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Why the old rules of job hopping don't apply

Posted by Jesse Nunes  September 15, 2008 10:03 AM

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By Aaron Green

The old school view of job hoppers was to stay away from them, with the assumption that something must be wrong with them and/or that they will leave you too. Employers were reluctant to invest in employing and developing job hoppers. However, times have changed and progressive hiring managers realize that they need to adjust their perspective to the new norms around job hopping.

Why employees job-hop

Job hopping isn't limited to any one industry, job type or level. It's present in all industries and occurs for reasons ranging from chronic dissatisfaction with salary and work environment to job stress and staff downsizing. Job hopping can be particularly attractive to new workers who seek a broad range of work experience more quickly than one company may provide; they view themselves as free agents. Millennials, or Generation Y, the youngest generation in today's workforce, has been tagged with being job hoppers, a label supported by recent statistics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of all 20-24 year olds had been with their employer less than 12 months.

Don't overcompensate

While the old school view needs to be modified, some hiring mangers have over compensated and given up even considering job hopping as a factor in assessing candidates. This approach is dangerous, as it can result in poor hiring.

Six tips to determine if you should hire a job hopper or not

1. Dig deep into reasons for leaving past jobs

Some candidates have valid reasons for why they switched jobs; reasons that do not negatively affect their consideration for your open position. Other candidates have negative baggage that they prefer not to talk about and these candidates will have canned, prepared answers to avoid negative information relating to their reasons for leaving positions. Your goal is to get past the canned answers and get as much information as possible so you can make your own assessment of the candidate's suitability for the position.

Don't settle for surface answers to questions about why candidates switched jobs. Answers like: "I got a new boss" or "I had no opportunity for advancement" or "the company was acquired" are not answers — they are just the start of the conversation.

2. Check back door references and multiple references at past employers

Calling the references that the candidate provides is of limited use. You can expect these hand-picked people to say only good things about the candidate. You need to use your network and speak with someone at the organization where the candidate worked who will give you candid information about the candidate's performance and about why they left the organization. Many people in recruiting refer to this as a "back door reference." The goal here is to get a more complete and unbiased picture of the candidate in order to make the most informed decision possible. Be discrete and take care not to create any problems for a candidate who is conducting a confidential search.

Job hopper candidates require more due diligence; gather as much information as you can, call all past employers, and even call multiple people at each employer.

3. Connect the dots

Consider the candidate's reasons for leaving past jobs in relation to the open position at your organization. For instance, if a candidate left his/her prior employer because they received no training, you might feel better about hiring this person if your company has an industry-leading training program. On the other hand, if that employee left a company with a reputation for excellent training you might think twice before you make an offer.

4. Take calculated risks

It is easy to come up with reasons not to hire an applicant. Nonetheless, we are operating in an environment with 2 percent unemployment of college graduates and you may want to take some calculated risks in order to hire talent. Also, keep in mind the fact that bad bosses exist, as do bad employers, plus people make mistakes and accept jobs that just don't fit for them or they grow out of jobs. Leaving positions voluntarily or not should not be like wearing a scarlet letter. Without being naive it makes sense to keep an open mind about candidates until you can thoroughly understand their background.

5. Determine how much is too much

While I believe in taking calculated risks, I also think it is a good idea to draw a line defining how much job hopping is simply too much no matter how good the explanation sounds. This line should be drawn at the outer extreme and you still need to evaluate candidate who fall within the line as to why they job hopped. Think of it like this - if the perfect candidate applies except he/she has more than "X" number of jobs in the last 5 years we won't consider him/her. Period. "X" should be determined based on your industry and the open position for which you are recruiting.

6. Look for ways to test for culture fit

Much employee turnover is a result of a poor fit between the employee and the employer's culture. If you are unsure about a candidate, look for ways to test for culture fit before you put the employee in a position where turnover hurts. For example: try out the candidate in a temp-to-perm role, put the candidate into a training program before he/she starts "live," or hire them into a stepping stone job and promote them quickly if they fit into your company's culture.

Aaron Green is founder and president of Boston-based Professional Staffing Group and PSG Offshore Resources. He is also a member of the board of directors of the American Staffing Association. He can be reached at aaron.green@psgstaffing.com or (617) 250-1000.

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About HR Columns

Featuring human resources advice and columns from The Boston Globe's On Staffing and Hire Authority writers.

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