The job hopper. It’s a sore subject but well worth talking about.
Especially about how to avoid them.
After all, job hoppers can make or break a team or company.
What is a Job Hopper?
Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri should know. He and his co-founder David Duffield are so into hiring that they interviewed the first 500 hires at Workday (they were also named the #7 Best Company to Work For (Fortune 2017)).
Here’s what Aneel had to say about job hoppers in a recent interview on Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman:
“We were looking at people who were not job hoppers. And you can look at a resume and you can tell if they’re the “shiny new penny type” that hops from one job to another” We wanted to build Workday with people who wanted to be with us 5, 10, 15 years.”
So, how do you predict if a candidate is going to be a job hopper?
The “Job Hopper Resume”
The main way to spot a job hopper is to see if they look like that shiny new penny type. And the best way to do that is to see if they have a “job hopper resume”.
As Mark Twain (or someone smarter than me) once said:
“The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”
What’s a job hopper resume look like? I use this simple “Average Job Tenure” calculation:
Average Job Tenure = # of Years of Career ÷ Divided by # of Employers at which the Candidate Worked
A few notes on my job hopper resume formula:
- I don’t count time that they were doing sole-proprietor-type consulting gigs of less than a year (see “Exceptions” below). Plenty of great candidates do sole-proprietor-type consulting to pay the bills between jobs. I do count sole-proprietor consulting gigs if they are longer than 1 year.
- If a candidate has multiple jobs in a row at the same employer, I count that as just one employer. I believe that it’s usually a positive when a candidate takes more than one jobs within the same employer. That’s more likely positive “mobility” (not someone being a job hopper).
- I don’t count jobs that are Board or Advisor or “Mentor” roles (which are typically part-time or done concurrently with what should be a full-time job.
So what average job tenure qualifies as a job hopper? Here’s my experience:
Average Job Tenure of < 1 Year = Job Hopper
If a candidate (with at least 3 years of experience) is not staying at a company for more than a 1-year average, they are almost always a job hopper.
They might be only a few years out of school and still “finding themselves”. They might be later in the career and trying to switch careers or industries.
It doesn’t really matter. They are a candidate that doesn’t know what they want…or, they know what they want, and their employers don’t want them. Or, they know that they like to jump from job to job and their just not honest with their employer about it.
Either way, chances are better than not that they won’t be stay you for very long.
Remember: This same candidate might course-correct and become a great candidate later in their career.
But right now: they are a job hopper.
Average Job Tenure of 1 to 2 Years = Likely Job Hopper
If your candidate is averaging <2 years per job they are still very likely a job hopper. A-Players are usually very good at choosing jobs and then stick with it for at least a couple of years.
Again, it often takes a couple of years to truly move the needle for a business. And that’s why the longer the average job tenure the better, I usually find.
But, you might ask: What if a candidate’s job hopper resume is due to a couple of bad job moves in their career or they were the victim of a layoff.
Well, I too certainly believe in 2nd chances.
But you also have your own job to do and the math of <2 years avg. job tenure almost always indicates a candidate who will hop away from you in short order.
Bottom line. Under 2 years = likely job hopper.
Average Job Tenure of 2 to 3 Years = Job Hopper???
Here’s where it gets tough. The hardest job hoppers to spot are ones averaging 2 to 3 years job tenure.
These are the candidates you have to vet the most.
They might be fine if they have a clear story about some bad luck (e.g. layoffs at their employer, their company got acquired, personal reasons, etc.).
If they’re in the average job tenure of 2 to 2.5 years, I’d be very cautious.
If they are averaging 2 to 3 years average job tenure it usually means that at least a couple of their jobs were just 1 or 2 years.
You have to really dig in on these candidates.
Average Job Tenure of 3+ Years = A-Player (NOT a Job Hopper)
Most of my best hires have average job tenure of at least 3 years in their careers. Many have stayed with my business for 4, 5 or 6+ years.
If they were at another employer for less than 2 years it was typically because they:
- Took a chance joining a startup
- Made a lateral move into a new career or industry
- Joined a company that got acquired and they took an exit package
- Got laid-off because management was incompetent
Exceptions to my Job Hopper Rules
My formula is flawed There are plenty of exceptions to my job hopper rules. For instance, the candidate with a job hopper resume could have:
- Worked for a company that got acquired soon after they joined. Many great candidates leave their company after an acquisition because the size of company or culture changed.
- Faced a situation in which the job role’s location got moved (substantially increasing the commute time)
- Had a change in boss…and their new boss was someone the candidate didn’t respect.
- Had a valid personal situation. E.g. They had to quit to help a family member.
- Worked for startups — Some candidates might have taken chances on joining startups that go out of business within a year or 2 of them joining. It’s possible that this had little to do with the candidate’s performance. In these cases, I dig deeper. I ask “why’d the company fail?” “Did you know you were joining a company with low cash?”
I also look for when did the job hopping happened.
It’s not as worrisome If a candidate has their shortest job tenure at the beginning of their career if they have shown longevity since then.
Please look closely for a job hopper’s explanations of their short tenure before judging them to be a job hopper.
Another Good Job Hopper Test
One final test of a job hopper is how candid they are when talking about their average job tenure.
- The best candidates will proactively bring up any short tenure they’ve had. Or, at least they will have a clear answer for you about it once you ask. The best talent feels really bad when they’ve had a short time at a job.
- A job hopper, however, will rarely bring up their short tenure. And they will likely have a weak answer as to the question: “Why has your average tenure been just XYZ?”
How to Avoid Hiring a Job Hopper
My best advice for avoiding a job hopper candidate is to us Topgrading type techniques such as the ones in Topgrading for Dummies: The 3 Must-Haves for Hiring an A-Player. The easiest one of these 3 tips is to stick with candidates whose average job tenure exceeds 3 years per job (or employer if they’re promoted within the same co.).
And the higher their average job tenure the better.
Why I wrote this?
I love it when Ongig’s clients (or I) hire great talent. I also love writing about it!