In my thirty-year career, since earning my Ph.D., I have been employed by eight (8) colleges, two (2) high schools, two (2) non-profit organizations, and one (1) for-profit company – I get this question regularly. In my case, almost every position I held was a move to something better for me professionally or personally. I always show how my actions achieved specific goals while I was with the organization.
Two job changes were the result of a job loss and I acknowledge these but talk about the impact made and documented in those positions. In the end analysis, I may believe and be able to demonstrate that my experiences help me achieve my goals, but the recipient will make their own judgments about my career path. I focus on my successes and provide evidence of these.
Diversification or broadening experiences. Becoming a good leader requires knowing how to walk in someone’s shoes. Getting a broad experience base from multiple perspectives provides diverse experiences and expertise to move ahead in your career. Just make sure the diverse assignments or job hopping is in a relevant field. No one wants to see pizza delivery guy on your chemistry resume.
In this day and age, staying in a particular role for several years, let alone decades, is no longer a standard. So, it is expected that this question has become a staple during job interviews. If you are a well-practiced interviewee and are especially savvy in corporate speak, answers you may provide are: better opportunities presented itself, your goal is growth and refinement within your profession, there was more potential for upward mobility in every role you accepted, or what was sold to you wasn’t what was delivered (be careful with this one). While these are all very good, valid responses, also beware that the interviewer may read into this as “what do they really mean??”
As I was having this discussion with experts I value and trust, the crux is that honesty is the best policy. Many of us honestly move for better opportunities and that’s ok, but when giving that answer, make it real. Explain your previous roles, what you gained from them, and why you felt it was time to move on when presented with new opportunities. If it was simply that you needed to take a break for personal reasons, that is also okay. Younger generations tend to gravitate towards positions that they personally align with rather than chase money alone, so this has certainly led to an uptick of job movement. No longer do we have the benefit of a pension, so if something doesn’t align with your personal goals and beliefs, there isn’t a strong pull to convince yourself to stay. At the end of the day, sell your truth, because whatever story you tell, tells people about yourself.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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