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Job Hopping: At What Point Does It Hurt Your Career?

There seems to be a lot of job hopping in the past few years. Some by choice, some not. What do recruiters and employers really think about a job candidate with a series of jobs lasting less than two years? Do some expect you to stay at jobs longer than two years? Let’s find out.

What’s Considered “Job Hopping”?

Your grandfather may have stayed at the same job his entire career, but that rarely happens anymore. So how long are you expected to remain at the same job these days? Let’s look at the data, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just updated in September 2022:

Currently, the (median) average time workers have stayed with their employers is 4.1 years. Believe it or not, that number has been unchanged since January 2020 (pre-pandemic). Men tend to stay a bit longer at jobs than women do. But the most significant difference comes with age. The median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 (9.8 years) is more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years (2.8 years), the agency points out. For data specific to other demographics like race, you can access the report here.  

So, yes, you guessed it: If you tend to stay at a job for less than two years, a potential employer will wonder why. If you have a series of jobs in which you stayed for less than even four years, it may show a pattern that could affect your job search. But that’s a very general rule. The data digs even deeper.

Your Position Matters

As the age differences begin to indicate, there are more specific expectations depending on roles and responsibilities regarding job hopping. Workers in management, professional, and related occupations had the highest median tenure (five years). And within this group, those in management roles have the longest tenures (6.2 years).

The primary reason younger workers change jobs more is that they tend to work in more service occupations. Service workers make up a large portion of the data and tend to have the lowest median tenure (food service workers, in particular, stay at their jobs for an average of 1.6 years).

What does this tell us? If you’re a manager or are moving up the ladder into management, don’t assume that the “two-year” rule for job hopping applies to you. As this article from the Ladders outlines, a professional hoping to make vertical moves in their career can be hindered by having too many previous jobs because:

  1. It can rob you of growth opportunities: Leaving at the first sign of struggle doesn’t deepen your experience.
  2. It could undermine your credibility as a leader: Effective managers need to be around for a long enough tenure to have an impact and gain valuable experience.
  3. It can get you stuck on the ladder: You may have to make lateral moves instead of moving up in skills and qualifications.
  4. It could highlight potential weaknesses: Employers will wonder if you get bored quickly, are a flight risk when things get tough, or are just hoping to score a bigger paycheck.

Defeat the Stigma

The economy is, well, weird right now. Layoffs—particularly in tech—are happening in spurts. If mass layoffs have ravaged your job tenure, rest assured that recruiters view those changes differently than other instances of job hopping. These tips on job searching after a layoff can help you smooth those rough patches. Our tips on how to explain an employment gap may also be handy.

And if you’re in management or an executive position and are feeling the urge to leave your job due to burnout, you may feel comforted knowing that you’re not alone. About 70% of executives participating in a recent Deloitte survey confessed they were considering leaving their current jobs for ones that might better support their wellbeing (in comparison, 57% of employees said the same). 

“Looking out for your wellbeing is a great reason to search for a new job. Sometimes you need to leave your current job to do that because work culture is tough to change. If you’re in management, as long as you don’t have a pattern of leaving your job every few years, vacating for greener pastures isn’t necessarily going to tarnish your reputation,” says The HT Group Founder and CEO Mark Turpin.

As we discussed earlier, the younger you are, the more job hopping is tolerated. However, it’s important to understand that you can and likely will be asked about your multiple moves. Be sure you can answer questions like “What did you learn at your last job?” and “Tell me about a challenge you faced at work. How did you solve it?” Chances are, your interviewer is trying to uncover whether job hopping is a chronic problem that could affect them, too.