A decade ago, changing jobs every four to five years was a huge red flag, says Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster. Now it’s common for people to change jobs much more frequently. In fact, most U.S. workers stayed in one job an average of 4.6 years in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job hopping isn’t just about getting bored and moving on — when you do it thoughtfully, it’s a smart move. While the average pay increase is only 2.9 percent a year, Salemi says, employees who change jobs every two to three years are likely to up their salaries 10 to 20 percent each time.
Even though job-hopping is more acceptable now, you still have to be strategic about how you do it. From building your resume to preparing for an interview to managing your references, here’s what you need to know.
Keep Your Resume Tight and Relevant
Your resume should tell a comprehensive story of who you are and how you’ve progressed as an employee, Salemi says. It’s more challenging to sell yourself as an expert when your resume is a series of disconnected, short-term jobs, so don’t feel obligated to detail every work experience. “If you were somewhere for only six months and it wasn’t a good experience, don’t include it,” says Rasheen Carbin, co-founder and chief marketing officer for nsphire.com, a job-matching site for employers and job seekers.
Hiring managers still see gaps in a resume as “a big red flag,” says Jane Garner, client services manager of the HR and administrative practice at Addison Group. In fact, an Addison Group survey found that 42 percent of hiring managers see gaps in work experience as a top resume turnoff.
One easy solution is to list the years of employment on your resume and leave out months. (Avoid taking out dates entirely, Garner says.) And if you had a series of short-term assignments, make that clear by using “interim,” “consultant,” or “contractor” in your title, says Danielle Beauparlant Moser, managing partner at Blended Learning Team LLC, and coauthor of Focus: Creating Career & Brand Clarity.
Tell Your Story
Left a job quickly? It’s fine if it just didn’t work out, but pay attention to how you tell the story, Garner says. Don’t blurt out that you didn’t get along with your manager. Instead, explain that transitions in the department made it clear your role was changing, so you started to look for a job that would better use your skills. But, Garner warns, you can’t tell that story over and over again. You might mention that the project you were working on ended, and pivot the conversation to how you successfully completed that project in your time there.
In fact, pivoting the conversation works to your advantage, because interviewers want to know about more than just your job titles and employers, Moser says: They want to know how your experience will help their bottom line. “Focus on where you add value,” she adds.
Call In Backup
If you want to change jobs frequently, you need a solid network of references and referrals, Carbin says. “If you go from job to job, are a bad employee or don’t keep in touch with people, it won’t be easy to move around,” he notes.
Do everything you can to avoid burning bridges: Be careful what you say about former employers and colleagues in conversations and on social media, Carbin says. Stay in the game until your last day of work with your current employer, and honor your commitments and promises.
Your network can help overcome negative perceptions about short stints and gaps, Moser says, but it will take more than a colleague simply asking a hiring manager to talk with a friend to get you in the door. A much stronger introduction would be, “You should talk to my colleague. If you look at her resume, there are some short-term jobs, but that has nothing to do with her value. This is what she can do for you and this is where she will add value to the organization.”
Be proactive about asking for a reference, especially if you’re working as a contractor. “Look out for those projects where you are having a positive impact,” Garner says, “and before your work wraps up, ask that manager if she will be a reference.”
Before you send contact information to a hiring manager, reach out to your references and let them know to expect a call. Prep them on why you’re looking to make a change and what skills you want them to highlight. The more specifics you share, Moser says, the easier it is for your reference to echo the story you told during your interview.
Before you jump at the next opportunity, take some time to make sure it’s a strategic move, especially if you’re leaving a job after less than a year. The new job should be a step up, with more money and a better title, Salemi says, so you’re not just making a series of lateral moves.
Never take a job that isn’t a good match, even if you’re unhappy in your current role, Moser warns. Pause to think about what you like about the new job offer and what you want to gain from a new role. “I’ve worked with people who left a job, weren’t thoughtful about what they wanted, and landed somewhere worse,” Moser says.
But if the job’s the right fit? Go ahead and take salary boost, higher title, more interesting project, or better culture. Remember, there’s no one career path anymore.