Gray says the bottom line for job hoppers is simple: "Their [future] jobs are no longer jeopardized."

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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