How job-hopping became a generational flash point
When Michelle Cheesman graduated from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 2018, she carried with her the same professional uncertainties that generations of college graduates have felt, from where to start her career, to where she wanted it to end up, to everything she wanted to accomplish in between.
In the three years since, she’s learned a lot about those very questions—and about herself in the process. Cheesman has had three jobs in three years, all of them working in social media. Her first was for a manufacturing firm, which she enjoyed, but industry didn’t speak to her. The second was with a startup ad agency, which she liked for working remotely, but pay became an issue. The third, with another ad agency, turned out to be a bad cultural match. “I think it’s different for everyone,” she says of her job-hopping. “My mom worked for American Airlines for 20 years and she’s worked where she is now for 15. I’ve had more jobs than she has, and I’m 25. I feel like in older generations, they look down on that. Younger people, they don’t care; they see it as, ‘You’ve gained these skills, you have a valid reason you left, okay.’”
Of all the things that define the Millennial generation as a societal pivot point, job tenure might be the one that grinds older generations’ gears the most—unfair though that may be, considering that latter-day Gen-Xers started it and Gen-Zs job-hop at a much higher rate than Millennials. Regardless, many younger workers reject the long-held career tenet that stability and expertise built in one place over time is the primary path to success.
A recent Gallup poll showed that more than one in five Millennials had changed jobs in the past 12 months, and yet 60 percent said they were currently open to new job opportunities. Moreover, half of respondents doubted they would be in their current job 12 months hence, a blasphemous concept to the Builder Generation and Baby Boomers who preceded Generation X.
But where the market used to largely condemn job-hopping as little more than youthful petulance, such isn’t the case anymore. Today, source after source points out compelling arguments in favor of job-hopping, saving their scolding for companies that aren’t doing enough to create employee engagement or meet younger workers’ needs. “You step outside your comfort zone,” promises careeraddict.com in a 2021 blog post extolling the virtues of job-hopping. “You develop a wider network. You won’t get bored.” Indeed.com lists additional positives of job-hopping, and also provides a template for deciding just when to jump ship. Its barometer for leaving includes if you feel your skills aren’t be utilized, if your opportunities for advancement are lacking, or if you feel you aren’t “serving a purpose” in your present role.
Of course, companies like CareerAddict and Indeed have a vested interest in seeing more people job-hopping—they’re in the business of helping people get new jobs. And yet, according to ADP’s Workforce Now Vitality Report, wage growth is consistently higher for “job switchers” who move to different companies than for “job stayers” who remain with one employer. And in a 2019 article for TheLadders.com, leadership consultant Selena Rezvani preached job-hopping as a more efficient way to get ahead, especially for women. “Job-hopping benefits the Millennial woman’s wallet,” Rezvani writes. “And why shouldn’t it? Women who change jobs more frequently can expect to see more aggressive raises.”
Rezvani makes another interesting point: Given survey results showing that up to 83 percent of women want to own their own business, job-hopping provides exposure to a variety of job roles and work cultures that they can then apply to their own ventures. That’s precisely how Michelle Cheesman sees it, now that she’s an entrepreneur getting her own photography business off the ground. “I don’t think I could do what I do now without [having job-hopped], even though I’d done photography for 10 years and done video work since college. I had the skill set, but I don’t think I had the business mind. There’s always going to be jobs. If this doesn’t work and I fail, great—I frickin’ tried, and that’s better than not trying. Life’s just too short not to try.”
PLENTY OF CHEESMAN’S contemporaries still prefer the single-track approach to their careers, however. Jorge Zavala, 26, social media director with GWL Advertising, says the company has done a good job of spotlighting a career path determined by things that are in his control to deliver. “What’s kept me at GWL is, I’ve seen opportunities to grow,” he says. “As people left, there were opportunities to move up. To really make it in advertising, you have to create your own path. You don’t just come into the job and do that one thing. You figure out ways to take it further. You have to bring something to the table that nobody else can bring.”
Zavala learned that lesson on the job. “The first year and a half that I was here, I was timid. Fresh out of college, I was seeking a little bit of reassurance from everybody. Then just something hit where I was, like, ʻWait, I know what I’m doing, this is exactly what I studied.’ You just have to go for it, especially in digital. Digital is evolving every single day. I think it’s my drive to learn more that keeps me in the company.”
Amber Stanley-Kruth, GWL’s Fayetteville-based interim digital director and Zavala’s co-worker, has struck a happy medium during her career, experiencing a diverse set of jobs while working for the same employer. Before joining the agency in September 2021, she worked seven different positions with a daily newspaper in Northwest Arkansas over 14 years. “Changing companies is different than changing jobs,” she says. “I was open to doing whatever was needed within my talent scope. That kind of security was important to me—knowing that my job was there—but also having the freedom to adapt and grow into different roles.”
Stanley-Kruth believes that her path is a good one for today’s young workers to follow. “You can change roles within a company fairly easily,” she says, “and I think that’s important for this new generation to understand. Personally, I think two to three years is actually more responsible if you’re in a company where you love the culture and they treat you well and you and your family are being taken care of—rather than leaving in three months just because you don’t like something.”
Stanley-Kruth also has a message for companies today: If they did a better job of outlining various career paths available in-house, they’d likely see fewer employees hopping next door. “Companies should be open to embracing the individual’s desire to explore and learn,” she says. “Help them find the right spot, even if that means adapting positions that the company has in order to accommodate current employees. That’s how growth happens for the company, and that’s how you retain someone.”
by Dwain Hebda