The Pros And Cons Of Job-Hopping
By , - Source: Toms IT Pro

When I first started working in IT in the early 1980s, the economy was booming and jobs were everywhere. For my first seven years in the industry, I changed jobs six times. I stayed with that last job for six years, after which I went out on my own as a freelance writer and researcher, which is more or less what I've done ever since (with two brief stints in full-time jobs, each of which lasted about a year). That's why I can say I'm no stranger to the phenomenon known as "job hopping" myself. In my case, the most common reason for such changes was very much in play: angling for a better-paying, more responsible position.

As it happens, this kind of thing is no novelty. Job-hopping is particularly prevalent for younger workers just entering the workforce, seeking to rise to their desired level of pay and responsibility, or seeking to find the best fit in the workplace for themselves and their future prospects. The other time that job-hopping becomes particularly pervasive is when the economy starts or keeps booming, and a seller's market for IT jobs makes itself apparent. This is a case where demand outstrips supply enough that it may be easier to get a big raise by changing employers, than it would be to talk one's current employer into matching somebody else's compensation offer.

Either way, more money is a common denominator here, followed closely by an offered new job that's perceived to be better than the current job for a variety of reasons that can include better working circumstances, a shorter commute, better benefits, and so forth.

When To Take The Offer And When To Stay Put

Writing for Tom's IT Pro, in fact, I've heard from dozens of readers over the past five years wondering whether or not another job change, often in the wake of several similar moves in recent years, is worth making. Here's a distillation of the advice I've tendered to these requests over the years.

  1. If there's a 10 percent or better pay hike involved, and otherwise things are the same: take the offer.
  2. If you're unhappy (or worse) in your current job, a change could be for the good: take the offer.
  3. If you benefit from less pressure, a shorter commute, better working conditions, better future prospects, potential equity gains: take the offer.
  4. If your current employer won't support your career development and career growth, or won't pay at least part of the costs for continuing education and professional development, and the new job offers those things: take the offer.
  5. If you really like your current job, and the pay increase is below 10 percent: stay put.
  6. If you aren't sure the new job is better or more appealing than your current job: stay put.
  7. If you're thinking about switching from full-time employment to contract pay, your hourly rate as compared to your current job needs to increase by 50 percent or more to make it worth switching (you'll have to cover all of your Social Security taxes, and pay your own benefits: 50 percent is usually just enough to break even on the switch from full-time to contract). I've always used a "2X or better" ratio in my own case.

This is very much a case-by-case kind of analysis. You will want to turn to those who know you best (and whom you trust the most) for input and advice, and think carefully before making any changes. Job hopping kind of reminds me of the old discussion about gun slinging: your first gunfight is incredibly hard and scary, but gunfights become less difficult and terrifying with repetition. You'll have to be prepared to explain your work history to prospective employers, and be prepared to shed light on rapid or frequent job changes in your past. This becomes more of a challenge as the series of changes get longer, so factor that into your planning and action, too!