Well known VC and entrepreneur Mark Suster recently posted that you should “Never Hire Job Hoppers. Never. They Make Terrible Employees.” I almost completely disagree. Before I dissect his argument I should provide a little disclaimer and background.
The disclaimer: Mark is definitely more of an authority on the topic than I am. He’s a VC and has run companies while I’m currently bootstrapping my own and haven’t hired anyone yet. Additionally, there are many people in management and hiring positions that would agree with Mark (based on my own anecdotal conversations with people in hiring positions).
The background: I’m guilty of being in the category of disloyal, self-serving, job-hopping scum that Mark is writing about. If you check my LinkedIn profile I have 11 positions listed starting in ’98. However, I may get a special carve out upon further explanation of my history. I’ll lay it out quickly because it’s relevant to my argument later.
Two of the positions are current. One is part time consulting and the other is my startup. Ok, so 9 positions to explain now. Still in job hopping group. One I quit to go back to school. Three were temporary summer positions while I was in school. Now I’m down to 5, but that probably still makes me a job hopper. In one I was laid off because the startup ran out of runway. Another, I left because the previously mentioned startup had intellectual property (read: code) that sold and I was needed to help the buyer transition and integrate it. Now I’m down to three unexplained company departures. One I left because it was a contract position and the project was completed. The other two I left for other opportunities: one to join a startup and the other to start my own company.
With all that out of the way let’s dive into some of Mark’s points. First, here’s what he has to say about someone that has been identified as a job hopper due to having too many short positions on their resume:
You won’t even get through my filter (unless I know you or you’re recommended). No matter what your job hopping excuse is.
This isn’t an argument against job hopping, it’s an argument for finding a better filter. Now, you definitely won’t get through Mark’s filter, but you’d get through mine. Note that my filter is built for hiring engineers. Here are some filters in no particular order.
- Do you have relevant experience?
- Do you have a Github or other public code profile?
- Do you have a blog where you write about technical things?
- Are you involved in the community (attending user groups, meetups, etc.)?
- Do you have programming languages and technologies listed on your resume that you picked up in your free time?
Most of these filters are designed to tell me if the candidate spends some of their free time improving their skills and advancing their career. Of course, most of those specific filters are only good for finding programmers. They also only apply to looking at resumes and not other things that come in an interview (like personality, culture fit, and more detailed technical stuff). However, people (and not just engineers) that work on their skills and career in their free time are more likely to be job hoppers unless their job is with them and helping to contribute to their growth. So detracting job hopping isn’t part of my filter. I’ll get into the why when I dig into his primary argument against them (us).
Mark goes on to define a job hopper. Notice the language he uses in his definition:
If you’re 30 and have had 6 jobs since college you’re 98% likely to be a job hopper. You’re probably disloyal. You don’t have staying power. You’re in it more for yourself than your company. OR … you make bad decisions about which companies you join.
There’s a little more in his definition, but that’s the meaty bit that I want to pick apart. First, the part about being disloyal. “You’re in it for yourself more than the company”?! That’s exactly what I expect of everyone I work with. They have families to feed, student loans to pay, rent to pay, and they have to be worried about whether their continued employment at the company will benefit their overall career. Everyone is in it for themselves. That’s capitalism. The goal is to make is so that everyone’s self interests align with that of the company. That means having the right stock options, opportunities for professional growth, acquiring new skills, and clear advancement opportunities. It’s a company, not a commune.
Second, the part about making bad decisions about companies to join. As a VC Mark evaluates companies and hopes to find out of 10: 1 home run and maybe 2 base hits. He’s ok if 7-8 of 10 companies in his portfolio fail completely. Job seekers don’t have that luxury. They have to evaluate the companies out there and pick one. If it’s the wrong one then they have to move on to the next. For job seekers to get through a portfolio of 10 companies it can take a decade of changing jobs each year.
Next comes Mark’s main argument, which I will boil down to the following: Job hoppers make bad employees at startups because startups need people that are loyal and job hoppers have proven that they are disloyal. First, let’s talk about loyalty. I consider loyalty, respect, and love to be things that have to be earned. If you want loyalty without earning it, hire a dog. Giving out a paycheck every two weeks doesn’t earn you loyalty. As the old saying goes: money can’t buy you love, but it can buy you prostitutes (who probably won’t be loyal). Loyalty should be earned by building an environment that is mutually beneficial. Further, you have to be sure to continually assess not only employees, but yourself to see if you’re living up to their expectations of what a great workplace should be. Don’t hire someone off the street and expect them to be loyal right off the bat just because you agreed to give them a paycheck.
So have job hoppers proven that they are disloyal? For the purposes of Mark’s filter the answer is yes, but I personally disagree. I would never fault someone for changing jobs because they felt it was better for their career, or going back to school, or moving to a new city, or because their manager was a jerk, or whatever. Mark’s point is that job hopping establishes a pattern of disloyalty and, perhaps, personality flaws. However, you can look at it this way. People have can have a few reasons for staying at a job: it’s awesome or they want to leave, but can’t find another opportunity. There are many more reasons to leave a job. The truth is that you can’t establish whether there is a pattern simply by looking at someone’s resume. As my own resume explanations show, there are plenty of reasons to leave jobs. Leave the personality filter for the interview.
Mark then puts job hoppers as not only no-hires, but also as people he wouldn’t fund if they were entrepreneurs pitching their startup. Here’s that part:
And good VC’s feel the same way. When my company hit the fan in 2001 I could have easily walked and gotten a better paying job. Anyone around then knows that B2B stood for “back-to-banking” and B2C stood for “back-to-consulting.” I took people’s money. It was my job to stay and try and make things better. When I’m looking to fund somebody I care about that loyalty and integrity. I can never know for sure but as I’ve written about before I’m certainly looking for resiliency.
So he views job hoppers as people that have proven that they are disloyal, lack integrity, and have no resiliency. Further, if you’re a job hopper that will translate to how you view entrepreneurship. This is so off the mark it hurts my brain. Let me explain why. As an entrepreneur there is one benefit that ranks above all others. Stability and a big paycheck definitely aren’t it. It’s a sense of ownership. It’s a sense of owning your own destiny. I’ve talked to a bunch of other entrepreneurs and they share that feeling. If you ask job hoppers why they left some of their jobs the story will be the opposite. They left because they weren’t given enough ownership. They weren’t included in vital decision making processes. When you have the ability to improve your workplace, you have no reason to hop jobs. Most jobs don’t actually give their employees this chance. They’re filled with bureaucracy and ridiculous power struggles. That’s exactly the opposite of the startup and entrepreneurship experience.
I propose that Mark has it backwards. Job hoppers could be exactly the kind of people you want to find for your startup. The likely case is that you’re a job hopper because you’re willing to take risks, you’re looking for something great to work on, you’re looking for a job that gives you a sense of ownership, and you’re looking for the right team. True, you could be a job hopper because you have serious personality flaws, but save that for the interview. If 2 out of 3 job hoppers have exactly the personality traits that make them well suited for startups and 1 is a disloyal scumbag, you’re better off specifically filter for job hoppers.You won’t ever find 2/3 odds in a stack of resumes.
Finally, I propose that an argument could be made that startups specifically don’t want people that stay in jobs too long. These are people that have shown that they prefer stability over exploring something new (or maybe they were the lucky few that found the right job on the first few tries). Stability is exactly the opposite of what you’re signing up for when you join a startup. The person seeking stability over all else will be the first to leave in favour of a big company or government gig when things get dicey.
The job hopping filter could be used in exactly the opposite way that Mark is suggesting. That shows that it is a poor filter. A filter should give you better than random odds and job hopping just doesn’t. It could be good, it could be bad, you just don’t know. There are too many reasons for someone to have many entries on the resume. Stick to what’s there and don’t try to read between the lines.
So who in the hell should you hire? Hire the best. Hire people that can leave your startup at any minute if they wanted to because they’re so kick arse that they’re constantly getting contacted by interested parties. Then it becomes your job to ensure that you’re creating an environment that is equally as good as your people. Create a company that gives your people the most room for growth, creativity, a sense of ownership, and fun. And if you can’t hire the best then hire people with any level of experience (novice, intermediate, advanced) that have promise. Then help them become the best so that they can leave any time they want. Hint: they won’t. They’ll be loyal because you helped them become the best. Your goal should be to help every single employee get to the point where they’re the best in their field and are constantly getting job offers.
And what if they aren’t loyal once you’ve helped them become the best? People will eventually leave no matter what you do. Don’t view it as a character flaw on their part. Just know that you can pick up more people because you’ve created a work environment that breeds the best and the word will spread. And as any job hopper can tell you, there are plenty of companies where your skill, ambition, and talent can go to die, but there are very few that help you become the best and give you real reasons to be loyal.
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