Why Do You Care About Job History?

Originally published on LinkedIn


I spoke with someone last week who worked for one of the large global consulting firms. He had been with them for a year and was trying to change jobs.

“Why are you trying to make a change,” I asked expecting to hear the usual complaint about too much ravel and not enough interesting work. Instead, he told me something different.

“Two weeks after I joined, the firm lost the assignment I was hired to lead.  I’ve had three bosses in the past year.  Each of them says the same thing. ‘I usually hire software engineers, not healthcare operations and transformation people. I don’t know what to do with you.'”

So he has sat at home working on white papers for his firm for the past year while waiting for the phone to ring.

“Why didn’t you leave sooner,” I asked.

“It would screw up my job history,” he said with a straight face.

You mean that you think these same firms that laid of 10 or 20000 people over the past year would have held it against you that you wanted to change jobs a few weeks after joining?

I knew the answer and he was right.

Firms have held onto the same bias about “job hoppers” that they had fifty years ago when their employees could work for their firm for 40 years until retirement and receive a gold watch.

Anyone see any gold watches recently?

Anyone see many firms that don’t lay people or “right size their organizations” when economic conditions get tough? If so, put the name of the firm in the comments below.

When I started in recruiting in the early 70’s, I remember regularly being challenged by employers who considered someone job hopping who changed jobs every two years or less. These days, anything over two years seems like a miracle.

What has changed in “the employment contract” employers and employers have with one another and why does job hopping still rankle so many organizations?

One thing that has changed is firms no longer view employees as people who will be with them for the next 20 years or more and rarely develop talent any more. Speak to an IT professional and ask them who paid for the last course they took and with rare exception, they did.

Ask any employee at any level about when they were caught doing something right and praised for it by their manager (the key concept of, “The One Minute Manager,” the answer usually is pretty close to never. Ask that same employee about the last time a mistake is pointed out, they can probably point to the date and time it occurred last because that happens all the time.

I think my experience is pretty typical. I worked in a sales office as a recruiter and had a lot of high octane people around me. Whether it was in the office with the micromanager or the one with the hands off owner and his manager, I was left to my own devices EXCEPT when someone wanted to “Monday morning quarterback” a decision I made. That seems pretty typical to most organizations.

But, back to job hopping.

Most companies have established a basic institutional disconnect that requires their employees to change jobs regularly.

They provide small raises to their own employees and 10% or more raises to entice someone else’s employee to join their firm.

As I pointed out in an article I wrote many years ago, a person can earn $54000 more over a 5 year period by changing jobs once and getting modest 4% raises rather than stay in their current job. If they change jobs a second time before year 4, that number increases to more than $73000. Thus companies do a lot to create the conditions for job hopping but refuse to acknowledge their role in the system.

And this doesn’t even take into account the growth of temporary work or consultants that firms are attracted to. Outsource the work for a fixed period, pay much more for that person than you might an employee because you can get rid of them when you want and VOILA! A double whammy that makes it difficult for your next job applicant to have stayed for any length of time.

And this doesn’t even take into consideration “previous employer stupidity” that often weighs on people and pushes them out the door. It is no accident that in recent weeks, I’ve been approached by several people, both male and female, who were victimized by their new managers by sexual harassment.  It may seem bizarre that some have not progressed sufficiently to recognize their behavior is “off-the charts wrong” but this does go on.  You can’t expect people to “tough it out” to make sure they have a stable job history nor discuss it openly in an interview and thus you reject the candidate and punish them for the behavior of others or fire them post-hire for lying on their application and removing the firm from their resume and discovering the  deceit.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention how so many employers reject candidates who have been with their firm for too long.

“They know how things are done at their firm but don’t have a big enough view of how things are done. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

At the end of the day, job stability seems anachronistic at a time when loyalty is not rewarded and frequently punished. It is time for firms to give up this antique peculiarity and recognize that times have changed and, with those changes, a new view of assessment should replace the old one.


© The Big Game Hunter, Inc. Asheville, NC  2015