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IT job-hopping: Out of the frying pan, into the fire

September 22, 1998
Web posted at 3:00 PM EDT

by Lina Fafard

(IDG) -- IT pros obviously can get a big increase in pay by jumping ship to another company. But is it worth it? It's no secret that an experienced IT pro can get a significant increase in salary by jumping ship to work for a company's competitor or any other organization willing to foot the bill. But is such a move really worth it in the long run? How often can you get away with it before damaging your reputation?

The most common reason for leaving today is a desire to earn more money. Next is lack of technical progression. Also ranking high is an incompatible supervisor.

Whatever the reason, resumes that routinely show fewer than two years at the same job can result in a stigma of flakiness. A rule of thumb to remember: An acceptable amount of job turnover is to have worked an average of at least three years per job throughout your work history.

Fleeting glory

Fortunately for job seekers, we're riding the all-time high wave of technical talent shortages. As a result, hiring managers may be more forgiving of a higher rate of job-hopping. Even so, employers still want to see that candidates have demonstrated a commitment to their work and progressed in their careers. If a person is changing jobs without progression, it may be perceived as moving just to make more money. On the other hand, if you've spent a long time at one company, be sure to show on your resume a progression of responsibility, leadership and larger budgets handled.

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Progression a key

Though two years is too short, more than six years in the same position with the same employer -- without additional responsibilities or other project involvement in that span -- may be too long. Three to five years seems to be the acceptable level of time spent on the job with the same employer without provoking questions as to whether or not you gave it a good try. Many IT positions keep workers intellectually challenged for many years. Systems engineers are faced with new customer issues daily. On the other hand, technical support departments expect their technicians to move into a new position within their organization after about 18 months. In any event, once your job has reached a technical plateau and you're unhappy, it's time to move on.

The right thing to do

On your resume, list the reasons for leaving each of your previous jobs. Be sure those reasons reflect a conscious choice to move on, not something that forced your departure. You may also want to list the most positive experiences or skills learned. This list will help prepare you to answer interview questions such as "Why did you leave?" or "What did you like most about working there?"

Even if you left your previous employer on bad terms -- never bad-mouth it in an interview. Think of a creative, truthful way of explaining the reason for leaving in a positive, proactive style such as: "After several years of enjoying my work, I decided it would be better for my career to take on new challenges."

Following the money?

Most job-hoppers look for a new position every 18 months, acknowledging to recruiters that their motive is more money. They may be looking for $10,000 more per year than what they are earning now; three months later, it could be up to $15,000. Yet they're often savvy enough to convince a potential employer that the reasons for leaving a previous job involved an isolated incident -- and that this is the unique opportunity they've been seeking.

So if you're not just hopping but expect to see a bit more in the paycheck, what can you expect? Most IT salary increases are running in the 15% to 20% range for a new job, depending on the previous salary. However, hiring managers have salary guidelines and must stick to those parameters. Some companies are making salary adjustments to help keep their IT staff from job-hopping, but many others are putting the brakes on rising salaries and offering noncash incentives.

The contracting alternative

If you find yourself moving from one job to the next quickly, you may want to consider contracting. In that arena, changing jobs is part of the plan. Professional contractors schedule their work, and because they are already making a good living, typically don't job-hop. Completing the assignment is critical for callbacks and referrals in their line of business.

Before you leap just for more money, check to see if your supervisor is willing and/or able to increase your salary to be more in line with the going rate. You may even try for an internal transfer to another team with a pay increase. Still, don't trade job satisfaction for a couple more dollars per hour, a possibly longer commute and co-workers you may not like as much as your buddies in the next cube.

Fafard is the branch manager of Montgomery West, a retained executive search firm in Torrance, Calif. Her Internet address is

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