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Thought Leadership

Settle Down! Why Recruiters Shouldn't Always Shy Away from Job Hoppers

You could be turning away valuable talent by being overly cautious about candidates with a history of job hopping.

Friday, September 1, 2017
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In most recruiters' minds, red flags fly when they review the resume of a candidate who repeatedly hops from job to job. They worry about the hiring manager's reaction if they put that candidate forward, and they may be correct in that concern. In a recent Korn Ferry Futurestep survey of executives, 87 percent of respondents said short job tenure or "job hopping" matters to some or a great extent when they are assessing whether a candidate is fit for a role. 

Some may think that restless millennials are leading the job-hopping trend, and to a certain extent they are correct. A 2016 Gallup poll showed that 60 percent of millennials are open to new job opportunities, which is 15 percent higher than other generations.

However, other research shows that millennials are no different than preceding groups of young people. Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor show that college-educated millennials actually have longer tenure with their employers than Gen Xers did in 2000 when they were the same age as today's millennials.

So when is job hopping an issue? The short answer: It depends.

Identifying When Job Hopping Is Acceptable Depends on the Candidate's Age, Industry and Geography

Age -- In their 20s, a candidate should stay at firms at least one year, ideally longer. In their 30s, they should stay at one company at least two to three years, ideally much longer. In their 40s and beyond, candidates want to be at companies 5-plus years, if possible.

Industry -- In certain industries, moving up often means moving to a new employer or even city. Take TV news, for example. Reporters' stature rises if they move to larger markets. Or, research-and-development specialists may need to move to a new employer when they achieve their goal of helping bring a new product to market.

Geography -- We see many people take roles in new cities only to have their significant other, or "trailing spouse" not like the new area or miss family back home. When there are family issues, employees often decide to relocate back to the city they just left. However, now they are boomeranged back into the job hunt.  This usually happens within the first year and makes most resumes/candidates look inconsistent or unprofessional. However, many recruiters believe this is forgivable.

Another excusable -- and justifiable -- example comes when a candidate who recently accepted a chief financial officer role for a mid-sized bank and finds out, two months after taking the role, that the government found inconsistencies in the bank's financials from prior years. The bank was basically forced to cease all significant activities and the CFO was essentially demoted to a junior controller. He understandably started looking for a new role immediately.

A good question to ask candidates, if their stories aren't crystal clear like above, is "Do you have good references from that firm?" If they respond immediately with a "yes," we're usually good. If there's some hesitancy, then you need to think twice about presenting them.

When to Think Twice About a Job-Hopping Candidate

"I want more money" -- While everyone wants to make more money, leaving for a bigger paycheck more than once -- especially after short stints -- should raise concern. I'm always cautious of candidates like this. I will occasionally present them, but I'll spell it out in detail to the hiring manager and gauge their comfort level. 

"My manager demanded too much of me" -- Work is, well, work. Much may have been expected by the employer, yet this could be a sign that the candidate worked hard but not smart. One of the top attributes we look for is agility -- can the candidate learn from past experiences and apply those learnings to new tasks to make themselves more effective?

"My drive to the office was killing me" -- If someone tells me they're sick of the commute, it's really time to dig in. Those people are usually desperate for another job. Additionally, it can indicate a lack of planning/preparation if they took the job knowing the commute time.

True, if candidates are serial job-hoppers who've been in the job market for several years, but never held a job for more than a year or two, it might be right to question their fit.

However, don't judge a candidate just by his/her resume. If the candidate's background and experiences seem spot on, recruiters should pick up the phone or go meet the candidate. Ask candid, direct questions about the job hopping.

Candidates usually will give long-winded responses about their departures at companies. Let them talk, but at the end of the day, a good excuse should boil down to one sentence, such as "The company was sold" or My position was eliminated due to budget cuts."

One tricky answer you may get is "It wasn't a good culture fit for me." OK, we get that. Sometimes a role sounds great but the organization isn't what the candidate expected. That can happen once in someone's career. It's the recruiter's job to ask for specifics: What about the culture didn't fit? 

There may be good reasons that someone would leave, such as, they like autonomy and the culture is hierarchical, but here's the red flag: If a bad culture fit is the candidate's excuse for three or four job moves, it's probably the candidate's issue, not the former employer's issue.

If you get acceptable responses during the conversation, make certain you summarize what they're telling you.

Send an email at the end of the call to confirm what the candidate told you, and make sure to convey to the hiring manager that you have vetted the reasons for the job switches and the reasons behind them are plausible.

Don't be afraid to stand up to candidates if their stories don't make sense or if they're not giving you the information you need. Ask the questions again if you smell something funny. Your organization is paying you to uncover the rationale behind the moves, and you're doing it a disservice if you don't get to the bottom of the candidate's job changes.

Peter Keseric is managing consultant at Korn Ferry Futurestep

 

 

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