Jumping ship every couple of years used to be bad for your CV. But is it still the case?
Kate Allen, managing director at recruitment firm Allen Associates, doesn’t think so: “The school of thought which says you should remain with an employer for at least two to three years is rather antiquated, it simply doesn’t reflect the modern workplace.”
She points out that accountants might have once been happy seeking to progress with the same employer over a period of several years, but this is not what many people want from their careers today. “You can attain stability by staying in the same place, but staying put can be a hindrance if you want faster career progression, greater breadth of experience and higher earnings associated with each new role that is a step up.”
Allen explains: “We are in an ultra-competitive sector where progression opportunities within the same organisation are few and far between. It could be a long wait before the right internal opportunity presents itself. So, when an external opportunity does arise, you should take advantage of it even if that means leaving your current employer before the ‘acceptable’ timeframe has passed.”
Naturally, recruitment agencies have a vested interest in people wanting to move jobs as frequently as possible, but what do employers think?
Marsha Ward, founder of AAT-accredited accounting and bookkeeping business The Number Hub, says: “Five years ago I’d have said that less than two to three years with an employer was a red flag, but nowadays this is less of an issue. With so many people working in the gig economy, we can no longer view a short-term working relationship as a negative.”
However, she adds: “Such a CV wouldn’t immediately fall into the reject pile, but I would want to know why the relationship didn’t continue.”
Move only for the right reasons
Sometimes you are forced to move jobs because of circumstances outside of your control – redundancy, your partner relocating or to take care of a family member.
“Of course, if you are fearful of your role diminishing or being wiped out, or if you are unhappy at work, then those are also good reasons for moving,” says Simon North, director at career consultancy Position Ignition.
Benedicta Banga is a career coach at Leadher Initiative. She says: “Moving on quickly can also be justified if you’re not getting access to training or if you realise there isn’t much scope for you to grow in your current role.”
So, each move should be a step up on the career ladder or a clear progression in terms of gaining new skills or experience. “If it’s a strategic rather than purely tactical move, who can argue with that?” North points out.
Lee Owen, senior business director at Hays Accountancy & Finance, says that working in a variety of roles and environments, exposing yourself to different ways of working, cultures and management styles, and building new skill-sets can actually make your CV more attractive to employers.
This is what Marsha Ward looks for in her new hires: “I want a variety of skills and experiences, as well as the ability to change and adapt. The alternative is bringing a person to the team who is set in their ways and who may have a very singular view of how things should be.”
But frequent moves without a good reason will make employers wary of you.
“They will question your commitment to an organisation and your ability to adapt to new challenges and environments,” Owen says.
Allen warns that any period of employment under 12 months (barring temporary or contract-based roles) will raise eyebrows. “If you have a track record of changing jobs every six to 12 months, you’re somewhat of a risk. And in a risk-averse profession like accountancy, this could certainly go against you.”
Employers will not want to invest in someone who’s not likely to give them a return on that investment. Banga points out: “It can take six months to settle into a role and then more time for you to start having an impact. You’d be a very costly hire if they had to go through the process again.”
They will be especially cautious if a frequent mover is looking to them to fund his or her professional qualifications. Who says they will not take off as soon as they qualify?
Allen says: “AAT qualifications typically take anywhere from 12 months upwards to complete. If an employer makes that kind of investment, they will not want to lose out on that investment in the long term.”
Avoid side-stepping, too. “Moving across organisations to roles that don’t offer anything different from your current position, or that don’t add any new skills to your CV, might also make employers wary,” says Owen.
Allen adds: “This could suggest that you lack motivation or even that you are not able to excel in a job that you’re paid to do.”
Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.