Is Employee Loyalty Dead?

A new survey finds a majority of employers have hired a "job-hopper," with nearly one-third saying they now expect workers to have shorter stays. While such applicants may raise red flags, experts advise HR professionals to look at the whole picture when evaluating them.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
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It's fair to say the days of employees spending decades with the same company before heading into retirement with a new gold watch are now largely in the past.

And, some recent survey findings suggest most employers are just fine with that.

A poll of 3,022 full-time workers, conducted by Chicago-based CareerBuilder, found 25 percent of employees had held five or more jobs by the age of 35, with 20 percent of workers age 55 and older having held 10 or more jobs.

The survey also found that 55 percent of 2,138 hiring managers and HR professionals have hired a "job hopper," with 32 percent of all employers indicating they have come to expect new hires to ultimately spend less time with the company than employees did in the past.  

Indeed, the stigma surrounding "job-hopping" has begun to dissipate in recent years, says Fran Luisi, an Orlando, Fla.-based principal at retained-search firm Charleston Partners.

"I think many organizations have reached a place where they're evaluating candidates' reasons for moving on" when sizing up applicants whose resumes reveal a pattern of frequent job changes, says Luisi.

Many hiring managers have begun to place less importance on the potential flight risk a job candidate may pose, says Sayed Sadjady, a partner at New York-based PwC's advisory practice focused on people and change issues.

"We are finding that managers and employers are more open to considering 'job-hopper' candidates when there is a compelling story behind their moves," says Sadjady.

The dismal job market left in the wake of the Great Recession, for instance, has led many individuals to take not-so-desirable jobs to make ends meet, with designs on getting out as soon as they can find something more suited to their skills and professional goals.

That said, many of these candidates may still feel some lingering skepticism from employers regarding their willingness to stay and grow with the organization. In some cases, however, these employees may actually be eager to grow professionally, but feel their opportunities to do so are limited -- if available at all -- in their present situations, says Luisi.

"It's about adding specific skills they feel they may not be able to get internally [with their current employers]. So they leave to have another experience that, for whatever reason, they can't get there."

Jamie Winter, manager of the selection solutions group at Pittsburgh-based Development Dimensions International Inc., offers an example.

"Perhaps a person was looking for some exposure to international markets, but there were no such opportunities in his or her current organization," says Winter. "In this case, if the person became aware of an opportunity that afforded a [chance] to get this kind of experience, an interviewer might be more comfortable with the logic of hopping to the new job."

According to the survey, employers' attitudes toward job-hopping tend to vary based on job candidates' age. For instance, 41 percent of hiring managers and HR professionals said job hopping becomes less acceptable when a worker reaches his or her 30s, and 28 percent indicated an especially long job-hopping history is less tolerable after age 40.

Still, age and individual circumstances aside, a history of job-hopping can ultimately be seen by hiring managers as either a good or bad thing, or both, says Winter.

On one hand, candidates who have bounced from job to job without any evidence of career advancement or development could obviously raise red flags for recruiters and hiring managers, he says.

However, "there definitely are instances where job-hopping provides valuable learning experiences and knowledge" to the organization hiring a so-called job hopper, adds Winter.

Many of the hiring managers and HR professionals polled by CareerBuilder seem to agree, with 53 percent saying job-hoppers tend to have a wide range of expertise, and 51 percent indicating that these employees are often adept at getting acclimated to new environments.

And, a candidate with a relatively brief stint in a past position won't necessarily prove to be a serial job hunter, says Winter, referencing his own past to illustrate the point. 

"I worked for a consulting firm in my first job out of graduate school, as a team member managing talent-acquisition-related engagements with customers," he says.

Just nine months into that assignment, a competing consultancy offered Winter the opportunity to lead a consulting team on a large-scale talent-acquisition project for a Fortune 500 firm.

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"The move represented a way to accelerate my career progression by several years, as well as gain some invaluable new skills and experiences," he says. "While it was a difficult decision to tell my boss -- who I really enjoyed working with -- that I was leaving, it was a great opportunity [that] I could not pass up. And I have been with that company for 18 years."

A candidate who has displayed such a willingness to forsake the familiar for the unknown can actually be a very attractive one, adds Luisi.

"When you think of the tech industry, for example, it's a risk-taking environment," he says. "[Tech companies] want someone thinking out of the box and willing to take a risk. And many other industries are taking a cue from that.

"One thing that's really en vogue right now," says Luisi, "is the idea that failure is good. You hear people say, 'Take the risk. You can learn from failing.' "

Of course, a candidate with a propensity for taking frequent -- and perhaps ill-advised -- gambles in his or her career may be a chancy hire.

"It can cut both ways," says Luisi. "If there's a horrible history [of questionable decisions] just jumping off a resume, then be careful."

Ultimately, the length of time an applicant spent with past employers is but one small consideration in the hiring process, taking a back seat to the knowledge, experience, skills and personal characteristics a candidate possesses, says Winter.

There are indeed "multiple considerations" that factor into the equation, including whether a candidate has been able to demonstrate any tenure at a company, what stage of career he or she is in, his or her degree of learning and the type of position and industry, adds Sadjady.

Winter recommends looking at any lengthy employment gaps as well, noting there may be "plenty of viable explanations for employment gaps."

While Winter doesn't suggest screening out a contender strictly for having a lengthy employment gap, "it may be something worth exploring in upcoming interviews," he says.

"The bottom line is that job-hopping certainly should not be the deciding factor, but one of many when considering whether a candidate is viable."

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