The Job Hopper Fallacy

“She’d be great for the role, but I’m concerned that she seems to job hop every few years.”

“He’s the perfect candidate. The only red flag for me is he seems to change jobs every couple of years.”

“I love her experience, but she doesn’t seem to stay at one place very long.”

I’ve heard those comments far too often over the last 16 years. I myself, have even uttered a similar statement, when assessing a candidate. So, yes, I’m a hypocrite, when I say, the marketing and advertising industry needs to realize, switching jobs and roles is part of today’s workforce and it’s here to stay.

My father worked for 1 company, through a few mergers, for 20+ years…till he was laid off. My mom has been with the same company since she was in her early 20s. For 30+ years she’s given 1 organization her very best. They are the exception today, especially when it comes to the marketing and advertising industry. Today, the data shows you’re fortunate if you can keep someone for 3 – 4 years in the private sector. Keep in mind that 3 – 4 average, looks at all jobs in the private sector; the average agency tenure is even shorter.

The phrase “job hopping” has with it an indelible black mark. It connotes, and we tend to perceive it, as a bad thing. People who job hop, after all, must be hopping for only bad reasons. Yet, if you were interviewing someone who told you first they went to Harvard for their undergrad, then they went to Stanford to Master in something else and then went to MIT to earn a Ph.D it something else., we’d talk about how diverse their background was and how well rounded they were. But, have 4 jobs in 10 years and you’d be potentially unstable and a flight risk.

I also believe, most talent evaluators tend to over-value a person who’s had many roles in the same company. But, is there really a difference between someone who’s had 4 roles at the same company in 10 years and someone who’s had 4 roles, at 4 companies in 10 years?

In my opinion, based on what I’ve seen and experiences, I think job hopping happens for 4 major reasons:

  1. They believe they deserve more, whatever that more is, and they know they aren’t going to get it. It could be the promotion they deserve, but won’t receive, because there isn’t a piece of business to sustain the increased level and compensation. It could be the mentorship they crave, but aren’t receiving. The more, can be any number of things, but there’s always something.
  2. In an industry that is still very much time and materials, the account funding the majority of your salary is no longer with the agency or scales back the budget significantly. In both of those situations the agency, can’t float your overhead so you’re laid off. It happens. Often.
  3. Wrong place for the wrong person at the wrong time. Sometimes it really is just the wrong place, with the wrong culture, the wrong role and the wrong account.
  4. The role outpaces your talent. The organization wants more from you, you’re not able to keep delivering the A-game needed. In this situation you have 3 options. 1, you leave on your own terms. 2, you stay, but you’re stuck at the same level and compensation. 3, you’re let go, because the organization needs better talent.

There are a bunch of other reasons that come up, but I feel like we’ve covered 80% of situations with the above.

With the average tenure of a CMO being roughly 3.5 years and every new CMO seemingly choosing to “pitch the business”, is it really any wonder people need to job hop? Then, add in the fact, employees want more training and work life balance; both of which, it’s been well documented, they aren’t getting, and the desire to hit the reset button and start fresh is understandable.

All that aside, I want to focus on two elements of evaluating why people may job hop: Title/Seniority and Compensation. I believe there’s so much more than those two, but the other elements aren’t easily quantifiable. Thanks to the mountains of big data out there, Title and Compensation are easily measured, evaluated and compared.

Only once in my career did I take a job because of the money. It was one of the biggest career mistakes I’ve ever made. I was young. It was the dot.com boom/bust days. The company imploded in 6 months. Since that mistake I’ve always used my TPRP model for evaluating opportunities. For me the role is always the most important. That said, “role” is arbitrary and subjective. Two people looking at the same role, will value it differently. That’s why I want to focus on Title and Compensation.

The following chart represents a 10 year look at the career of someone in account management in the advertising industry. Before you pour over the chart a few details first:

  1. For the starting salary of an Account Coordinator, I pulled the Chicago market advertising agency average from Glass Door.
  2. You’ll notice I also included a column showing the average salary for positions. That data also comes directly from Glass Door. To be specific it comes directly from the Leo Burnett Glass Door page. Given Leo’s long history, their size, market location and holding company status, they make for a great data source.
  3. The national average for raises in the same title is 3%. That comes from a multitude of sources. For the sake of argument and this post, it comes from Forbes and SHRM.
  4. I connected with several folks on the talent management side at different agencies to understand the average pay increase in between account roles. It’s 7%. So if you go from an Account Executive to a Sr. Account Executive, you can expect a 7% increase on average. This tracks with my experience working in leadership roles at agencies.
  5. The same people I spoke with validated the age old belief that when you leave one agency in a more junior role for another agency in a more senior role, you get about a 20% pay bump. Those changes are highlighted in green.
  6. No one stays at one agency for 10 years and just gets the average. I’m aware of that fact. A good manager at some point looks at that person’s compensation relative to their contribution and is able to get a “market correction” put in place. This essentially raises the person’s salary so that it’s still within the range of the role, while still allowing for margin to be made.
  7. This analysis is purely to look at tittle and salary. It doesn’t take into account things like work life balance, retained knowledge or other factors.
  8. An often unmentioned fact is that your first salary does dictate, on some level, future salaries. Every future increase is based on the last one, so if you negotiate 45K as an Account Coordinator, you end up better off financially, than if you negotiated and accepted 35K. That’s just basic economics.
  9. You’ll see a column that outlines the importance of #9. The “Straight 10% Increase” column, simply applies a 10% increase every year. That never happens, but it’s a good comparison point to look at.
  10. Every situation is different and this not meant to be final law.

Job Hopping Data

What does this data tell us? A lot and nothing. It tells us that there is certainly a financial and status gain to be had by job hopping in the agency world. You climb the ladder faster and earn a fairer compensation faster when you job hop. I say fairer, because as has been well-documented, when you consider the number of hours the average agency person works, their per/hour rate doesn’t seem like a fair wage. Anyone who’s worked in agency life for 8+ years, I think would agree.

What the data doesn’t tell us and what I believe is the most important aspect of the value that comes from job hopping, is the experience you gain. Today’s world moves quick. Technology changes fast. Consumer behavior changes fast. To keep up with that change, organizations continually create and try new operating and organizational models. If all the people in your organization have only worked at 1 company before they joined you, the field of view becomes limited. Take if you will the person who’s only worked at P&G his their entire career. They know 1 company, 1 culture, 1 process and 1 approach for addressing challenges. But, what if you have a person who’s worked at P&G, Red Bull, Nike and Ford? Now, you have diversity in thought. And that diversity becomes invaluable.

I believe that a patchwork tapestry approach to building “YOU” is where the future is now and it’s not going to change. Don’t attach a stigma to someone who’s sought career diversity. Instead, value the immense diverse experience they can bring to your organization.

*****UPDATE*****

On Friday, February 7th I received an email from a recruiter that stated:

Adam–

I left you a vm about 2 social media roles that I would love to have your help with. I’m helping recruit for [company withheld] (Chicago area) and [company withheld] (DC Area). I offer generous finders’ fees and from your LI profile, you look like someone who would know qualified folks. If you hadn’t just taken a new role, I would have tried to directly recruit you.

Do you want me to send you job descriptions?

thanks!
[name withheld]

I responded and offered to help. Even provided a few recommendations. The response I received back was:

Thanks for the referrals. I’ve just started working on these roles via the internal recruiters and don’t yet have the names of who the roles report to–so you know more than I do.

I checked out the profiles of both of the folks you referred, and though I trust your judgment, I’m concerned that they may look too much like job hoppers to be desirable –but with social media being a pretty new field, that may be common and not a red flag for hiring managers.

Perfect timing and one that clearly supports we haven’t evolved our perceptions about “job-hopping.”

  • Angela Howard Lechtenberg

    Adam, this is great information! I have also been called a job hopper, mostly for the main reasons you’ve described above – a hunger for more advancement, pay, new challenges and occasionally, to get out of a job that was just not the right fit. I desire variety, and to continue to grow constantly. That old model does not fit the marketing world at all, and diversity has allowed me to have an incredibly well rounded skill set in lots of areas of marketing (just ask me!). Thanks for posting this, I’m sharing it everywhere!

  • schugarmama

    Love this analysis and commentary on the “full” resume.Thanks for posting.

  • Colin Burns

    Great read for me. As a guy that has constantly job hopped – including one of those brands you mention in your second-to-last paragraph – this is spot on with why I job hop. I think conversely, organizations that are hiring in digital/social need to think of how they are going to create a bench, create longevity, etc., and not worry that someone is a job jumper. Eventually we all want to settle down for a variety of reasons.

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Digital dad to Cora and John. Love ironing, bourbon and BBQ; no necessarily in that order. Living life, like I stole it. I'm always up for a

spirited conversation. These are my thoughts and ramblings, not those of my employer.
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