Job hopping: The 3 rules to remember

By Kate Warren 25 August 2015

Moving from one job to another frequently may be inherent when working in international development, but it can start to look like a red flag to recruiters. Photo by: VodaBlatoKri / CC BY-NC-SA

Last week, we published career advice from Devex members, which included a warning to avoid frequent job hopping — particularly early in your career. However, as several people pointed out in the comments section, job hopping can at times be inevitable even if your goal is long-term employment.

With so much project-based development work, both short-term assignments and full-time positions are competitive. Many professionals find themselves frequently looking for new employment.

However, while frequent job moves may be inherent to the life of an aid worker, employers may view frequent job hopping as a red flag, indicative of someone who doesn’t know what they want, isn’t valued enough by an organization to promote or is unreliable.

If you find yourself making frequent job changes, follow these rules to mitigate the job hopper stigma.  

1. The “spend at least two years at home office” rule

Positions based in an organization’s home office are typically full-time, permanent jobs with career growth potential. As such, norms are similar to other industries where repeated job changes can eventually make finding any employment a challenge.

 Common advice says to stay a minimum of one year before changing jobs but you should consider this the bare minimum. Really you should aim to be with an employer for at least two to three years before making a change. If you otherwise have a solid work history, it is OK to have one or two shorter stints in your career, but this should be the exception rather than the rule.

Read: Work in global development without heading overseas

2. The ‘finish your contract” rule

Many field and project based positions are full time jobs but with a fixed contract term that could be anywhere from one to five years. When the project ends, the job ends. Employers understand this isn’t indicative of your performance or commitment to the job but just the reality of aid work.

However, while recruiters will understand frequent job changes, and even gaps in employment, they will be looking for assurance that you are committed to seeing an assignment through to the end.

Read: 6 steps to break into global development consulting

3. The “always hop up” rule

If you do make a job change before your contract ends or in less than two years, make sure the job is a marked step up from your current position. Making frequent lateral moves is a telltale sign to recruiters that you are unlikely to be a committed employee who can grow in their organization. However, a job change to a position that is clearly a growth opportunity demonstrates ambition and makes the quick change more understandable.

However, be wary of changing jobs every year just so you can get the common 5-10% raise often allowed by donors like USAID. Recruiters frequently cite this as a concern when recruiting project staff as they assume if you leave your current employer for a modest raise you will likely do the same to them in a year.

Read: What it means to be staffed on a USAID proposal

What constitutes a step up can be subjective, whether it’s money, title or level of responsibility, and often there are other criteria to consider when weighing a job change, such as quality of life factors. However, a good rule of thumb is to only switch jobs when you feel the new opportunity is going to add real value to your life and career goals.

What other advice do you have for someone considering job changes? How often and when do you think it is ok to job hop in global development? Please leave your comments below.

If you have a questions about managing your career in global development, please tweet me @DevexCareers. Check out more career advice stories online, and subscribe to Doing Good to receive top international development career and recruitment news.

About the author

Warren kate 1
Kate Warren@DevexCareers

Kate Warren is the senior director and editor of careers and recruiting content at Devex. With more than a decade of international development recruitment experience working with international NGOs, consulting firms and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.


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