On The Carousel: Job-Hopping Can Be Costly But It Is At Times Justified

The Star, 5 June 2012 

Talking HR with Pauline NgTalking HR with Pauline Ng


On the CarouselCandidates attending interviews at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce in California. Job-hoppers should know that larger package, like a sugar high, may seem like a boon in the beginning but may not be so over time. Past performance, though not an ideal indicator, is often a predictor of future performance. -Reuters

Job swapping season is in full swing. As we are fast approaching the end of the first half of the year, the pace of employees changing jobs is picking up momentum. All the pieces are falling into place. Most companies would have by now disbursed their annual bonus payouts. Employees who are or have been assessing their career options would probably have collected their bonus packages and are probably ready to explore new job opportunities. These are the ingredients of a line manager's nightmare.

Almost every CEO that I have spoken to has had some horror story to share about a bad hiring experience; from hiring someone who resigned less than a year into their role to employees who left after a week. The most common reason used is that the individual left for "better prospects," which is usually code for a fatter package. There's no denying it. Job-hopping is costly to organisations. It is not just the cost of job advertisements or head hunting fees but also the indirect costs such as the cost of having another employee cover the role of the person who has left,the drop in productivity and resulting low morale. By some accounts, staff turnover can be as high as 75% in non-manufacturing industry sectors, which gives an indication of how often this occurs.

Nonetheless, as an executive search professional who places senior level executives, I'd caution any candidate who has been with a company for under a year to think carefully through their next career move. Most organisations will not hire job-hoppers despite the relatively tight talent pool present here in Malaysia.Many executives who leave for better prospects invariably get higher salaries but these do not necessarily equate to enhanced career development. The larger package, like a sugar high, may seem like a boon in the beginning but may not be so over time.

Quantitatively, let's assume that an individual receives a 20%increase each time he or she moves, this would equate to a 44%increase in salary over a period of two years. All things being equal, it is unlikely that the executive would have gained nearly as much meaningful or pivotal experience as someone who has stayed for two years in the same organisation.

The more patient (not necessarily loyal) executive who stayed with the same employer may have gained more skills at the job and would probably be better poised for a potential promotion compared with the executive who spent the better part of the two years assimilating to the new job. Without a doubt the first six months on most jobs is often spent acclimatising to the new organisation,culture, and processes.

One of the traits I look for when interviewing potential candidates for a position is evidence of a clear promotion track record. If their employer was sufficiently impressed with this candidate's performance and saw enough potential to promote the individual, this is a robust indication of the candidate's performance and future upward mobility. Past performance, though not an ideal indicator, is often a predictor of future performance.This is not the only trait to look for but it serves as a good indication that the individual has that all important desire,motivation and initiative to succeed.

However, there are instances where some people may have just had the misfortune of making the wrong choice. We have all heard the saying there are no bad employees only bad managers. That statement will hold true depending on which side of the fence we are sitting.Nobody is perfect. Hence, a slight deviation from the straight and narrow way can readily cause problems. It is the degree of the deviation that often leads to a perfect storm.

For instance, I met a senior executive who had moved three times in three years. Fortunately, his resume was very well put together and I decided to interview him. In our meeting, he recounted the path that led him to his present position. He had faced three different situations over the last three years that left him with no choice but to move companies. The first was a material change in the company's strategy that he could not agree with for his own ethical reasons. The second was the company decision to cease operations in the region. The third was a biased boss who favoured his cronies and side-lined the rest of the team members. After I had the opportunity to listen to his side of the story and conduct reference checks to verify his account of the situation, I was glad I took the effort to do so and not judge a book solely by its cover.

Looking into the crystal ball, with regional economies booming and the shallow pool of experienced senior executives, we have to face the reality that we may have to live with the ongoing battle for talent on our shores and beyond for the foreseeable future. We may even see an increasing number of potential employees with less than a year's tenure with their previous employers.

So, if you are in a situation whereby you are considering moving into a new job, do your homework; map out all the pros and cons,taking into consideration the future prospects and opportunities.Ask as many questions as you can throughout the interview process.You need to have enough information to make an informed decision on your career plans. Otherwise you could be getting on the carousel again. If you are on the other end of the interviewing table, it might pay to look beyond the resume. Perhaps you may even be hiring your company's future CEO.


Pauline Ng is an executive search professional who has been with three companies over her 20 year-career in the recruitment and consulting industry. She believes in looking beyond the obvious and finding diamonds in the rough.