A reader writes:
I’m a young professional who, for various reasons, has had a lot of jobs in my adult life. Since I graduated from college in December 2011, I have held 11 positions at eight different companies/organizations in four different cities (all internal changes were promotions). In my opinion, I’ve changed jobs for very good reasons. In one city, I initially was working one full-time job and another in the evenings, and resigned from the day job when offered a promotion at the evening job, and then when that job turned out to be in a toxic work environment, got two part-time positions to pay rent until one of them turned into a full-time position. And so on. Mostly, even though I’ve known since my college graduation that I want to do particular nonprofit work, I’ve deferred seeking out those types of jobs out of respect for how long it takes to become proficient, choosing to wait until I settle and, in the meantime, work short-term on things like admin work, child care, etc.
On my resume, I don’t list all of my jobs, or even my most recent ones. I list “Relevant Experience” and only list a few of the “best” jobs of the mix. As it stands, my resume reads one position from August 2010 – May 2011, one position Summer 2010, 2011, Jan 2012 – May 2013, one position Jan 2014 – July 2014, and one position (a promotion from the last) July 2014 – July 2015. At the last organization I worked for, I was finally able to devote enough time to do the type of work that I want to do, was very good at my job, and enjoyed my day-to-day a lot.
In July 2015, I moved to a new city and got a position identical to my (beloved) job over the 2014-2015 year. However, for various reasons, I’ve found that I’m unhappy here. The workload is unreasonable, the company’s relationship with outside agencies is strained, there is a culture of micromanaging, and so on. After only three months, I’m considering looking for another position, but I’m afraid of having another short-term job on my resume. I’m now in this city long-term, and I want to show that I’m able to stick a job out.
At this point in my career, how important is it that I have work experience that extends for longer periods? Would six months be significantly better than three months? What is the minimum length of time to which I need to commit in order to prevent appearing jumpy and/or unreliable? I’m trying to figure out how long to stick this out – I need to have a mental “light at the end of the tunnel” and am having a hard time gauging how to minimize the negative effect my decision will have on my resume.
Ooooh. Eight companies in four years is … a lot.
The answer to how important it is to have longer-term work experience at this point is: Very.
But six months isn’t really any better than three months. They’re both going to read as worrisomely short and as job-hopping.
Longer-term work experience at this point really means a minimum of two years, but even that is pushing it in the context of the rest of your work history; three years would be significantly better.
The idea is that most employers are going to assume that you’re not likely to stay with them any longer than you’ve stayed at a job in the past … and if that’s only a year or less, most professional jobs aren’t going to want to hire you. They’re going to assume that you get bored easily, or can’t keep a job, or don’t know how to identify the right fit for yourself.
This problem gets worse and worse the longer you job history stays that way. And it also consigns you to worse and worse employers (the ones who will be willing to hire you are the less desirable employers who can’t keep other people on board either and who are resigned to a lot of turnover) and worse and worse jobs (interesting, desirable jobs have lots of people applying for them, and employers will rarely hire someone with a spotty work history when they have loads of qualified candidates with more stable histories).
If at all possible, I’d commit to sticking it out where you are for two years. Or, you could write this one off and commit to staying at your next job that long — but you’d want to be really, really sure of what you were getting into, because if you end up wanting to leave that one too, you’re going to make the problem that much worse.
But you’ve got to get some long-term stays in there to repair your work history. The price of that might mean putting up with a job you’re unhappy at, to counteract all the ones you left. That sucks, yes, if you can see it as the price of leaving all those others so soon — and of repairing your reputation — it might be easier to swallow.
(To be clear, the three internal moves don’t count as job hopping. It’s the rest of it — the eight companies in four years — that’s the issue.)