Moving jobs at the right time boosts prospects and pay-packets

Timothy Barber
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HECTOR Sants’s decision to step down ahead of time from his post heading up the Financial Services Authority has been greeted with shock, not least because he has only been in the post three years. Perhaps he feels that, having headed the regulator through the downturn, he has done his stint. No doubt he will find other work easy to come by.

For many people in the City, deciding when to leave a job is a massive decision. There’s a fine line to be drawn between gathering experience and being seen merely as a “job hopper”. So when is the right time to leave a post?

For somebody at senior executive level, like Sants, three years should be seen as a minimum tenure, suggests John Purkiss of headhunter Purkiss & Company. “As a general rule most people want to see that you’ve really achieved something for the shareholders and the organisation rather than just occupied a position,” he says.

“It could take a couple of years to really get the hang of things, then in the third year you start making things happen and by the end of the fifth year, they’ve happened.” If someone’s been in a role for six years to a decade, Purkiss says, “it begins to look a bit odd.”

Even for those yet to progress up to executive level, the same structure should hold true – get used to the job, get results, sustain them, and move up, and do it as often as you feel is right. In the old days, staying in the same job for years or even decades showed that you were loyal and a safe pair of hands. But times have changed. These days you don’t need to be worried that you have had too many jobs. “We meet a large number of candidates who move jobs every three or even two years, and it’s not a taboo to move five times in a decade” says Andy Evans, managing director of financial recruitment firm Morgan McKinley.

Evans says that a decade ago clients would be more likely to reject the CV of a person who had moved around a large number of jobs, since they’d be perceived as someone who couldn’t stay the course. “But that mentality has changed, and the City has become a much more mobile workforce. Banks are always introducing different initiatives and concepts, and people want to follow that and get involved, rather than be left behind.”

These days, says Linda Jackson of career coaching firm Fairplace, staying put can be seen as a sign of not managing your career properly. Moving on is good for your earning power: someone who has worked for three separate organisations in the same sector over 15 years can often command a 25 per cent higher salary than a person who has remained with the same company. “You’re more attractive to an employer because you understand how the competition works, and you bring that wider knowledge with you,” Jackson says.

Of course, that is not true for all professions. Headhunters or fund managers have to stay put to build up a client list and reputation. If you’re a recent graduate the situation is different again, since moving around more frequently – for instance, every six months – is seen as acceptable for a couple of years before you find your niche and stabilise.

Whatever you do, the vital thing is not so much the amount of time you spend in a position as the results you can demonstrate. Whether someone has remained in the same position, progressed within the company or moved frequently between organisations, they must be able to explain why.

“The City is a meritocracy, and people will be offered roles if they deserve them,” says Evans. “If you’ve stayed in one place, you must be able to show on your CV what you’ve achieved, what added value you bring as a result of staying so long, why you weren’t just treading water.”

So when do you know that it’s the right time to move on? Michael Moran of Fairplace says that it’s important to take responsibility for your career, planning where you intend to get to in a few years’ time and what you need to achieve to get there. Ask yourself a simple question, he says: if you were an asset, would you be appreciating or depreciating? If it’s the latter, then it’s time to move.

If you are thinking of moving jobs, you also need to wonder about whether it is the right time in the economic cycle.

During the downturn, a lot of people put their careers on hold. “For many it became more about survival than career advancement,” says Geoff Fawcett, a director at recruiter Hays City. This, he says, is changing now.

Earlier this week, recruiter Morgan McKinley released a survey of City HR professionals, and 83 per cent expect an increase in recruitment this year. Asked what are the biggest challenges employers will face, 45.2 per cent said that the poaching of clients will be a big problem.

According to Fawcett, that effect is already being felt. “If people don’t see an opportunity to progress with their current employer they will look elsewhere. In turn, we are finding that counter offers have become more common as recruitment, and therefore movement, has increased.”

There’s one other consideration – if you’re due a sizeable bonus, you’ll want to wait to get paid that first.