Changing Landscape of Job History

Recently, I participated at a youth career expo where I had the opportunity to network with a number of human resource managers also volunteering at the event. We were sharing coffee before the event actually began, and an interesting discussion began about the number of jobs that people have, and how the HR or hiring managers might perceive that on an application.

But before moving into the discussion that transpired, let’s set the scene that precipitated the exchange:

On average, the typical high school student will have about 23 jobs in their entire lifetime; this can include the times when they hold 3-4 jobs just to make the ends meet, in addition to the many job transitions that lie ahead as they build their career.

But other things that are impacting people’s job histories now include two factors: 1) Layoffs or downsizing due to the economic meltdown and 2) Baby boomers moving into ‘encore’ careers as they shed the drudgery of doing work that they don’t particularly like, and embracing a new phase in their life that includes finding work with meaning.

Add in a dash of short-term employment experience from either jobs that were definitely not a good fit (including the famed boss from hell) or an oil-and-water mix that left you fired and standing on the doorstep because you either didn’t do the job right or just couldn’t make it work.

All this translates into many job seekers having a lot of different job listed on their résumé. Traditionally, employers have frowned upon job seekers with too many job changes between employers. But things are changing… whereas having a long, steady employment history with a single employer is becoming more of an oddity, many people nowadays are showing a lot of movement between employers.

A lot of these job shifts happened during the boom times during the 1990s to mid-2000s, when many workers were able to command better salaries for their skill sets and oftentimes moved around in pursuit of better pay, increased benefits, and more advanced job duties and titles.

The discussion that took place with the human resource managers that I talked with was fascinating. Many came out and were very passionate about the fact that employers MUST change to retain talent, and holding onto static positions isn’t part of the changing landscape of employment.

Adapting the delegation of tasks to keep the work environment stimulating and interesting, particularly to the Generation Y crowd as they get bored so easily is imperative, according to the human resource personnel. One manager mentioned that a stellar young employee was getting ready to ‘jump ship.’ The management recognized the situation, and decided to adapt accordingly because they didn’t want to lose that person from the company. What they did was engineer a hybrid position that allowed the worker to take on some of the things that they were good at, particularly social media, and even went as far as to have the person take classes in that area.

The end result?

The employee stayed within the company, was able to learn a new skill, wasn’t bored, and the company capitalized on the person’s talents. It was a win-win situation that benefited everyone.

Now we all know, most employers aren’t going to be that rigid, and because of that very reason, that’s why many people move on to other companies.

As the unofficial rules change in the job search world, perhaps there might be a shift occurring where being a ‘lifer’ at one company is seen as more of a liability rather than an asset. To some prospective employers, it might suggest stagnation rather than dedication, or a fear of change when the business environment is becoming ever so highly adaptable to meet change head-on.

It seems that there is a painful transition period going on right now as human resource and hiring managers grapple with a shift in the dynamic when it comes down to job applicant history. The axiom of old that put heavy emphasis on stability is being turned on its head, and could be conceivably be shifted to increasingly value employees who bring a wide and deep bench of skill sets to the table through more jobs. This could also point to the employers unwilling to change and adapt to retain top workers, spelling death to aging business processes and ultimately, corporations.

For now, it is incumbent upon all job seekers to not only build a solid reputation at employers, but to also propel their own skill sets, knowledge, and expertise in their field by adding as much professional development, leadership service, and industry affiliations as possible to the credentials as possible to try and bridge this gap.