This Isn't Your Grandpa's Job Market

Job hopping used to be a red flag. Frequent jumps around the job market signaled a worker's lack of commitment. These days it's more of a green light, especially for younger workers. Job mobility can help speed them along a career path--or rescue them from a rut--and keep them interested in their work.

In a recent Boston Globe piece Penelope Trunk writes:

The best thing you can do early in your career is move around a lot so you can figure out what you're good at and what you like. If you compare people who job hop with people who don't, people who job hop build their network faster, build their skill set faster, and are more engaged in their work.

She's right.

Changing Jobs, Changing Times

Globalization is driving a more competitive market than ever, meaning networks and skill sets are more vital than ever. The more places you work, the more chances to cultivate relationships. You'll also acquire and hone new skill sets. Of course, you have to stay long enough to meet both goals. Three months at each of three different places, for example, doesn't cut it. Sally Haver, senior vice president of business development at The Ayers Group in New York, explains:

If you’re moving every six months people might scratch their heads. But if you move every few years—people are more tolerant. They feel the person has extracted everything they need from that job and also given back enough value-added, so he looks like a valuable employee to that workplace. That’s sort of the new ethos at work, as opposed to their parents’ and grandparents’ generation.

In those generations, lengthy, even lifelong, employment with the same firm was common. Employees worked hard and committed to the company, and the company met employees' needs, or at least gave them a sense of security.

But time has changed companies--and employees. Younger generations have reason to distrust employers, as Rich Milgram, founder and CEO of Beyond.com, a niche-specific career network, points out:

There has been a shift in how employers value their employees. Employees have become more of a commodity, more like a computer—at some point it becomes antiquated and you get rid of it. It’s sort of sad.

If a company considers employees expendable, there's nothing wrong with employees adopting the same mindset.

Better for the Bottom Line

Changing jobs can also boost your paychecks, particularly if you land your first gig in a testy economy. A U.S. News & World Report article from 2006 says:

If you started working when the job market was less than ideal, it may be in your best interest to look for a new job with a different employer. "I had to go into guerrilla-marketing mode," says John Paasonen, a 2001 graduate of Taylor University in Indiana who had a rough time finding his first job. ... "You have to work harder if you're somebody who graduates in a recession year," Paasonen says. "You have to be willing to take risks."

[Paul Oyer, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business], agrees. "The people who catch up aggressively do it by changing jobs," he says. "People who don't—that will affect their long-term outcome." In fact, job searches can explain about 30 percent of how workers caught up to their counterparts who graduated into better economies, [Philip] Oreopoulos found.

Oreopoulos, co-author of a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, found workers who landed low-paying jobs in a recession could see lower earnings for as long as a decade.

Research published in the February issue of the American Sociological Review offers similar findings. The research, by Sylvia Fuller, assistant sociology professor at the University of British Columbia, says "moderate and even high levels of mobility can lead to equal or better wage outcomes than stability," especially if the job changes aren't the result of layoffs, discharges, or family priorities--and especially if the changes come early in a worker's career.

Fuller's research, however, isn't based on today's young generations of workers; she studied people who started their careers in the 1980s. Fuller says studying today's new workers could reveal less stigma tied to job changes.

Crafting a Strategy

As with any career strategy, choose your job changes wisely. Don't just move around because you're bored after two months; it takes a full year to learn how to do most jobs. Stick around long enough to gather all the knowledge, contacts and skills that will empower you to earn more and thrive in your next move.

And by all means, don't cop a sense of entitlement. Approach any job with the belief that you have a lot to offer--and a lot to learn. Give 150 percent, and when you leave, you'll reap favorable reviews from colleagues and higher-ups.

The job-hopping stigma is eroding as our job market evolves. So don't be afraid to move. Just make sure each move is strategic.

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