Now that changing jobs frequently is increasingly more common, we need new language to describe the phenomenon — “job hopping” doesn’t always cut it.
“The average American changes jobs once every three years; those under the age of 30 change jobs once a year,” writes Richard Florida, an expert on demographic trends.
It’s clear, lots of people are “job hopping” despite its often negative connotation.
Here’s the problem. The term “job hopping” conjures the image of a person balancing on one leg, springing from one place to another. Using only one leg to get around isn’t the most stable way to move, so the implication is that the hopper is shaky, maybe even haphazard.
That doesn’t paint an accurate picture of most “job hoppers.”
My impression — informed by conversations with friends and other job seekers in their 20s — is that most “job hoppers” think very carefully about their transitions and their career trajectories in general.
In fact, many don’t aim to make so many professional moves, but it ends up being the best way to propel their careers forward. They switch frequently because it’s fairly easy to move around when you’re young, and they want to make sure they’re in a job that challenges them and rewards their talents. To achieve that, you have to try things out and learn about yourself and different work environments.
These people who’ve had four different jobs over six years — or whatever the case may be — aren’t carelessly “job hopping,” they’ve elected to undergo a “professional pivot.” So we should call it that.
You hear about pivots all the time from entrepreneurs and people in the startup world. The concept was made popular by Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup.” Ries advises a company to test and measure a basic version of its product or service. If the results don’t show that the effort is helping the company grow, it’s time to pivot.
When a company pivots, that’s a reflection that it’s learning. If something doesn’t work, startup employees identify why it didn’t work and then refine their approach based on what they know. There’s a big emphasis on learning by doing.
So-called “job hoppers” are using this approach, recognizing that sometimes it takes a lot of learning — and different experiences — to figure out where to go.
In The Startup of You, LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman (here’s his LinkedIn profile if you’re curious) and entrepreneur Ben Casnocha spend an entire chapter on the importance of adaptation — noting how Flickr, the popular photo sharing website, originally started out as an online game. They point to the story of Flickr as a “case study in smart adapting: its founders were in constant motion early on, tried many things to see what would work, and nimbly shifted their plans based on what they learned.” Reid and Casnocha are correct: “These are the very same strategies that define some of the most inspiring careers.”
Of course, sometimes frequent job changing is indicative of deeper issues. Yes, it can mean that a person is unreliable or impulsive. In these cases, it would be appropriate to say the person is approaching their career with little strategy or purpose.
But that’s just not the right explanation most of the time. That’s why we should have more nuanced discussions about frequent job changes. We should use expressions that accurately describe what we mean and distinguish those who “pivot” — even if they do it very often — from those who are just “job hopping.”
Jaclyn Schiff is managing editor of Brazen Life. When she’s not Brazenly thinking about careers, she can often be found helping clients with social media, writing about global health and media, or tweeting.