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Hiring Job Hoppers May Not Be As Bad As You Think


by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations

New Research Explores Reasons Employees Changes Jobs Frequently and Why Organizations May Still Want to Hire Them

Though job hopping hasn’t reached epidemic proportions, it can sometimes be a red flag for hiring managers. New research by two SIOP members provides insight into why prospective employees may have a history of changing jobs frequently and whether organizations can still benefit from hiring them.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that workers stay at their jobs less than 5 years on average before moving on. A recent survey by CareerBuilder found that by the age of 35, 25%of workers have held five jobs or more, and for those ages 55 and older, 20% have held 10 jobs or more.

Christopher Lake, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, said there is widespread belief among hiring managers that an applicant with a background of job hopping will be a risk.

“They suspect hiring a job hopper may be unproductive because the applicant will likely continue his or her job hopping pattern and quit after a short period of time,” he said. “That would cost employers a large investment of money and human resources needed to hire and train new employees. It could potentially drain thousands of dollars in resources to recruit and hire replacements.”

Data from a recent survey by Spherion Staffing Services indicates that 62% of employees say changing jobs frequently could be damaging to a person’s career.

“Organizations may differ in the degree to which they value loyalty,” said Scott Highhouse, a professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University. “Some may be okay with being used as a grooming ground. Others not so much.”

Lake and Highhouse presented results from two recent studies on this topic at the annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) in May.

Previous research has pointed to two contrasting descriptions of job hoppers: those who repeatedly dislike and escape a work environment and those who are always looking to advance their careers.

“So the key to our research was being able to identify the personality traits of those prone to be escapers and those who leave jobs to advance their employment,” Lake said.      

In two studies, the researchers surveyed more than 500 working adults in a wide variety of occupations from across the United States. In the first study, profiles associated with each type of job hopping (escape and advancement) were examined. In a second study, Lake and Highhouse focused on the specific workplace attitudes and job movement behaviors of job hoppers.

There were some similarities. Both types of job hoppers tended to have repeated thoughts about quitting their current job and admitted to having recently looked for other jobs.  Both also exhibited the classic signs of job hopping: a relatively short length of time with their current employer and a history of multiple job changes. 

However, there were also some distinct differences. Escape-motivated job hoppers tend to be impulsive, lack persistence, and be fixated on negative emotions. In contrast, characteristics of advancement-motivated job hoppers include being self-directed, having a strong career drive, and actively seeking a variety of responsibilities and work experiences.

Organizations want to hire employees who will stay with the company, Lake said, but before employers rule out job hoppers as bad investments, they should consider the motivation for frequent job changes.

“If the applicant seems to be directed to advance his or her career, that person, if hired, may very well be a highly motivated and driven employee,” he explained. “This research suggests that advancement-driven job hoppers could bring many positive elements to an organization because they are highly motivated, confident, and self-driven workers.  They have many desirable qualities that could make them productive and effective at their job.

Job hopping should not necessarily be viewed as a negative, the researchers say.  Rather it can be beneficial to a person’s career because they can develop new skills and add to their resumés as well as their salaries.

“It is certainly important to consider career ladders, especially for jobs that lack direct reports, like engineer or research scientist,” Highhouse added.

There is more to keeping a good employee than just hiring the person with the characteristics of an advancement-driven worker, however. Lake says the smart employer should determine what the applicant’s career goals are and help them meet those goals.

One of the main reasons an employee changes jobs is for better opportunities elsewhere. Organizations that provide those opportunities for advancement are more likely to keep these types of job hoppers, Lake said.

In summary, when faced with an applicant whose credentials are a good fit for the job but whose work history shows a pattern of moving from job to job, the research shows that it is best for organizations to examine the reasons an applicant had job hopped.  It would be better for the organization to hire an applicant whose motive is to seek advancement in their career, said Lake, rather than the person whose motive for changing jobs seems to be just to get away.

For more information contact Christopher Lake at 218-726-6099 or email at lakec@umn.edu.