Why the job-hopper label is one to avoid

Leaving one company to work for another is part of life, but job-hopping can be bad for your career. And from an organisational standpoint, hiring the job-hopper could be bad for business.

A new survey of HR managers by global staffing company Robert Half defines job-hopping and offers advice for employees considering a change of work scenery.

More than 300 managers at US companies were asked, “Over a ten-year span, how many job changes, in your opinion, would it take for a professional to be viewed as a job-hopper?”

The average response: changing companies five times. Experts on recruiting in the UK agree that switching organisations every two years or less likely constitutes job-hopping.

For several reasons, hiring managers could eliminate those who bounce around from company to company. On its face, a job history with many stops in only a few years can indicate a worker doesn’t get along well with others or lacks engagement. And, if companies do hire the job-hopper and that person continues hopping, recruiting and training a new worker costs more.

Research by the Center for American Progress showed that the average cost to replace an employee was 21.4% of that employee’s salary. So, each time one $60,000-a-year worker leaves, US companies are paying about $12,800 to replace the worker.

Data from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK say the recruiting cost alone for replacing a senior executive is about £6,000 (about $9,825), and about £2,000 ($3,275) for mid-level employees. Clive Davis, a senior director at Robert Half UK, estimates total replacement costs for a worker to be at least 25% of salary, and possibly higher for high-level jobs.

While some strategic job-switching can help workers advance careers or keep engagement high by providing new challenges, continued quick moves can be a red flag for hiring managers. In a 2012 survey by software company Bullhorn, 39% of recruiters said the single biggest obstacle for an unemployed candidate in regaining employment is having a history of regular job changes.

“It’s up to candidates to justify their career history,” said Claire McCartney, a CIPD adviser for resource and talent planning. “If there are gaps, or they were in a role a short period of time, they need to fill in the gaps.”

In finance, career advancement could bring on the need to change jobs more often than every two years, experts said. Shahid Nawaz of global recruiting firm Hays said that showing career progression can help cancel out the negative perception of rapid-fire job changes.

“For the core finance roles, if you’re moving every two years to gain greater exposure or some new skill set, people are accepting of that,” said Nawaz, business director for Hays’s accountancy and finance practice.

Paul McDonald, Robert Half senior executive director in the US, said that hiring managers should also take into account the economic tremors of the past few years when considering a job candidate who appears to be a hopper.

“You have to ascertain if those moves were warranted,” McDonald said. Some job changes, after all, could have been the result of a company going out of business or laying off an entire department of workers.

If you are deliberating about whether to stay with your current employer or look elsewhere, Robert Half recommends asking yourself three questions before updating your CV and beginning a job search:

Why do you want the new opportunity? Consider the job factors that are most important to you, and pursue the new job only if it helps improve those issues. Money, a better relationship with your manager, new and greater responsibilities, more flexible hours – everyone has different priorities. In this electronic age, one can apply for many jobs by just clicking a mouse and filling out a few fields on an employer’s website. But candidates should apply only for jobs they truly want – and be able to articulate why they want that job before applying, Davis said.

Have you looked within? Other jobs with your current employer might be a better fit than going to another company. McDonald said that logical, career-progressing moves in the same company do not constitute job-hopping.

Where is the greatest long-term potential and stability? Your best chance to build skills and advance your career might be in your current job. Also, Robert Half recommends considering which company, current or targeted, is on the most solid footing. “You don’t want to make a move only to learn your career progression is stalled, or your new company is struggling,” the company said in a news release.

Related CGMA Magazine content:

Six Ways to Build Employee Engagement”: Amica Mutual Insurance CEO Robert DiMuccio, CPA, explains how his company develops an engaged workforce.

How to Drive Engagement as Turnover Concerns Mount”: With the global economy showing signs of growth, a survey from June 2013 predicted a significant increase in employee turnover. With retention a concern, understanding what motivates workers’ commitment and loyalty is essential for employers.

Neil Amato ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.