Monday, September 10, 2018

Are You a Nurse Job Hopper?

Nurses leave jobs for innumerable reasons, and sometimes circumstances cause those of us in healthcare and nursing to only stay at a string of positions for relatively short periods. Job-hopping has generally been frowned upon in human resources circles, but generational changes and new attitudes about work and careers are slowly altering the landscape. However, job-hopping continues to have its ups and downs, and being a nurse job-hopper still comes with significant career liability.

Rabbit in tall grass
Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

The Stats

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average time employees remain in any given position is 4.2 years (based on 2016 data). And reports that the typical worker changes jobs 12 times throughout their career. (For traveling nurses, it's a very different story since your job requires you to move around to new positions on a regular basis, and this is very easily explained on a resume, in a cover letter, and/or during a job interview.)

According to the 2016 National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report authored by Nursing Solutions, Inc, the price tag for nurse turnover ranges from $37,700 to $58,400. Hospitals and other nurse employers can apparently lose between $5.2 million to $8.1 million annually in deference to nurse attrition and nurse replacement.

A helpful Ajilon job-hopping infographic puts it all into perspective: generational differences are very apparent when it comes to attitudes about job-hopping and career-building. Based on data from this infographic (which illustrates findings from a survey), we know the following:
  • 13% of Millennials believe it's important to stay in a position for at least 5 years
  • 41% of Baby Boomers believe it's important to stay in a position for at least 5 years
  • 26% of Millennials believe it's not necessary to remain at a job for more than a year, and 20% were planning to leave their current position within 1-2 years
  • 83% of Millennials surveyed felt that job-hopping could damage their reputation, but 86% stated that they wouldn't let that keep them from going after their dream job
  • 62% of people in general feel that job-hopping is damaging to one's career prospects
  • 39% of recruiters believe that job-hopping is a major obstacle to being hired
  • The average salary increase when staying in the same job is 3% annually; meanwhile, the average salary increase when changing jobs is 10-20%
  • Many employers believe that job-hopping is less acceptable once you reach your mid-thirties
The Job-Hopper's Lament

One thing we need to understand is that the process of searching for, screening, interviewing, and then hiring and onboarding a new nurse hire is expensive. The onboarding process can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so a hiring manager wants to bring on new employees who are going to be worth the investment.

Anecdotal and other evidence shows us that while staying at a job for many years can bring certain benefits, it can also cause a working professional to lose out on increases in salary that often come with a change of position.

Despite aforementioned changes in attitudes about staying in positions for shorter periods of time, the lament that I hear from many nurse job-hoppers is that hiring managers will often pass them up for other candidates. Just recently, a client with this type of nursing career history asked for feedback after being turned down for a great position; despite her perfect mix of skills and experience, "job-hopping" was the main reason for her not being hired.

The negativity cast upon job-hopping notwithstanding, significant pay increases are one reason why skipping out on one job for another could be a prudent move, depending on the circumstances. However, being able to get past the initial resume review so that you can explain your career history in an interview can be a formidable hurdle.

In 2018, many nurse job-hoppers face the same judgments and preconceived notions as they did in 2008 or 1998. The roadblocks are many, and it can be a heavy lift indeed to convince recruiters and hiring managers that "taking a chance" on you will be well worth their while.

The Power of Generational Differences 

Most Baby Boomers and Generation X'ers seem to have generally embraced the classic notion that having at least two years at any given position will insulate them from being branded as unreliable and disloyal employees. For Millennials, things are beginning to shift, but until the Millennial generation takes over the majority of positions in Human Resources, administration, and recruitment, the older paradigm will continue to hold sway.

As noted in the statistics quoted above, there is a stark difference between Millennials and Baby Boomers in regards to how long to remain in any given position. For their part, Generation X'ers like myself have likely adhered to the viewpoint of the larger Baby Boom generation, especially since most people of influence and decision-making power have up until now been Baby Boomers.

Having said that, a major demographic shift is currently underway. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials became the largest sector of the workforce in 2016. When the Pew article was published in April of 2018, the esteemed organization's data showed that Millennials overtook Generation X'ers within the workforce in 2016. Thus, as of 2017, the workforce can be broken down generationally as follows:
  • Millennials: 56 million (born between 1980 and 2000)
  • Generation X'ers: 53 million (born between 1965 and 1980)
  • Baby Boomers: 41 million (born between 1946 and 1964)
As Boomers age out and retire in larger and larger numbers, their generation's hold on the leadership of the overall workforce is rapidly waning. In the coming years, Millennials with new opinions and preferred career practices will assume most if not all leadership positions within the workforce, which will make some previously popular hiring practices less influential.

Job Hoppers Unite

If you're a nursing professional whose resume is populated with many positions lasting less than a year, there are some strategies that you can employ on your own behalf. And until the person reviewing your resume is a Millennial or other leader with a more forgiving opinion of job-hopping, certain approaches may help more than others in terms of getting a foot in the door.

Strategy #1:
If your resume makes it look like you can't hold down a job, consider switching from a chronological to a functional format. In a functional resume, skills and experience are grouped in terms of function/skill rather than simply based on time. If there are groups of positions that fit under one category (e.g.: med-surg nursing), group them together under that heading. While this won't necessarily fool a skilled resume reviewer, it simply makes the chronology of your career less front and center.

Strategy #2:
Having a very strongly written professional/career summary at the top of your resume will also serve to distract from the chronology of your resume while also taking the opportunity to tell your story and paint the picture you want painted of who you are as a nursing professional.

Strategy #3:
If certain jobs ended due to no fault or action of yours, make a case for that. You may have been laid off, or perhaps your hospital was bought by another entity and jobs were cut. Feel free to elucidate such factual information.

Strategy #4:
On your resume, leave off the months and simply state the years you were in a position. For example, if you started at a position in November of 2016 and left in January of 2018, simply say that you were there from 2016 to 2018.

Strategy #5: For those with a significant history of job-hopping, I almost always recommend expanding the job search process to include assiduous and assertive networking. A considerable percentage of jobs are found through personal/professional connections rather than through job postings; in fact, some estimates are that up to 70% of jobs are filled through networking rather than responses to ads or the blind submission of resumes into electronic black holes.

For this strategy, I recommend first tapping your network of friends, family, and colleagues, whether they work in healthcare or not. Let them know you're looking for work but that they only need to refer you to people they think it may be helpful to know. It's not up to them to figure out if someone is hiring -- an introduction to a hiring manager, CNO, or other influential person is all you need to get started. You can then take it from there and request an informational interview. (Episode 22 of The Nurse Keith Show will help you in this regard.)

If you can manage to get in front of someone and make a solid connection by looking them in the eye, having coffee, breaking bread, or otherwise connecting authentically, they'll be that much more likely to want to help you. Even if they're not hiring, they take a shine to you and very well introduce you to a colleague who could benefit from knowing you, and vice versa. Getting to know you in person can do much to assuage fears about your resume and job-hopping history.

Think Before You Hop

If you're considering hopping away to a new job, there are a number of questions to ask yourself before taking the leap. Consider the following:
  • Why am I feeling the need to leave? What is it about my current job that makes me want to abandon ship? 
  • If my job feels less than stellar, is there anything I can change to make it feel more rewarding? Is there anything I need to take responsibility for in terms of it not working out like I wanted?
  • Are there opportunities for promotion or lateral movement within the same organization? Can I change jobs without changing employers? 
  • What do I want out of my career in the next five years? What job(s) can help me get there? 
  • Am I creating the career trajectory that I truly want? What needs to change so that my level of satisfaction is exponentially higher? 
Job-hopping isn't necessarily an unintelligent career move, especially if you're doing it for a reason and can explain your motives and choices. When you're a chronic job-hopper or think you may become one, choose to be extremely honest with yourself about the reasons. If there's something about you that needs to change, acknowledge it; if you're running away from something about yourself that you don't like, acknowledge that, too. You may simply get easily bored and need more novelty in your work life -- if that's the case, rethink your strategy and come up with a new career plan.

While it's not the end of the world, job-hopping isn't necessarily what will make your nursing career suddenly take off. In the coming years, it may become less of an issue as Millennials assume power and leadership within nursing and healthcare. Then again, once they're in positions of responsibility, those Millennials who used to love job-hopping may see it in an entirely different light -- we'll have to keep our ears to the rails on that.

In the final analysis, we all make certain career choices for our own reasons. Make your decisions consciously and without reservations, and then be unapologetic about your choices. You can then strive to create the nursing career you've always wanted on your own terms.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

As of May of 2018, Keith is the host of Mastering Nursing, an interview-style podcast showcasing inspiring, forward-thinking nurse thought leaders and innovators. 

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog,, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and his adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George.

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