Can You Switch Jobs Too Much in Your 20s?

Get as much experience doing different kinds of jobs until you find that thing that you are really passionate about and then pursue that. But try not to do too many things in a period of time because it limits your choices to a certain degree. Eventually that bouncing will hurt you unless you truly are someone who’s very gifted and learns new skill sets quickly and can find better ways to do things.– 40-something, married, working mom, responsible for hiring 20-somethings, Los Angeles, CA

There is a fine line between exploring what you want to do and following the road to nowhere. It’s the difference between fulfilling yourself and filling up your resume with empty jobs where you don’t learn anything — about yourself or your skills. The risk is that you end up with no foothold to step up the ladder.

Some of the 40-somethings I’ve talked to explored endlessly when they were in their 20’s…trying on one job after another. Some because they could — their parents supported them. Others because they wanted to have a “cool” job. Problem was, as soon as they started one job it wasn’t cool anymore: the complaining started and they began the cycle all over again. And still others because they simply didn’t know what they wanted to do. These 40-something’s “watch-out” about switching jobs a lot in your twenties is that you can wake up in your 30’s being un-promotable at a time when you often need start being responsible for other people. This 40-something shares her perspective on the downside of too much switching:

I threw myself at too much in my 20s. I went through jobs and burned bridges and didn’t learn anything to build on in my 30s and 40s . I was Jill of all trades, master of none. Once I entered my earning years in my thirties, I was still at an entry level and had not gotten anywhere. I dabbled in so much that I never really soaked in one aspect. I wish I had cultivated some patience. I had that idealized twenties perception that I should be treated a certain way. People aren’t treating me a certain way so I’m going to leave. I’m going to burn the bridge and say, “You’re not treating me right. I’m outta here!” I don’t want to say I regret everything I did because now I have a really great son  and a great husband. But we’re struggling a little bit right now. We’re in a transition and it continues to haunt me because once my son goes to nursery school I want to go back to work.”

So when is too much? One women interviewed a 20-something female who had accumulated 20 jobs on her resume. She’d only been working for 3 years. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, the woman asked the 20-something why she left some of these jobs. Unfortunately the answers all started with “I didn’t like” ____. Fill in the blank, but suffice it to say one of the better ones was …”the schedule”.  This did nothing to diminish the reputation that today’s 20-somethings have for changing jobs at a drop of the hat, but even less for  getting the job at hand.

It’s a tough call. Without fail, 40-something wisdom says to explore and not narrow down on a career path too quickly.  But after a few years, try to do it in a way that builds on a set of skills and passions that can apply to many directions.

Some thoughts from the 40:20 Vision journey:

  • If you do switch jobs a lot, don’t burn bridges
  • Don’t switch only because of things you don’t like
  • Do switch if you aren’t learning anything
  • Look at other parts of the company, talk to clients and customers to learn about other types of opportunities
  • Explore all the options in an area that interests you — if you like writing, the only option isn’t becoming a writer.
  • If you do have 20 jobs, don’t put them all on your resume — choose the 5 that you learned something from

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