If you're job hopping like the Crazy Frog, slow down!

We all know the "job for life" is no more, but is "job hopping" acceptable now? We asked Susanna Hargreaves of leading recruiters Crone Corkill to give us the low-down on how long you should stay in one job, whether you can recover from job-move mistakes, and what career PAs need to watch out for

By Susanna Hargreaves
Is it acceptable for secretaries and PAs to job-hop, and change jobs frequently?
As a general rule, no, it's still not acceptable if you're serious about your career. If a secretary presents a CV showing he/she has had several moves in a short time – say, five jobs in six years – without good reasons, that could work against them. There are two caveats to that, though – firstly, it is becoming more acceptable among certain employers, and secondly, the current shortage of well skilled PAs means we're living in a candidate-driven market, which means PAs may call more of the shots than in previous markets.
Which employers may look more favourably on a PA with several shorter jobs?
Some firms positively value PAs with a wide experience of different roles and work environments, and see this more as "get up and go", than lack of seriousness about their career. Often new start-ups, for example, will be keen to employ a risk-taker who will be flexible enough to work in any area of the business. But more traditional firms – often medium-sized, with a very stable, structured approach and a history of long-stay PAs – may not appreciate the benefits of the secretary with many jobs under his/her belt.
And the secretarial sector is changing?
As employers discover how few talented staff are out there, they will be prepared to view a CV that has several jobs on it, whereas in the past they may have moved quickly to the next one in the pile. Now that pile of CVs is much smaller. Not long ago, if a PA came to us with a job history of 18 months, 18 months and 18 months, you couldn't have put the CV through an employer's door. Now, it is more acceptable, as long as the reasons for those moves are clearly explained.
You mention having good reasons for job moves - is that important?
Yes, very important. And this is where your recruitment consultant can give you valuable advice and guidance. Say you were working for a new firm which went bankrupt, and everyone was made redundant after 8 months. Your next job was over-sold by the company, and after a few weeks you realised it wasn't the job you had applied for, so you left after 6 months. These are two perfectly good reasons for the short duration of the jobs, but if not presented carefully, they could damage your CV. Your consultant has a vital role here, working with you to understand the reasons, to clarify these on your CV, and then present you positively to potential clients.
So you can get away with a couple of shorter jobs?
Again, provided your reasons are strong. It doesn't happen often, because your recruitment consultancy should have so many checks in place before you get to that point – at Crone Corkill we use Competency Based Interviewing to ensure the candidate-company match is right, not just for skills but for the PA's personality, preferred environment and aspirations, too. But PAs who realise quickly that they've made a mistake will generally leave in anywhere from four to 12 weeks. Everyone's entitled to one or two mistakes – an unresolvable personality clash with the boss, discovering accounts is not for you, or a company culture you simply can't live with. The key is to be open and ask your consultant for guidance, but it's not the end of your career!
Can you stay in a job too long?
That depends on how you view your career. Some secretaries find an employer they like early in their working life, and are perfectly happy to stay in exactly the same job for 15 or 20 years. That's fine – there's no problem with that at all. But if you're a career-orientated secretary, a long period with one organisation should show two things – stability and development. A PA who has been with a firm for 7-10 years, and who in that time has developed the role, or been promoted, or who has risen to a senior role alongside her boss, can present an extremely strong and marketable CV.
Is it easier for younger, more junior secretaries to job-hop?
New secretaries would be granted more flexibility, yes, as they try out their skills and explore sectors and industries to find their niche. It's quite possible that you out-grow your first job in 18 months, and it's then advisable to move on and gain new experience. But at senior level, it's less easy to explain. An executive assistant to a CEO needs to understand the business, the organisation, their boss's role and the impact that has, and their own role within all of that, so they will inevitably need to be in a job longer to appreciate fully how they can contribute.
Is there an ideal CV for a mid-career PA who's serious about her going up the ladder?
You might expect to see two or three jobs since leaving college or graduating. The first would be around 18 months, the second and third jobs lasting between two and three years. You'd see perhaps a junior, team role followed by a progression to sec/PA to a senior manager or director, and then perhaps a one-to-one role with a director. You'd look for formal secretarial qualifications and advanced IT packages, including web-based packages.
How does a period of temping look in the middle of your CV?
Again, providing the reasons for it are presented clearly, it's fine. Following a redundancy, for example, or when returning from a career break it is quite acceptable. But flitting in and out of temporary and permanent jobs for several years with no clear goal in sight, and no visible role progression, might lead potential employers to question your commitment.
So stability is still valued?
Yes, it is, along with a clear development of your skills and experience. A certain amount of job movement is more acceptable now, but serious secretaries still need to be conscious of their CV, and the effect of job changes on it.

Susanna Hargreaves is Associate Director with Crone Corkill and has been in recruitment for twelve years. She runs the West London office, dealing with both temporary and permanent positions. Crone Corkill is one of the UK's leading PA/secretarial and administrative recruitment consultancies, specialising in permanent and temporary placements nationwide. The Crone Corkill philosophy is to match outstanding skills and cultural fit to the placement. Find out more at www.cronecorkill.co.uk

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