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Are You on a Career Ladder or Just Job Hopping?

Jan 20, 2017 Kate Lopaze

Are You on a Career Ladder or Just Job Hopping?

It used to be that you’d take a job at a company and rise from young up-and-comer to wise lifer, logging 10 years or more in the same place. It’s not that changing jobs was unheard of, but rather people built their career paths differently. These days, changing jobs is the norm: the average Joe or Jane changes jobs 10-15 times throughout their careers. Much of this is a cultural change, and an economic one—companies are much more likely to reorganize or adapt to changing technology and economic factors these days. And part of it is a personal change, as well. Millennials, especially, are seen as mercenary sharks, ready to grab the next opportunity that swims by. Gallup reports that Millennials are far more likely to change jobs frequently. In fact, in 2015, 21% of Millennials surveyed by Gallup had changed jobs within the last year. And on top of that, 60% of them were open to changing jobs in the near future if the opportunity came up. This speaks to a shift in thinking, where upward progress is more important than the stability of creating a career path in one place. The latter is the “career ladder” approach, where your plan is to meet particular job title milestones, typically within a company or organization. The alternative approach, one increasingly embraced by the newer generations of job seekers, is moving from job to job to cobble together experience and move up in salary and job title. The phrase “job hopping” has been used to describe this phenomenon, and although it’s taken on some negative connotations, it can also be a career booster.

Career Ladder: Pros and Cons

When you think of a career ladder, think of the stereotypical Hollywood story of the mailroom worker who works diligently upward from the bottom rung of the company, making it all the way to the corner office. It makes a great story (look at what Anyman/Anywoman can achieve!), but that story leaves out a lot: namely, all the steps in the middle, and all the skills sets that have to be built along the way. Creating a career ladder requires a strong commitment, and a strong set of goals. The Pros:
  • Career ladders are based on stability. If you feel most comfortable plotting out a career course where you don’t have to make a lot of changes, where you can put down roots, this might
  • You’re not necessarily tied to one place. Many companies have offices or opportunities throughout the country (or even the world). Just because you’re committing to one company for a long time doesn’t mean you’re saying you’ll stay in one place forever.
  • It doesn’t have to be your entire career plan. A career ladder could be just a portion of your career (say, the next 10 years), where you want to get from Job A to Job Z. That doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of your life in Job Z.
  • It shows upward mobility, while also showing you’re a good investment. A company that has promoted you numerous times is one that thinks you’re a worthy investment, and that can be appealing once you are ready to make the change to another company, or if there’s an unforeseen job loss.
  • Companies like to promote from within. Hiring from outside can add new dynamics and diversify your employee pool, but it can also be expensive, time consuming, and a big gamble. Developing talent has significant advantages for companies, including developing a strong, committed employee base. It’s less of a risk because they know you, and know what you’re capable of doing. If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of wanting a job, only to find out someone was hired internally, that could be you!
The Cons:
  • Career ladders are less common these days. With unpredictable economics, and technology changing virtually every industry very fast. It can be harder to create a long-term plan if you can’t account for things like reorganizations (which often come on quickly for those affected).
  • Companies don’t always have the resources to devote to leadership and skill training that would best benefit employees. If you’re not growing and improving in your job,
  • There’s a risk of stagnation. Sometimes a change of scenery is beneficial, and can jump-start your career by exposing you to new people, new ideas, and new ways of doing your job. Merely changing and expanding roles may not provide as much career stimulation, depending on your comfort zone and your career goals.
  • You might be seen as less-than-ambitious. If you seem too comfortable in your role, it may be tough for the powers that be to see you in a new role that requires change and more responsibility.

Job Hopping: Pros and Cons

“Job hopping” sounds like a social activity, but really it just means that a person switches jobs frequently (every year or two), without putting down long roots in one place. It’s becoming a more popular career path strategy for people, especially Millennials, who are looking for more aggressive career development. The Pros:
  • Change is good! Working at different companies, in different environments (even if the roles are similar) is a good way to build experience quickly. Job hopping offers you more chances to try new things and take on new projects, ensuring that you grow consistently.
  • It’s becoming more accepted. Job hopping used to be considered “career suicide,” because it raised red flags. Why has this person held so many different jobs over a short period of time? The economics of American jobs have shifted so substantially, however, that now it’s becoming more accepted, especially when people are younger and just starting out in their careers. An unstable economy can upset even the most carefully planned career trajectory, and hiring managers are increasingly understanding of that.
  • It’s can be a fast track to higher salary. If you jump on opportunities for advancement at other companies, you have the opportunity to negotiate higher and move into higher paying positions, faster than you might if you were going through a standard promotions process at a single company.
  • It’s a network builder. New company = new colleagues, and an ever-growing stable of work acquaintances, mentors, and friends in your field.
  • It shows you’re adaptable. Starting over somewhere else requires a lot of thinking on your feet, and being able to adapt to new environments and ways of doing things. You can emphasize that in your resume and in interviews, and use specific examples of how your range of jobs have made you a more nimble employee.
The Cons:
  • Some hiring managers still see it as a red flag. They might think you’re a flight risk, after the company invests training time and resources into you as an employee. Unfairly or not, you may be seen as less-than-loyal, or disinterested in committing to the role or to the company.
  • Short-term focus comes at the expense of long-term progress. It can be tough to see where you are, career-wise, if you’ve been moving so much that you don’t see how your efforts pan out. If you’re out the door before positive results roll in for your hard work, you can’t really quantify that and use it on your resume in the future.
  • Your job may not be as secure. In a reorganization or layoff situation, if it comes down to a Sophie’s Choice-style decision between the new-ish employee who started less than a year ago, or the longer-term employee with a long history of institutional knowledge and achievement, you might be the easier one to let go.
As you can see, there are good points and bad for each career choice—and in fact, job hopping may not be a choice at all, but rather a response to a chaotic industry, or economic changes well beyond your control. The most important decision to make, whether you want to plant a career ladder in one place, or make chess-like moves through your field to reach your ultimate career goals, is what works best for you. If you’ve always had a dream company in mind, then maybe the ladder is the way to go: start humble, and rise through the ranks like that mythical mail room employee. If you want to make big changes and steadily build your job title and salary over a shorter period of time, then job hopping might be your best option. It might also work best if your goals are very multidisciplinary—if you want to be the best darn salesperson of widgets, then by all means put down roots at Widget Co. and start building your empire. If you want to be experienced and knowledgeable about widget sales and production, then your best strategy might be to start in sales at Widget Co., then move over to Widgets ‘R Us with your sales background. The bottom line here is that your career goals are yours and yours alone, and you should pursue them as you see fit.

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