How Many Jobs Is Too Many?

Last Updated Apr 27, 2009 8:26 PM EDT

Dear Stanley,
In this day and age of job hopping and layoffs, what is the average number of jobs a person will/should have? I'm 23 and already on to my second job out of college (by choice, not layoff). I don't want to be seen as not having job loyalty, although it seems quite common for my generation to change jobs often. Will employers judge me for switching jobs so quickly?

Dear Perry,

Yes, they will. When I meet with a person, I always look at their work history, and if they have a lot of jobs that lasted less than a year, I start getting a tingling in my thumbs. Two things appear to be plausible while regarding such documents. Either the person is very talented and constantly improving his or her status by moving up the ladder (at the expense of the poor fools who took the time and resources to target and hire him or her), or the person is a total personality blot and can't get along in any working environment for very long. I'm not saying a few short gigs are a problem, particularly when you're young. But too many of them sends a very clear message that something is not right with you or with your taste in jobs.

That said, life is too short to work in assignments that make you unhappy. The obvious solution to the problem is to take jobs at which you can prosper, have fun, and remain in place for at least a year and eventually longer. This means finding the right job and then sticking with it even when it's a bit tough to do so. A while ago my corporation, which was very stupid at that time, promoted somebody other than me to be the head of my department. The person was in the middle of a messy divorce and spent a lot of time behind closed doors, crying, at twice my salary. I was very miserable. Also underpaid. Still, I had some friends at work. We had lunch a lot, often with martinis. I had an office with a door on it. To make a long story short, I hung in there, in modified misery, for some time. Then things got better, for a variety of reasons. And now I'm happy all the time! No, but seriously, I'm glad I did remain and grow the job even when it wasn't all that pleasant to do so.

At the same time, look: you're only 23. I think in general people should pretty much do whatever the hell they want until they're 28 or married, whichever comes last. So have fun. Be young. But be aware that if assembling a kick-ass resume is important to you, you'll have to make certain tradeoffs. Tradeoffs are what business is all about anyhow, right?