Refusing To Hire “Job Jumpers” Is Silly

If you have been involved with recruiting for more than six months, then you have probably experienced a wide variety of “dumb” things those connected to the process do with regard to screening candidates. From hiring managers who insist upon basing their judgment of candidates’ abilities on the quality of their loafers to recruiters who eliminate resumes because of misspelled words, our profession to this day is full of dumb things. Do you remember ever being asked in an interview:

  • Do you own your home?
  • Are you married?
  • What is your father’s occupation?
  • How long have you lived at your current address?

At one time these were fairly common questions. Today, however, most of these questions have been abandoned ó some because they were judged to be grounds for discrimination (and therefore illegal), and others because, while they seemed to have some logical basis attached to them, in reality they didn’t help predict success on the job. That said, there are still a number of dumb things and antiquated practices in play with regards to screening candidates. One of the most prevalent of these is the flagging of potential “job jumpers,” a.k.a. “job hoppers.” Job Jumpers Are Bad (Because…?) Regardless of what your firm ó and, more likely than not, your managers ó call “job jumpers,” the basic premise for avoiding them is simple. Why would any firm want to invest its time and resources into a person who more than likely won’t stick around for any serious length of time? It’s a valid question, with some very logical assumptions behind it. These include the notions:

  • That “job jumpers” are disloyal and selfish.
  • That they are impatient, and therefore cannot work within your system to achieve their desires.
  • That they will leave before training costs are recovered.
  • That they stick around with a company only until their performance, or lack thereof, starts to attract attention.
  • That they are dedicated only until they have absorbed your best practices, and will leave given the right economic incentive to share your best practices with others.

Don’t Let Perceptions Limit Your Impact I have not found a single company or academic study that proves any of the above contentions to be true under modern working conditions. Rather than assuming that job jumpers will have a negative impact on your organization, it’s important to evaluate both sides of the coin. Maybe job jumpers are the MOST desirable people to hire! For example, in the Silicon Valley where I work, moving between firms (jumping) is seen as a positive thing, because it gives an individual a chance to learn in a variety of environments. Having a wide variety of experience (we call it diversity) is viewed as lessening the chances that an employee will take a too narrow or “historical” view of their job and where the industry is going. Short-term performance is better than long-term mediocrity! Think of it like this: Would you rather have Michael Jordan on your team for only one year, or have Dennis Rodman for a full 10 years? The World Is Changing Whether managers and HR professionals want to admit it or not, the employee/employer relationship is changing. The coming generations of employees are more likely to be loyal to their profession than any one firm. Even man of today’s workers who went through the hiring boom of the 1990s have come to believe that those who don’t shift jobs frequently don’t move because they can’t. The next generation often looks at job switching as a way to avoid “boredom” and to speed up their development (and also salary growth). In a decade or so, these shifts in employee attitudes will mean that everyone who is any good at what they do is likely to be a job jumper ó so get used to it! Reasons You Should Seek Out And Hire Top-Performing “Job Jumpers” Before you reject jumpers out of hand, it’s important to first assess if they are top performers (both stars and failures can jump jobs). The first step is to identify the applicants’ accomplishments on their resume. Second, you must closely check their references to see if they were in fact top performers. Once you have identified that poor performance was not their reason for leaving, it’s time to look at the positive aspects of hiring jumpers. Some possible supporting arguments for hiring job jumpers include:

  1. Because they are fast learners, job jumpers leave when managers slow down or restrict their learning.
  2. They are accurate forecasters and they left because they could see the company or industry was about to falter (ex-Enron employees, for example).
  3. They move often because they have skills that are in high demand. As a result, they are frequently targeted by headhunters.
  4. If they have succeeded in each of their “many” jobs, it’s likely that they build relationships fast, are rapid learners, and adapt quickly.
  5. They have an extensive network of contacts, which not only helps them do their job better, but also means they are frequently offered new job opportunities.
  6. Jumping works out to be the equivalent of a series of great job rotations in which the employee learns a lot in different firms, giving them a diverse set of experiences that your organization might need (especially in a fast-changing industry).
  7. Jumpers are likely to bring with them benchmark information and best practices from a variety of firms.
  8. After a series of jobs and firms, odds are that former jumpers now know what they want and what they don’t want in a job or manager.
  9. Job jumpers are likely to be in the early to mid stages in their career, which, statistically at least, increases the chances that their productivity is not leveling off or declining.
  10. Jumpers are unlikely to be a heavy “retirement” burden on the firm.
  11. Because few others want them, they are easier to recruit and may be cheaper to hire.

Before you make hasty stereotypes about jumpers it’s important to look at organizations that have few or no job jumpers ó like the government. Government workers traditionally have the lowest turnover, but their management and hiring practices might not be the best to emulate! Treat Them Differently And They Will Stay Remember that most employees leave because of bad managers. Job jumpers are no different. Jumpers leave because they are not treated as they expect to be treated. But just because others have lost them, that doesn’t mean that you have to lose them too. You can lessen the chances of them leaving by providing them with a great manager, and by staying in touch with their needs and what is frustrating them. Boomerangs Are Job Jumpers Too Incidentally, when considering job jumpers it’s also wise to take a second look at the employees that have “jumped” from your own firm. Recruiting back top performers who have left (known as “boomerangs”) can be a fast but effective recruiting strategy. Leading firms (Deloitte Consulting and Agilent are two that come to mind) have learned to welcome boomerangs with open arms because they now have additional experience and skills. In addition, many managers view the return of top performers as a kind of reinforcement that they (the firm and the culture) are great ó because people with “multiple choices” choose to come back! Conclusion May traditional firms with conservative HR departments (like there’s another kind) are returning to the practice of screening out job jumpers because the unemployment rate is now so low that they can. Rather than gather data to support the contention that hiring jumpers has a low ROI, many HR people use their newfound “power” to punish job jumpers. Maybe it’s out of jealousy (because they themselves would like to move but can’t), but there is no data to suggest that the best stay longest and that those who jump are bad hires. In fact the opposite may be true: the best move often, because they get multiple offers and they can. Remember when we used to check how long people lived at a certain address on the premise that it reflected stability? How silly was that! Well, it’s now time to bury job jumping as a rejection factor also. Hire job jumpers (that you have done a performance check on) and you are likely to get workers that will constantly push the envelope and your firm to new levels.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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