Debate: Are frequent role changes good or bad for your career?

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When we consider a person’s job history, we tend to think that a decent amount of time devoted to a given role, usually anything upwards of 18 months, looks good on paper, and anything else tends to raise a few questions.

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But are relatively frequent job changes the mark of an ambitious professional who is keen to progress, or does a varied job history demonstrate a lack of commitment?

In the world of employment and recruitment, is there an industry standard for how long you should spend at a job? Furthermore, just how frequent is too frequent? To weigh up whether continual role changes are good or bad for your career, here we present opinions and insights from various business and recruitment experts.

The case for frequent role changes

So, are frequent job changes a sign of someone looking to progress or a recruitment red flag? Ben Chatfield, co-founder of Tempo, is firmly in the former camp, saying: “There are a vast number of benefits that a portfolio career can bring, and there is no cut-off point for when someone can embark on a new challenge.”

Indeed, a more varied CV tends to show adaptability and readiness, as opposed to those who have remained in fewer positions. Of this, Ben notes: “Varied experience demonstrates that a candidate is better at working flexibly in different environments and is more likely to have a greater range of soft skills and a wider pool of professional contacts. Employers, in turn, will see candidates with diverse careers integrate faster and onboard more efficiently.”

Many of the experts pointed to how the landscape of recruitment is changing. To this end, Ben states that “if companies want to continue attracting top talent, they need to embrace this phenomenon and change how they find and access employee experience.”

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The case against frequent role changes

What of the opposing view? Amanda Augustine, career advice expert at TopCV, was less charitable than Ben when it came to frequent job shifts, saying: “When it comes to your career, it’s important to be savvy about the frequency at which you job hop.

“Before you accept any role, know what is expected of you – and that includes how the industry you are working in views employment length. For instance, while it may be common – and to an extent expected – that professionals working in a risk-prone startup environment will move around regularly, for others, frequent job changes can be a black mark on your CV.”

Amanda points to the volume of applications hiring managers receive, many of which are for a single position. It’s often the case that they’ll assume the worst and may deduce that you have an issue with commitment or struggle to keep up with the demands of the job.

She says: “While you can get away with it in your early twenties, as someone gets older and more seasoned in their career, frequent job changes become harder to justify.”

In closing, Amanda offers the following: “In an ideal world, professionals would stay at each job for a minimum of two years, which I’d recommend is the sweet spot. However, if all signs indicate a role is not a proper fit, there’s no harm in moving on provided you can justify exactly why you chose to make the leap – and I would definitely recommend securing a new job first!”

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Is there obvious development or enthusiasm?

As for opinions that landed somewhere in the middle, there were plenty that pointed to the differing nature of the job market and recruitment as a whole when compared to the past. As a result, reaching a ‘good or bad’ decision is a little less clear cut, usually because there are other factors at play, as well as a qualitative rather than quantitative approach to viewing job applications. 

A representative at Mad HR conceded that while they exercised caution around those who have ‘job hopped’, it was also important to view whether these choices might seem to be a result of a clear and progressive career path, or indeed, if it’s for ‘unforeseen’ circumstances.

They said: “Our priority is always to look for candidates who are dedicated to their career and personal development, whilst clearly showing evidence of being consistent or intentional in their choices. If there’s a through line that traces a path of progression, then it certainly mitigates the concern someone bouncing from one role to another would usually result in.

“We would urge anyone who has had multiple job roles to provide clear explanations for the move or change, so as to evidence that they can be viewed as reliable and dedicated to their career path.”

Likewise, James McDonagh, director of EMEA at Nigel Frank International, believes the stigma surrounding frequent job shifts can be lessened by other qualities. He says: “Employers want commitment; they don’t want to be back sitting across the desk from someone else in six months’ time trying to replace you because you’ve got a better offer elsewhere.

“If you’re worried that your jam-packed job history is putting potential employers off, it helps to focus on pitching them what they want to see: loyalty.”

James advises demonstrating enthusiasm for the role you’re applying for. Candidates should read up on the job, the company, and their mission, and explain how interested they are in furthering that vision and helping them succeed. Show employers that you see a future for yourself within their organization.

hiring manager making job offer

Hiring managers should take note

An interesting point was raised by James Calder, CEO at Distinct Recruitment, who noted there are other circumstances surrounding the continuous shifts in job roles and that hiring managers shouldn’t be so hasty as a result.

James says: “Consider the companies that the candidate has worked for. While some will provide the platform for employees to develop and progress within the business, some – generally smaller organisations – often don’t have the scope or infrastructure for these people to achieve promotion internally. This, more often than not, forces them to move externally for progression”.

The onus should be more on the hiring managers themselves to understand reasons and motivations for a candidates’ previous career moves. “This is something as an agency we do with each candidate we meet. It can be hard to quantify the frequency but, in our view, if someone can talk confidently, evidencing plausible reasons behind their journey; giving clear and comprehensive reasons for each decision and be able to demonstrate how they developed as a result, you’re along the right lines”.

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