Frequently moving jobs seems to be back in fashion, but can it do your career more harm than good? Iwona Tokc-Wilde finds out
Job hopping stalled during the global economic crisis but could be on the rise again. Almost 60% of finance professionals between the ages of 18 and 34 now believe that changing jobs every few years can help their career, according to a recent Accountemps and Robert Half survey. But is this really the case, or can job hopping prove damaging after all?
‘Having a different company on your CV every three years isn’t considered flighty these days, in any discipline,’ says Louis Purves, manager in the part qualified and transactional, commerce and industry division at Mark Sattin. ‘Also, we’re now in a candidate-led market and employers have fewer options than they might have had five years ago.’
Helen Francis, associate director at recruitment agency Search Consultancy, believes there is less stigma attached to job hopping in accountancy than in other professions.
‘The accountancy market is very much led by skill-set demand and employers are always looking for candidates with specialist skills,’ she says. Also, job hopping seems to be more acceptable early on in your career. ‘Although a PQ candidate would ideally have had no more than four roles prior to qualification,’ warns Purves.
Even after you qualify, job hopping is not a bad thing, as long as there is a sound rationale behind it. ‘For example, you may want to gain experience in a different sector by moving from banking to insurance, or from the public sector to private,’ says Rona Beattie, professor of human resource development at GCU London. ‘Or you may need to strengthen part of your skill-set by moving from management accounting to tax.
‘Another good move could be to work in a different country to gain cross-cultural experience – this is particularly valuable in today’s global labour, product and service markets.’
The level of experience and the skills you will have gained from working in a variety of disciplines, industries and cultures can make your CV very attractive.
‘For some employers this is a huge plus sign when recruiting because they can see they will be able to maximise on their new employee in terms of duties they can take on as part of their new role,’ says Cheryl de las Heras Oliver, careers and student welfare manager at London School of Business & Finance.
Jenny Payne, principal consultant in the accountancy division for recruiters Executive Connections, says job hopping for reasons such as to gain more experience or for career growth suggest you have certain personal qualities or traits.
‘It shows you are driven, ambitious and motivated – you don’t want to sit still and wait for an opportunity to find you, you want to go out and find it yourself,’ says Payne. These qualities appeal to all employers in the finance sector.
If you do manage to get to the interview stage, be prepared for some serious questioning. ‘And the shorter the time frame of your moves, the more questions will be asked,’ warns Francis.
You will need to explain that you were moving to progress professionally. It looks suspicious ‘when people jump to roles that don’t represent a step up or a justifiable step sideways, so you have to demonstrate you’ve been carving out a clear career path,’ says Louis Purves. Other reasons to justify quick job moves may include redundancy and personal grounds for relocation.
‘Also, you may have disliked a company’s culture and ethos – recruiters can understand this kind of motivation,’ says Francis. However, be careful what you say about your past employers. ‘No employer wants to hear a candidate “bad mouthing” another; they could be next,’ says Beattie.
Whatever your motives, emphasise the experience you have gained from each move. ‘You must also ensure you get across the point that you are now looking for a career, not just a position that you will quickly move on from,’ says de las Heras Oliver.
Be truthful, too. ‘Think about what you are going to say, have your answers prepared and be able to back up what you are saying,’ advises Payne.
Having a relationship with a good recruiter can also help in these circumstances. ‘They can reiterate your reasons for leaving previous roles and give confidence to prospective employers,’ says Arkley.
It is evident that frequent job hopping could be bad news for your career prospects, so take your time and think carefully before you jump ship again.
‘I would advise that you remain within a job for at least a year – this will give you enough time to assess how this role is supporting your career and your ambitions,’ says Payne.
If you still have itchy feet after a year, ask yourself why. ‘Are you looking for a greater challenge or more money? A shorter commute or more flexible hours? A better relationship with your manager?’ asks Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at Robert Half UK.
‘Keep the job factors that are most important to you at the forefront of your decision and pursue a new opportunity only if it helps address those issues.’
Remember, you do not always have to leave your company to get what you want, especially when it comes to your professional development. A new project, secondment or a sideways move with your existing employer could all help you grow your skills and advance your career.
Also ask yourself if the grass is really greener on the other side. Do you know enough about the stability and the growth prospects of your next potential employer to decide they would definitely be a step up?
‘You don't want to make a move only to learn your career progression is stalled,’ says Sheridan.
Finally, don’t forget the not-so-small matter of references. ‘You have to be with an employer long enough to develop a track record,’ says Beattie. Without a good track record, there may be no next job.