BusinessDesk investments editor Frances Cook responds to emails from readers each week to answer questions about money. Below, you will find her expert advice. Send your own questions to [email protected].
I’m a 30-year-old single mumma of one.
For the last four years, I’ve had a new job every year. They’re all business administration-type jobs, and every time, I change for better hours and better pay.
A certain career has never particularly stuck out for me, so I enjoy moving around and learning new things. All the stuff I enjoy is generally around finance and numbers.
I’m on the best pay I’ve been on at 60k a year, but as always, we all want more! I’ve been considering applying for more roles that pay more.
My question is, how bad is this going to look on my CV? Do I stay in my current role, or do I keep looking?
Thank you, and I love your work!
First, a declaration of my bias. I, myself, am a serial job-hopper. And it’s worked out pretty well for me.
Here’s how I approach it.
I personally think that a minimum of a year in a job is a good thing. Less than that, it looks like something might have gone wrong behind the scenes or that you weren’t there long enough to outweigh the costs of hiring someone new.
After that, it just needs to be obvious why you’ve moved.
If you’re moving into a position that increases skill or pay or gives better hours, that’s really a no-brainer.
It’s also more common to job-hop earlier in your career, which applies to you. When people are rapidly building up skills, they’re more likely to be aggressively climbing the ladder.
For people in their 20s, the average length of time in a job is about a year.
Meanwhile, older employees might stay in a job for ten years or more, which tends to blow out the “average job length” that you can sometimes find online.
By that point, the older employees may have found a good, cushy role that they enjoy and that pays them well, so, sure, why would you leave?
If someone was in their 50s and job-hopping every year, that’s more of a red flag – although it could still be explained, such as by being a mid-life career change.
This is how it went for me, too. In my 20s, I changed jobs roughly every year or 18 months. But it was always to a fairly obvious promotion.
Now I'm in my mid-30s, I’ve reached a level in my career that I’m pretty happy with, and so I am happy to stay here a bit longer (hi, boss!). That’s a fairly common pattern for many people.
Another red flag for employers can be if you’re changing a lot to completely unrelated roles. This can signal that you’re unsure what you want to do and might not be ready to commit to them.
But that’s not you.
You’re been in similar roles, steadily increasing your responsibilities and getting paid more, accordingly.
You’ve got clear forward momentum. To me, that’s a green flag.
Moving jobs is usually the best time to ask for a raise and get it. It’s hard to get proper stats on this because it can change so much by industry and by country.
But a common average figure is that getting a pay rise where you are can be worth between 1% and 3%. Meanwhile, a pay rise for a role at a new company is, on average, worth between 10% and 20%.
That clearly adds up pretty quickly.
Now, I understand that jobs aren’t purely transactional. You spend a lot of time at work, and so you want to feel cared for and that you’re part of the team. On the other side, your boss probably wants to feel as though you care about the company and its goals.
But underneath that, yes, a job is a transaction, and I don’t think you should be too shy about your end of it.
You’re exchanging the time out of your one beautiful life to help a company achieve its goals. In return, you’re paid.
If they run into issues and need to make redundancies, they will. The flip side of that is if you find a better opportunity, I don’t think you should pause in applying for it.
We’re all just trying to get through life the best way we can.
The human factor
However, I want to warn you that different bosses and hiring managers might feel differently about this. Some won’t care at all. Some may see it as a big red flag.
That’s how human beings work. Some of us simply draw the line in the sand in a different place. And some of the people who are really bothered by this may be the ones deciding whether or not to hire you.
How much this matters could also depend on how competitive your industry is.
If lots of people are applying for the same job you are, they can start to cull applicants for pretty superficial reasons.
If they’re struggling to find people, then they’re probably more focused on whether you can do the job than whether you’ve been job-hopping.
At the end of the day, I don't think job-hopping is a bad thing. If your gut tells you the same, keep on keeping on.
But if you’re worried that it’s starting to look like too many short stints at various companies and you'd like to quiet those fears, there are other things you can look at to improve your working situation.
You could look for a promotion within your current company. Changing roles within your company can be looked on more favourably and still put you in the running for a good pay rise or change in conditions.
You could talk to your boss about how you’d like a pay rise or increased responsibilities.
I would warn you to frame it as a collaborative conversation – not saying, “I looked at this job, and it pays more, so I would like you to pay me more, or I’ll leave”.
I aim for something more like a compliment sandwich, where you say a good thing, your request and then another good thing.
As in: “I really appreciate the opportunities I’ve been getting here. I’d like to take on more to improve my skills and qualify for a pay rise. I really enjoy working with this team and think I could do even more to contribute to it.”
You could also choose to get ahead of any questions about job-hopping by framing it positively in your cover letter when you apply for new roles.
Talk about your overall career journey, the skills you’ve been building up and how much you enjoy professional development.
Whichever route you choose, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking for new opportunities and the rewards that go along with them. That’s just part of succeeding in the job market.
An outside perspective
This one can be a matter of opinion, though, so I also sent a request to Rosie McCarthy, a career coach who runs Badass Careers. She has years of experience in recruitment. Here are her thoughts:
Great question! Before diving into this juicy topic, I want to celebrate you for getting strategic and striving for more in your career – what a great example you're setting for your child.
The stigma around job-hopping is definitely decreasing over time. We’ve inherited many outdated attitudes from previous generations on this topic from people who worked in a very different employment landscape. They often had a job for life if they wanted it, so the concepts of loyalty and security were much stronger.
These days, fuelled by rapid technological transformation, change truly is the only constant.
New professions pop up every day (imagine meeting a full-time TikTokker in 1980) while others are made obsolete.
If companies need to execute mass layoffs in response to change, they won’t blink an eye. Plus, many experts predict that more than half of the professional workforce will be part of the gig economy by 2023, that is, freelancers, consultants or short-term project workers.
Further, there are plenty of studies and anecdotal evidence to support the idea that it pays to job-hop.
In the UK, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) research into 2022 pay increases showed that people staying at the same company snagged a median pay increase of 3%, while job-hoppers averaged a 10% bump in salary.
Using this logic, the cost of loyalty can be significant.
A more “loyal” employee who receives a 3% pay rise each year for ten years will raise a $50,000-a-year salary up to $69,212. However, if you switch jobs every two years and negotiate the average 10% increase each time, your $50,000 salary will become $88,578 in 10 years time, more than $19,000 extra income.
Of course, job-hopping can come with other costs.
There’s the time and energy it takes to job search, onboard, and learn a new company culture and systems yet again – the thought alone can be exhausting. There is also an inherent risk of going into the unknown, like getting stuck with a micromanager.
Plus, there can absolutely be advantages in growing within the same company – big internal promotions with a 20% to 30%-plus pay rise do exist, not to mention unlocking additional benefits like share plans or increased leave with increased tenure.
Additionally, while attitudes are changing, there will still be some hiring managers out there who would view your employment history as a bit of a red flag.
At the end of the day, the career strategy that works for you will depend on your values and priorities in this phase of life.
If earning potential is No 1 for you right now as a single parent, then job-hopping to accelerate that might feel good to you, as might picking up side gigs or upskilling in a more lucrative profession.
If you don’t mind frequent change, one win-win might be exploring the world of contracting.
The hourly rate can be incredibly high due to the perceived unstable or short-term nature, but often the contract extensions and options keep coming, giving you great stability.
Plus, you get to try out a variety of different contexts, building skills and networks as you go, and there’s zero stigma in jumping from one thing to the next.
Food for thought.
Send questions to [email protected] if you want to be featured in the column. Emails should be about 200 words, and we won't publish your name. Unfortunately, Frances is not able to respond to every email received or offer individual financial advice.
Information in this column is general in nature and should not be taken as individual financial advice. Frances Cook and BusinessDesk are not responsible for any loss a reader may suffer.