FINDING THE PERFECT JOB CAN BE A CASE OF TRIAL AND ERROR. BUT WHAT DO RECRUITERS THINK ABOUT STUDENTS WHO HAVE HOPPED FROM ONE JOB TO ANOTHER? CATHERINE QUINN FINDS OUT.
Rich Hill has worked as a door-to-door salesman, a receptionist, an administrator, a PR, and an account handler. He’s encountered industries including shipping, events, architecture, catering, and law. So does this make him a fickle fly-by-night, best left to temporary assignments? Or an ultra experienced employee with great prospects? Current thinking might put him in the latter category – an attitude that would have been virtually unthinkable only a few years ago.
Not so long ago gaining a "job for life" was the typical graduate goal. Staff took on jobs that they expected to interest them for the foreseeable future, while employers offered promotion prospects, a generous pension, and a gold-watch on retirement. But nowadays, employers are more likely than ever to take on temporary staff, and many graduates take the opportunity to find out about different fields of work, or even just to keep their options open while they decide what vocation might suit them best.
In Rich’s case, he felt that trying several different jobs first-hand gave him vital skills that are of use in a broad range of professions. "It would be ridiculous to assume that my having tried out a number of different professions makes me flighty," says Rich. "If anything, a wide range of jobs makes me far more likely to know what I am best suited to – and able to lend expertise from a range of industries to wherever I am working."
Rich now works as a copywriter in Edinburgh – a position he feels is fine for the moment. But he emphasises that serial job-hopping can be a rewarding career path.
THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
"It’s traditionally been expected that you graduate, get a job on a graduate scheme, and spend your life working your way up the ladder until you reach £100,000 and realise you’re not fulfilled or happy," he says. "But I think things are changing. You get a lot of people who have started in graduate schemes, but suddenly decide after 10 years that it’s not the life for them and they want to do something completely different. It’s not necessarily enjoyable, or even natural, to spend your whole life in the same place. Doing different jobs means you’re always faced with challenges and new things to learn."
Rich may have a point. After all, most of us could see ourselves tiring of the same old building and the same colleagues, even if the work itself was fulfilling.
But what do recruiters make of staff such as these? Many companies emphasise hiring employees who show commitment to their particular organisation. So on paper at least, a wide range of different roles could suggest an employee who is unsure of their loyalties.
In fact, it seems the opposite is true. With graduates being a more diverse bunch than ever, there are many talented degree-holders who prefer to move around different jobs. In addition, the movement towards more freelance staff and temporary projects has changed the market picture. The result is that many recruiters have been forced to address the traditional prejudice exercised towards job-hoppers, or "career butterflies".
And with good reason, say many career experts. "It depends on the industry, but job-hopping can actually be the sign of a desirable member of staff," says recruitment consultant Lindsay Cuthill of Glaswegian agency Westaff. "For some technical positions, for example, larger companies find out about top employees by word of mouth, so talented individuals can just go where the money is. Staff are basically headhunted, so if someone has had several different positions it’s a good sign that they’re in demand."
In fact, Lindsay hired a "job-hopper" of her own to work on an office database at the agency. "We have someone working here now who we sourced from her having worked for us on several temporary jobs after university. We had good reports from clients, and people were asking for her by name."
Lindsay says numerous short assignments can build all manner of useful skills. The job-hopper in question was marketing graduate Sophie Parker, who had gone from little hands-on experience to working knowledge of database design in the space of a few short assignments. Before her current permanent position, however, Sophie admits to some trepidation regarding the impact the duration of her contracts might have on her future employability. "I was worried how it might look on my CV," she says, "But I really benefited from job-hopping, and I learned a lot of skills I didn’t have previously."
The typical graduate job-hopper of the new millennium is probably less like Rich and more like Sophie – hopping jobs out of necessity rather than choice. And perhaps unsurprisingly, students taking a stopgap job because of over-subscribed graduate recruitment schemes are on the increase. In fact the number has risen so sharply that research by the Association of Graduate Recruiters has identified a "hidden graduate pool" of talent outside traditional graduate employers.
According to its survey of more than 10,000 students, in their first year after graduation 34 per cent are employed in a temporary job not relating to their degree. And given that most degree students hope to be employed in a career relating to their studies, it seems likely that a fairly large proportion of the latter statistic would rather be in a permanent job.
But the good news is that, voluntary or otherwise, job-hopping can still make you more valuable to a future employer. Whether it’s building admin skills, meeting useful colleagues, or learning about a business you knew nothing about, you’ll almost certainly find the experience comes in handy in the future. Even if it’s finding out how to deal with difficult colleagues, or work through a crisis, you’ll be gaining valuable material for interviews.
Many graduates such as Sophie do worry, however, how to present multiple jobs on a CV. And while employers are looking more favourably at job-hoppers, you still need to bear some tips in mind when you’re being quizzed at interview about multiple assignments.
You might want to take particular care if your jobs are clearly of the same type or within the same sector, for example. While roaming from engineering to PR could mark you out as an employee willing to push his or her career envelope, many positions within the same field might seem more indicative of a difficult employee. So whereas the former can be easily explained as a learning curve, you might want to have a more in-depth answer in mind to explain why you left one company for another that was similar.
"Employers view job-hopping in a much more flexible way than they used to," says careers expert John Lees, author of the book How To Get a Job You’ll Love. "But there are some employers with more traditional attitudes, and there are certain measures you might want to take to tone down the appearance of flitting from one job to the next."
If you’ve completed several assignments for an agency, John recommends grouping all your work together as a single-block assignment for the same employer. "This is perfectly legitimate," he says. "The agency chooses to keep you on and send you out to different assignments during that period. And with most agencies they will also be paying your wages and managing any sick leave. So it’s acceptable to class temporary projects with an agency as one long period of employment."
You’re also under no obligation to list every single job you’ve ever had on your CV. Many employers will ask you to explain gaps, but there’s nothing wrong with bumping a few employers off the end. You wouldn’t list your paper-round at age 11, so you don’t have to list your part-time bar job, either.
Whatever your views on job-hopping, employment in the new millennium is a more flexible business than it once was. And as an employee you can choose to make this work for you in a way that might be just as rewarding as holding down one job for the foreseeable future.
For serial job-hopper Rich, shorter assignments have provided him with the ideal structure to discover exactly what his perfect job might be. And many students find that a short stint in what they thought was their dream industry is an education in why they’d prefer to work elsewhere.
It may not feel like it at the time, but doing a job you’re not suited to is one of the fastest ways to learn about what you do want to do and are good at. And for employers, someone who knows from experience what they’re suited to is an ideal member of staff.