Candidates often ask me whether changing roles/companies too frequently over their respective careers will have an impact on their ability to land jobs in the future. It is an interesting question, particularly in light of just how much perceptions have changed on this issue over the last few years.
The short answer is that every position is unique because each situation has a completely different set of variables, so there is really no one answer. However, I do think that there are some generalizations I can make that might be helpful.
My caveat - these generalizations are based solely on my experiences while interacting with all levels within the hiring process over the last 15 years. There is no data I can specifically point to and I expect many professionals in the recruitment world might have different opinions:
Having said that, here are some rules of thumb that might prove helpful:
1) It would be my estimation that in today’s environment you can leave a job after three years without anyone really questioning whether you are a “jumper”. There would probably be a level of concern if all of your roles are over that quickly, but on its own this is now perceived as a healthy stay. 12 years ago this number was probably five years, but the world is changing...
2) If you have a number of roles on your resume that are under three years in tenure, even with at least one long stay, this will often raise a concern or even create a presumption. However, in today’s environment this would likely not impact your chance of getting an interview. It may be something that would need to be addressed in an interview, and it may even count to some extent against you in the final evaluation of the candidate slate, but you would ultimately be part of this conversation and have options to address it.
3) If you have a led career over 10 years and have never held a single role for over two years, you may be eliminated from consideration in many organizations without having the opportunity to speak to the issue. This is not always the case but it will at least be a source of discussion in virtually every instance. However, having a strong referral from within the hiring organization can overcome this.
4) Despite these generalities, every industry (and company) has its own trends. Consulting, for example, is an area where moves are quite common and easier to explain. None of these generalizations apply to IT specialists. They have their own unique reality when it comes to longevity with companies.
5) There are certain times when moves are more common and are easier to understand. For example, junior people often learn more about themselves and what they love once they enter the job market, so more movement is to be expected. Also, individuals who have had a very long stay in one organization often have trouble adjusting to new environments and may have a short stay or two before finding a steadier landing place.
In the end, whether to make a move is a critical decision and, in my experience, worrying about perception rather than the choices in front of you is usually a mistake. You need to focus on putting yourself in the best position to learn and grow.
However, if you are someone who has simply been unable to stay in one place without feeling suffocated (one former colleague called this "Professional A.D.D.") you probably need to think about finding a way to work this expectation into your career planning, whether through seeking contracts, turnaround scenarios, etc. Unlike the recent past, today's job market is a lot more open to this kind of thinking.