Pranav Ravikumar has held three jobs since college, and he’s only 24. One month after graduating in December 2020, he cycled through two rotations of a management training program at the pharmaceutical company Abbott. Mr. Ravikumar became an e-commerce analyst, but he wanted the kind of faster-paced work found at consulting firms and start-ups. The job at Abbott also required him to move to Columbus, Ohio, far from family and friends in Washington, D.C.
In October 2021, Mr. Ravikumar left Abbott for a remote job with Dragonfly, a start-up that acquires and develops small e-commerce businesses, and moved back to Washington. A few months in, he spoke to his manager about becoming more involved with strategy, but nothing changed. So a year later, Mr. Ravikumar began job hunting. This February, he started a job in product marketing at Alma, a membership network that helps mental health care providers build their practices.
For Mr. Ravikumar, this kind of rapid job hopping has been a positive experience. “I’ve almost doubled what my starting salary was at Abbott, and that’s important to me,” he said. “I really wanted the flexibility of remote work and I’d be hard-pressed now to give that up. And I’ve gotten a lot of professional experience across industries super quickly.”
Job hopping to increase salary and skills early in a career — historically, a red flag for employers — is not new. However, it appears to be increasingly common: 22.3 percent of workers ages 20 and older spent a year or less at their jobs in 2022, the highest percentage with a tenure that short since 2006, according to data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, an independent nonprofit. About 33 percent spent two years or less at their jobs.
But many Gen Z workers, and younger Millennials, aren’t worried. Seventy-four percent of 18- to 26-year-olds and 62 percent of 27- to 42-year-olds were searching for a new job or planned to search in the next six months, according to a survey of U.S. employees conducted in May by Robert Half, a human resources consultancy.
Dawn Fay, operational president for talent solutions and business consulting at Robert Half, said in an email that the survey also asked hiring managers their top concerns when evaluating a candidate’s résumé: 77 percent named job hopping.
Jeff Hyman, chief executive of Recruit Rockstars, a recruitment firm in Chicago, described job hopping as a “huge headache” for employers. When promising employees leave prematurely, others may wonder why, or follow suit, he said. “Human resources executives keep hoping it will improve, but it just seems to get worse by the month.”
After just eight months at her corporate job in Pittsburgh, Erin Confortini, 24, was being recruited for similar jobs paying $20,000 a year more, but declined to pursue them, feeling the salary wasn’t worth the risks of changing course. Ms. Confortini, who now earns additional income as a personal finance influencer on TikTok with over 246,000 followers, posted about her decision not to job hop. (As it turned out, she left the corporate job a year later to work at a start-up.) The post received more than 450 comments, with most advising her to follow the money rather than be loyal to a company (“fear should not drive decisions,” read one).
While she understands this position, Ms. Confortini said, “I also think you need to consider what that will look like on your résumé.”
Many recruiters agree.
Mr. Hyman, the recruiter, said although job hopping carries less of a stigma in the start-up community, traditional employers still see those candidates as risky. “Employers start to question the candidate’s decision-making ability and judgment,” he said. Hiring managers also complain that it’s difficult to assess a person’s performance in a job that lasted less than two years, he added.
To some extent, the trend may be a response to what younger employees perceive as corporations’ unyielding focus on the bottom line. One reason for the prevalence of job hopping is the ongoing erosion of the employer-employee social contract, said Jessica Kriegel, a chief scientist at Culture Partners, a business consultancy focused on workplace culture. This is partly because of repeated, recession-related layoffs that now include pre-emptive layoffs in anticipation of a downturn, she said.
“Employees are looking at that and feel they have already lost what they thought they were getting, which was job security,” Ms. Kriegel said.
This, in turn, has led many Gen Z workers to eschew company loyalty in favor of career development — and, potentially, risk-taking. When Jonathan Javier, 28, started his first job as an operations specialist at Snapchat, the pay was low. But he had set his sights on the tech industry and felt grateful to be there. Eight months later, however, his role was outsourced to a contractor. Through LinkedIn, Mr. Javier connected with a recruiter at Google and was hired as an operations analyst; after a year, he made the move to sales trainer.
Soon after, Mr. Javier was tapped by another recruiter, offering a spot as an operations analyst at Cisco. “It was a higher-level job that pushed my salary to over six figures,” he recalled. He took it, leaving Google after 18 months. During his tenure at Google, Mr. Javier had started a side hustle, Wonsulting, a career coaching business targeting young job seekers from marginalized backgrounds. When he was laid off a year after joining Cisco because of pandemic staffing cuts, Mr. Javier opted for entrepreneurship instead of another job search, and dived into Wonsulting full time.
That’s three companies (and four roles) in just over three years, ending with a job of his own making.
Working for a corporation, Mr. Javier said, always made him feel “like a number,” someone who could be dismissed at any time. Now, as his own boss, that anxiety is gone. And although the failure rate for start-ups is high, Mr. Javier said he isn’t concerned.
“There’s always a way back into corporate America if I want that.”