Science of tenure

Strategic movement vs job-hopping

While job-hopping remains akin to a 'swearword' in today’s workplace, there is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained between strategic career moves and maintaining tenure, says Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, managing director at Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters.
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The era of entering the workplace and staying with a company for life has long passed, and most people will work for several companies and in a range of roles during their lifetime.

While this has become accepted fact, candidates aiming for the top should beware: there is a very fine line – quantifiably fine, in fact – between being viewed as a shrewd career navigator and being marked as a serial job-hopper.

Furthermore, prospective employers frequently consider a candidates’ career history and job moves to gain insight into seemingly unrelated traits, such as a candidate’s ability to make sound decisions.

“While job-hopping remains akin to a 'swearword' in today’s workplace, there is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained between strategic career moves (including promotions and role changes in the same organisation), and maintaining tenure for a sufficient period without being perceived as lacking ambition” says Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, managing director at Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters.

Commenting on findings contained in the first ever Jack Hammer Executive Report, which takes an unflinching look at the facts around South Africa’s top executives in the Top 40 (by market capitalisation) and Broad 40 companies (leading businesses from the wider industry), Goodman-Bhyat said: “While the Top 40 companies are big enough to accommodate several moves by a leader before reaching the chief executive officer role – which means that such leader’s tenure with a company would have been longer – leaders in smaller companies have to move around more regularly to gain similar expertise.

“When looking for just the right candidate, the expectation and requirement of long tenure is not likely outside very big listed corporates. To expect an executive in a smaller company to have stayed there for longer than five years is simply unrealistic,” she says.

But this is not carte blanche for potential leaders to become serial job-hoppers, she warns.

“We frequently encounter people who have moved very quickly, that is within two years, from one position to the next.

"When you see a pattern where people have made two or three consecutive moves in under two years, that reflects very negatively on the candidate,” Goodman-Bhyat says.

While it could still be acceptable to move rapidly within one’s first two or three jobs, after that a candidate has to start demonstrating longer tenure, which is more than five years.

However anything longer than ten years in a position will again reflect badly on a candidate – suggesting that they are potentially in a comfort zone, or lacking ambition and drive.

“The average, and accepted length in one position in one company, is approximately five years, unless there has been significant change within the organisation,” she says.

Goodman-Bhyat says calculations around tenure raise questions such as why a person didn’t move, why she hasn’t been promoted, why he has seemingly become stuck in a rut – questions which point to ability, skills, and personal brand within an organisation.

“Career moves also point to a person’s decision-making ability,” she says.

“Sometimes someone would appear to have made several poor decisions, moving to a company which folded or soon changed structure.

"A couple of incidents are acceptable, and a series of bad luck is certainly possible, but  when someone repeatedly finds themselves in an undesirable position after a career move, the question then arises around their judgement and due diligence.”

In conclusion, Goodman-Bhyat notes that the idea that long tenure demonstrates a kind of loyalty that is attractive to prospective employers is outdated.

“Workplace relationships based on some notion of loyalty are from another era and are unfortunately an obsolete concept between employers and employees of today,” she says.

“When the chips are down, all that matters is bottom line and performance. If an organisation can’t satisfy the needs of an individual, in terms of leadership, money, challenges and opportunities, it is acceptable and even expected of them to move.

"And not doing so would suggest a lack of ambition or complacence in the face of stagnation.

“Executives must be able to demonstrate leadership in their own career movement and choices.

"And if they have not been able to do so, why should an organisation trust them to fare any better with the company’s fortunes?”

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