Job Hoppers: The Best Employees Money Can Buy?

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s no shortage of “spin” involved in modern job hunting.  Almost every professional in transition has some sort of weakness or vulnerability that they need to try and put a pretty face on during the interview process.  People without college degrees can claim that they come from “the school of hard knocks” or offer “hands-on” experience.  Folks trying to break into a new industry can insist that they won’t have to “unlearn bad habits” and that they’ll bring “fresh ideas” to the new field.  And individuals who have been out of work for a number of months can try to promote the notion that they’ve “recharged their batteries” and are ready to hit the ground running harder than anybody else, if offered a new role.

I’ll confess, though, even I have a hard time swallowing the notion that a job hopper (i.e. somebody who has held multiple jobs in succession for less than a year or two) is a better employee than a more “stable” employee because they 1) are forced to learn more things, more quickly, than other employees; 2) will inevitably deliver more value during a shorter period of time; and 3) are more emotionally mature because of their willingness to push themselves bravely onward to challenging new assignments.  And yet, these are exactly the arguments that notorious national career blogger Penelope Trunk (The Brazen Careerist) makes here in one of her recent postings.

Having followed Penelope for years, I greatly respect her ability to view things from unusual angles, as well as her ability to stir up controversy for the sake of building blog traffic and brand recognition.  And yet, despite her impassioned words, I’m not fully convinced that even SHE would pass a lie detector test on this one — and that she truly believes, deep down, that job hoppers are by definition better and more valuable employees to recruit into one’s organization than other employees, all else being equal.  If you read through the colorful string of comments after her posting, too, you’ll see I’m not alone in this opinion.  And yet, there are also plenty of folks who also have written in to agree and defend her unconventional point of view.  Definitely makes for some good reading!

So as always, there’s no harm in vigorous debate, and it pays to be vigilant about these kinds of things because  true “paradigm changes” definitely sneak up on us — and always seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, until the one day they BECOME the conventional wisdom.  This time around, though, I’m having a hard time buying it.  Constant voluntary job change is definitely NOT a virtue I’d be seeking out in candidates, if I were in a hiring role.  Your thoughts?

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4 Responses to “Job Hoppers: The Best Employees Money Can Buy?”

  1. Matt,

    B.S. on Penelope Trunk. Justifying bunk by suggesting it’s “a conversation” is like trying to justify poor judgment by suggesting an employer should hire job hoppers “because you might like them anyway.”

    Likewise, the reciprocal loyalty argument is more bunk. Workers should be disloyal because some employers are disloyal? Is that the model for progress we should now follow?

    A shift in the economy that leads a company to lay people off makes the company disloyal? Is a long-time employee disloyal because she accepts a new job in some other company? Loyalty is a personal choice, not a relative quality dependent on someone else’s (or some company’s) choice.

    Gimme a break. Trunk is not having a dialogue. She is advocating job hopping as a career strategy. But justifying job hopping using Trunk’s logic requires demonstrating that learning new things is both the cause and impetus for changing jobs frequently. Trunk seems to toss in the loyalty argument to avoid making her case.

    Quite a few physically-handicapped folks participate in the dialogue on my blog. They make a strong case that their handicaps do not affect the quality of their work. None of them has ever suggested it’s better to be handicapped. People who have job hopped make the case that they are still good workers — and it’s up to them to prove it. But none of them has tried to argue that job hopping is their plan for success.

    Young workers might change jobs several times as they find their way in the business world. Nothing wrong with that. It’s part of the learning curve. But unless your business model is consulting (being a “hired gun,”) job hopping as a way of life is gonna destroy your career.

    In closing, Matt, I’d like to point out that Ms. Trunk does not demonstrate any interest in having the open dialogue that you suggest her article represents. There is no balanced view in her perspective. She’s not explaining or discussing job hopping. She’s advocating job hopping.

    “the CORE VALUE job hopping expresses”??

    Gimme a break.

    When Trunk’s fans start proudly titling their resumes “JOB HOPPER,” we’ll know job hopping expresses their core value.

  2. Penelope: Much thanks for weighing in with your additional thoughts. And absolutely, I think ANY conversation (like so many of the ones you initiate) that explores the frontiers of the new “world of work” and the changing dynamics of the job market has value, in its own right, especially for people who haven’t needed to look for work in a long time — and who may be operating from outdated information and assumptions. However, I still feel the post of yours touting the virtues of job-hopping paints a far too black-and-white picture of an extremely murky subject. Sure, certain professionals fit the mold you’re describing. At the same time, I’ve met (and worked with) quite a few folks who hopped from job to job to job because they got bored TOO easily (e.g. couldn’t stick with something long enough to get results), couldn’t get along with their co-workers, engaged in inappropriate activity in the office, or simply were great self-promoters who couldn’t back up their claims up with substance, once hired. So to ignore all of these other factors that often contribute to resume turbulence, and just assume everybody out there is jumping jobs for all the right reasons, seems a bit over the top, to me. As always, though, you’ve got people talking — and I also realize that sometimes you’ve got to use a rhetorical 2×4 to cut through the noise and make a point! So if that was your goal, you definitely succeeded…

  3. My take Matt is that there is a strong group of “free agents” (contractors, consultants) who fit this mold very, very well. I think the article is spot-on when Penelope wrote that the allegiance is to the team and not the company. I believe this to be especially true in large corporations, where senior leadership isn’t visible and accessible to most employees and contingent workforce.

    The flipside – the loyalty by the corporation isn’t there. It’s nothing to take personally, it just is what it is.

    In short, I agree with Penelope, but with the caveat that I am talking more about self-employed free agents.

  4. This is an interesting post, because you don’t say you agree with the job hopping, but you say the conversation is valuable just because it’s interesting. I think the core value job hopping expresses is a passion for learning, which is the same value you express here. Intellectual challenge is so important, and often you have to leave a job to get that.

    Penelope

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