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Job-Hopping: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

two employers interviewing a candidate

Thanks to the current job market, if there’s one song employees have stuck in their head these days, it’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

Job-hopping has become a high-stakes game for workers in the modern economy. Where company loyalty used to be the only way to climb the promotion ladder and earn wage increases, now changing jobs about once every two years is the best way to do it.

Job-hopping works. There’s no denying it.

But it doesn’t always work, and it doesn’t work equally in all cases. It’s best to make a full appraisal of all risks and opportunities before deciding if it’s a smart move for your career.

There’s no set answer to “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” But knowing all the reasons for and against either option can help you make the most informed decision for your own situation.

Reasons to stay in your job

As much as job-hopping can bring new exciting challenges, staying in one position brings its own opportunities.

Sticking with a job allows you to gain deeper experience with more tasks and learn the ins and outs of your company’s methods long enough to develop your own opinions about what works and what doesn’t. You can also grow into leadership at a less hectic pace, take advantage of any on-the-job training or other perks that come with seniority and specialize your skillset.

Along the way, those who stay get to cement their reputation as a serious candidate who will stick at the next position, making them more attractive to future employers.

Reasons not to stay in your job

Among the many reasons to stay in a given position is that change can be scary. However, staying in your current job may actually be a risky proposition, not a “safe” one.

Staying put carries some financial risk. Unless you’re getting regular raises, you could be leaving money on the table. One fairly recent study estimates that once you average more than two years per position, you can lose as much as 50 percent of your lifetime potential earnings.

Aside from salary concerns, if you’re leaning toward accepting another job offer, you probably should. Those who receive an offer from elsewhere and then choose to stay should know that counter-offers> have a poor track record of success.

There are also some long-term risks to your viability as a job candidate associated with staying.

Without regular promotions on your resume, you could be seen as mediocre or unambitious by certain hiring managers. You also might not be learning all you can if you’re stuck in a position with a “stay in your lane” mentality. And specializing your skills in one job can work against you if a layoff forces you to pursue a different industry or role.

Reasons to leave your job

In the job market that rewards talented candidates, the opportunities associated with leaving your current position are more attractive than ever.

Greater wage growth potential is an obvious benefit, but leaving also helps you choose your own adventure in terms of the kind of work you’ll be doing, and unlock new challenges you might not get at your current position.

In some case, job-hopping may be the best or only way to take advantage of additional perks that may be a priority for you, like a reduced commute or more schedule flexibility. Workplace culture, your stress level and work-life balance are all important considerations that may be more important than wage growth, and the current job market is in a good state to help you find a better fit.

Reasons not to leave your job

While job-hopping has become the default mode for career advancement, not every new position is worth the leap. Be deliberate with your decision, and read the fine print — often a wage increase can be swallowed up by longer commute times or a more hectic schedule. Sometimes “unlimited vacation time” is code for “you’ll be too busy with work to take any time off.” Taking a “too good to be true” offer can land you right back on the job market with a blemished record, a “zombie” applicant.

Many of the risks associated with job-hopping are not immediate worries, but could eventually come back to haunt you. For example, earning a reputation as a particularly impatient job hopper will eventually catch up with you and make you less desirable to companies that value stability.

The best way to job-hop is with clear-headed approach that makes sure the landing place is just as important as the hop itself. Whether you ultimately decide to stay or go, the stakes are high.

If you find yourself at a crossroads where such a decision is necessary, consider enlisting the help of an ally, such as a recruiter or highly networked peer. The right partner can help you navigate your concerns, open up your search to a broader array of opportunities, and introduce you to the happy medium of contract positions, where you can reap the benefits of new experiences and skills associated with job-hopping without seeming unreliable. You could work seven jobs in seven years, all under the name of a single staffing agency as an employer, without the negativity attached to hopping on your own.