Getting back on track after multiple job changes

Ken Pelczarski | TLT Career Coach May 2018

Your task: Convincing potential employers that you are a long-term fit for their position.

© Can Stock Photo / racorn

You may wonder how many job changes it takes to endanger your industry reputation. There is no magic number. Very simply, the more jobs you have in a brief period, the more explanations are necessary. 

Throughout my 40-years-plus career in the search consulting field, I have seen many successful lubricant industry professionals go through stretches of four or five jobs in a brief period. You may suddenly be viewed as a hiring risk due to several quick job changes after having had a long-term career with one employer. It can happen to any of us as described in the following hypothetical scenario:

You are successful in your first job out of college (Job No. 1) for 20 years selling lubricant additives.
You change jobs to manage sales for a start-up company (Job. No. 2) and work there for one year until you are recruited by an international company (Job No. 3) to manage a large sales staff.
Your position is eliminated after one year due to the pending sales of your division.
You manage your own consulting firm (Job No. 4) for a year but miss the team atmosphere of a large employer.
You join a small lubricant additives distributor (Job No. 5) in regional sales, but your income and level of responsibility are subpar so you begin another job search having had five employers during the past five years.

In a perfect world, you will take measures to prevent the too-many-jobs syndrome from happening to you. However, you will never be 100% immune. All you can do is minimize the chances of finding yourself in this situation. Below are five measures to take when changing employers to minimize the risk of having several jobs in an abbreviated period:

1. Research the prospective employer’s stability, turnover and treatment of employees.
2. Make sure the position is closely aligned with your career goals.
3. Change only for significant improvement in job satisfaction.
4. Make the move only if you see a good chance for a long-term fit.
5. Always work hard and aim to be a top performer.

After you have made several job changes in a brief period, below are some patterns and attitudes with which employers would be concerned:

You lose sight of the big picture and change jobs because of one minor incident.
Your first inclination is to find a new job instead of attempting to resolve an issue.
You have a history of leaving employers primarily for more money.
You make consistently bad decisions about choosing employers that are not a good cultural fit.
You are critical of top management and direct superiors from each of your past employers.
You claim that past employers have had unreasonable expectations of you.
You do not take personal responsibility for short-term job stints.

Take charge of your career by making job changes selectively for opportunities that will benefit your career in the long run. Avoid taking risks by changing jobs for reasons that will be hard to justify. Below are common reasons for leaving an employer and the level of difficulty you may have explaining these job moves in an interview.

Earning an MBA or additional technical degree is viewed as an excellent reason to change jobs.
© Can Stock Photo / Goodluz

16 common reasons for switching jobs and how employers view them
1. More money. Changing jobs strictly for more money is often frowned upon by employers, especially if you have established a pattern of switching for modest salary increases. On the other hand, employers will understand if there are underlying issues involved such as (a.) unkept financial promises, (b.) incentive programs greatly reduced or abandoned, (c.) salaries frozen for years because the company is not doing well, (d.) you have fallen progressively behind a competitive salary range due to small annual increases or (e.) you are not being financially recognized for superior performance.

2. Better opportunity. This is generally viewed as an excellent reason to make a job move, although better opportunity can mean many different things and must be explained succinctly. A prospective employer needs to understand your career goals through what has motivated you to change jobs in recent years. Did you move for (a.) bigger challenge, (b.) more day-to-day satisfaction, (c.) increased responsibilities, (d.) better utilization of your skill set and/or (e.) greater chance for promotion?

3. Job insecurity. Job security is widely seen as a basic need for individuals. Employers will look at this job changing reason positively if you are being proactive and have valid reasons to be concerned about losing your position. You must convince the employer there is a significant chance of losing your job in the short term.

4. Work is unappreciated. Being appreciated is another basic need for individuals. It is important for you to explain to a prospective employer that you have done excellent work over an extended period and have not been recognized financially or otherwise. It helps your case if you have spoken to your employer directly about your concerns with no resulting special recognition.

5. Work-life balance. Any upstanding employer should appreciate this reason for changing jobs. You will need to define the kind of balance you desire, and it will need to fit with the demands of the job for which you are interviewing. Most employers will not want to hear that you are unwilling to go the extra mile occasionally to do things such as (a.) staying late, (b.) taking work home with you and/or (c.) contributing outside your job description.

6. Relocation. It is an understandable reason to switch jobs if you and your family desire to relocate to a specific part of the country. A prospective employer also should understand if you relocated for your current job and are now looking to move back to your original location because you and/or your family did not like the new area. You need to limit the number of relocations that do not work out in your career as employers might view this as not making smart decisions.

7. Shorter commute. A prospective employer may question this reason for switching jobs if it is the primary reason. Employers should understand, however, if you are currently commuting more than an hour, especially if something has changed in your personal life where you need to spend more time at home.

8. Undesirable boss. There is no denying that a bad boss can make your job miserable. Employers should understand this reason for changing jobs, but they will look closely at established patterns that indicate you do not get along well with superiors. Be specific in a job interview about bad boss situations including (a.) how it affected your ability to do the job, (b.) how it affected growth opportunities, (c.) how you tried to resolve the situation internally and (d.) how the situation was unlikely to change in the near term.

9. Better company. This job-changing reason is similar to leaving for a better opportunity in the respect that better company can mean many different things. Describe to a prospective employer the specific features of a better company that have motivated you to change jobs such as (a.) stability, (b.) competitiveness, (c.) innovation, (d.) participative management style, (e.) industry leader, (f.) younger culture, (g.) better benefits, (h.) excellent growth history and/or (i.) high profitability.

10. Early retirement. In today’s job market, many individuals return to work full time after early retirement for reasons that are financial or career-passion related. Explain to a prospective employer the reason you took early retirement. It should be understood if you retired because of large financial incentives. If you retired for other reasons, however, employers will want to make sure you are returning to the job market for valid reasons and that they are hiring you for the long term.

11. Unethical, unsafe or illegal activities. It is totally understandable if you leave a company because of unethical, unsafe or illegal activities. The only question a prospective employer may have is whether you should have known about this company’s undesirable reputation through due diligence before going to work for them.

12. Return to your field. A prospective employer will want to understand the reason you originally left your field. You may have wanted to (a.) turn a hobby into a profession, (b.) try something entirely new as a career change, (c.) go back to school, (d.) help a friend or family member run a business or (e.) assist a close family member with a serious health condition. In any case, employers will want to know that you still have passion for your chosen career and that you are not likely to leave your field again.

13. Utilize new education. You may have earned an MBA and now want to utilize both your business and technical skills. Perhaps you earned a degree in chemical engineering and now want to work in a chemical plant after working as a chemist in the lab. This should be viewed by most employers as an excellent reason to change jobs as long as there is not an opportunity in the short term to use your new education with your current employer. Employers should understand that you have new career goals after dedicating time and money to go back to school.

14. Start your own business or join a start-up venture. The kind of entrepreneurial spirit and ambition required to start a business or join a new venture is generally admired by employers. During a job interview, your decision-making process at the time you made this entrepreneurial move will be evaluated. A prospective employer will look at your level of planning and whether you took too much risk with little chance of success. 

15. Layoff. Highly talented individuals are often victims of layoffs and downsizing. Prospective employers understand this and simply want to verify the reason for the layoff. It is usually an acceptable situation if you were laid off because of (a.) job consolidation, (b.) job elimination, (c.) position or company relocation, (d.) low seniority or (e.) high salary level. Employers will often check on your record of performance with the company that laid you off, especially if you were the only person let go.

16. Let go for performance reasons. This is the most questionable reason for leaving a job. Prospective employers will have concern as indicated in my July 2016 survey among lubricant industry employers in which only four of 47 employers would “always” or “frequently” consider hiring a candidate who was let go from his/her previous employer for performance reasons (31 employers said “sometimes” and 12 employers said “never”). It is a tall task in a job interview, but you must (a.) take responsibility for your past performance, (b.) explain extenuating circumstances, (c.) stress your current motivation and (d.) convince the employer that your skill set bodes well for success in the position being offered.

In summary, a prospective employer wants to hear honesty, accountability and detailed explanations for recent job moves. An employer will be concerned with job moves if you have (a.) been reactionary, (b.) not stuck it out through temporary issues, (c.) blamed others for your problems, (d.) changed jobs without significantly improving yourself, (e.) talked negatively about past employers, (f.) not gotten along well with superiors, (g.) not maintained a good work ethic when dissatisfied and/or (h.) made consistently bad decisions about cultural fits with new employers. 

After making several recent job changes, the bottom line is that you need to convince a prospective employer you are not only qualified and interested but that you are a long-term fit for the position and company. No matter how many employers you have worked for recently, this can be accomplished by emphasizing the following:

You have learned a lot through job-switching experiences.
You are being careful in choosing the right long-term employer.
You know exactly what you want to do for the next few years of your career.
You know the kind of position in which you will be most successful.
The position at hand closely matches your long-range career goals.
You will make a significant positive impact in the offered position.

Aim for greater career stability and reduce your number of job changes by focusing on the long term and by performing due diligence on prospective employers.
Ken Pelczarski is owner and founder of Pelichem Associates, a Chicago-based search firm established in 1985 and specializing in the lubricants industry. You can reach Ken at (630) 960-1940 or at