Back in the 1960s, when my father started as an HR executive at Pfizer, lifetime employment was still common. Hiring managers scrutinized a candidate’s every job change. People with a pattern of many short jobs were considered damaged goods and were automatically eliminated from contention.
50 years later things have changed, but not nearly as much as the Wall Street Journal’s Joanne Lublin claims in her article entitled Job-Hopping Executives No Longer Pay Penalty.
The article contends that the stigma of job hopping has faded, and that some employers even consider it to be a virtue because job hopping employees bring experiences from many different companies.
If you are an executive, or aspire to be one, don’t believe that for a second. Executive level jobs are complex, and making a meaningful contribution takes years. The odds are overwhelming that an executive who’s moved from job to job every 12 to 24 months hasn’t accomplished anything. A few short jobs in a career might be deemed acceptable, but a long string of them is still a knockout.
When do employers issue a free pass on short jobs? There are several scenarios.
Executives who are drawn to high risk businesses — startups, turnarounds, and the like — usually have more job changes than those who choose less risky career paths. That’s natural, and usually doesn’t constitute a negative as long as the resume is dominated by longer, successful periods of employment.
In addition, employers will usually give candidates a free pass when they have lost jobs due to a restructuring or sale of their employer. These days, it’s rare to find an executive who hasn’t been impacted by such a restructuring at some time in their career.
My approach follows the advice given to be by my father more than 20 years ago when I asked how he evaluated candidates with many short jobs. He said, “If there are a few of them, I ask questions and try to understand why, but if it’s a long string I don’t bother talking with them. I know something bad is going on, and don’t need to waste time figuring out what it is because they’re never going to be a candidate.”