The civilian world can be both confusing and liberating after time in the military. Now you have choices about where you work and what you do…and maybe you don’t want to be stuck in one company or one job for the long term (at least until you find the best fit).But if you “explore” jobs by moving from one to the other, will it hurt your career in the long term? How will future bosses look at that behavior?
Let’s explore the implications of job-hopping for the veteran.
Reasons to consider job-jumping
There are many reasons to switch jobs. The first, most obvious reason is that you may find a better offer. Just what constitutes “better” is different for every person. Most think “better” means more pay or benefits, but it could also mean quality of life issues: a better job might mean you like the work more, or that it’s in a more desirable location for you. Job-hopping might also be required to find out what kind of job fits you the best.
One big advantage to switching jobs is that it’s the fastest route to more money. Normally, switching jobs comes with a 10- to 15-percent pay increase, while within an organization the average salary grows only 3 to 5 percent a year. Of course, whether you can negotiate that much more money depends a lot on whether you can demonstrate the ability to bring value to an organization – something which requires evidence of success at your previous job(s).
Another advantage is that job-hopping increases your exposure to the industry and the people in it. You will develop a wider network, and you will probably add important bullets to your resume. In this sense, job-hopping can be used as a means to secure a (higher-paying) management or consulting position in the future.
Best of all, job-hopping comes easily for veterans, who may have dealt with a variety of billets and duty stations during their time in service. This translates to an advantage in the workplace for a veteran who is accustomed to “hitting the ground running” in a new position.
How job-jumping looks to a potential employer
At this point, you might think that job-hopping is your ticket to success. You’re a veteran, so you’re used to it; you know it will bring the fastest pay increase; you are still figuring out exactly what you want to do. But beware: job-hopping may raise questions in the minds of potential employers.
Job-hopping is more common (and accepted) now than it used to be. Many companies won’t mind hiring a “problem-solver,” which is how many veterans package themselves – the employer knows the job might be short-term, but doesn’t care as long as you solve his or her current issues and help make the company more valuable. But seeing a lot of jobs in succession will also make them wonder if you are a quitter, and whether it’s hard to work with you, and if you’re simply trolling for the highest salary and benefits. Are you going to waste the company’s time?
Remember that for the employer, hiring a new employee takes time and money. There’s an administrative cost just to get you on the payroll, and they have to pay for your training (your salary included!). So if you have a history of job-hopping, then your potential employer might consider you a bad investment. And if your potential employer is “old school” and was raised with the idea that workers owed their company loyalty and hard work, seeing a habit of job-hopping might cause a raised fist and a mumbled, “Kids these days!”
The most negative consequences of job hopping are that it can harm relationships – for example, your team at your old job, including your boss, may see you as bailing on them (and their perspective may get around the industry) – and that many companies conduct lay-offs in reverse order of hiring…so if you were the last to be hired, you might be the first to be let go.
Know when it’s beneficial to job-jump
There’s one main rule for job-jumping: its value decreases the longer you spend in the work force. Basically, at the beginning of your career (right after your transition), job-hopping can grow your salary and resume quickly. But as you gain experience, employers will want to see perseverance and dedication. As a veteran, you can point to your military experience as proof of those qualities, but employers will want to see that reflected in your civilian work, too.
As for when it’s time to switch jobs, that’s always after you’ve achieved something positive at your current company: a successful project, or at least a very good performance record. If you quit without anything to show for yourself, you invite doubts about your work ethic and your loyalty, and few employers will ignore questions like that because of military service.
During an interview for a new job, be prepared to give a good explanation of why you’re switching. Employers will look to see if you become defensive or evasive, which are warning signs that you left your previous jobs on bad terms. That may deter them from taking a chance on you. If instead you offer a clear, reasonable and honest explanation – something like, “my previous company didn’t have much room to promote, and I wasn’t able to contribute to my potential in my position” – employers are more likely to see you as confident, proactive and motivated.
What are the career implications of job-jumping?
Switching jobs allows you to rapidly climb the pay scale and job ladder – at least at the beginning of your career. But the higher you climb, the more you’ll find that companies prefer to hire at that level from within, or to hire candidates who already have similar experience to the job they are offering. At some point, you’re less likely to be hired into the next higher position than you are to be promoted, and job-hopping has taken you about as far as it can.
Of course, there are good reasons to switch jobs: better offer in terms of pay or benefits; move to a desirable location; better job satisfaction (you hope). And certainly the perception of veterans as hard-working, loyal, and dedicated helps contravene many of the disadvantages of moving from job to job…up to a point. The longer it’s been since your EAS, the less employers will care about your military service relative to more recent work experience.