The “Why, Not That” Approach: The BEST Way to Assess Job Hopping
According to a recent Business Insider article (1/22/2023, Stacey), Gen Z is not ashamed of “job-hopping.” But does that make all of them “job-hoppers”? What is a “job-hopper,” and is it a bad thing? What does this mean for employers?
Most managers see “job-hopping” as less than two years at a single employer or more than three employers in a career history over 10 years. Gen X and Baby Boomers, even some early Millennials, have all been raised believing job-hopping is a bad thing. However, the Great Recession taught us very differently, and this is the era of Gen Z’s formative years, the time when they began to be aware of and influenced by the world around them.
The Great Recession taught us that bad things happen to good people. Just because you left a job that the employment market deems as a “good employer” or you have a gap in employment of 3 months or more, that does not mean you are a bad hire, a poor-performing employee, or lazy. There are many reasons people leave an employer or the job market that have nothing to do with the negative pre-conceived notions of prospective employers. Why, not that, is most important.
What this Pandemic has taught us is that sometimes there are serious health issues impacting the family that necessitate leaving your employer or changes in your spouse or other family members’ employment status necessitating relocation. There are many different reasons. Additionally, the Great Recession and the Pandemic have uncovered how poorly some employers have treated and still are treating employees, giving them all the more reason to want to find a better place to share their talents.
Job-hopping is not necessarily a bad thing. However, what is more important than how many jobs a person had in the last 10 years, or how long a gap between employment, is the reason for the job change and how they spent their time during a gap in employment. If the reason for a job change is a positive one, such as a move that improves the ability of a person to support their family; an opportunity to expand knowledge, skills, and abilities; or because of a spouse’s promotion necessitating a relocation to a place where there was no employer presence, then there should be no reason job changes should be looked at as negative.
Even gaps in employment are not necessarily a bad thing, though you must tread carefully as to how you inquire. HIPAA, ADA, GINA, and other employment laws prohibit inquiry about a candidate’s or relative’s Private (personal) Health Information (PHI) or genetic history. You can ask an open-ended question such as, “how did you occupy your time during this gap in employment?” and let the candidate fill in whatever they want. However, suppose they volunteer that it was for health reasons, either for themselves or their family. In that case, you must be very cautious about what you do with that information and your decisions about whether or not to advance the candidate in the process. Still, the question should be asked as it is relevant and will likely remove any negative concerns about why the gap exists. If they have a reasonable explanation, the gap should not be a negative that keeps them from being considered.
The labor market has been a candidate-driven market since before the Pandemic, dating back to late 2017 when the number of open positions finally surpassed the number of unemployed. What this labor market has taught us is that there may be enough labor out there for most positions, but the location of the labor relative to the location of the position is very often mismatched. So, even when there are gaps in employment, that does not mean a candidate is lazy. Instead, it may mean their skills are not aligned with the jobs in the market where they reside. In addition, despite the strong desire by candidates for remote or hybrid work, not all jobs can be performed remotely.
For example, the recent tech layoffs have left many people with very specialized skills and a history of high wages unemployed. Tech positions of similar scope won’t be readily available for many of these people for a while. So, just because there is a manufacturing machine operator position open in a food processing plant within a reasonable daily commute of a recently laid-off software developer, that does not mean that person is the right fit to fill that role. It may not pay anywhere near what this person needs, given the lifestyle they built from their previous job. But, of course, the reverse is also true. A recently laid off Project Manager of a corrugated box manufacturer likely is not the right alignment for a Director of FP&A position at the logistics company just down the street from them.
Let’s not forget that not all employers are as employee-centered, kind, considerate, and caring as you may be. Not all employers understand that when you care for your people, your people will care for you and your business. In fact, too many employers take the skills from their people and give back as little as possible in compensation and benefits. Can you really be upset at a person who makes a change because their previous employer operated in an unethical manner, violated compliance regulations, or treated their people poorly? Likely, a good candidate will not disparage their prior employer, but there are ways of getting the message across in a positive manner. Likely, a candidate with high integrity knows when their employer is unwilling to act ethically and will make the professional decision to leave. That candidate is likely the right employee for you as you can be assured of their ethical focus and care for your business.
There are also benefits to employers for people with numerous jobs on their resumes over a 10-year period. Employers today are looking for a lot of soft skills. They need flexibility, adaptability, innovation, creativity, collaboration, and teamwork. Longtime employees may find themselves “institutionalized” and lacking the creativity or innovation to drive success, the ability to adapt to new situations, or the flexibility to change with the needs of the business. A candidate who has had some longevity in companies yet still has a resume that looks like “job-hopping” may bring the very set of soft skills you need to your company.
Likely, this person has been exposed to many different ways of doing things. They can bring a variety of thoughts and skills and introduce innovative ideas that will advance your strategic plan. For them to have been hired several times and have worked for 1-2 years or more at several employers demonstrates their flexibility and adaptability. Depending on the roles held, they likely will have had to collaborate and work well as a member of a team to assimilate into the new culture and identity of the companies where they worked. A person who may be looked at by many as a “job-hopper” may actually be the very person your company needs.
Today’s job market continues to be the tightest in recorded history. Despite the Fed’s interest rate hikes to curb inflation, significant layoffs in the tech sector, and a decline in the producer price index and retail sales from December 2022, employers are reluctant to let people go because of how difficult it is it has been to find talent. In this market, you cannot afford to reject candidates because they look like “job-hoppers.” You need to understand these candidates. Why, not that, matters. You may be pleasantly surprised at the quality you find and the soft skills they bring. Treat them well, and you may retain them longer than any other employer in their recent career history. While Gen Z has a lot to learn about employment and working, treat them with respect, challenge your own processes, inspire them with a shared vision, model the way you want things to be done, enable them to act on their own, and encourage their heart. And whether Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, or Gen Z, when you properly examine the “Why, not That” of their career transitions, you will be amazed at the exceptional quality of the candidate you hire.