Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Can Accountants Job Hop Without Worry?

I like this Harvard Busines Review post that questions some of the conventional wisdom on switching jobs. Tropes like, "Stay in a job for at least two years" and "Never leave a job until you have your next one lined up,” feel like they're from the same era as "Best practices for sharpening pencils," and, "How to keep your adding machine from jamming."

The article covers some stuff we've discussed before, most recently the fallacy of counteroffers and whether or not you should always be looking for your next job, so we won't rehash those; I'm most interested in the notion of job hopping.

The age-old advice is that you should stay at a job for at least a year or two, that moving around too much makes you look disloyal, malcontent and always looking for a better situation. We've all known people who fit that description; they're chasing more money, a better title, or a bigger office with a better view. At one time, that may have been a problem (and it still can be), but according to San Francisco State's John Sullivan, the stigma is gone:

Sullivan says that employers have become more accepting of brief periods of employment. As many as 32% of employers expect job-jumping. “It’s become part of life,” says Sullivan. In fact, people are most likely to leave their jobs after their first, second, or third work anniversaries. Millennials are especially prone to short stays at jobs. Sullivan’s research shows that 70% quit their jobs within two years. So the advice to stick it out at a job for the sake of your resume is just no longer valid.

Yeah, there's the generational thing; a recent survey found that 13% of Millennials think workers should stay in a job for 5 years, as opposed to 41% of boomers. You can make that point if you want but generational differences bore me and I don't care about the Gen Y/Boomer breakdown because the amount of time is irrelevant. Jobs eventually run their course for everyone; it may be 1 year or 10, but trying to cross an arbitrary timeline of 2 or 5 or 7 years could be do far more harm than good. If you've been at a job for 1 year that has no career prospects, isn't teaching you anything new, is filled with people that suck, and you could be happier, it makes no sense to stick around. Just like showers, sometimes a job doesn't take.  

However! There is one important point to be aware of when it comes to job hopping, says Egon Zehnder's Claudio Fernández-Aráoz:

[Y]ou should avoid jumping around if you can, not because of any potential damage to your future job prospects, but because of the emotional drain. “The real problem is starting again to find a new place, a new location, new friends, constantly reproving yourself,” he says. You can avoid a lot of switching by thoroughly assessing any potential jobs. Because many interviews are what he calls “a conversation between two liars,” it pays to get a sense of what the job will truly be like in other ways. Some companies will offer a realistic job preview that will give you an inside view of the company, not the sugarcoated perspective you get in a series of interviews.

Seems reasonable enough; interviewing sucks and rehashing your professional achievements, aspirations and skills would get pretty old if you're going through it with multiple prospective employers every 12 to 18 months.

Ultimately, many of you got into accounting because it would afford you a lot of career options, so skipping around may be inevitable. Hell, it may even be necessary for finding the one job that you do want to stay in for a decade or more. If you're restless at a few (or more) jobs, people may warn you against making a move too soon, but they're basing that on worn out risks and maybe their own motives. Focus on what's important to you — even if it could be embarrassing for a brief period of time — and don't worry, be hoppy.

Setting the Record Straight on Switching Jobs [HBR]