Benefits to Being a Career Butterfly

by Emily Guy Birken · 9 comments

In the ten years since I graduated from college, I held no fewer than nine jobs. Now, to be fair, some of those positions were held concurrently when I was working multiple part time jobs and at least one of those jobs only lasted 2 days, as it became clear very quickly that I was in the wrong line of work. However, there’s no getting past the fact that the longest I have ever held a position is four years and that I generally get itchy for a job change after about a year.

Contrast my attitude to that to my husband, who worked for nearly a decade at the same company and only moved because our peanut was on the way and the new company offered more work-life balance.

It used to be much more common to see workers like my husband – find a good job and stay with it for a very long time. But the new generation of employees tends to have a shorter attention span and companies no longer reward loyalty in the same way that our parents’ employers once did. Though job-hopping has plenty of downsides, there are some definite advantages to being a career butterfly:

1. Maintaining passion for your career. One of the scariest sights to me when I was teaching was seeing the veterans who were in their 35th year and who had totally given up. I did not want to do that to my students or myself. Everyone starts a new job with high hopes and optimism. But office politics, bureaucracy and tedium can really start to wear on your ability to do your job well. Making changes every few years allows you to keep your optimism and continue to do work you are proud of. Had life circumstances not taken me away from teaching, I know I would have found a different way to work with children so I didn’t burn out after a long career.

2. Establishing contacts. Provided you leave each job in a positive way, you can hold onto the contacts you made in every position. This will give you an incredible resource as you start each new job. Being able to creatively tap your contacts can often give you a leg up in a new endeavor. Just make sure you don’t burn bridges when you leave!

3. Being master of your career. One of the frustrating aspects of staying in one place is the fact that some things are entrenched — like the timing and amount of raises, the ability (or lack thereof) to move either up in the company or laterally to explore new ideas, and the ability to bring creative new solutions to problems. If you find yourself in a job that does not offer you everything you’re looking for, you’re not stuck with being unhappy at work. You have the opportunity to take control of your career and move elsewhere.

As a lifelong career butterfly, I know that job-hopping is not always beneficial. However, it is not the terrible red flag or sign of immaturity that the old way of business might have regarded it as. Changing jobs can be an opportunity for you to be an effective, creative and contented worker throughout your career too.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

NYLIGUY September 30, 2011 at 8:14 am

I tend to follow a rule to give each position at least a year. Since graduating I have only worked at two companies, in three different roles. Since I’m only crossing the 5 year mark in my career I can’t say it has helped greatly limiting by number of jobs, but I wonder if you need to stay in a company for a prolonged time to get that upward mobility in your career.

If you jump around from entry-level to entry-level, will an employer take a chance and hire you at the next level? I think you’d have a better chance staying at the entry-level position for some time and work your way up at that particular company.

A big Pro to moving between companies, is the salary increases you can get. Sometimes you can work at a company for years getting a low percentage raise and don’t keep up with the industry standard salaries. Switching to another company could secure a salary more aligned with the times.

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Emily Guy Birken September 30, 2011 at 8:40 am

@NYLIGUY, you make a great point about jumping from one entry-level to another and not moving upward. My hopping career has actually meant that I have jumped from one industry to another, so each new job is a completely different set of skills and “entry-level” means something different. For example, the jobs that I worked the longest were a retail gig, a typical office job, working for a non-profit and teaching. Each jump started me at the “beginning” again, but since I was new to the industry and learning, it was not problem. Each jump also meant a pay raise for me, as well.

I think if you hop from job to job in the same industry, that could potentially hinder your career, as every industry is a small community in many ways. But done judiciously and not capriciously, it can help your career.

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Marbella October 1, 2011 at 6:55 am

Hi Emily,
To changing jobs sometimes is a challenging both for body and brain. The only reason why I change jobs is the challenge to succeed in what my new boss and company expected of me.

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Sam October 1, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Marbella, you are saying like this. But most people shift company to get a better pay !

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Sam October 1, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Wow, nice jobs!! Lol…. The first point on passion is really a nice one. Humans have a tendency to do work when they like it. Nevertheless people shift companies only because they lose their temper and they get to do something that they dont like.

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Jean October 2, 2011 at 4:51 am

I know what you mean. Most of the people from my dad’s generation spent their entire lives at one or at the most two companies but today, a lot more people are jumping around different jobs at the blink of an eye. I am somewhere in between as I think there’s nothing wrong with switching jobs as long as there is truly a significant justification for doing so, such as a major pay raise or hugely superior work environment and career prospects compared to the previous job.

-Jean

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MoneyPig October 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Have you ever thought about buying a house? I mean since you move so often, has that idea ever crossed your mind?

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Emily Guy Birken October 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm

@MoneyPig, none of my job changes have necessitated a move, and I actually do own my home. Oddly enough, the only time I have moved for a job was when my husband–who is much more settled than I am, job-wise–got an offer with a different company.

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Susan October 16, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I am a physical therapist, and I have ADHD. One of the reasons I chose this field is because there are so many different things to do under the PT umbrella. I get the itch to make a change about every 3 years, and have been at my current job for 6. I have worked in my field for 15 years and have gained a wealth of knowledge by working in different settings and with different populations. I have also been able to increase my salary due to experience in different areas as well as working in different settings. I, too have moved only once since I started working, and that was across town because I married a volunteer fireman who has to live in the district he serves. Not all job changes require lifestyle changes, and they don’t all have to be career changes!

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