Dear Annie:Please settle a bet. I am a software developer with 11 years of experience -- six of them at one company, and the last five in three different places. I've moved around a lot since 2008 because, first, I got laid off and then, when I found another job, I left it because a former colleague offered me a bigger challenge. That turned into an interesting opportunity with a client, which I took. Now, I have a couple of new certifications and am thinking of going someplace where I could use all my different skills and get paid for them, which isn't happening here.
The only reason I'm hesitating is that a coworker (who is also a friend) tells me that, with not quite two years in my current position, I'll be seen as a "job hopper." But is that necessarily a bad thing? What do you say? Whoever is wrong has to buy lunch.— Greener Pastures
Dear G.P.:Maybe you should split the check. Here's why: On the one hand, changing jobs every couple of years carries far less stigma than it did before the Great Recession. "Partly because of all the economic instability lately, and partly due to the entry of Gen Y into the workforce, people increasingly see themselves as free agents," notes Nancy Friedberg, president of New York City executive coaching firm Career Leverage. "It's all about the portfolio of skills you bring, not loyalty or security. Moving around has become the new norm."
That's especially true in your business. "Some companies may still be suspicious of anyone with too many short stints of a year or less," says Tracy Cashman a partner in the IT search division at WinterWyman, a Boston-based recruiting and staffing company. "But I would say more employers are reluctant to hire people who have been at one place for several years, or for their whole work history. Interviewers may feel that those people are not ambitious enough, or are so ingrained in a particular culture or way of thinking that they won't be able to adapt to a new environment."
In your case, the fact that a former colleague tapped you for a challenging position is a definite plus. "Often, those who do move frequently are being recruited by people they previously worked for, or with," Cashman says. "It's a positive sign when people who know you want to work with you again."
Even so, one important caveat: In this as in so much else, how you tell your story matters. "Job hopping is only a problem if it seems to be random. The danger is that you'll come across as flaky or unreliable," says Friedberg. "But if you have a good reason for each of the moves you made -- whether it was increased responsibility, a deepening of a specialization, or to pick up new skills that make you more marketable -- then you'll most likely be seen as a fast-tracker, not a job hopper."
To encourage that perception, she adds, make sure your resume shows a coherent career path: "Your resume should tell a story, rather than just being a chronological laundry list of all the jobs you've held, which is very boring anyway."
Friedberg counsels her clients to put their longest-held job (in your case, that six-year stint) in the summary paragraph that goes at the top of the first page, "especially if the company has a recognizable name." Next, briefly list your skills and areas of expertise. A third section should concisely list the highlights of your career so far -- those significant achievements that are relevant to the job you're trying to get now.