Multiple job changes: Red flag or strategic move?

I have been in the executive search business for more than 35 years. Just like all professions there have been changes through the years that have been significant.

One of those is with LinkedIn, which has enabled search firms to review more candidates who might be qualified but are not actively looking. Search firms previous to the LinkedIn era spent a great deal of money and time building databases of candidates in particular industry niches such as banking, insurance, manufacturing, health care, transportation and logistics.

With LinkedIn you don’t need to spend as much time or money on your database. Having relationships and contacts in an industry can be a game changer, particularly when LinkedIn does not produce the talent your client is seeking.

The real value from LinkedIn is not necessarily with the resumes of people who responded to an ad but with the hundreds of people who you can review with similar backgrounds.

It also avails firms of the opportunity to contact people who might provide referrals to qualified candidates who they know who are qualified but might not know if they are interested in making a move.

Many of those referrals don’t pan out but if you contact enough people and continue to ask people to help you, the probability of finding someone is greatly enhanced by the initial pool of people you can contact. This all takes a great deal of time and effort and this is just the beginning because the search firm will need to “vet” those candidates to meet the expectations of their client.

Another big change in the search industry is a willingness to talk with candidates who have had many job changes.

Old school would be anywhere from two to four changes for an executive level person and now as many as eight job changes would not preclude a firm from talking to someone.

We have worked with several companies that operate in the U.S. but are owned outside the US. Every one of the countries has slightly different approaches to hiring executives but most are very accepting of executives with experience working for multiple companies versus one company for a long period.

The rationale is that an executive who has made strategic career moves will be able to bring more and different experience than a person who has only worked at one company. The one caveat to this philosophy is you have to find out why they left companies and if past performance had anything to do with the move.

I think the reason you should consider candidates who have made multiple career moves is that the entire employment landscape has changed dramatically. In the past 15 years, there are more mergers and acquisitions than ever before. Executives in many cases hire people they have previously worked with and when the leader leaves, the person who was recruited to the company loses their “champion” and often moves on. A new boss who is a poor leader and manager is often the No. 1 reason why people leave a company.

The economy has a history during the past 20 years with major league disruption at times. Just think about 9/11, the mortgage debacle in 2009 and, of course, our current pandemic.

Companies are more willing to downsize quickly when economic conditions dictate the need to do so and often displace people at all levels in the company — including the executive level. Companies also are reorganizing more often trying to keep up with current and future changes happening in their industry and niches.

Technology often is the impetus behind the changes but it often leads to needing new and different skill sets, experience and education as their company’s value proposition changes.

Bottom line, don’t dismiss a resume because of what you might think are too many job changes. Find out why the changes occurred and if there was a consistent issue with performance.

Finally, get used to people moving around more often as millennials don’t feel loyal to companies and most companies are not loyal to them. Most will change jobs as much as 12 times in their careers and for reasons that my generation really doesn’t understand or appreciate.

Perhaps a lesson to be learned from this is an emphasis on strategic retention practices so you can hold on to people who can make a difference to your company moving forward.