How to Avoid Coming Across as a “Job Hopper”

May 24, 2017

It’s a label that can harm your employment prospects going forward. So how do you avoid that perception if you have a bunch of short stints on your resume?

The workplace is changing, and with the rise of contingent staffing, freelancing and the “gig economy,” companies no longer expect candidates to stay in the same role for their entire careers. They don’t even expect candidates to stay in the same industry or job function for their entire careers. For hiring managers and recruiters, there’s still an expectation that a candidate needs 3-5 years in a given permanent job before they can make enough of an impact to progress to the next level. Any more than that and you risk hurting your marketability, being seen as un-ambitious, or a “lifer” employee without a desire to grow their career.

But on the flipside, it’s even worse to be seen as a “job hopper” – someone whose resume is littered with 6-18 month stints at supposedly permanent jobs. It’s something not enough candidates are really aware of, but when a hiring manger or recruiter looks at your resume or LinkedIn profile and you’re applying for a job, it can really impact how they perceive you. Why?

It’s pretty simple. Companies sink thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into onboarding and training new employees. If there’s a risk that you won’t stay around, they’re going to be less likely to make that investment. It can make you look unserious at best, and a “problem employee” at worst, even if you’ve just had a string of bad luck.

But hey – everyone is different, and those strings of bad luck do happen. An untimely company restructuring here, a family illness there, a move due to a spouse getting a new job, these things happen. So if you’re resume is full of 6 and 9 month gigs, there’s no reason to despair!

There’s no reason you can’t thoughtfully position yourself and play to your strengths when you’re looking for that great new job. Perception is everything. While you should never lie or misrepresent your past experience on a resume or profile – it’s not only unethical, but the truth will come out eventually – a candidate who shows awareness, who shows that they understand the stigma against job hopping, and is ready to explain it, stands a stronger chance of overcoming the stigma against job hoppers.

So how do you do that?

First of all, don’t lie. Take a good honest look at your resume / profile and try to think about how a hiring manager will view the length of your various stints. Be honest about the length of your previous gigs, but mention why you’ve left previous roles on your resume / profile. If you only lasted for 4 months in a job due to a company restructuring, mention that. If you worked for 6 months at a company and then it rebranded and changed names, but you stayed on for another year and a half, mention the rebranding so it doesn’t look like you changed jobs. If some of the roles were fixed-term contracts, mention that! There’s no stigma against working on contract.

 It all comes down to thoroughness, and so many candidates don’t think to provide this information because they haven’t thought through how their current resume / profile comes across. But the more information, the better.

Play to your strengths. Describe accomplishments you’ve had, even in jobs that are short. The reason “job hopping” looks bad is that it makes a candidate look like they haven’t had any impact where they’ve worked – that they’ve gone from job to job without making a real impression or delivering any major accomplishments. But that isn’t necessarily true. Yes, it takes at least 3 months to get settled into a role enough to start making an impact, but just because you were only in a job for 12 months doesn’t mean you didn’t accomplish anything.

Another sometimes related question is – what happens if you like “job hopping”? What if you want to work with a variety of different people in a variety of industries, without putting in 3-5 progressive years at any given organization as is conventional? Then contract (contingent) work might be for you. Lots of business categories like Procurement, IT and Supply Chain now hire business contractors with the expectation that they’ll stay 6-18 months. And lots of candidates relish the opportunity to work more flexibly, with more variety of different experiences, without the stigma of seeming like a “problem employee” who can’t manage to stay in the same job for more than a year and a half.

It’s all something to be aware of, but it’s something you can overcome. Of course, if you are a “problem employee” and that’s the reason you have many short stints on your resume, we’re afraid you might be out of luck. 

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