Job Hoppers Redux: An Employee’s Perspective

Posted on Apr 25, 2010 | 243 comments

On Thursday of last week I cranked out a post on job hoppers.  To say that it was controversial is an understatement.  I intended for it to be provocative but not inflammatory.

So let me start with an apology.  Not for my point-of-view (which I stand by and accept that not everybody feels the same way) but rather for making some of the language more inflammatory than it needed to be.  What happens when I write blog posts is that I type really quickly what is in my brain and hit send with very little revision.  By the next day I usually try to clean up some of the typos but usually try to leave the content intact.  I do this because if I had to edit everything perfectly I’d produce about 50% of the posts that I do.  I have re-read the job-hopping  post many times now and see how I could have chosen more sensitive ways of conveying my thoughts.  If I offended you, I’m sorry.

Now, onto this post.  One of the common themes in the comments was, “you’ve written this post mostly from the employer’s perspective.”  Yeah, I guess I thought that was sort of implicit in the title of the post, “Never Hire Job Hoppers.”  So let me start today from the perspective of the employee.

Should you be loyal to a company that treats you poorly?

No.  I never said that in my original post and I don’t believe it.  One of the things that commenters on my original post were so passionate about was how screwed they felt by so many of the companies that had hired them.  They felt misled.  They felt that management didn’t share information such as how much cash was left in the company.  Many were laid off as companies cut back expenses.  These people were mad.  And this is understandable to me.

Listen, my post never defended bad employers.  I never said that management was always great and junior employees who quit are evil.  My point was that people who quit many jobs (I had settled on an arbitrary number of 6 jobs by the time you’re 30) were not likely to stay at your job if you hire them and you’re therefore better off to find people with more staying power.  In defending myself in the comments section I started to settle on a slightly revised POV.  I’m OK with some amount of job turnover early in one’s career provided that the employee has shown that they do have “staying power” at at least one recent job.  I define staying power as having stayed at a job for 3 years or more.

But to be clear.  If you’re somewhere that you believe is fundamentally treating you badly and you don’t see a way to change that situation (e.g. transferring to a different group with a new boss or talking about the issue with senior person at your company who may be able to help) then by all means move on.

I will contend that my point in the originial post stands.  If you’ve done this 6 times in a short period of time then one should conclude that either a) it might actually be you rather than bad employers or b) you don’t do enough due diligence before joining companies.  It’s just hard for me to accept “6 times unlucky.”

What if I decide I want to change industries, locations or job functions?  What if I was laid off 2-3 times?

Again, this is totally fine.  I recommend to people that you put on your resume the reason that you changed jobs.  If you quit a job because you moved from NY to San Fran why not just say this on your resume.  It would say, “reason for leaving: moved from NY to SF.”  Or if your company shut down or downsized: “reason for leaving: company went bankrupt, company laid off 50% of employees, etc.”

In my post I wrote that I “filter” for job hoppers.  I can’t deny that.  If I’m looking at a stack of resumes and have to quickly whittle them down I usually eliminate resumes where people switched too many times and didn’t have a single place that they stayed for 3+ years.  Again, I am not talking about young people 25-27, I’m talking about 30+ year olds.  I believe that many hiring managers filter this way.  And if I’m right then it’s at least worth your knowing how hiring managers feel and find a way to deal with that.  Later in the post I will talk about how to avoid being filtered out if this description matches you.

Are there any exceptions to your job hopping rule?

Of course there are.  I’ve already covered some such as changing geographies, going through layoffs, changing career direction, etc.  There are some other not so obvious reasons such as changes in marital status or changing so that people can deal with family members that are sick.  I’ve seen all scenarios.  The point of a resume is to get an interview and have the chance to explain circumstances face-to-face.

Is it a problem if you moved jobs a few times when you were young?

No.  I know I’m getting redundant but I want to make this very clear.  I understand that when people are young they don’t often know what the right role, company or geography will suit them.  If you changed a few times when you were (are) young that’s fine.  If you’re 24 and have had 3 jobs it might be a bit more difficult for you to explain than somebody who is 27 and has had three jobs.

What if I DID have too many jobs?  What can I do about it now?

I talked about some strategies in the first post.

1. If you were at a job less than 1 year and this happened several times consider leaving a few off your resume.  Better to show gaps than high churn.  I’m not advocating lying.  A resume is where you list your most important achievements not everything you’ve ever done.

2. If your company was acquired list your whole employment under the buyer’s company name (e.g. don’t show as 2 employers).  Someone reading your resume might not make the link in a 20 second glance.  Or use a combo in the company description such as “AOL / Netscape”

3. If you had multiple jobs that you have legitimate reasons for leaving put them in your resume under “reason for leaving.”  Please note that, “was headhunted” or “was offered a higher salary are not legitimate reasons to write on your resume even if they’re true or valid.  The person reading your resume won’t see those as positives (whether you agree with that person or not).

Mark, you attacked career independent contractors.  I’m one and making a great living.  Eff you!

Somebody wrote me a comment that he has been an independent contractor for many, many years and earns way more money than if he were an employee.  So he was angry with me and wanting to know why I had a problem with that?  Let me be very clear – I have NO problem with that.  Hats off to you, man.

Being a contractor can be great.  You can work for 9 months of the year and take 3 off every year if you want.  You can work like a dog for 2 years and then take 1 year off to travel the world.  Of you can just work the same as employees do but earn more money.  True.  Being a contractor isn’t for everybody.  It means you have to be good at marketing yourself to find new work.  It means that you may have great times and very lean times.  It means that people will always see you as a contractor.

I have no problem with using these people at companies I’m involved with.  I just don’t think that it makes sense to hire them full time – even if they want to join.  As the commenter said to me (paraphrasing) “I make too much money to be a full-time employee at a company.  Why should I join?”  Exactly.  My point is that if you do hire them then the fallback for them is so easy to just quit and go back to being a contractor that your chances of keeping them through difficult times will be harder than somebody who has not been a career contractor.

Is it possible that you’re totally wrong? That maybe job hoppers make perfect employees?

Sure.  I’m open to other people’s points-of-view.  I have read everybody’s counter point of which I was made aware.  One very good one was written by Paul Dix and can be read here.  He talks about why he’s not bothered about job hoppers when it comes to hiring developers.  His view is that he doesn’t want “loyal” employees. He wants capitalistic ones.  It’s worth reading.

For what it’s worth I never stated that I wanted people to stay at my companies for life.  Anyone who has ever worked with me at a company would have heard my speech since I gave it all the time, “it’s my job to make sure that you’re progressing here in your career.  Every year you need to wake up and ask yourself whether your resume is progressing, whether you’re still learning, whether you’re happy and whether you feel you’re earning enough.  If the answer is “yes” – awesome!  If they answer is “no” then let’s discuss it.  If we can help you get to “yes” we’ll work on that.  If we can’t then we’re happy to help you move on to your next company.”  And help we did.

All I asked for was for employees to work openly with me in this process.  To give us the benefit of the doubt that we did care about employees and wanted to see everybody develop their careers, increase their earnings and enjoy themselves.  I never asked for a life-long commitment.  The opposite of not hiring job hoppers does not equal asking people for a life of servitude.  That’s an incorrect inference.

Another good rebuttal was by William Ward and can be read here.  I love being challenged.  I love public debate.  I learn and am willing to change if challenged appropriately.  Unfortunately much of the commentary speaking against my POV was just personal attacks on me from people who don’t know me calling me all sorts of things not worth printing.

How do you treat people when they quit your company, Mark?

When people do quit a company that I’ve run I really seldom get angry.  If I want them to stay I normally start with the, “was there anything we could have done differently?” speech.  But most people who have made up their minds to leave are pretty determined.  So if there is no chance of a rescue I move quickly to the, “life is short and the world is small, so let’s stay connected” speech.  Even if I feel let down I often feel that if somebody is quitting unexpectedly then there is something that I need to learn from this.  Maybe I wasn’t clear enough that we want to reward our best people and are open to helping when they feel undervalued.

Quitting a job is not a death sentence.  I don’t run the mafia.  If someone talented has decided to move on then my hope is that some day we’ll have a chance to do business again in a different capacity.

And if you need to quit your current job it doesn’t make you a career job hopper.  Just be aware that if you do it often it will establish a pattern in future hiring people’s minds.  And in the minds of many VCs if you hope to raise money one day.