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Why Job Hopping Is Losing Its Negative Stigma

Potential employers once frowned upon applicants who left their jobs too soon. The economic downturn changed all that.

Photo: Flickr user Marc Tarlock]

Once upon a time, staying in a job for less than a year carried a huge stigma. Job hopping raised a red flag to future employers that you weren’t serious.

Some professionals still believe this. A new survey out from PayScale and Millennial Branding finds that 41% of baby boomers believe that people should stay in their jobs for at least five years before looking for a new role. Another 21% say between four and five years.

But among people born between 1982 and 2002, a full 26% believe that you should start looking for something new before a year is up. Only 13% say more than five years.

Why the difference? Young people tend to believe that loyalty is a two-way street. "Especially in this economy, things that demonstrated loyalty from an employer to an employee are disappearing," says Lydia Frank, director of editorial and marketing at PayScale in Seattle. "There’s just not this sense in the job market that your employer is necessarily going to take care of you."

As a result, people have become more focused on ensuring they're making the best choices for their individual career, she adds.

Job Hopping As A Career Savior

Moving jobs relatively frequently at the start of your career has some real upsides. First, few people know what they want to be when they grow up these days. Trying different jobs—or even industries—early on can help you find the right fit.

Second, even if you do know what you want to do with your life, the economy has been tepid for young people since the economic crash of 2008. Many twentysomethings have not been able to start out where they wished.

If a new opportunity comes along, the mind-set is this: "If I don’t like what I’m doing; if I’m not being paid well for my skill set; if I’m not in a job that’s utilizing my training and education, why would I stay?" asks Frank. "I think that’s a fair question."

Finally, there’s reason to believe that people who move around can earn more. Each new job is a chance to renegotiate salaries, and over time this adds up. A story on Forbes.com recently calculated you might conservatively get a 10% raise if you change jobs, but only a 3% annual raise if you stay at the same company. This difference will compound over your entire career.

The Case For Staying Put

Experts say there are downsides to moving around, too. Jobs may not teach all they can in the first few months. People have a remarkable ability to shape their own jobs, and by moving around within a company, you might be able to get new responsibilities and managers that would approximate taking a different job, without all the instability.

"You don’t want to burn bridges," says Frank. ‘If your last three jobs have all been six months long, your next employer might have some questions about that."

As a hiring manager herself, Frank says she wouldn’t write someone off. "If you do make that choice, you just need to be ready to respond and have a good answer," she says. "Most employers are probably open and willing to hear your explanation."

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