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Career Resources

Job Jumping: It Doesn’t Have to Mean Career Chaos

Ashli Rae Tomisich

Job Jumping: It Doesn’t Have to Mean Career Chaos
Laurence Dutton via iStock

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There are many reasons young attorneys may jump from a job shortly after joining. Often, transitions are explained easily and need not be devastating to an individual’s career. If you have hopped from two to three jobs within the first five years of practice, explaining those transitions can be challenging. It is best to get in front of any negative assumptions and take control of your narrative. Here are tips for navigating a transition and avoiding the “job jumping” stereotype.

Bad Fit or Environment

You may realize that a firm environment is not what you thought it was or you are not a good fit for that particular job. This can happen in any practice for many reasons, particularly if you find the culture toxic or struggle with poor office-wide communication, making the situation intolerable. Even a change in leadership, firm organization, or focus can dramatically change the work culture and environment.

If a potential employer asks you about gaps in your career or multiple jobs within the first five years, your possible responses should be cautious, maintain professionalism, and focus on the positives. Consider using a past, present, and future narrative or a “pivot-positive” approach. For example:

I’m thankful for what I learned from my time with XYZ firm, and I discovered how to ask better questions and advocate for myself. I know I want to prioritize collaborating with a team that will push me in positive ways. After reviewing your firm, the practice areas, and the culture, I am excited to continue exploring and discussing if this is a mutual fit.

Professional honesty is generally the best policy, and a pivot-positive narrative helps positively frame a transition.

Life Changes

Life changes may be the most straightforward explanation for a transition or gap, ranging from relationships to family or geography. The level of transparency provided by the applicant is based on the individual. The best approach is to explain the situation effectively without treating the interview as a therapy session. If the situation is too difficult or complex, then simply state, “There was a substantial personal change that prompted the move in employment.” Appreciate the employer’s curiosity if this could cause you to leave employment again but only provide a context within your bounds of comfort.

The Pivot-Positive Approach

It is crucial that you don’t speak badly about a prior employer. Don’t get sucked into a bash session, and stay professional. Avoid extremism and do not paint in black and white (e.g., “I would never practice family law again.”). Focus on what you learned or gained, following the pivot-positive approach—end on a high note of how you have grown and where you want to go.

If you are jumping jobs a lot and there is an uncomfortable common denominator, you may benefit from some firm self-reflection to better understand why you change jobs so frequently. Ask hard questions: Do you struggle to commit to a task and see it through? Are you unwilling to connect or communicate? After this consideration, refocus your priorities. Get clear about your motivations and seek a position that will benefit you.

Things Are Not as Bad as They Seem

There is a perception that young attorneys can be unreliable employees, in part because of job jumping. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the boomer population jumped around just as much as recent millennials. It is important to own your gaps but advocate for yourself. Focus on getting ahead of the negative assumptions and control your narrative. Seeking a long-term fit is challenging, and you don’t need to apologize for showing the maturity to find positions where you can grow and succeed.