If you’re paying attention to the epochal shift were sitting through right now, you’ll know that the so-called taboo on job hopping is exactly that: imaginary. At least, it is to anyone under 40 right now.
In the last decade, Western and post-industrial countries have witnessed a large inception-like shift to knowledge economies and there’s a new “creative class” burgeoning, according to thinkers like Richard Florida. The workplace landscape is experiencing a fault zone where the twin tectonic plates of technology and business are colliding more fervently than ever before.
Well, those are the broader winds. On an individual level, what does this mean for the millennial today? Is job-hopping a career killer? One has to make one’s own way through this Brave New World that consists of multiple iterations and versions of the creative jobs fueled by the technocrats of Silicon Valley, a morning’s catch worth of fresh opportunities and yet fierce competition among 20- and 30-year-olds today.
Instead of viewing job-hopping as an occupational hazard of the young and halfway-experienced, a liability that mimics the short attention spans social media seems to promote, millennials instead re-frame job-hopping as the linchpin in securing meaningful and fulfilling work, the very thing, in fact, that gives them a competitive edge.
Breadth vs. Depth
The number one casualty of job-hopping, ironically, is not the millennial herself, it’s the seeming sacrifice of depth in favor of breadth.
Conventional thinking would have us believe that the two are mutually exclusive because of the logical and essential limits of time. In a short span of 50 solid working years, one can either build mastery (a popular idea, underscored by writer’s like Malcolm Gladwell or experience a range of diverse situations — but not both.
Except that those who read breadth vs. depth in job-hopping as a kind of zero-sum game are forgetting a very key presence: technology. It might not have been possible to move laterally as well as horizontally in a company. Yet millennials who move jobs today are not only shifting vertically, they’re also moving horizontally, between industries.
Think of it like the difference between starting as an intern and ending up as the CEO versus stepping into the role of community manager in a fitness company and moving to social media manager, which might encompass many of the same duties, in a fashion publication.
The Project Economy
There is a sense that millennials are an impatient and entitled group. That they simply lack the patience to put in the hours required to prove loyalty to a company or make a move up.
Yet much of the workplace ecosystem has been fragmented into several types of workers including virtual assistants, remote and contract workers, one-time project managers and sub-contractors.
Part of the allure of working as a remote worker or a contractor or a freelancer is, of course, functioning independently. But, of course, it started out as a necessity for many millennials who were crushed by student debt, walking into an economic collapse and recession.
But, for millennials, job-hopping often means not moving from company to company but from project to project, which fits into their economic needs as well as their career needs.
It all started (arguably) with the “unpaid internship.” At the outset, in the late ’80s, this was more of an “informal apprenticeship.” Fast forward 4 decades and it’s a staple, a precursor to any job worth having and a necessary gatekeeper that keeps young people honest and “paying their dues.”
Yet experience counts more than ever before. Journalism, marketing and even business grads are finding, more than ever before, it is one’s own initiative to get one’s foot in the door as well as a stellar portfolio that makes a candidate viable.
In fact, many companies such as Shopify openly state that qualifications are not as interesting to them as a well-rounded and experienced candidate. So is job-hopping a career killer in this case? Not so much.
Specialization through multiple jobs
Instead of asking, “Is job-hopping a career killer,” millennials today are asking, “can job-hopping help me narrow in and niche down in a focused way?”
The truth is that holding down multiple jobs can actually produce a diverse skill set in a specific niche. This means that individuals who frequently switch jobs can experience all aspects of a particular industry and build knowledge while still maintaining a focus.
The popular term for this is going “full-stack,” which connotes the breadth of expertise one gains while specializing in a discipline such as marketing, programming or filmmaking.
Building a Narrative
While job-hopping can be incredibly beneficial, then, one thing that millennials do have be prepared for is crafting a narrative around their movements, whether physical or proverbial. While it is certainly true that HR departments are now filling up fast with 20- and 30-year-olds in charge of the hiring process, and so questions are not framed as viewing job-hopping as a liability, candidates still need to be able to explain good reasons for their moves.
Essentially, what job-hopping requires is not a justification, per se, but rather a purpose and an indication that moves were made by the candidate with intention and strategically.
Being able to switch jobs after a short period of time can actually help build the seemingly elusive “unicorn” candidate every company seems to be looking for. If you’re ever in doubt, take time to reflect upon where the choice to move is coming from.
If you’re ever coming against the trifecta of boredom, avoiding challenges or pursuing money, those are red flags and they’ll certainly come up as such in any recruiter’s eyes. If you can demonstrate continuity between multiple jobs in a short period of time, chances are, you’ll be even more invaluable than the “loyal” employee.