Changing Jobs - Too Many Times or Too Few?

By Ellis Chase

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I get asked about this issue as much as any other--and the questions come from both sides. Do I have a problem if I’ve moved around every other year or so? OR . . . Do I have a problem if I’ve stayed in the same place for ten years?


Usually, people in career transition are more concerned about the perceived problem of changing jobs every year or two.  

Since the 1980s or thereabouts, the paradigm of lifetime employment has pretty much disappeared, for a wide variety of economic reasons. That’s why we hear more about the job hoppers than those who stay for long periods in one organization. Current research shows that the average job lasts around 3-3.5 years, and an expected career will consist of 12 jobs and three separate careers. If that is understood by both employer and employee, then the “jumping” issue won’t come up as much.

But what about those who, for various reasons, have had to change maybe twice in three years? Maybe there was an acquisition. Maybe bad chemistry. Or maybe it was the wrong job from the start. 

The key for job seekers is to be able to present the reasons for leaving jobs in the best possible light, and to never cast aspersions on the former employer, no matter what.  They need to focus on the skills attained, even if the job lasted less than a year. There has to be a compelling reason for the change, one that makes the candidate look good--and never defensive. It’s never for “more challenge;” it’s about the opportunity to more fully utilize skills and experience and find the right fit (one of my favorite expressions in transition language).    

There will be employers who will look at a resume, see multiple changes, and immediately disqualify the candidate. To me, that usually suggests an employer who doesn’t get the work culture changes over the past several years. So, it’s up to the candidate to present a resume that may group various employees in a framework that may suggest consulting, with a focus on skills attained. Or maybe even functionalize the resume somewhat, to focus on the skills, rather than the specific jobs. While many discourage that format, it’s often better than listing multiple jobs over a short period of time.  

But, since I strongly urge clients to not lead with resumes, the verbal response will clearly be more well-crafted than any resume can be--and the applicant can address and tailor responses accordingly.  A resume can’t do that as well.  

Essentially, the job hopper should be able to position the moves as positive, skill- building experiences. There should never be any acquiescence to the concept that this is a liability or weakness. That’s the interviewer’s issue. 

Even with all that preparation for dealing with the hopping issues, job seekers need to realize that creating multiple options and targets increases their chances of finding prospective employers who will be able to see past the multiple changes.  In other words, high numbers create a higher probability of success, and the opportunities to connect with employers who will recognize the skill set and be able to get past the history.


On the other side are the “dinosaurs,” as I like to call them. Dinosaurs, because the long-term or lifetime employment paradigm is becoming extinct, unless there is self-employment. (And even then, many will change back to organizational structures or switch back and forth between the two work styles.) Those job seekers are always worried that prospective employers are going to see them as limited in skills and experience, having worked at one organization for so long.

Sounds like you can’t win, right?

Almost right. There will be employers who don’t like long employment, those who don’t like short terms of employment, and finding what’s “just right” is sometimes elusive.  

That’s why it’s so important to create multiple options and targets, as mentioned above.

But what about those dinosaurs? How do they deal with the perception that they haven’t learned much in their long stints?

Easy. They should focus on changes within their employment, even if official job titles haven’t changed. They need to prepare explanations of how the job evolved from one skill set to another, and to be conscientious about providing examples to explain. 

Both situations can be addressed, but creating a winning numbers game will be the best solution.  

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