The Myth of the Frequent Job Hopper: the Relationship between Personality Traits and Employment Patterns

The Myth of the Frequent Job Hopper: the Relationship between Personality Traits and Employment Patterns
Photo by Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

Life is a constant ebb and flow of change - a philosophy that applies to our professional lives as well. Yet within the confines of the corporate world, job changes are often viewed with suspicion. How often have you heard the term "job hopper" used in a negative way? There's a common stereotype that candidates who change jobs frequently lack commitment, social skills, or adaptability. But should we be so quick to judge? Does the frequency of job changes really reflect an individual's personality? Let's take a look at this conundrum.

The Stereotype and The Research

In today's fast-paced world, people change jobs for a variety of reasons. Some seek better opportunities, some seek personal growth, and some change careers entirely. The complexity of human motivation got me thinking - is there a substantial correlation between the frequency of job changes and an individual's personality traits?

To explore this, I watched a remarkable video piece by Prof. Dr. Kanning about his research [1]. He and his team surveyed nearly 600 employees to determine if there was a significant relationship between the frequency of job changes and personality traits. The personality traits assessed were the "Big Five" - Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism - with an added measure of performance motivation.

The outcome was remarkable. Barely any significant connection emerged, even when the number of job changes was considered relative to the length of the individual's professional life.

Challenging Our Assumptions

The revelations of this research surprise me. The most unexpected finding is that the length of previous employment does not predict future tenure with an employer. This runs counter to the common belief that if a person stayed at their last job for a long time, they're more likely to stay at their next job for a long time, and vice versa.

Consequently, this shatters another stereotype about frequent job changers. The inherent bias is to view such candidates with skepticism. However, their job history doesn't reveal their level of commitment or predict their tenure at a potential new job.

The Environmental Factors

Taking his research a step further, he referenced a meta-analysis that examined the specific circumstances surrounding an employee's decision to leave a job. This study found that personality traits only accounted for about 10% of an individual's decision to leave a job.

What about the other 90%? The majority of decisions to change jobs were driven by environmental factors, such as the state of the job market, the demand for specific job skills, and the availability of attractive alternatives.

Rethinking Our Approach

From these studies, we're left with a few thought-provoking takeaways:

  • The frequency of job changes is not a reliable determinant of an individual's personality traits.
  • Past job tenure is not a predictor of future job tenure.
  • Candidates who have changed jobs frequently should not be disregarded if they are otherwise a good fit for the role.

With a talent crunch challenging industries, we can't afford to overlook potential candidates based on unfounded stereotypes about job changes. It's critical that we examine our biases when we see a resume with frequent job changes and avoid falling into the trap of outdated assumptions.

Conclusion: Embracing Change

In a rapidly evolving professional landscape, adaptability and growth should be celebrated rather than stigmatized. Frequent job changes may not reflect inconsistency, but could be a sign of someone who's eager to learn, grow, and take advantage of new opportunities.

When it comes to hiring, let's look at resumes not just as a record of work history, but as a testament to a candidate's professional journey. In doing so, we may find that our next star performer has jumped more than a few jobs.

Remember, assumptions can create barriers. It's time to rethink, reframe, and embrace change-even in our hiring processes.

Literature referenced in the video

  • Kanning, U. P. (2016). Über die Sichtung von Bewerbungsunterlagen in der Praxis der Personalauswahl. Zeitschrift für Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie60(1), 18–32.
  • Kanning, U. P. & Reiske-Lühn, S. (2023). Was sagen häufige Arbeitgeberwechsel über einen Menschen aus? Report Psychologie, 48, 20-29.
  • Zimmerman, R. D. (2008). Understanding the impact of personality traits on individuals' turnover decisions: A meta-analytic path model. Personnel Psychology, 61, 309-348.

  1. Was sagen häufige Arbeitgeberwechsel aus? '15 Minuten Wirtschaftspsychologie' Prof. Dr. Kanning ↩︎