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Advice for Job Hoppers

Someone walking up stairs.

With the wrong approach, jumping from job to job can perpetuate a vicious, and often painful cycle that isn’t doing your long-term career goals any favors. If you’re not making any tangible professional progress and feel trapped in a lateral job trajectory, it may be time to reexamine your job hopping habits.

Here are a few ways to grow roots in a position without withering on the vine.

Conduct a soul search

Recognizing that you’re stuck takes some serious self-reflection. For example, if you’ve jumped jobs 11 times in the last 10 years, and always get hired fairly quickly, you may consider yourself a successful and satisfied job hopper.

But, take a minute to reflect on the type of manager who hires you, and the quality of the jobs you’re hopping to. How do they measure up? Were you happy at those jobs in the beginning, or were you never completely satisfied, even when they were new? There are likely two main motivations for your hopping:

  1. When you encounter a challenge at work, your habitual modus operandi is to flee instead of working it out, or
  2. You often hop into something that isn’t a good fit (due to a rushed job search) and regularly feel the need to hop out ASAP.

Whatever your reason for leaving, it's likely often accompanied by a heightened, anxious, emotional reaction that leads to reactive or rash decision making. This, then causes you to hop once again into something not fully thought out or well-researched. And so, the pattern continues.

Have whiplash yet? Let’s take it one step at a time.

Recognize the problem

If you’re making a series of quick, reactive decisions, you’re not moving strategically. Finding a job that you’re good at and enjoy doing takes time and considerable effort, and as they say, it's easier to determine what you don't want to do than what you truly do want to do. If you’re making hasty choices based on emotion or fear, or because you’re in search of an imaginary reality, you’re not investing the time it takes to create a sustainable career trajectory.

Determine what you’re looking for

It’s time to take stock of what’s most important. Serial job hoppers don’t always realize that they don’t know what they want. Sit down and list your talents and interests, and how they might best fit into the working world. Make a brag list. And while you’re at it, don’t let a lack of experience, or lack of confidence, get in the way of how you define your dream job.

(Re)imagine your dream job

The ardent pursuit of happiness puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on people. Striving for perfection can lead to consistently feeling unfulfilled and may fuel an unsatisfying hunt.

Think outside the box. Your dream job could be a combination of positions, or it could be as simple as having a reliable work space close to home with regular hours that allows you to provide for your family.

Reflect on your hopscotch work background and recognize what didn’t go so well. Determining what doesn’t work for you will bring you one step closer to a sustainable, reality-based dream job that does.

Fighting the flight response

Now, let’s examine those patterns. Fight or flight response, a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived threat to survival, is intense. If you perceive challenges at work as a threat to your well-being and have a predisposition to fly away, you may have inadvertently trained yourself to think that running is the only way to solve problems.

This pattern will cause you to overlook other potential responses, or coping mechanisms, that can strengthen the trajectory of your career. Instead of running, define and then face your fears. Easier said than done? Break it down.

Before you throw in the towel, try a few of these alternatives to overcome work challenges. If you’re still overwhelmed and itching to bail, recognize that every job has things in it you will not like doing.

Pro Tip: Try imaging your dream job. Create a bulleted list of the tasks and daily responsibilities in this ideal position, and then, challenge yourself to think of three things that you wouldn’t like about that job. How would you navigate these blemishes on your seemingly perfect appointment? Now, determine if those hypothetical survival methods can help you manage your current situation. This exercise will also help to remind you that nothing is perfect, not even that so-called-perfect job.

Remember, staying put can help you make your mark in your field, build trust, develop transferrable skills, and establish important relationships. Take stock of the benefits of every position you’re in. After all, you aren’t just getting a paycheck, you also being presented with countless opportunities for professional development.

When that exit scenario starts to feel overwhelming, remember the perks! You have a job, see if you can make it a good-for-now job.

In review

Figure out where you are emotionally and where you want to go, then try to utilize other means of coping that don’t require packing up your desk. Recognize and try to appreciate the opportunities available to you when you’re employed. Stop revving those engines and park it somewhere nice so you can admire the view.

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About the Author | With a background in the performing arts and journalism, Caroline Rodriguez understands the chaotic course of career change. She’s been a reporter, teacher, and co-manager of a yoga resort. Her passions include women’s rights and encouraging girls to study science.

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