Did you bumble around in your career in your mid to late twenties?
May 15, 2018 3:22 AM   Subscribe

This seems like an obvious answer question but I would love to hear personal stories about figuring out your career in your mid to late twenties--especially where you thought you made a mistake (or did) and it turned out alright. How did you figure out what the right career move was for you? Is job hopping ever acceptable when you're still trying to figure out what kind of job is the right fit for you?

I just turned 26 (F) and am having one of those crisis moments where I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing for my career. Since I was a freshman in college, I knew what I wanted to be and what field I wanted to work in. So I finished college, went straight to graduate school after for a master's in that field and completed an internship simultaneously. Not long after graduating, I found a job because I needed one desperately. It was in my field, but not the type of work I wanted to do. I knew in the back of my head it would be temporary as I searched for other jobs.

After four months, I found what I *thought* to be my "dream job," what I dreamed about in graduate school. I got the job miraculously and have been working here for over a year. I discovered that it's not really my dream job and the job description and interview is veeeery different from the day to day work. I find myself hating it and looking for other jobs, while also being a bit more discerning when interviewing for other jobs.

However, I feel paralyzed. I've voiced to friends and family that I'm looking for another job. The response varies and I find myself confused. From my military father, who has worked probably only 3 different jobs in his life, is extremely worried that if I leave this job I will look like a millennial job hopper. He is worried I won't ever find a job I'm satisfied with (since technically, this is my 2nd post-graduate job, which is already too high compared to his career) and that if I find a job with good benefits and pay, I should just stick with it--because loyalty is valuable.

When I ask my friends, a few have changed jobs with much success and find they are "closer" to finding their right fit and pay. Most are still scared of the job hopping title, besides one close friend who has changed jobs 4 times this past two years and has been really successful! She has found a job she says she wants to stay in for a while. I would love to find that as well.

I guess I'm really scared. I constantly hear that I have to have a vision and a goal and 5 year plan, but after working my current job, I am not even sure what I want to pursue. My "dream job" ended up being not a great fit. I'm afraid to try new positions because I'm afraid I will still not find it a great fit or truly aligned to my passions and I will want to leave again. And then no one will hire me! I also find myself curious about other areas of my field that I haven't experienced yet and find parts of the job description really interesting. Is there room to explore or will I also condemn myself to job hopping if I try out different jobs?

I am not talking about working somewhere for 2 months and then leaving, but I just don't want to work somewhere that makes me miserable (i.e., now) for 5 more years for the sake of loyalty.

How in the world do you all figure this out in your twenties? Is there some acceptable number of job changes? How long did it take you to figure out "yes, this is the career path for me!" Am I late in the game for this?? Maybe I should've figured this out last year.

For the most part, my older colleagues, friends, family--they have stayed in the same position or would not consider changing jobs if it's stable. So I feel even more nervous going against the grain there.

Lastly, a bonus question, what about if you have to relocate for a partner and find a job there? As in, have to find a job to survive but it's not necessarily what you're passionate about (passion is what I keep hearing I must have for my job, and I would love if I could have passion for my current one) but eventually find a job that seems better and switch for that? Would that ruin my future career as well? Gah.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (37 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Frankly, your father doesn't know what he is talking about regarding non-military career paths. Loyalty has little cachet in non-military employment these days. It may have once, decades ago, when there was such a thing as 'the company man', but not now.

I'm in my mid fifties. I've had at least four different careers and am on my awesome fifth (nursing, medical insurance, media, politics, education), plus I've quit work many times to run successful small businesses, or be an activist, or to travel. I work to live. I work to provide myself with experiences, a living, and to grace the world with my skills, attributes, personality and talents. I don't work to tick some box that says 'good loyal worker-ant'.

Employers now and into the future will be seeking people who can adapt, cope with change, be flexible. A resume that has one job for the last 15 years in the same role does not suggest adaptability. Don't fear change, and don't listen to your dad. I'm sure he's a good dad, but he's out of touch with what he's talking about.
posted by Thella at 3:52 AM on May 15, 2018 [32 favorites]

I didn't start my current career until I was 33 and now, twenty years later, that fact hasn't ever been an issue.
posted by octothorpe at 4:11 AM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I always wanted to be a graphic designer but my mother said I wasn't good enough so when I went to uni straight after school, I aimed for accounting and dropped out. Same thing at 30. At 40ish, I thought - strike 3 - I'll never have courage to try uni a 4th time, so I did a multimedia degree by distance education, while working fulltime (as low level admin - best I had achieved) and raising teenagers, and afyer finishing that with a nearly perfect GPA, I now work freelance (age 50) doing diagrams and preparing books for publication (as well as high-end presentations for internation keynotes and the occasional data crunching, which I deliver as infographics) and I earn enough per hour to work 25 hours per week (to earn what my admin mates do working 36 hours per week).

So if you don't figure it out in your 20s, there's always your 30s and 40s. And sometimes the job that is perfect for you, you have to invent (which is what happened with me).
posted by b33j at 4:22 AM on May 15, 2018 [9 favorites]

Agree your dad’s information is out of date in 2018. Job loyalty isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but depending on your industry, some employers are actually critical of candidates with too few jobs in their history. It can look as though you lack ambition and curiosity. I work in marketing/technology/consulting and I have heard this from recruiters and hiring managers.
posted by lieber hair at 4:22 AM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

You are definitely not too late to decide what you want to do with your life. You don't even have to do that. You just have to decide what you want to do for the next couple of years.

Since graduating from my Bachelor's twelve years ago, I have held six very different positions in quite varied fields-- policy, counselling, clinical research, programming, and statistical analysis. In my early thirties, I've finally found a career that's going to stick, and realised that all of my previous positions were slowly funnelling towards this outcome. If I had stayed in my first professional job I would have been miserable! If I had stayed in my job immediately prior to this one, I would have been happy but unfulfilled professionally. Now, I'm happy with where I am and can see a long and satisfying career ahead of me.

My varied/chequered (depending on your perspective) work history has come up in job interviews. I can see how at first glance I might seem to be a risky prospect. But what I said above is true-- there were elements of my current role in every part of my varied job history, those were the parts that I liked and was good at, and it has made me better in the career I'm in now.
posted by roshy at 4:30 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ask A Manager is a really great website for decoding contemporary workplace norms.

But yes, it's totally fine to leave a job early in your career if it's not a good fit. Definitely try to be strategic about your next move so that you can aim to stay for at least 2-3 years, but even that's not required.

I've been in my profession for 6 years and have had 4 jobs in that time due to poor fit, moving because of a relationship, starting a side business, and other life wackiness. It slowed down my career, but I don't think it's been a barrier to success at all - and I wouldn't be surprised if I change fields down the line! Life happens and reasonable employers don't expect loyalty anymore.
posted by toastedcheese at 4:34 AM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Late 20s? You've got like 40 more years of work ahead of you, it's like asking a three-year-old what kind of car they want to drive when they get their license.

My history in a nutshell: drop out of college on a technical theatre track due to panic attack and burnout, to fall into jobs in the insurance and banking industries; eventually hate a job enough to get fired for not putting any effort into it at age 29. Spend three years trying to cut it freelancing, before I fell into my current job with a company that does paperless office software and hardware, where I've been for 12 years. Am I going to be here another 20 years? Who the heck knows.

Getting fired from that insurance job was a stressful and exhausting way to change my track in life: if I had stopped to actually think about things logically, I would have quit that job I was fired from a year or two before and tried to find something else. If I had the foresight to have a planned the changes, I think things would have gone much smoother -- but I can't guarantee that, things might have been just as stressful, but I don't ever think, "hey, I wish I tried harder at that shitty insurance job so I would still be working there." Not a single day has gone by where I've thought that.

I can't tell you what you need to do, but it sounds like you've given it a lot of thought, and I'm just saying that lots of people have done this, you're not a crazy person for attempting it. Do what you need to do.

(BTW: Millenial job-hoppers still get jobs. They wouldn't be able to hop between jobs if HR threw out the resumes of twenty-something job hoppers. Also, a lot of the job market these days are project-based, encouraging job-hopping. Another vote that your father is out of touch with the job market today)

Relocating for a partner: if you're both on the same page, you do what you have to do -- the relationship is more important -- and maybe you do work shitty jobs for a while but remember the relationship is more important, and bank on the fact that shitty jobs are easy to quit when you find something better. Again, you're not the first person to this, even in your twenties. Heck, even in your thirties. While I was freelancing I delivered pizzas and assembled office furniture to make ends meet. Really, the worst thing on a resume is a long period of no work at all with no explanation.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:53 AM on May 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

I can give you the example you're looking for, but really, this is partly one of those 'everyone is different so just don't go listening to other people' things. I remember once talking to someone at a party (funnily enough, a much older man, probably from a similar generation to your father) about the fact that my profession at the time was laying people off at a great rate of knots, and he immediately said, slightly aggressively, "Well, then you need to have a plan." As if I was an idiot if I didn't have one. I just stared at him like he had three heads. I've never had a plan. If I'd had a plan, I'd have a. Missed out on all the amazing, unpredictable opportunities that have come my way over the years, and b. Gone insane with boredom through knowing exactly what I was going to do for the next five years. People are different, and asking other people for their perspective isn't necessarily the best way to work out your own.

But since you asked for examples: As others are saying above, changing direction is not just something that can happen in your mid-late 20s. It's something that will happen all the way through your life. I did random admin jobs until my mid-20s, went back to college and got a profession, did that off and on for about ten years (changing jobs about every 18 months to 2 years, as was typical in my profession); during that decade I had a few spells of reverting to admin here and there when other things took priority - when my desire to live abroad outstripped my desire to get a career-developing job, and when I wanted to return home, had to pay the bills, and needed just any job for a while.
I then jumped ship to do something else adjacent to my profession in my late 30s. I'm now in a role that I love so much I can imagine doing it until I retire, and it's very discombobulating. But nice.
posted by penguin pie at 4:59 AM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh - and the things that I love about my current job are not entirely things that could have been predicted by any kind of five year plan. Maybe half of them are, but the other half is made up of stuff that's entirely about the soft culture of the specific place I work, the organisational culture and the other people who work there, which is often just not predictable until you're in the door and sitting at your desk. So a certain amount of shopping around is necessary if you're to hit on the magic, indefinable elements that can make a job a great fit for you.
posted by penguin pie at 5:03 AM on May 15, 2018

tell him to stop trying to make "job hopper" happen, it's never going to happen. it is a not very euphonious contrivance for a concept that doesn't exist and is patently ridiculous on its face. it is not a serious idea for serious people.

Stay in each job for a full year unless you hate it or a much better one is available. Bear in mind that until you start staying in jobs that long or longer, you may be stuck at your current pay level for longer than you might be, since you'll be leaving before annual reviews and raises and starting over at a new position's base salary every time. Consider that and then ignore it if it's not a pressing concern for you yet.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:15 AM on May 15, 2018 [7 favorites]

When you interview for other jobs (and perhaps also when you provide a cover letter for your resume), be sure to have a narrative ready about how your various previous jobs have led and helped prepare you for *new* position. That will put what otherwise might look like job-hopping into a consistent context. There's no reason why a "five year career plan" can't be retrospective.
posted by DrGail at 5:36 AM on May 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

I was just about your age when I had this same kind of moment. I'd gone to college, worked for 2 years, then spent 4 years in grad school, on the path to becoming a scientist.

When I realized I didn't want to make it my life, I did three things: (1) thought about what I might want to do instead (in my case, science/health journalism), (2) got an internship in the new field, and (3) got a part-time job in a lab to pay the bills. When the internship was over, they hired me, and there I was in career #2.

Six years later (at about age 35) I decided I didn't like the stress of daily deadlines, so I switched again, to working in PR and communications at a university. I finally felt like I had found the combination of work, mission, and schedule that was the right fit for me. I've been in that line of work for about 20 years now, with four different employers.

I've never taken a career turn that was a complete 180 from where I was; I've tried to think about how the skills I have might be useful in something that sounds better. Science knowledge made me stand out as a health news intern, and then I learned the rest of the news business. News knowledge plus science made me stand out when I wanted to work at the university, and then I learned the university business. There's a continuum, and I think that's made the transitions less difficult and also kept a personal narrative that connects with employers.

Nthing all the others who say it's not too late. If you're unhappy, do what it takes to get happier.
posted by underthehat at 5:47 AM on May 15, 2018 [10 favorites]

I am just getting started on my 4th or 5th career, depending on how finely you want to slice the pie, and I'm 42. It's going really well so far, with a fair to decent amount of upward mobility possible in the near to mid future. I'm not earning a ton of money, but I have a great work/life balance and I love my job.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:50 AM on May 15, 2018

Job hopping has a bad reputation. It frequently leads to higher salaries and higher job satisfaction (multiple studies). You're employed now and you have a much better idea of what you want for a job. Now is the time to do a thoughtful job search, knowing that it may take a while to find the next thing.

In my 20s, I had my first job (consulting) for 13 months, the next one (insurance) for 11 months, the third one (academic grant management) for three years, and a stint in business school. Now, in my 30s, I've found a field that I love for now (public health), and I'm on my second job in the field.

Careers don't progress in a linear way, and for many people (not your dad), they never did. My own parents claimed to followed the chaos theory of careers, taking new jobs as they made sense for their interests and families, step by step ending up in unexpected industries and positions.

You don't need to decide now what will make you happy for the rest of your life - even if you find your dream job now, it could change quickly for a million reasons.
posted by oryelle at 5:54 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Your job is not your life, nor should it be your identity. Its nice if you are passionate about your job, but honestly I work for money, health insurance and to facilitate the things I WANT to do outside of work. Screw passion, get paid, do your job and leave your work at work. (can you tell I graduated into a recession?)

As a hiring manager, the main red flags around hopping jobs are not having a cohesive narrative and then overinflating what you were able to accomplish in 6-9 months at each role. Job hopping itself is not necessarily a bad thing- but you need a cohesive self development narrative or theme of what you are looking for. Entry level jobs are always going to have a certain amount of grunt work; but you need to be able to see past that and take away what you liked or didn't like from each role and work off of that.

Caveat- I wouldn't job hop unless there was a greater than 10% increase in quality of life; increase in money, shorter commute etc. 10% is a big jump- will the new job actually make you 10% happier in some way? you can't always know, but you should sit down and quantify what you think would make you happier as well.

This (slightly older than you) millennial has had had 6 different jobs in 10 years- granted split up over only 2 companies; but at huge multinationals doing radically different things and each one involved a full on interview process. My current job is utterly unrelated to my first job out of college, BUT if you follow the chain, each job still had some similarity to the one before it.
posted by larthegreat at 5:59 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lastly, a bonus question, what about if you have to relocate for a partner and find a job there? As in, have to find a job to survive but it's not necessarily what you're passionate about (passion is what I keep hearing I must have for my job, and I would love if I could have passion for my current one) but eventually find a job that seems better and switch for that? Would that ruin my future career as well? Gah.

Also, just to add that my three year grant management job was because I relocated for a partner. It was fine. I learned skills that I could use for future jobs, used the time to apply for grad school, and gained clarity on what I wanted to do. That's not to say that it was easy at the time, and I wouldn't have done it for less than marriage, but in the end, it got me closer to where I am now.

If I hadn't done that, I may have ended up somewhere really different, but it's not like there's only one perfect job out there for you and if you don't find it, you're doomed to unhappiness. I don't believe in one-true-love for jobs (or people).
posted by oryelle at 6:01 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

...if I find a job with good benefits and pay, I should just stick with it--because loyalty is valuable.

I get where your dad is coming from, but I think he's missing the mark a little. You need to hunt for a job that you love with good benefits and pay. If you try and force yourself to stick around in a job you don't enjoy, you'll just get burnt out and have to leave it eventually, possibly after your performance declines due to burnout, which would hurt your career more than a little hopping around.

I think that 4 jobs in 2 years, like your friend has had, is a little extreme and does put your friend at risk of being labeled a job hopper. But there is a big spectrum between "changes jobs every ~6 months" and "has 1 job for entire life," and lots of the patterns in that spectrum are 100% accepted by hiring managers. A convention I've been using is to try to stay in a job for at least 12 months before leaving. But sometimes an amazing opportunity comes up before that 1-yr mark, and there's nothing wrong with pursuing it!

How long did it take you to figure out "yes, this is the career path for me!" Am I late in the game for this?? Maybe I should've figured this out last year.

I was fortunate enough to fall into my career right out of college, but my bf has a different story. He did a Bachelor's in economics and a Master's in accounting, and then as part of the "normal" career trajectory, got an accountant job after finishing his MAcc. He didn't love it, and by the time his first real tax season rolled around, he was utterly miserable. He's in culinary school now and much, much happier. He's 28yo and won't graduate until he's ~30yo, but that still feels really young when you have decades of work ahead of you.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:17 AM on May 15, 2018

I'm 34. I graduated college late (at 24). Here's my (abbreviated) resume.

- Shitty B2B Telemarketing Job (1.5 yrs)
- Unemployed (6 months)
- Welfare Clerk (2 yrs)
- Community Manager at Startup (1 yr)
- Digital Publishing Email Guy (2 yrs)
- Front-End/Sales Support at Startup (6 months)
- Email Marketing for Performing arts (1.5yrs, still there.)

TL;DR: You'll be fine.
posted by SansPoint at 6:41 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

You're gonna be ok.

Starting around 10th grade, I had my career path all figured out. I was going to go straight through university to grad school, get my doctorate, and be a professor, researching and teaching and having a grand ole time.

I suppose the cracks started showing when I ended up taking a job in between undergrad and grad school, but it was in my general field, so that wasn't too disconcerting, and I thought I was just adapting to needing a break from academia. The real left turn was after I had been in grad school a couple years and slowly realized I was actually not doing very well at it, and not because I couldn't do it either, but because I deeply didn't enjoy doing the things that make for a successful lab researcher (I never let go of my love for the teaching part). It took me a long time to process that, I had tied up my identity very tightly with that plan, and letting go of it caused me no little grief. But I did, moved on through a couple of zigs and zags (including swearing in as a Peace Corps volunteer days after I turned 30), and have now landed in a career that has exactly zero overlap with my previous professional path. And I couldn't be happier.

I guess I'm really scared.

I was totally right there in that place. So, while this may or may not apply to you, I'll add a bit more: I started this off saying "You're gonna be ok." And when I was in that place, whenever people said that to me, what I heard was "You won't fail." And that wasn't helpful at all, it just scared me more, because I was pretty sure I WOULD fail and so I found no comfort in those words. So let me tell you that when I say, "You're gonna be ok," what I mean is "This is hard, and you're gonna fail sometimes, and so does everyone else, you just don't always see that part. So even though you are gonna fail sometimes, you are also gonna be ok."

Good luck out there.
posted by solotoro at 6:58 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I bumbled around in my twenties. And most of my thirties. You could make a case that I'm still bumbling around, as I sit here typing this in my new office a couple of days after a promotion. I enjoy my job, but it's not something I would have ever even considered until maybe two years ago. Certainly not when I was 26. I was not even aware a job title like mine existed until well into my thirties.

The one thing I can say with any certainty is that loyalty is probably not going to get you much. It's admirable, and something to shoot for in your personal life. But your employer has no loyalty to you, and so it's foolish to have loyalty to them. They won't think twice to drop you if it makes things better for them.

I used to worry about job hopping because, from April 2009 to April 2013, I got paychecks from seven different employers, none of which were concurrent. Nobody I've interviewed with seems to have minded, though. Some of those changes were me shooting myself in the foot (moving to a new city with no job prospects, moving back abruptly when that didn't work out, etc.), and you should avoid those if you can. But just having different jobs doesn't seem to have been a problem for me. Some things to consider:

-You don't have to list every job you've ever had on your resume. Of those seven jobs I had from '09 to '13, I generally only include three or four of them on a resume. Like, one of them was selling milk door-to-door. I don't have any other sales or, uh, dairy experience, and I'm not interested in those industries, so I just leave it off. I was only there a couple of months, and I only took the job to get on my feet after moving to the new city. It was never supposed to be a long-term thing. Why does anyone need to know about it? (Other than the fact that selling milk door-to-door is a fun story to tell.)

-In general, try to maintain an upward arc. After the milk thing, I moved home with my mom, and got a job at a call center in my hometown to save money so I could move back out. The call center happened to be for a client in the insurance industry. I parlayed that into a job in tech support at an insurance software company, which I parlayed into a job in tech support at my current company (corporate philanthropy), which I parlayed into my current position, onboarding new clients. When you're at the first step of the process, it's hard to see a way to get from insurance call center to corporate client onboarding. When you're at the last step, though, it should be easier to look back and see the steps you took.

-There are a few explanations for job hopping that it's hard to argue with. Higher pay, more responsibility, geographic considerations. If an interviewer sees a three month period at company A on your resume and asks why you were there such a short time, and you say "well, shortly after I started, company B offered me a similar but more challenging position", who would respond "OK, but we're really looking for people who avoid challenges and stay in one place"? This also answers your question about changing jobs when a partner moves. I've done this twice now. You just say "I really enjoyed working at company C, but my partner got an opportunity to move here, and so I had to decide whether to come with them or to stay at company C". Everybody, except maybe the bro-iest startup, understands that.

-If you get a chance to work for a big-name company, in general, you should take it even if you don't expect to be there long. I only worked for JPMorgan Chase for nine months, but the shine of having that name on my resume lasted for a while. People see "Chase" and think "if they're good enough for one of the biggest financial institutions in the world, they're good enough for me". It also opens up a pretty big network for you.

-Even if you do find a company and position you'd like to stay in for a long time, you should always have your next move in mind. I came from a similar background as you, where my dad had had a government job for his entire adult life, and my mom still has the same job she first got after my parents got divorced. I've literally never known either of my parents to have a different job. So when I got my first "real" job, I assumed I'd do the same. And it seemed like the kind of place where you could do that. Some people had been with the company for ten years at that point, since it was based in the founders' actual garage. Then the 2008 recession hit, and I got laid off. My mother-in-law just got laid off two years before retirement when her division was shuttered. You gotta have a backup plan. When I moved up here last summer, I had been with the same company for four years, but I'd been planning what to do, so even though I was in a new city with no real network, I got three interviews and an offer within two months. You may be fortunate enough not to have to job-hop, but you should be prepared.

-Finding out something is not right for you is nothing to be ashamed of. Most of the time, you won't realize it's not a good fit until you try. When I was in college, I was really into ice hockey, so I got a part-time job at a pro shop thinking it would be awesome to be around hockey all the time. It made me so miserable that I ended up not playing for a couple of years. A lot of the times, the things you do in a particular job aren't what drew you to the industry. College professors, for example: it sounds like a great gig, doing research and teaching an occasional class. In reality, though, it's a lot of filling out paperwork, which nobody knows unless they actually have to fill out that paperwork.

One thing I'll note is that, as a young person with a graduate degree, life has probably been pretty easy for you up to this point. You probably did well through school, had no problem getting internships, etc. You've always been good at the game. The thing is, the real world is a different game than school. There are similarities, and you can still probably get by with your old skills. But if you want to really succeed, you have to realize it's different, and that you have to learn new skills. Have you ever watched the player introductions on a televised (American) football game, and wondering "how did a guy from North Dakota State become a starting QB in the NFL?" Meanwhile, guys from college powerhouses like Ohio State (my alma mater) still make the pros, but a lot of times they're not stars like they were in college. This is the same dynamic. NFL football is different than college football, and being good at college football isn't enough to make you good at NFL football. Likewise, being good at high school/college/grad school isn't enough to make you good at a career. Luckily for you, you're still pretty young, so you still have time to learn, and the fact that you're asking this question shows that you're interested. It might help for you to find a mentor - not necessarily a professional mentor, just someone who's been around a while who you can talk to about stuff.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:02 AM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you try out new areas, they will be always be detractors (trying to frame it that you failed out of old focus area, versus a planned choice) but the broader your experience the more leverage you can experience to fit into a new opportunity. I'm in instructional design and in that world...

Roles generally want:
- Work experience in the job they are asking you to do
- Subject area or industry expertise
- Market knowledge (e.g., company, non-profit, vendor)

As I pick jobs, I try to make sure I'm gaining experience that will be useful for future roles I may want. It's hard to move to jobs where you only have 1 of the 3. 3 of 3 is golden. 2 of 3 is oftentimes what they end up hiring despite the job description.
posted by typecloud at 7:14 AM on May 15, 2018

I graduated from college in the mid-nineties with a literature degree in a town dominated by the military in a sluggish economy to boot, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living or how to find a steady job.

This was at peak "Gen X are slackers" narrative in the press, it sounded almost exactly like many of the millennial stereotypes. I worked a ton of temp jobs and retail -- which my father infuriatingly insisted on sneering at as "stop gap jobs."

But those jobs taught me a LOT about managing tasks and people, being managed, how to interact with the public, how to stick up for my principles, etc. I still draw on those lessons as a 44 year old professional with an office job. I eventually moved to another city, fell into the nonprofit sector, and use the writing, research, analysis, and critical thinking skills that I learned in college every single day for a salaried "real job" (that my father still doesn't understand.)

Don't worry about "dream jobs." Your job is probably not going to be the be-all-end-all life's passion, but you will likely find something satisfying enough that you will make it your niche.

Don't vent to your father about your job concerns. Figure out some more bland responses and get better at changing the subject to other interests. He's not in a good position to give you advice and you're both just spinning each other up expressing your anxieties at each other.
posted by desuetude at 7:25 AM on May 15, 2018

Honestly, if loyalty were really being rewarded, annual raises would average higher than 3% per year.

There's actually some stats that say staying at a job for more than two years can actually hurt your long-term earnings potential. I mean, this was on Forbes, so it's probably skewing toward the business industry side of things, but the point is that changing jobs more frequently is definitely the new normal. Having a couple of jobs listed is not going to hurt your chances of landing a new one!

As a newly minted 30-something, I would argue that your 20s are probably the BEST time to try out new industries and job types. It's much easier to try out new things when you're trying out different entry-level jobs with (probably) similar starting salaries; once you're mid-level, it can be a little harder to want to backpedal on earnings just to dip a toe in a new field. Even trying out similar jobs in different industries can be great experience--higher ed is very different from corporate is very different from start-ups, etc.

Anecdotally, I have always heard that staying somewhere about a year is kind of the sweet spot for a resume. It's a long enough span of time to have learned and accomplished some things and not so short a time span that it invites too many questions.

That said, don't let this arbitrary number scare you into staying at a job you don't like, because "I thought this job was going to involve more of X and Y, but when I settled in, it ended up being more A and B" is a perfectly valid explanation to give any hiring manager who asks about why you're leaving another job after a relatively short amount of time, and will even reflect well on you because it shows you take initiative and know what you want.

To answer your questions: you don't have to have figured this out in your twenties, you're not late in the game, and there is no acceptable number of job changes. In fact, you're under no obligation to list ALL of your jobs anyway. Just change the Experience header on your resume to Relevant Experience and you can just pick and choose what works best for the job you're applying for. As for how long it takes, I still haven't figured that out. :)

Anecdata: I have a friend who has lived in my city for maybe six years and has had AT LEAST five different jobs. Far from being an impediment to her career, she has hopscotched from low-level graphic designer to UX designer, and is kind of killing it and making bank.

BONUS QUESTION ANSWER: relocating is not a career killer, and if you have to take a job that doesn't match the career narrative you want, that's not the end of the world. Heck, it can be an adventure. :) There are ways to stay connected to the industry you want to be involved in (reading, webinars, blogging, etc.) even while you aren't actively working in the field. Google "trailing spouses" for some great resources on how to tackle the "my spouse just got tenure in a town that has ZERO job openings in my industry, what do I do?" issue.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:38 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think when people say "Job-hopping is a red flag," some of us hear "If you ever quit a job after less than N years you will be FOREVER TAINTED and NOBODY WILL EVER HIRE YOU AGAIN."

When what I think it really means is more like "Job-hopping can make you look inexperienced or not-established-yet because it's a thing people do a lot early in their career, and if you've done a bunch of it recently but are trying to sell yourself as established and experienced then people will think something's hinky."

Like, if you are young and switching careers, it is fine to look like someone who is young and switching careers, and to have the resume of someone who is young and switching careers. How else would you look? What other resume would you have? It's when someone comes up like "I am a senior XYZ specialist with fifteen years experience in XYZ" but they've left their last three jobs in XYZ after six months — then it starts to look bad.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:44 AM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

I started out as a data entry clerk, went to college to become an accountant, went to law school to DEAR GOD APPARENTLY NOT BECOME A LAWYER UGH, and then learned how to do web development in my mid-30s, which I am now quite happily doing and paid very nicely for. I have left a number of jobs somewhere between one and two years in. I've never had anybody blink at that during an interview. Like, places have wanted to know why I was looking for a new job, but I've never had to do a ton of explaining about looking for something with a better fit, especially where I was looking for a different role rather than just a different company.
posted by Sequence at 8:00 AM on May 15, 2018

You sound a bit like me in my 20s (although I never actually got what I initially thought was my dream job). I'm fine, even pretty well respected in my line of work.

Being curious about what you do like in your current job and/or getting involved in a regional professional association in your field can reveal other pathways you may not have considered before. If there's not actually anything, start looking around for a next field to pursue.

Re job-hopping, if you're putting in twoish years at most hops, don't sweat it. A brief hop here or there is emphatically No Big Deal, especially if you're advancing at each stop. A pattern of six months here, a year there, with no real indication that you're evolving, over 5+ years (post-education & credential; your pre-professional life is largely irrelevant) can eventually make me look askance at a resume, but when there's a good explanation (e.g. relocated with a partner and needed any old job for a while, but this is what I really do), it's fine.

Good luck, and try not to worry. Things have a way of working out, one way or another. In your specific case, I'd recommend carefully selecting your next employer and planning to stay there for a minimum of two years.
posted by willpie at 8:23 AM on May 15, 2018

In my mid twenties, I held four jobs and then went to grad school. Employers like it when I say I was on a journey looking for my passion, it led me here. I think most millenials did or are doing this. I have never heard anyone say they weren't happy about all my jobs.

The book "Designing your life" talks about strategically trying lots of jobs and evaluating how you feel and then getting to where you want to go. I highly recommend it.
posted by Kalmya at 8:25 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I went to school for philosophy and journalism, left my first journalism job out of college in pretty short order, lost a few years to burger flipping and industrial work, and nearly went under at 24 and then again at 29 because I couldn't figure out how to get it together. I was a pretty angry person, suspicious of successful (or happy, or content) people.

I had a weird stroke of luck, I guess: The one thing I was passionate about was open source software, Linux specifically, because I'd spent a tiny amount of time admining a Unix system in my lost early 20s. I was convinced nobody would pay me to care as much as I did about that.

The luck part was that one day I was in a Barnes and Noble browsing the Linux section when I saw a familiar name on the spine of a book. It was someone I'd gone to college with who'd become a pretty successful journeyman author/editor in the tech book scene. My initial response was pure envy, and for whatever reason I spotted that in myself and decided to address it head on. I wrote him a cordial note after being out of touch for years, congratulating him on his success. He responded with a lot of generosity, telling me he had more work than he knew what to do with. He connected me with one of his editors, and I ended up getting a job as a managing editor for a string of Linux-related sites.

From that followed a book, and then progressively higher levels of responsibility. I learned to program in part to get better at managing web analytics. That opened up opportunities as a technology lead for a small web publishing company. I did that for a bit, then moved to a startup as a technical writer, moved into management, and finally, just shy of 20 years after that visit to a Barnes and Noble, have been working as a director at that startup, managing writers, software engineers, IT ops, and sundry other stuff. Lately I've been shifting focus from tech to operations.

In some ways, it hasn't been a career at all. I've followed what's interested me at times, at others I've been asked to step way outside what I thought I could do. I've had a few missteps here and there that have felt like they could really set me back, but I've paid attention to humans a lot along the way, so I've got a good network.

Being a little bit of a late bloomer has helped in some ways. Lots of experience in lots of different fields compared to people who have been laser focused on doing one kind of thing. Higher relative maturity. A resumé that reads like I'm about ten years younger than I am (which begins to matter at my age).

Passion helps, but it also helps to be able to take satisfaction in doing something well even if it's not your thing. Life can take a lot of turns, and people can see things in you that you can't see in yourself. I was put into a role a few years back that felt at the time like an incredible burden that was way outside my comfort zone, but I look back on that period with pride, and I'm very glad to have the experience under my belt. If I'd been asked instead of told, I'd never have done it.

Being open, accepting of change, and accepting of the idea that "life may have other plans for you" makes it all less of a Career I Have to Control and more, you know, life.
posted by mph at 8:33 AM on May 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh man, I could have easily written this a few years ago. It's so disappointing when your dream job seems like a bust, but that's no need to get stuck there or completely switch fields (unless you really want to). What helped me was to focus on the parts of my job that I actually liked. I started taking on more and more responsibilities in those areas and finding ways to pawn off or delegate my least favorite job responsibilities. I also kept in touch with my friends/professors from grad school and tried to be professionally active. I was able to leverage my experience into a much more specialized position with a lot more flexibility. Now that I've spent a few years in a job I really like, I'm still doing the same thing in case a better opportunity comes around.

My husband took the first job he could find when we moved for my job and then stuck around for a year until he found a better one that he liked more. It's definitely not a career killer.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 9:51 AM on May 15, 2018

I left grad school at 27 with basically no marketable skills and a string of low-paying jobs on my resume. I worked the same job for 7 years. I'm 34 now and just starting my second "real" job. I don't think this is a horrible outcome or anything, but I do regret not getting real jobs earlier on, and also staying in the same job for so long -- even though it paid well and my coworkers were great, in this economy people look at you really funny if you're so loyal. The smartest people I know change gigs every 1-2 years, advancing every time, and are far ahead of me in their careers.
posted by miyabo at 10:10 AM on May 15, 2018

Yes, I switched paths completely in my late 20s and have really enjoyed my second career much more. I basically sought money, stability, and intellectual challenge and have all of those things in my job. I have switched companies a few times and that has paid off for me personally, though I have also made mistakes. I think the important thing to keep in mind is that you can always make a change if you are unhappy. It’s not going to ruin your resume forever.

I think passion for your work is great if you can get it, but even the best dream jobs have plenty of downsides. Generally I think that if you can really love about 10% of your job tasks and find the majority of the tasks fine to good, you are in great shape. The people you work with are another important factor and a bad boss can ruin plenty of great jobs. Basically I think it’s worth chasing a better job, but understand that there is no perfect job and you may have to prioritize what you care about most.

I have researched various career moves in my past and usually found the most benefit in focusing on what the actual day to day tasks and environment of the job was and how it fit with my preferences. For example, I like interacting with people during my day, so I like having a job with meetings and discussion. I also like reading and writing, which is a common task in my work. Most of all I like variety and defined projects (for a sense of accomplishment) and that’s a fundamental feature of my job. I have been least happy in jobs with little variety, unending projects, and little control over my schedule. If you take some time to really think through how you want your day to look it may help when evaluating your next step. At interviews I always ask what a typical day looks like and it’s informative.
posted by rainydayfilms at 10:17 AM on May 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yeah, your dad is completely off base. One thing to note is that outside of jobs devoted to a specific task (clerical work, call centers, etc) so many careers are more project-based than workload-based. So doing a specified amount of work well doesn't lead to a change of responsibilities and increased salary, but taking on new roles in different projects might.

While some companies are large enough you can slowly craft your role in successive projects to be closer to your career ideal, that's not a given. So you do a few projects here, then maybe head to another company to see what projects are like over there. Depending on the field, this might actually be a term of employment as a contractor. Software is definitely that way in some companies, to the extent all work is per-project and your contract ends when the project does.
posted by mikeh at 10:44 AM on May 15, 2018

Fellow later 20s here (27). If anything I've learned so far, it's that it really doesn't matter if you job hop a lot as long as you think you'll be happier/more challenged/fulfilled in the new position you land. Also, divorcing my identity from what I "do" has helped me a lot in feeling a bit less anxious about where I'm going career-wise.

So far I have been in:
Education consulting (first and only full time "real" adult job)
Freelance tutoring
Tech Support
Dog walking/Pet sitting
Audio and video transcription

Everything after doing education consulting seems really random at first, but it's given me the flexibility to take pre-requisite classes I needed for my current program. And it's allowed me to earn some money for rent/living/life during grad school so I'm not completely dependent on loans. I'll be adding working in an university's learning and writing center come fall, but that comes with a nice stipend to cover school costs.

As long as you can really explain all your job choices in an interview, it won't be a big deal.

I'm currently in a master's program to switch (or maybe really actually start?) careers, and there quite a few people in my program who are in their 30s and 40s switching careers too. They range from law professors to broadcast journalists to pharmaceutical researchers. One woman in my program who started out in broadcast journalism used that experience to work in communications in a hospital, which she then turned into a health coaching job before starting this grad program.

Quite frankly, I have no real idea what I want to do when I finish my program either. Sometimes, I'm wracked with anxiety about how to pay off student loans, but I trust myself enough to figure something out.

Also, if you truly are that unhappy about your current position, why not start interviewing around now? It won't hurt, will let you see what else is out there, and you don't *have* to take a new position if you don't want to.
posted by astapasta24 at 11:34 AM on May 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

A sampling of jobs I’ve had since graduating college, that I can remember, some a bit vague for anonymity’s sake:

Bank teller
Server in a beer bar
Bartender (for about two days)
Publishing assistant
Computer programmer

Not counting a summer at postgrad nerd camp and two years of graduate school, that’s six jobs in four years (and I’m sure I’ve forgot a couple). Every time I left a job it was for a job with much better salary/benefits/location. If I wasn’t a “chronic job hopper” (explorer, IMO) I’d be... working in an industry I hate, making much less money.

The “job hopping” thing is 10% real (in cases where someone really is flighty and demonstrates that in interviews), 90% dogma American bosses and handmaidens of capitalism like to spread to keep people loyal to jobs that underpay them. I will say, as a slightly oldish millennial who has hired some people before, someone in their 20s who spends 1-2 years at each job before moving on is usually an anti-red flag. It honestly makes me feel like they have people skills and good judgement. Obviously I don’t love training people when my experienced staff move on, but it just so happens that most jobs are bullshit and the ones that really benefit from institutional expertise are the ones that should focus on making their employees happier.

Your boss needs you, you don’t need them. They lack a certain leverage in this system so they make up some vague, specious, actively self-sabotaging bullshit to scare people into behaving like they’re lucky to have a job, because WHAT on earth could possibly motivate you into staying with a company that pays you less money than another one besides a lie that creates fear? For some reason supply and demand and the invisible hand and all that are wonderful until workers realize what they’re worth.

Back in the day it was a lot more rewarding to stay at the same company; it no longer is, so people act like that’s because of flighty millennials instead of stagnating wages and benefit slashing. You don’t owe a boss anything besides what you’re hired for, it’s a transactional at-will relationship and if you’re not earning or growing or gaining mentorship in the position, it doesn’t matter.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:46 PM on May 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also remembering that the only boss who got mad at me for quitting in a 1 year timeframe was at a job where I was pitifully, almost hilariously underpaid. It was a new graduate pipeline type job, I was switching industries, it was all useless busywork and they were shocked that I did not care enough to stay to my obvious disadvantage.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:54 PM on May 15, 2018

I feel like this SMBC comic about using the many lifetimes we all get might be helpful and comforting to you.

(And my anecdata: I used to be a lawyer. Eventually I realized that I was allowed to be happy, and now I'm a software developer instead. You really don't have to do the same thing always.)
posted by 168 at 5:10 AM on May 16, 2018

I decided to go to law school in my late 20s after my BA from a top 100 college led to a series of terrible temp jobs. I’m fully employed now and fell into doing something I care deeply about.

As far as your dad, my friends who have “job hopped” mostly make way more money than I do. I’m sure this isn’t universal but these days it’s really normal.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:43 AM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

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