Guardian Feature: Careers

journalist writer image

The Butterfly Effect

The time we spend with one individual company is shorter than ever. So are our fickle millennial natures benefiting our careers?


Rich Hill has worked as a door-to-door salesman, a receptionist, an administrator, a PR, and an account handler. He's encountered industries including shipping, events, architecture, catering, and law. So does this make him a fickle fly-by-night best left to temporary assignments? Or an ultra-experienced employee with great prospects?


According to current thinking it might be the former – an attitude which would have been virtually unthinkable only a few years ago.

“Some candidates worry that ‘job hopping’ will look bad on their CV, but this is simply not the case any more” says Jo Stuteley, director of office support recruiter La Crème. “In sectors where there is virtually nil unemployment, and therefore a large shortage of skills, experience is going to be the deciding factor. Job hopping is no longer seen as a disadvantage as today's workforce is becoming much more of a moveable feast. This means that they build up a valuable set of skills and experience of a range of sectors.”

Serial job-hopper Rich Hill agrees, and has found not only that moving jobs keeps him interested, but has even had the effect of making him more employable.


“I think that nowadays the professional employment market is less formal, and employers are more open to the idea that a chequered employment history could bring them benefits,” says Rich, who from his current role in recruitment, now sees this reality played out when placing his own candidates for work.

Perhaps due to this more forgiving attitude to multiple careers, people are more likely to hold many jobs than ever before. Research by Lifelong Learning has found that nearly one in six of the UK’s working population (16%) have changed career three times already in their working lives, and more than one in ten (13%) have changed their career more than three times. Whilst research by FreshMinds recruitment have found that ‘Generation Y’ staff in their 20’s now only stay in their jobs for an average of 16 months, compared to ‘Generation X’ 30-somethings three year average, and baby boomers tendency to stick it out for over 5 years.


With high employment rates, there are also sound economic reasons why those who have held numerous jobs are more employable than ever before – demand for skilled workers is currently outstripping supply. So the good news for those thinking of trying out a number of different careers is that the economy is currently on their side, and many employers are eager to look for the positives in CVs which display a varied career history.

“Money can’t buy the varied experience people with different jobs can bring to a role,” says Russ Badger, business manager for Manpower. “Candidates with several jobs offer an insight into how other companies work and a chance to know exactly how your competitors are behaving. Also employers know candidates who have had different jobs can work in a variety of environments and cultures so will fit in easily.”

And in theory at least, finding out what you don’t want to do is a good way to discover your best-suited role. And with the current climate of temporary assignments, employees are more able than ever to pick and choose jobs which will learn them key skills without tying them down.

“If you know which direction you’re headed, figure out skill sets that you need be able to do and tick off in the course of dotting around,” says Alistair Leathwood, MD of FreshMinds. “If you don’t know, go for variety. It’s the chance to experiment for free – in fact you’ll be getting paid for it, so take advantage of the opportunity.”

And as you might expect, however, the trend for switching about jobs does come with some fairly major caveats. Because whilst the classic career changer who switches from one professional role to another can seem like a good prospect to an employer, constant switching will begin to ring alarm bells for recruiters.

“The limit is about three jobs in two years,” says recruiter Sarah McParland of Search Consultancy. “After that employers will want a very good reason why you keep jumping around jobs.” So whilst one big move to a different sector fits neatly into the work-life balance banner, several may tar you with the fickle jobster tag.

If you’ve got multiple jobs in short time periods on your CV, it is acceptable to ditch one or two – particularly from the beginning of your career. “You’re presenting yourself in the best possible light on a CV,” says careers expert John Lees, How to Get a Job You Love author. “Omitting parts which don’t work in your favour is fine, but you need to be prepared to explain any gaps.”

For those who have worked abroad, however, multiple short assignments and career gaps are not so much of a problem. “As recruiters we’re looking for some sort of sensible narrative flow,” says Alistair Leathwood of FreshMinds. “If someone’s moved country or sectors, that’s a credible reason to have had a lot of different jobs.”

You might also want to consider the fact that short-term roles might actually be better for your employer than they are for you. With major employee rights only kicking in after a year, switching staff annually is a great way for employers to avoid responsibilities like maternity pay and unfair dismissal claims, and a bad way for employees to accrue rights and benefits like pension and redundancy. “It’s a generalisation, but a lot of job hoppers are young people who are not necessarily so aware of their employment rights,” says Sarah Veal of the TUC. “But basic rights like pension benefits can be severely compromised by continually moving jobs.”

So before you try out the liberating world of job-hopping, you might want to decide what it is you’re free from.