Forget day trading, profit sharing or building hot tech start-ups ... job hopping is the wave of the future. This ain't your parents' workplace anymore.

The generations before the big X were told and taught and expected to pick one job and stick with it for 20 or 30 years. They spent each day going to the same office and waiting to get the gold watch. It was a secure way to live and work, and it was the way that the bulk of the population played the job market. Today, however, the economy has changed, and so have the rules.

"Workers are coming together in short-term projects to meet the immediate needs of erratic markets," said Bruce Tulgan, Gen X guru and author of "Work This Way: How 1,000 Young People Designed Their Own Careers in the New Workplace and How You Can Too." "The distinctions among permanent workers, temps and consultants are dissolving."

Nothing like dissolving those distinctions, right? People are calling this generation of workers the Me Generation. Whether that distinction is true or not, workers today do need to be looking out for their well-being first and foremost, said Gordon Miller, CEO of the Career Edge, a national network of career coaches. "We're in the lowest level of unemployment ever. Most of it is because there just aren't enough people to go around," he points out. So here's your chance: Hop around and gather a bunch of skills, more money, good experience and heightened confidence with each jump.

No Stigma

The definition of job hopping can be different for everyone -- if you planned to stay at a job for 10 years and end up moving on after three, or move from job to job every 12 months, you can be considered a hopper.

"It used to be that people would look at resumes and if you changed jobs every year or two, they wouldn't see you as a stable person," said Mahan Tavakoli, director of Dale Carnegie Training for the Washington region. "Now there's reverse discrimination -- if you stay at a company for a longer period of time, they wonder if you are not capable of finding another job."

Most of his clients, he said, are high-tech firms looking for folks moving onward and upward, presumably to get additional skills. But be careful how you hop, he said. "If someone hops every few months, that shows they are not capable of producing results."

And if you have been busy hopping for the last few years, make sure, Tavakoli advises, that you explain in job interviews why -- that you were interested in gaining new skills, looking for more experience, or trying for a bigger challenge, whichever the case may be. "Employees who hop show that they can adjust to change," Tavakoli added.

Miller added that because companies are changing at such a high rate of speed, employees need to show their ability to do the same. "Because companies need to reinvent themselves on almost a daily or weekly basis, they kind of like the idea of people who have not been there forever," he said.

Think Benefits

In his book, Tulgan advises how to hop gracefully:

Think about your benefits before you make the leap. Keep in mind the benefits system in the organization you are leaving and the one you are about to enter, he said. Find out when your 401(k) vests. If there is a short amount of time left before your pension rights are about to vest, Tulgan suggests that you wait before you walk.

Many pension plans can stay in the organization even if you are no longer an employee there, until you can use them without penalty. Be sure to check before you make a move.

Don't leave a training opportunity, even if you want to leave a job. Take advantage of any training you can get, Tulgan said. No matter what you do, don't hop until your initial period of training is completed. If you do, you'll waste a chance to gain some marketable skills.

Leave on good terms. It's a good idea when you part from an organization to be on good terms with as many people as possible.

Talk to some higher-ups and try to make them understand why you are leaving. Offer to finish your projects, to stay until they find a replacement, and to train that replacement, Tulgan advises. Remember, it isn't smart to burn bridges. The relationships you cultivate at work may be future customers, mentors and employers.

Offer your continued services. After all, your company did spend time to train you, money to recruit and retain you. It has made a large investment in you. Offer your services as a part-timer, flex-timer or consultant. In doing so, you may start to build your own client base and be able to establish your very own consulting business.

Hints From a Hopper

Miller is a boomer with a mission: telling the ins and outs of job hopping.

In his first book, "Quit Your Job Often and Get Big Raises," Miller explains how he quit four jobs in five years and tripled his pay.

Money isn't necessarily what hopping is about, he said. The priorities of workers today are different from those of our parents' generation. "I think the workers today want to feel passion for their work, want to feel a sense of fulfillment, purpose. ... I want to make decisions, create value," he said.

So, he said, there are a few things to keep in mind: "Don't leave your current position until things are going great with your present employer. That's the best time to leave because that's when you're going to bring a very positive energy to your new position." Not to mention you will have a very good bargaining chip or two and, therefore, be able to market yourself well.

"Plan ahead," he advises. "Know what you're getting into, plan where you're going to go. Research the heck out of it before you move to another position so you don't go from one unfulfilling job to another."

And don't feel bad about being prepared for the next move, Miller said. "Everything that is so great today could change tomorrow. Every day, companies are looking at offers to be bought out, to merge. Just like your company has a plan, you should have the same kind of philosophy."

If you have questions about getting ahead, you can e-mail Amy Joyce at joycea@washpost.com