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Careers: When is the right time to move?

Tempting as it might be to chase the money and keep switching jobs, ascend too quickly and you could find yourself on a slippery path down.

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As the economy has floundered, opportunities for internal growth have been increasingly scarce. So, to fast-track career progression, jumping from company to company has become more common. But jump too often and you’ll come across as flighty and not a good long-term development prospect.

“We live in an age where wages haven’t grown for four years in this country,” explains the founder of recruitment firm HGA Group, Harveen Gill. “Most people haven’t had rises in many sectors, including our own. Where wages have stopped rising in this country, the only way to increase them is
to move.”

Jigsaw Group HR director Toby Foreman warns against moving too quickly. “The biggest problem in the industry are people who are job-hopping,” he says. “Within fashion, [there is an] abundance of titles and the overwhelming need to put ‘senior’ or ‘manager’ in your role. Everyone wants to have more kudos in their job title, and this inevitably misplaces the individual’s strengths. When they look to move to their next job, people perceive them incorrectly because of their job title.”

This then leads to further job-hopping because “when they get there, the company has an issue with their performance because of the level of expectation given their old job title - which means they have to move again because they haven’t met expectations and things start to fall apart.”
While some of those attributes are technical skills relating directly to the role, other abilities that might be found wanting if staff move on too quickly include management skills and peer relationships, which come as part of development in a role over time.

The era of staff staying with one company for 10 to 15 years is largely over. People are now more likely to stay in a company for two to three years before moving on, explains Ricardo Alvar, chief business development officer of recruitment company 24 Seven.

Social media is one element driving this increasing pace of career progression. “With social media and LinkedIn, it’s easier to target people in companies than it was five to 10 years ago,” says Foreman. “If you can generate revenues far in excess of what you cost a company you’re going to be more desirable. I think everyone’s on a search for revenue generators and, in our case, that would be the buyers, the designers, themerchandisers.”

Employee loyalty is key to business continuity, explains Jaeger HR director Liz Jewitt-Cross. “If somebody has sufficient loyalty and tenure in a business, that will bring continuity in terms of relationships with customers, suppliers and co-workers, and it brings understanding of what they do in their job role - it brings a higher quality of work. It enables things to happen more quickly, because they have more tried-and-tested relationships to be able to get things done within the business.”

Foreman would be concerned about a candidate who has had more than three roles in seven years, but River Island HR director Karen Beaven says
she would not disregard someone on that basis alone, and would look to understand more about the moves.

“It’s natural that someone will try a few different roles before they find something that is right for them. You see it quite a lot at the younger levels, and it would not concern me if they could articulately talk through the reasons why they’ve made the moves. I’d also look for evidence that they had
fully considered each move,” she says.

While people closer to the beginning of their careers might be more swayed by money, as they get older other aspects come into play that make candidates more stable in their positions.

“Certainly, the younger ones are swayed by money. The older ones might have families, children and houses and need hours that they can work to, which means there’s probably a lot more loyalty,” Foreman says.

That loyalty goes both ways, emphasises Alvar, with companies showing less of it to staff who job-hop. “In the short term, your career progresses more quickly by moving to another company. The challenge with that is that loyalty falls by the wayside, so as soon as the market goes down or things don’t work as fast as the company is hoping, they tend to be much quicker to let people go,” he says.

But stay too long and you risk being perceived as “institutionalised”, argues Gill. “Where it hits you right in the eyes is when an individual has remained in one organisation for six or seven years plus. Undoubtedly, the salary they’re being paid starts to lose parity with market rates.”

Indeed, staying too long with one retailer can make candidates less attractive to other companies. “From a recruitment point of view, things are changing so much. When our clients look at candidates when they’ve been with a company for 10 to 15 years, the first thing they question is the candidate’s flexibility and willingness to adapt to newness. It’s not necessarily detrimental, but it is a question mark,” says Alvar.

Beaven is quick to highlight that it’s important to her to have people who have been with the company a long time and those who have had more jobs. “From the employer’s side, it’s important to have a mix of people who have a long service history that can coach or mentor those coming into the workplace, but we need to blend that with fresher ideas from a more fluid talent pool, which might be from people that have had more moves in their career.”

Employers may take a mixed view on whether they’d seriously consider someone who has moved around a lot in their career, but anecdotal evidence suggests high-flyers tend to have honed their skills at a smaller number of companies. Mathew Dixon, director of executive search firm Hudson Walker, says that while there are no hard and fast rules “there is a lot to be gained from somebody being in the one place for a significant period early in their career.

“Often, when you speak to great business leaders, they experienced a very settled start to their careers where they cemented what they were going to do and it allowed them to make their mark in a company. When they left their first or second roles, they had already built a reputation and achieved something tangible. It sounds slightly old-fashioned, but it really allowed them to learn their trade.”

The changing nature of the fashion industry means that future leaders will need a broader range of skills, suggests Jewitt-Cross. “As we increasingly become more omnichannel, businesses are much more complex and broad, and people in the future are going to have to have an understanding of more aspects of the business,” she explains. “Where retailing was a siloed affair where you were in buying, merchandising, retail or ecommerce, now it’s about how we trade across an omnichannel platform. So, for everybody, you’ve got to have a much broader understanding of all those aspects of the business, and what it takes to join up all of those dots.

“I think job-hopping will change; it will be much more about how they hop after a reasonable period of time into different areas of the business, rather than saying they want to stay in the same function and moving up that way.”

For ambitious staff, opportunities are becoming more plentiful as the economy improves and, while it may be easy to be seduced by increases in salary, it’s important to consider your career progression and where exactly it is you want to end up.

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