Make life more stable with more frequent job changes

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It used to be that finding a good paying career was the path to adult-life stability. Those days are over. What we think of as stability has to change, and how we get to that stability has to change.

Here’s a summary of the new employee of today’s workplace: Most will change jobs every two years. Most will start their adult life by moving back in with their parents. Most say that money is not their number one concern in evaluating a job.

You think it’s a recipe for instability, right? But what else is there to do? Work at IBM until you get a gold watch? There are no more jobs like that – companies are under too much pressure to be lean and flexible (read: layoffs, downsizing, reorgs), so workers have to be, too (read: constantly on the alert for new job possibilities).

In fact, stability is a big goal for new workers today, precisely because the old paths to stability don’t necessarily work.

For example, staying in one job forever is today’s recipe for career suicide. At the beginning of one’s career, it is nearly impossible to find something right without trying a bunch of options. After that, you will experience more personal growth from changing jobs frequently than staying in one job for extended periods of time. And if you change jobs frequently you build an adaptable skill set and a wide network which are the keys to being able to find a job whenever you need to.

Another example of the fact that common paths to stability no longer work: Professional degrees used to be viewed as a safe path, but now they box you into uncomfortable spots. PhD’s are having lots of trouble finding work due to the documented glut of qualified candidates, and the MBA is not a huge help to your career unless you go to a top-ten school. Doctors are having a hard time working a schedule that accommodates kids and pay back school loans, which is creating a surge in interest in the field of opthalmology – probably not what your parents had in mind when they were encouraging medical school.

The lack of stability is affecting people across the board: “All well-educated workers, even those at the top, are at much greater risk of economic reversals than they used to be,” wrote Jacob Hacker, professor of political science at Yale.

Finally, tried-and-true paths to financial stability are no longer reliable either. This is the first generation that will not do better financially than their parents. Anya Kamenetz describes in her book, Generation Debt, that young people today are in a much worse financial situation than their parents were, so the expectations for stability have to change. This financial situation is due to increasing college costs and decreasing parental ability to foot the bill. And real salaries are decreasing for entry level jobs. So new workers start life with more debt and less ability to pay it than their parents’ generation.

So it’s not surprising that the new vision of stability is not a house, two kids and pension. Most young people are priced out of housing markets in the cities they want to live in, like Boston. San Francisco and New York are seeing an increase in one-child families because people can’t afford two, and there are no more pensions. Period. The goals are more fluid – and they do not focus on old tropes of financial success like a house and a 401K.

Key values today are time and relationships. Stability means knowing you can get yourself work that is fun and accommodates those values. The stable people are those who can manage to consistently get work they enjoy that pays their bills.

It used to be that you worked really hard and paid your dues so you could retire rich and do what you love. But we know now that most people don’t really retire, so paying dues in order to get that is nonsense. Stability is knowing you have a life where you can do what you love, during your whole life, not just at the end.

The new way to find a good job – one that creates this stability — is to change jobs. A lot. And to keep an open mind about what a job really is, because what it is not is a lifelong commitment to one company.

Here are ways to use frequent job changes to create stability in your life:

1. Build up a strong skill set quickly.
Go to a job to work on a great project, and leave when your learning curve flattens out. The faster you build up your skills to create an expertise, the faster you will be able to set yourself apart from everyone else, and find good jobs quickly.

2. Get good at making transitions.
There are moments in a person’s life that typically throw everything out of whack because you can’t continue working in your job. Sickness, relocation, unexpected wrenches in one’s plan. When you are used to changing jobs, and you have taught yourself to deal with work transitions, then when your personal life requires huge transition, your work can accommodate that instead of get in the way. Changing jobs will be easy.

3. Make the most of the in-between-jobs time.
You can use job changes to make transition less risky. It’s very hard to know if you’ll like something until you try it. If you have been in corporate marketing for ten years and you want to try entrepreneurship, that feels like a big risk. But if you think you might like to start your own business but you’re not sure, taking a pause in between jobs to try this new business isn’t such a risky move at all.

4. Get out of paying your dues.
The idea of paying dues worked fine when there was actually payoff (think: Retirement communities in Florida funded by pensions.) But today paying dues doesn’t have nearly the payoff it used to, and in fact, creates instability by creating unreasonable expectations for a job you become overly invested in. So get out of paying dues by changing jobs frequently. Laura Vanderkam, workplace reporter for USA Today, wrote a book called Grindhopping about how to hop from job to job as a way to avoid paying your dues.

5. Keep your finances in order.
As long as you keep your overhead down, so that you don’t need a salary that requires 100-hour work weeks, then job hopping is actually a way to ensure financial stability. You know you are not going to stay at a job forever, and you don’t know when it will end. But you will always able to get work when your needs or your company’s needs change if you are good at changing jobs. This won’t be true, however, if you are a financial mess and have enormous overhead.

The best financial security today is to have great job hunting skills that never stop. Go to the best job, do it until you find another best job. This is the kind of person who will always be able to get money when they need it.

And don’t let people tell you that job hoppers will get penalized in the marketplace. Generation Y is job hopping every other year, and they are in incredible demand throughout the workplace. Demographics are shifting, and forcing hiring practices to shift as well. Take advantage of this. Create a stable life by getting good at changing jobs.

151 replies
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  1. Brad
    Brad says:

    It is always a good idea to always stay within the same industry. When you leave one job then you can market yourself better because you have gained experience and know-how.If you have you can always go for a better position and more money. This way you are progressing. Staying at the same place all the time is not a great idea.

  2. Sammy
    Sammy says:

    Interesting article and I agree with it to a point. I’m not sure about hopping every other year and the Gen Y’s I have come accross think they know everything and should get paid my salary and then sit around and do nothing. That may be why they job hop so much. My husband and I are Gen X with a family who have job hopped a little in order to get job skills and more education. One lesson we have learned along the way “never burn bridges with old employers”. You never know when you will need them for references and you may find out after you leave that job you left them for wasn’t so great after all. We have never burned bridges and are still in contact with all our old employers as we have made good friends a long the way. We actually just took a job back at one of our previous employers and making 20% more then when we left. But most of all we like our jobs and have plenty of time with family too. As our kids are getting older we do not plan to job hop again unless there are unforseen lay-offs on the horizon. You never know though so it is always good to be prepaired.

  3. Temo T
    Temo T says:

    This is the worst advice I have seen in a while. I hope the people that listened to you in 2007 are suing you now for losing their seniority and JOB because of your unrealistic advice. No job is perfect and you’re words that try to make the work work seem this way probably cost a lot of people their income, marriage, and morgages. You should be ashamed.

  4. Emily
    Emily says:

    As an organizational psychologist and one who is very aligned with P’s ideas, I will say that you can always tell the folks who are still struggling with not feeling “worthy” or good enough – they are provoked by these ideas because these people identify a little too strongly with their jobs and status.

    Job hopping or downtime between jobs is extremely healthy for one’s personal growth and development. Without some time away from this coupled identification, people are essentially delaying a second puberty – a re-emergence of self and a discovery of security on a different level – a security with the self.

    “No job is perfect” is what we tell ourselves when we are not willing to go find one that is. Its a fear-based response for some perceived threat to our safety, status, and security (and that’t what P’s ideas are to you) but moreso, is an excuse for mediocrity. I understand that mediocirty is freedom for some – freedom to be complacent – but the world has changed. It might not have hit you yet, but it’s already changed. And you’re either coming with or getting left behind.

    • Temo T
      Temo T says:

      I don’t know what planet you live on but the majority of Americans live month to month and have very little in savings. What savings they have is worked for very hard. Emily thinks that people should take “down time” and switch jobs at will is unrealistic and elitist. I doubt you have ever had to work for what you have, instead you probably cone from a family with money and were spoiled out of you’re mind. Go and talk to the 1 in 9 Americans who are laid off that and they will tell you to flush all you’re high and mighty degrees down the toilet. I love how Emily talks about her Psychology degree and then says that anyone who does not buy into this blogs unrealistic advice is holding on to their “status”. How arrogant and contradictory. Talking about being adolecent. I would love too see all the bad advice you give to you’re patients. I bet you advice people on their marriages yet you yourself cannot keep your own marriages together. Try not to keep you’re nose up so high and come back down to earth.

  5. Emily
    Emily says:

    Fear holds you back dear. I feel for you. And FYI, I was a college drop out and clawed my way out of drug addiction and poverty. Fear kept me there. Courage, perseverance, and knowing I WAS MORE THAN ALL of that rubbish got me out. I don’t believe in being trapped by oppressive thinking. Been there, seen its failures, and will never go back. I hope you break free from your exuses. You are fighting something.

    • Temo T
      Temo T says:

      Emily, I’m fighting only bad advice givers. Go tell most Americans to switch jobs often they will laugh in you’re face. Bullsh$t advice and blog.

  6. how to sell ebooks
    how to sell ebooks says:

    I think stability comes when you prove yourself as an expert in your field. When you can prove that you can do the job better than others, you will be give more preference over others. If you switch after every few months, it will make you an unreliable person. Just my thoughts…

  7. Christopher R
    Christopher R says:

    A week ago I accepted a job at a new company for what I thought would be the next step in my career. Now I am seriously doubting myself. I’m a recent college grad (Fall 07) and was lucky enough to land a job a right out of college at the company for which I previously interned. After two years, I’ve finally reached the point where I feel like I’ve really gotten the hang of my job. For awhile it seemed what I was doing went unnoticed, but recently, the CEO praised me at one of our staff meetings for my good work. In general, I am happy at my job but am only making a salary in the upper $20s. Like most businesses, my current company was walloped by the economy last year, and we have struggled to regain footing. Promotions have ceased, the 401k match is gone, and while I do see some light at the end of the tunnel, I think it may be awhile before things start to loosen up.

    Another job opportunity came along (un-related to my industry) by word of mouth from a friend. Not thinking it would do me any harm to apply, I went ahead and began the interview process– and was offered the job one month later. The new job will no doubt offer me a chance to broaden my skills in other areas, as well as a $9k salary increase. But I’ve never had that “gut” feeling that I made the right choice. So here I am now: Trying to decide if I’m taking the new job for the right reasons.
    Was I trying to think logically and not with my heart? Is this just a bad case of buyer’s remorse?

    This article really peaked my interest because it focused on the idea of changing jobs often when you’re young…and gave me a little peace of mind that even if the new company doesn’t work out, I haven’t completely damaged my career.

    A quick note– Please don’t interpret this post the wrong way. I am VERY thankful to even have a job in these tough times, and my intent is not to sound arrogant. It would just be great to get some outside advice on the subject. My friends and family are so tired of hearing me go on about my dilemma.

  8. Jonha Revesencio @ Happiness
    Jonha Revesencio @ Happiness says:

    I’m not a job hopper but I WOULD LIKE to take on new challenges and changes, it’s just that they don’t come my way often. I am stuck to my life as a associate telemarketer and though I may want to change, it’s pretty difficult. Right on, you’d say I got a choice, I have full control with my life. But you see, I still think that no matter what steps I may take, it still takes me back to this place. Perhaps I am too limited since I am an undergrad, or perhaps my mind limits me. Either way, I am so refreshed by this post. :)

  9. rostpad
    rostpad says:

    As an organizational psychologist and one who is very aligned with P’s ideas, I will say that you can always tell the folks who are still struggling with not feeling “worthy” or good enough – €“ they are provoked by these ideas because these people identify a little too strongly with their jobs and status.

  10. Peter Claridge
    Peter Claridge says:

    I’m a British expat working in the IT industry in India and I think the workforce here have got job hopping down to a fine art – however I think you should qualify “more frequently” because my company rejects any candidate that has not held a job for more than two years. In India it’s got to the point where candidates have 5 or 6 jobs in just 4 years. Why on Earth would a company go through the hiring processes to get a candidate for just one year!

    And a word of advice to anyone that does job hop, consider not mentioning ALL your jobs. Businesses like stability and security from their employees too!

  11. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    Hi Penelope!

    I need your advice on this…..

    I was a late bloomer when it came to entering the career world. I graduated in 2004 and started a career in advertising in 2007. I was with a company for a year and 4 months and decided to take another ad agency job because the company was losing business and there was no work for me to do and eventually the company had to close its doors 5 months after I left. Anyway, the new ad agency ended up not being a right fit for me and the job description that I had originally saw did not relate to what my position was, and I parted ways after 2 months. After I left I was unemployed for about 2 months, and rather than live off unemployment I decided to wait tables again to make ends meet. That happened to be one of the best decisions, because I waited tables for a year and ended up going into the restaurants corporate office to take a temp position as an event coordinator and loved it! I realized that I knew event planning was what I wanted to do instead of advertising.

    When the temp position was up (lasted 3 months)I ended up getting a job right away with one of the clients I had worked with as an account coordinator in corporate event/activity planning. I was really excited about working for such a great company and really saw myself growing with them. Right after I started the company was acquired by a larger company and that made me feel pretty secure. Well needless to say, I was laid off after working 6 months with the company since they decided to restructure. I was so bummed.

    This all happened at the end of June and at that point I decided that I wanted to make a big change and move to another state since I have lived in my hometown my whole life. So I have definite plans to move to California in January. But in the meantime I am looking for full time work in my industry so that I can keep on learning and pay my bills.

    So my questions to you is, if I take a full time job right now for the next 5 months before I move, will I look like a job hopper to my future employers in California?



  12. international students jobs
    international students jobs says:

    This is a very interesting post, and the comments make it even more so. I definitely agree that Penelope’s prediction will be realized as more baby boomers retire and are doing less of the hiring. I just started a job where there are lots of “lifers” or company men, who are definitely still of the mindset that job hopping shows a lack of loyalty to the company, and its a small miracle they were able to overlook the several instances on my resume. I think you’re right that the shift will happen in hiring as baby boomers shift out of the workplace. I like to think, though, that the sheer demographic power of Gen Y will force hiring practices to shift faster. Maybe wishful thinking I can’t see how you’re likely to be considered for good, well-paying or flexible, creative or management type positions that require multi-year commitments to projects and clients. Yes, there will be exceptions, but most of us will not be the exception. apparently we will have project oriented jobs in the future and move from gig to gig on a regular basis. But I can tell you that, as of today, every recruiter I know has a bias against people who stay too long and people who don’t stay long enough. The lack of stability is affecting people across the board: “All well-educated workers, even those at the top, are at much greater risk of economic reversals than they used to be,” wrote Jacob Hacker, professor of political science at Yale.

  13. Mllan Moravec
    Mllan Moravec says:

    Management union/employee loyalty sustains employability. As businesses, universities, states, counties, cities worldwide stumble through the recession some find themselves in a phase of creative disassembly. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. World class University of California Berkeley led by Chancellor Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) and his $7.2 million outside consultants is firing employees via his "Operational Excellence (OE)": 2,000 axed by end of 2011. Yet many cling to an old assumption: the implied, unwritten management-employee contract.

    Management promised work, upward progress for employees fitting in, employees accepted lower wages, performing in prescribed ways, sticking around. Longevity was good employer-employee relations; turnover a dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply in the 21 century economy. Businesses, universities, public institutions can no longer guarantee careers, even if they want to. Managements paralyzed themselves with a strategy of "success brings successes" rather than "successes brings failure' and are now forced to break implied contract with employees – €“ a contract nurtured by management that future can be controlled.

    Jettisoned employees are discovering that hard won knowledge earned while loyal is no longer desired in employment markets. What contract can employers, employees make with each other?

    The central idea is simple, powerful: job is a shared partnership.
    – €¢ Employers, employees face financial conditions together; longevity of partnership depends on how well customers, constituencies needs are met.
    – €¢ Neither management nor employee has future obligation to the other.
    – €¢ Organizations train people.
    – €¢ Employees create security they really need – €“ skills, knowledge that creates employability in 21st century economies
    – €¢ The management-employee loyalty partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor.

    Let there be light for sustained employability in the 21st century economy

  14. jon greenberg
    jon greenberg says:

    When talking to recruiters/hiring managers I am often asked why I have switched jobs every couple of years as a concern. I immediately turn it around into a strategic advantage over other candidates:
    1- address the concern:
    “I have only left companies after I have been succesful in my overall mission and then the prospects of further growth were not attractive.As an example when I was at company X I led project Y from conception to design which accomplished Z goals. Afterwards I decide it would be wise keep growing instead norturing this project for another few years”
    2- Competitive advantage:
    I have been able to learn a great deal of positive lessons/skills including X skill while at company Y. I have also been able to take away alot of “what doesn’t work” from previous positions such as Example Z. By transitioning roles after accomplishing my mission I have been able to rapidly grow my skillset and knowledgebase which is why I am applying for this position which may require 20 years while i only have 6.
    Works for me…

  15. esoy1989
    esoy1989 says:

    Its nice to have a good job to have a stable life, though we cannot predict the things that’s happening to us in the near future. Still we need to do our part on having a good job and a stable career to supply all our needs in our daily living.

  16. Dave
    Dave says:

    I signed up at Adecco and Kelly. I worked at Home Depot and
    and a bunch of well know companies. It is great. I can say I
    worked there. The great thing about temping is you get buffered from the politics of actually working for these companies. I’m never around long enough to be subject to the
    90 day probabitions. As long as I follow the rules of the temp companies I’m not subject to lay offs and always have a job. The down side is that some times there isn’t work. Unemployment insurance can fill in those gaps.

  17. Tim Viec
    Tim Viec says:

    Very nice article. However, I don’t think that my life will be stable with more frequent job changes. :) . If so, i think i have about 1Bil $ before i change my job.

  18. thejouney
    thejouney says:

    Love this article.  This is me.   Key to success is enjoying the job hunt and, the great last point, controlling your finances.  After adopting the frequent job change philosophy, I realized,  how smart it is, how much money – or flexibility – you can demand and best of all, if done well, how you can remain energized and in control of your work life rather than bored, burned out and hoping to survive the next inevitable re-org.  Looking forward to reading more from Penelope.

  19. Gerald Hodges
    Gerald Hodges says:

    I’m sorry, but I think this is terrible advice.  When I am reviewing someone for a position, if I see they have a history of leaving jobs after 2 years (or less), I don’t even bother to interview them.  Why?  Because, regardless of their skills, there is nothing more expensive to a business than employee turnover.  It kills businesses.  If you’ve been jumping around every two years, why do I care how many skills you have?  Chances are that you’re not going to be around long enough for me to utilize all of them.

    • Jay
      Jay says:

      It works both ways.  Employers’ practice of brazenly laying off loyal employees who continue to add value to the company as soon as the opportunity arises to hire younger/cheaper replacements is killing individuals’ finances.  It encourages brazen careerism.  Given that staying too long in a job is considered at least as bad as job hopping, I would be curious to know what you consider to be an acceptable time-frame for staying in a job.

  20. Teds
    Teds says:

    I like your idea, but with one thing to remember. Job hopping is good, but only when you are able to do it. I mean, when you are underrated in your current job. If you can do better in other place and you are underrated in your current career, find the better one.

    Only remember that the grass on the other side always looks more green.

  21. Cubicle Rebel
    Cubicle Rebel says:

    Gosh, my job hopping (an indeliberate 2-year tenure at several jobs back-to-back) actually bit me in the butt. HARD. I never planned to job hop, it just happened. If someone is paying more or a job was closer to home, I LEFT, PERIOD. But it looks bad to potential employers. That’s why they ask that insipid interview question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” They practically want you to say something like “Right here in servitude at cubicle #328.” Yuck City.

  22. darren
    darren says:

    I have had five jobs since 2005 and made it to Finance director in 5 years. Used strategically, you can actually go really fast.

  23. lpt
    lpt says:

    job hopping, moving constantly around – a good thing? All very stressful, especially if you have to relocate as well – moving house and changing jobs are high up there in the stress ranks. i don’t why this is being advocated as such a great thing…even if its being forced by changing economic climates etc (that especially doesn’t mean it’s a good thing). Better to try and create a supportive community, based on local needs and skills with a network of support around you – enabling all to learn and create. there is always tonnes to learn and create whether you stay in one job or have a 100. A job isn’t just about a ‘job’ right? it’s about contributing to the social and environmental fabric of our society/communities for the benefit of all. I’m not sure why everyone is in such a rush, what is everyone trying to learn, where is everyone actually trying to get to?

  24. lpt
    lpt says:

    oh, wow, just read your short bio – and you are advocating others to job hop with all the obvious stress and instability that goes with that, after settling into a stable rural life at home – and having/wanting a job so you don’t have to leave the house!!! – what an enormous contradiction – how extraordinarily bizarre! Stop preaching this insincere so called ‘expert’ nonsense.

  25. Sunflower2012
    Sunflower2012 says:


    I have been promoted from one boring well paid job to the next – better paid, equally boring – job at the same company where I have only worked for 10.5 months. Today I sent off the first application for a new job despite the fact that I am scared that people will think something is wrong with me, being a job hopper and such. As you stated, my “skill set learning curve” flattened out after the first three month. I am too young (30) to sit around bored and cherishing my job security. Boredom is depressing. I hope that recruiters think like you and are willing to give a job hopper a chance. We’ll see. Totally loved your article. Thanks for this!

  26. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    This article just made me feel so much better about my life. Thank you. I get bored of jobs very easily. I am on my 7th position at my 4th company in 5.5 years (in very diverse industries as well). I’ve grown tremendously in my personal and professional life during these transitions, but at times it makes me feel as if I have “the grass is always greener syndrome” or there is something wrong with me for not finding contentment. I hope to continue to grow in this way, but it’s articles like this that get me through these low points of indecision in my life. Thanks again :)

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  28. dianne
    dianne says:

    OMG! This is true. Reason why I also change jobs. I’m not stopping there. I don’t want to limit myself. There is always a room for improvement that’s why I am always up for new challenges.

    It’s good to know a lot of things, too.
    So yeah, changing jobs..a lot..can bring you to your goal. :)

    Let’s go, jobhoppers!:)

  29. C. Boissard
    C. Boissard says:

    What you are describing really only works for smart folks in fields where this is the norm and they can garner skills in rapid succession. You can’t tell me that you are enriching yourself with rapid fire job changes unless you are working 60+ hours a week with highly functioning teams. For the others not so talented, this leaves nothing but a shell of a person with only the most superficial understanding of HOW TO WORK! You really need to qualify the type of person you are describing…I suspect you are simply reciting one of Reid Hoffman’s books. Don’t forget that at large companies one can bid for different positions while gaining stability and equity…it all depends what you want to accomplish both professionally and has a person.

  30. Chris Dlugozima
    Chris Dlugozima says:

    While I think this article has a lot to offer, I think it misses the fact that there is more than one path to career success. I’ve held two jobs, both of which I started shortly after college. I’ve been at one employer for 14 years; the other one for 13.5 years. And I’ve been volunteering at the same organization for 15 years. I’ll admit, I’ve certainly lucked out that I found the right employers and have escaped layoffs. But you CAN find success if you stay at the same employer– as long as you constantly evolve in your role, take on new challenges and change roles as needed.

    I was a financial counselor for a number of years– as the recession took hold, I started to burn out. I worked with my management to create a new outreach role. I made myself invaluable and by taking on a new role, kept things fresh for myself.

    The reason that many people fail if they stay at the same company is that they get complacent. I witness many peers in my generation hop from job to job. While many of them acquire diversified skills, they often fail to master any single skill.

    For some people, it’s the right move to switch jobs. But it’s important to do so for the right reasons. If you find the right situation that allows room for professional growth and the organization you work for gives you loyalty, then why not return the favor??

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