Published: 07 September 2022
Job hopping (frequently changing jobs) has been on the rise for several years now. Workopolis found back in 2014 that shorter stints at jobs were becoming the new normal and that 51% of people were staying in any one role for under two years. More reports suggest that this trend has continued and that it's mainly driven by younger generations.
A couple of years later, Gallup reported that 21% of millennials said that they had changed jobs in the past year, which was more than three times the number of non-millennials who said the same. Millennials also showed less willingness to stay in their current jobs, with half saying that they planned to be working at their current company one year later.
Understandably, employers are wary of hiring someone with a history of job hopping. Nobody wants to go through the recruitment, hiring and onboarding process only to have to do it again seven months later. But that doesn’t mean you should immediately dismiss a candidate with a history of short job stints if they otherwise seem like a good fit for the position. There are several reasons why you might want to take a closer look.
Workers and companies are having to adjust to a new normal
For one, economic shifts have had an impact on job tenures. I’m not just talking about the pandemic but about the last few decades. Not long ago, it was not unusual for people to stay in one job or at one company for 25 or 30 years and then retire with a gold watch and a send-off party. Times have changed, though, thanks to factors far too numerous to list here (like shifting demographics, technological advancement, and globalization), and both workers and companies have had to adjust.
Companies have been hiring and firing employees in short periods for some time now. (“We moved too quickly and didn’t meet growth targets,” they say.) But when we talk about loyalty, we tend to focus on employees while entirely avoiding the issue of company loyalty. It’s easy to find reports on job hopping workers but harder to find reports about how long companies take to fire new people.
This issue is compounded by “last in first out” (LIFO) practices which, while not necessarily policies, are commonly implemented at many companies. So, the least experienced young people find themselves out in the cold while older, more entrenched, senior employees get to stay put (I could discuss the many ways these practices can be detrimental to a company but that’s a topic for another day).
People have to pay the bills
On top of that, job seekers are constantly told that they must not have gaps in their resumes and that there is an employer bias against the unemployed. So, they may jump into the first available job, even if they don’t really want it, to avoid the terrible faux pas of job hunting while unemployed. Plus, you have to feed yourself and pay the bills. Another reason to take a job you don’t really want while continuing to look for another one.
The final factor I’ll point to (these probably are not all of them but we have to stop somewhere) is that job seekers often don't discuss any of these things with recruiters and prospective employers. There’s a not-so-tacit understanding that the candidate is always expected to pretend they don’t actually need a job and are only looking for one so they can solve your problems and help you achieve success. So, in an interview setting, they often won’t say “I took that job to pay the bills while I looked for something better.”
How can you tell if a candidate is going to leave you within two years of being hired?
This is why recruiters and employers should take another look at someone who appears on paper to be a job hopper if their skills and qualifications appear to match the job requirements. The candidate might be an absolute gem who simply hasn’t found the right role where they can settle in and demonstrate their worth. How can you tell if a candidate is going to stick around for the long haul or leave you within two years of being hired? You can’t. But there are some steps you can take to mitigate the risk.
Begin by reading the resume experience section carefully. If the position you’re filling is entry level and the candidate a recent graduate, they might have listed some internships which are generally short term. And are they contract jobs? Second, look at each company’s employees on LinkedIn and see if you can see a pattern in average employee tenures. Does everyone appear to have stayed for short terms or is your candidate an outlier? An excess of short stints would probably say more about the company than the employees.
Then, when you call them in for an interview, ask pointed questions about their job history, including why they left each role and why they are leaving their current role. Unfortunately, due to the reasons cited above, you might not get the true story here, but if you’re good at reading people, you should be able to get some good information from the answers.
An obvious indication that the person is not a good hire is if they blame their former employers one after the other and take no responsibility for leaving. Nobody is the victim all of the time, and nobody should be trashing their former bosses and/or colleagues. There are diplomatic ways of talking about these things. You know what they say: if everyone else is the jerk, it’s probably you.
You can also come right out and address your concerns but saying something like “I think you look like a good fit for this position, but I have concerns about the number of jobs you’ve had in the last few years. I don’t want to hire someone and invest in training them only to have them leave. Can you say anything to put my fears to rest?”
Ask a candidate what they should have asked before joining their previous employer to identify that it wouldn’t be the right role for them. This allows you to see what they have learned and that they will not make the same mistake with this next role.
One HBR article also suggests asking the candidate to commit to a reasonable length of time in the job.
These strategies should help you decide whether to hire someone with a history of job hopping and prevent you from missing the perfect candidate. Don't make assumptions or snappy decisions. Everyone has a story and it should be investigated before making a judgment call.