The difference between thoughtful job hopping and ants-in-pants

When you got that recruiter call six months ago, the shiny new job seemed like the perfect out.

You'd been toiling away at a position that, at first, seemed so amazing. But nine months in, you were thinking, "Hmmm, this is bit of a drag." The projects weren't as thrilling as advertised, the people were kind of gossipy, and the commute took longer than you'd estimated.

Not to mention, you only had two weeks of vacation. And seriously, how fair is THAT?

So when that recruiter call came in six months ago -- with what certainly was a better option --  you went for it.

Sparkle. Sparkle. 

You took that new job, your fifth in three years.

No problem, right? After all, U.S. Department of Labor Statistics indicate that, depending on life stage, people change jobs every 2-4 years today.

So what's the big deal?

The big deal is this:

Unless you're making thoughtful, strategic transitions -- or have been impacted by things completely out of your control -- you risk looking like you have ant in your pants when those moves start adding up. And hiring managers get nervous about hiring people they fear are going simply hop off to the next big thing shortly after they invest in you.

There is a big different between thoughtful hopping and ants-in-pants.

So, if you're planning to voluntarily make (yet another) career move, I appeal to you to ask yourself five key questions before you jump ship:

  1. Am I making this move for specific, well-thought-out reasons? 
    For instance, do you suspect you're going to pigeon-hole yourself into a role you don't want if you don't get some specific experience, or exposure to a particular industry sector? Do you recognize that, in your current position, you're not learning something that's going to be critical in the near future? Do you need a particular credential that you won't be able to get unless you change jobs?

  2. Do I have a 3, 5 or 10-year game plan that I'm aiming toward? 
    I'm not suggesting that you need to have your entire life mapped out, but you should envision where you want to be as a professional (and where you don't want to be) in the short-, mid- and long-term. Forcing yourself to sit down and reflect for a bit will help you enormously as you evaluate opportunities that come your way. (Does it align, or does it not align?)

  3. Have I stayed at my current job long enough to learn new, valuable skills and relationships? 
    This is one of the bigger challenges for the serial hopper -- gaining "meaty" skills and experience. As the hopper, you may disagree with me. But as a recruiter, I will tell you flat out: Corporate hiring managers will worry about the depth of your experience and relationships if you bee-bop from job to job with regularity. Many corporate decision makers want depth over breadth when it comes to experience. Better yet, they want both. It's hard to get depth when you're only in a job for a nanosecond.

  4. How am I going to explain the rationale behind these moves to my next potential employer?
    Serial hoppers tend to worry about this too late, as in they worry about it when they're scrambling to come up with their "party line" for yet another potential employer. The time to think about your rationale behind a job change is before you change jobs in the first place. If you're confident in your rationale, it's going to be much easier for you to explain the move to future employers or recruiters. Confidence begets confidence.

  5. What will I gain, and what will I jeopardize by making this move? 
    Get real with yourself as you answer this question. Think about all of the variables. It may actually make perfect sense to accept that shiny, new job when you run it through this evaluation. Or, you might realize that the costs associated may too great, and that you actually have more to gain by riding it out for a bit at your current job.

I get asked all the time, "Is it all that bad to be a job hopper today?"

My answer is never cut and dried. Sometimes rapid succession career moves are smart, and will take you in the exact direction you want to go. And sometimes, the moves are stupid and a sign that you're impulsive or restless in general. 

The key lies in knowing yourself, your dreams and your goals well enough to figure out the difference.

Photo: Flickr.com Creative Commons (Roman TM)