Answering the "Why?" — Job Hopping as a Young Professional

By Matt Pilger, MBA, CPRP | Posted on January 25, 2018

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During the first five years of my career I was tasked with supervising multiple part-time and full-time staff, managing capital projects, developing budgets, creating recreation programs and supervising facilities. This experience, in combination with two master’s degrees, provided a diverse background and valuable knowledge in the field. Confident in my background, I became a finalist for a highly desirable mid-management position. In the interview I was hitting homerun after homerun, and it was clear I was a perfect fit for the position. However, none of my experience prepared me to answer a question I received from the prospective employer: “Why have you changed jobs so frequently?”

Let me step back and paint you a more detailed picture. Over those five years I had worked for six different organizations (not including a couple short stints working in retail right out of college), and only one of those did I work for longer than 14 months. Each move I felt had a valid reason for the change, such as advancing from part-time to full-time, shortening my daily commute by nearly an hour each direction, budget cuts eliminating my position, and even simply taking an outside promotion. However, rather than being looked upon as an up and coming young professional, I had become, in all definitions, a millennial job hopper.

Back to the interview: I spent the next five minutes fumbling through reasons why I changed jobs, and why I wasn’t just another job hopper. With my confidence deflated, the interview ended shortly after, and the next day I received the “We had many qualified candidates” rejection letter. It was clear even with my great experience and fit in the position, I never provided a reason for the interview panel to believe I would be committed to the organization, and not simply move onto the next enticing offer.

Changing jobs frequently can make a potential employee look unstable and uncommitted, but moving to a new organization can also expand an individual’s career opportunities, salary potential, professional network and skill set. As young professionals it is important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages to moving positions, and when moving, know the “why?”

Here are a few tips for next time you are looking to change positions:

Look at the big picture

Unlike some of our predecessors, increasing housing costs and high student loan amounts have created a very real pressure for young professionals to move up the ladder quickly to earn a higher salary in order to simply pay the bills. These concerns make it hard for young professionals to see the long-term career view. However, make sure that the short-term work you’ll be doing is also forming a step to achieve your long-term goals. It is possible that you may have more responsibility, more skill-building opportunities and career growth prospects in your current organization than the higher paying job down the street. Those experiences you are potentially leaving behind may lead to a better paying and more meaningful job in the future.

Imagine your future

Any career move should not be made without an idea of where you are going. Brainstorm and make a list of what is most important to you. Look beyond the salary; ponder the job responsibilities, the work-life balance potential and organizational culture. Do your research on the company. Is it another short-term job, or is there potential for a long-term career? When moving, understand how the new position will get you to your dream job, what you will provide to the new organization, and what you’re hoping to gain from the move.

Develop the skills

While occasional job hopping is more common and acceptable in today’s work environment, particularly early on in a career, there can be a limit on how many benefits one can receive from leaving a job quickly. Many skills and expertise required in career advancement can only be developed over time, and moving up too quickly will eventually lead to a skills gap between what you know and what you need to know. If you are thinking of leaving your organization to learn new skills, stop and explore professional development opportunities that will meet your needs first. Many local and national organizations provide courses at little or no cost, and your current employer may even provide or reimburse some learning opportunities. NRPA offers online courses and webinars developed for individuals at all levels in the park and recreation field.

Build and maintain your network

A challenge for any regular job hopper is developing and maintaining a strong reference list and network of supporters; building relationships takes time. Whenever taking a new position, make an effort to meet and get to know your new coworkers and supervisors. You may not become best friends or be invited to their next birthday, but you will be forming important relationships you can always lean back on. You’ll want to ensure your workplace reputation is as a positive teammate, and not someone who always seemed disconnected. If you choose to take another position, leave on good terms and maintain those connections — a future job offer may depend on those individuals speaking highly of you.

After that dreadful interview, I utilized the tips above and went back to the drawing board. Having left previous positions on good terms, I reached out to my former managers and asked for insight on my strengths and limitations, I analyzed my background and identified the type of positons I would both enjoy and excel in. After more applications and a couple disappointing interviews, I was given the opportunity to advance in my career. Additional career moves may come in the future, but when they do I will have more committed positions on my resume, a stronger network and a clearer answer for the “why?”