'Two years is the new five years': Job-hopping is rampant now, but VC heads of Talent still scrutinize it

In a world where employees can double their salaries by jumping ship, does it make sense to ding candidates for frequent job-hopping?

Two workers hopping

As the talent market has grown more competitive, recruiters have had to become open-minded about shorter stints.

Illustration: zuperia/iStock/Getty Images Plus; Protocol

In the last two months, Scott Moss has watched his mentee change between three jobs. Each time, the engineer — who only has two years’ experience — has nearly doubled her salary, said Moss, a principal at Initialized Capital.

“She was so nervous that they were going to call her out for leaving a job within a month,” said Moss. “But no, they were really excited to have her, and they offered her the moon.” (For the record, Moss said, he wasn’t encouraging his mentee to job-hop.)

A decade ago, job-hopping every two or three years — even in tech — could land a resume in the recycling bin. But as the talent market has grown more competitive, recruiters have had to become open-minded about shorter stints.

“There are many candidates who have nine months or six months [in a job] — it’s really tough,” said Whitnie Narcisse, a senior vice president at First Round Capital. “If they have a story behind it, it’s hard to just say ‘OK, if you have X number of skips, then we just skip over your resume.’”

Narcisse, who herself has stayed at First Round for seven years, still sees two years as a good minimum, particularly for executives. With so many competitive offers on the market, it’s rare to find individual contributors who stay very long, she said.

This dynamic can put recruiters in a bind: Especially when it comes to leaders, companies want candidates who will stay long enough to make an impact.

“Multiple short stints — meaning less than two years, in particular — time after time, to me, indicates poor judgment,” said Katie Hughes, the head of Executive Talent at General Catalyst.

Why everyone’s job-hopping

Job-hopping isn’t new to tech: Average tenure has been dwindling for years, and that trend has only accelerated since the late 2010s, said Matt Birnbaum, talent partner at Pear VC.

“I’m not sure that it’s that much more significant of a phenomenon than it was five years ago,” said Birnbaum. “I think it’s more that there’s been a lot of movement of people post-pandemic.”

Tech companies and venture firms are feeling that movement. General Catalyst has seen “an uptick” in turnover among its portfolio companies and is trying to keep attrition rates below 15%, Hughes said.

This isn’t a surprise, given all the incentive that job-hoppers have to leave. Average pay is climbing so quickly that compensation data becomes outdated every few months, Narcisse said. Employees are getting offers for 30% more, or double what they would have made three years ago — sometimes even double what they’re making now.

Kat Steinmetz, a principal at Initialized who advises portfolio companies on talent and culture, warned against jumping too quickly in pursuit of more pay. Candidates should vet opportunities for whether they’re truly a good fit before hopping.

“I don’t think that really pans out very well for people in the long run,” Steinmetz said. “Usually, someone will do that once and then realize that it’s not a very good reason to hop, because you need to be looking for other things too.”

When Steinmetz led the Talent Success team at Box, Facebook wooed one of her employees with a “ridiculous” salary, but the woman ended up leaving Facebook after four months upon realizing it wasn’t a good fit, Steinmetz said.

“It was totally not the right job, because she got hired in, like, four days,” Steinmetz said. “They didn’t do their due diligence. She didn’t do her due diligence.”

Career stage plays into some of this job-hopping. Executives will do more harm to an organization by leaving quickly, and Hughes believes it takes two years for leaders to even start making an impact. Leaning in and working on interesting problems at a second-rate company is better than spending two years each at three of the best companies, she said.

“Like, what are you learning?” Hughes asked. “I’m happy to support people in finding the type of work and the type of company that supports their personal and professional goals, but I think that’s different than someone who is chronically optimizing for a sexier brand or 30% more on their paycheck, versus leaning in and really doing the work.”

Young engineers — such as Moss’ mentee — might be particularly incentivized to job-hop. They have less to lose by jumping ship, and even inexperienced engineers are a hot commodity now. “Two years is the new five years,” Moss said.

“Anyone with five years’ experience is either rich off crypto, working at a Netflix-like company or they’re starting a company,” Moss said. “You have to look at the two-years now, the three-years, the people who are just hungry.”

When to read between the lines

In such a competitive market, heads of Talent are willing to ask candidates for context about their frequent job-hopping. The pandemic in particular shook up the workforce, and some professionals changed jobs or took a sabbatical for all kinds of reasons.

“COVID is weird, right? People had to do a lot of weird things,” Steinmetz said. “You have to ask more questions right now to get a better sense of what has really happened for somebody.”

Whether pre-pandemic or post-pandemic, a candidate may have been caught up in a big layoff or a company having issues. Longer stints before and after can help cushion these exceptions, Narcisse said.

Birnbaum experienced this firsthand eight years ago. In 2013, he spent four months as the head of Talent Acquisition at the ill-fated mobile payment startup Clinkle before leaving because, he said, “At the end of the day, it just wasn’t a company.”

“There are a lot of times where people stay for a shorter period of time because what they understood or what they walked into wasn’t necessarily what they expected,” Birnbaum said. “I’m always on the side of giving people the benefit of the doubt in these scenarios and asking for a bit more context.”

As with Clinkle, tech startups can rise and fall quickly. Companies can change at warp speed, and jobs can also turn out to be a bad cultural fit. For candidates, it can be hard to know what you’re signing up for when judging from an interview process where “everyone’s on their best behavior,” Hughes said.

But short of those rare, untenable situations, Hughes looks for candidates who are “really digging in” once they’re at an organization.

“There’s an element of stick-with-it-ness that’s required in order to really maximize your learnings and your own development,” Hughes said. “If you’re not getting into that deeper level of work and that deeper level of contribution to the organization, I feel like you’re just not developing at the same rate as someone who is.”

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