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I'm a software developer currently on my 5th job in 5 years. I have never been promoted internally, mostly because external employers make such offers faster than internal ones.

I generally send out my first job applications within a month of being in a new job, a lot of it simply to keep my interview skills sharp. To keep up the habit, I send out one a week (plus LinkedIn easy apply, as why not?) and try to interview once a month.

I went from new grad developer to developer 1 (at that company, that was a position requiring 2 years of experience) in 9 months by jumping.

Developer 1 to intermediate took two years and I left after I was asked to wait a few months at that company vs getting it immediately at the new one.

I then jumped laterally from that company after 9 months when they decided not to give pay raises that year.

I then jumped again after 16 months for a promotion to a senior role just now.

I have mostly been applying to other senior roles, but am thinking about going after lead ones in a short while.

Is never having received a promotion noticeable?

I am an American in California.

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    I'm confused: you were never promoted internally, but you were promoted (in a sense) through your lateral moves. Unless I'm misunderstand. You've gone from new grad to senior, so you've moved up the career ladder. – bob Feb 24 at 18:01
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    Software developer job titles are largely meaningless. Every company defines them differently. Some companies have 5-10 different developer titles, some companies have one title for everyone. What matters is the work you're doing and the responsibilities that you have. – 17 of 26 Feb 25 at 14:26
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    "I generally send out my first job applications within a month of being in a new job, a lot of it simply to keep my interview skills sharp". If I was your manager and was aware of that, I'd interpret it very differently (i.e. as "not committed to your employer"). – Alnitak Feb 25 at 16:26
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    @17of26 very true, but in my book five years experience isn't enough to warrant a title of "senior" anything. – Alnitak Feb 26 at 11:39
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    At some point your lack of commitment to a company for a reasonable amount of time might catch up with you, especially as you get more senior. You benefit from working in a industry where demand is larger than the supply. If that changed or your were in a more competitive job role changing regularly would be seen as problematic. As people have already mentioned, hiring people is expensive and time consuming. No one wants to do it, but due to the high churn in the software dev world most hiring managers don't have the luxury loyalty. – MikeS159 Feb 26 at 11:49

11 Answers 11

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Is there any resume disadvantage to never being promoted within a company?

The single fact that you have never been promoted isn't hugely significant by itself. It just fits in with the pattern of the rest of your resume. The fact that you have had five jobs in five years makes it almost certain that you have never had a promotion.

The biggest disadvantage is that hiring managers will likely only hire you for what you are now, rather than that, plus what you could grow into.

Your resume demonstrates that you most likely won't be around for any long-term growth. So if you wouldn't be able to jump into the open role and immediately be productive, then you may not be a good investment. Promotions take time, and an investment on your part and on the part of your manager. You've shown that you may not be worth such an investment, since you won't be around.

Some jobs in some companies would not be offered to you - jobs that require substantial growth or new training, for example. And of course some hiring managers stay away from job-hoppers.

There may be plenty of other jobs in your industry and locale (the kinds that are filled by contractors, for example), so in the end it may have no practical impact on your career, depending on the kind of career arc you envision.

I am mostly curious to know if never having received a promotion is noticeable.

It will be noticed by any reader who cares.

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    I would just like to emphasize what has been buried a bit in this answer -- it seems unlikely that people would notice you're not being promoted, but it's quite likely that you will be labeled a job hopper, and many companies will not bother interviewing you for that reason. – Richard Rast Feb 24 at 17:54
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    @TheBatman It is extremely important to note progress within a company on your resume, otherwise you imply you've held a Developer 3 position for a very long time instead of progressing from Dev 2 to Dev 3. – jackwise Feb 24 at 20:58
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    If looking at a senior engineer, i'd be concerned that not a single company has recognized OP's skills... OP also needs a much better explanation for the lateral jump than "they didn't give raises that year." All red flags that OP's skills don't match their position – Mars Feb 25 at 3:25
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    @Mars the companies could have recognized it, but he left them before they decided to act on it. Or they may have found out that he is going to interviews when he's only working there for a month. – Jungkook Feb 26 at 7:15
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    @Alnitak With zero promotions, I'd assume the opposite... – Mars Feb 26 at 9:24
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Not really any disadvantage depending on the industry. You have steadily moved forwards which is more than most. It's more of a flag that you're not even finishing 2 years before moving.

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    If OP is doing contracting, no problem at all. Good infact: constant work, increasing progress. But if it's permanent work then the danger is that when OPs resume crosses my desk I won't get past "5 jobs in 5 years". I have no reason to believe they will stay in my role for any longer than they have stayed in other roles. I'm looking for someone to learn our systems and processes and stick around for a while. I don't want to have to go through 100 resumes again in 12 months time! – John3136 Feb 25 at 0:47
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    "It's more of a flag that you're not even finishing 2 years" is an excellent point. if you never stick around more than a year it seems like you will never have seen the long-term consequences of your decisions.And it's appreciation of long-term consequences that is vital for a senior or lead. – Nathan Hughes Feb 25 at 14:36
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    @user11153 I don't know about John, but I think I'd rather have nobody. It takes a while to learn and come up to speed on things, so it's fairly likely that somebody who stays a year or less is actually a net negative to the company. – Stack Tracer Feb 25 at 16:26
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    @DoctorPenguin You may be right, but speaking as a person responsible for vetting resumes: OP will not pass my first cut. Leaving one or two jobs after 6 months? No problem - there could be valid reasons. But 5 in 5 years? Alarm bells are ringing and I've still got 76 other resumes to read so I'm going to listen to the alarm bells. – John3136 Feb 25 at 21:37
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    I wouldn't even take him as a contractor, there is no knowing the root cause of the job hopping, it could be advancement or pay, or it could be he can't work well with people. I know more than one hopper who left jobs one step ahead of their colleagues bashing them or getting sacked for something nasty. One of the benefits of hiring people who stick is that they've proven the ability to work in a team and are house trained. – Kilisi Feb 25 at 22:59
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As noted by others, the lack of promotion itself isn't noticeable, because what's noticeable is your frequent change of jobs. I'd add that, as an employer, I would consider whether you changed jobs in an upward trajectory or not; if you're bouncing from one junior position to another, that's not as good as if you go from junior to developer after a few jobs. The importance isn't to show a promotion, it's to show increasing responsibility and increasing abilities.

Did you have five basically identical jobs with identical employers for five years? Then that's no better (and probably worse) than staying in one job for five years, from that point of view (plus the job-hopping).

Did you have five jobs, starting with one small local employer, moving up to a couple of mid-sized firms in your region, ending at a job at Google? That sounds like an upwards trajectory to me - in particular, if the responsibilities of those jobs increased even if the title didn't (ex: small employer, writing web pages for customer facing site in Node.JS; medium employer, maintaining site with 500 pages using mix of technologies; Google, on a team of [many] that supports particular cluster of pages with 10M page views/day)

From what you describe, it looks like you did move upwards. This assumes the companies are either comparable or getting bigger - it's perhaps not quite the same if your title changes (up) but the responsibilities don't, but unless there's a dramatic difference in the company reputations, it should be seen well.

But, I think the more important thing to consider is how you compare to other candidates to similar jobs.

Is it normal in your industry at your level to be job hopping for more money? Do most of the other similar candidates have 3-5 jobs in 5 year period? Or are you competing with people who have 1 job for 5 years. Many fields do have frequent job hopping for many reasons - but make sure you're familiar with the norm in yours, as many don't expect it. Hopefully you know others in the same role and can just ask people what's common, or if you're at a large company just see what the turnover is for that role - maybe your company is higher/lower turnover than average, but it's a starting point at least; and you've had 5 companies in 5 years, so perhaps you've got some broader understanding by this point of what others are doing.

If you're applying for Senior positions, even if at a Junior/regular level it's common to job hop, odds are Seniors are expected to stay longer - they're more expensive to acquire and have more institutional knowledge, so companies want to know they'll stay for a reasonable length of time. Expect at minimum to see more questions in the interview about whether you'd stay longer and why you change jobs; and less interviews, also.

If other applicants do have longer job histories, consider establishing yourself for a few years at your current company, also, to show a change in the pattern - it's common to hop for a while when you're young, but proving that you can stay for a while at the right opportunity is a case of "show don't tell" often.

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When I see you jumping jobs so often I read it as:

  • You can't acquire enough domain knowledge and business insight to see the bigger picture when working on a project.
  • It's risky to put you in charge of important projects - you'll likely leave half way through without hesitation.
  • This lack of commitment also means I wouldn't trust you with your design decisions - you won't be around to deal with the fallout of your decisions years from now.
  • You're not here for a long term - you're not worth investing into (e.g. trainings, conferences).
  • Due to that I may take you on as an easily replaceable coding monkey, but not as someone to depend on long term.

  • You can't handle conflicts, frictions, disagreements - you rather leave than work it through.

Also some other remarks:

  • Just because your title says Senior developer doesn't mean you are a senior developer. In fact it's quite unlikely. See Levels of Seniority and honestly try to see for yourself where you belong.

  • It's acceptable to quickly change one or two jobs at the beginning of your career when you're still unsure what you'd like to do. After 5 years you should know better, choose the right job, show some commitment.

  • Build a solid career based on achievements, not based on your interviewing skills.

BTW This may come as irrelevant but I wonder about your private relationships - are you swiping Tinder on your first date? There may always be someone "better" waiting out there :)

Always looking for the next better thing means that you can never be happy with what you've got now.

Honestly - I wouldn't want to be your employer (nor your girlfriend :)

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  • I’ve never been on a date and only occasionally see my family, so I don’t really have private relationships but that is an interesting way to look at it. – nopromotions Feb 26 at 22:27
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    I second the part about Senior. If a person with 5 years experience (let alone the job hopping) tells me they're a senior developer, I'd probably inwardly chuckle. And I'd assume they were doing some pretty large resume puffing. – Kevin Mar 11 at 19:22
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I work in contracting, but not the kind where you change contracts frequently.

Just because you change jobs with increasing responsibility does not show me that you can actually handle the increasing responsibility. All it tells me is that you could convince someone else for a few hours that you could do it.

So it's possible that you stepped up to the new responsibility at each job and are generally great. OR it's also a possibility that you were about to be fired from each job for incompetence but managed to find another job in the nick of time, and your interview skills are so good that you were able to make the next job an upward transition.

A promotion, especially a series of them, at least has a chance of being based on your actual work.

I've personally worked with people from both categories, but the incompetent-but-smooth-talking variety seems to be more common so that's what I will tend to assume. Also, hiring one of the incompetent variety is more damaging than accidentally passing up one of the good ones.

Also, as others have noted, being a frequent job hopper in general is a strong negative. It makes me feel like you won't be there if things are ever even slightly unpleasant or you won't be a team player. Are you going to be motivated to write high quality code so that maintenance will be easy, or is that someone else's problem to deal with? That kind of thing.

(This is assuming that your increase in title is related at all to an increase in responsibility, which is a big assumption in the US. If you ended up with a more impressive title doing the same thing, or "senior" of a project that never shipped, well... Also, what on earth are you planning to do when you run out of bigger and better titles?)

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Promotions take time. It takes time for people to recognize your worth. It takes time to submit a recommendation of promotion, review the recommendation and there may need to be an open position to fill to justify a promotion.

A promotion is worth celebrating, but you rarely seek promotion; you seek position and that's what you successfully did.

Employers don't look for promoted people, they look for skillful people capable to fill a position; you showed employers you were capable and got those positions, hence demonstrating there is no issue not having received a promotion when seeking a higher position.

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Few things which weren't mentioned in other answers:

  • Let's say, you worked in one company for 5 years doing the same over and over without promotion - that would be also noticeable. As recent graduate, you may change first 1-2 jobs quickly because it may be internship or not good fit but it's your responsibility to be picky and select suitable company for a longer term. According to how long the average employee stays at the biggest tech companies or Software Engineers Tenure in San Francisco typical tenure is 2-2.5 year in big tech companies.
  • It costs a lot to hire a developer for 1 year - few months of search and interviewing, bonus to recruiter, onboarding time and then handover.
  • You can work in a startup where promotions/formal titles are not common or those positions already occupied so there is no reason for a small company to have team which consists just of seniors.
  • In general, not every developer is formally promoted or reach next level according skills
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    +1 for the point "it costs a lot to hire a developer". Very true and not explicitly stated in other answers. – John3136 Feb 25 at 23:36
  • Eh, I like most of this answer, but the '5 years doing the same thing without promotion' is a bit too hard-core. That's saying a 50 year old should have had at least 6 promotions. If you run into a 50 year dev that is only a Mid-Level Dev, that doesn't mean they're worthless. It just means they're not pushing to climb the ladder. – Kevin Feb 26 at 14:50
  • It depends on interpretation. I meant same thing - same project. It would be noticeable as any other decisions - question how they will proved. – Justas Feb 26 at 19:05
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    proved that you adapt in various companies - quite the opposite IMO. He jumps so often that it's hard to prove anything about any aspect of his work. – KeepLearning Feb 26 at 19:59
  • yes, that's too quick – Justas Feb 26 at 21:47
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I think what you'll find is that in software development, changing jobs for pay rises and bumping from 'junior developer' to 'senior developer' and gaining experience works when you are a software developer.

That is - if all that is required of you is that you 'know xyz framework', then you're employable and valuable.

But if your career is going to progress into more management roles, (people management, technical project management), these are roles that are going to be given to people who have either been in that organisation for a long time and know the ins and outs of it, or have demonstrated experience doing that for a significant amount of time in a previous role.

To put it another way just knowing a technology can suit a temporary role and so employers are OK with short term experience if they're just hiring you for your technical skills. But other roles the employer may want someone with more long term thinking and experience, someone who knows how to deal with a problem that develops over a couple of years, and you would be lacking in that.

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It depends on who you ask. Some view job hopping as a negative trait but having worked in a variety of different jobs/companies can actually add an element of interest to your resume and give the impression of someone with a lot of experience. You have a much greater breadth of experience than someone who has only ever held one job.

Would you rather hire the person who has worked at ABC company for 15 years and XYZ company for another 15 years within 123 industry or the person who has worked in a variety of different capacities at 9 different companies in 5 industries over 30 years? It depends on the situation but, personally, I wouldn't view the person who only has 2 companies listed on their resume as very experienced unless I was running a company within 123 industry and looking for someone with that person's exact skill set/experience.

It's a trick of the mind. There was a study done where 2 groups of people were put in a room and told they would be making clay pottery. One group was told to focus on making one type of pot and making it extremely well. The other group was given free reign to make as many different pots as they can. The group who was given free reign actually fared much better than the group who was told to focus on making the best pot they can. Through experimenting with various techniques the free reign group learned what worked and what didn't. They improved at a much faster rate as they could apply techniques learned from the previous pot to the new pot. The creativity really starts flowing.

The thing is jobs are a lot like the pottery productivity study. You take experiences from your previous jobs and apply them to your current job. Therefore a job hopper usually fares much better in the workforce than someone who has only ever held one job because the job hopper has a lot more experience to pull from. Job hopping is beneficial to the job hopper because they end up acquiring a mixed bag of skills that affords them the flexibility of working in various jobs within different industries and are less limited than a non job hopper. So you should job hop but not too frequently. You have to stay with a company long enough to acquire new skills and experiences.

As an interviewer I wouldn't notice whether someone was promoted or not because it doesn't really mean anything to me but, again, it all depends on who you ask. There's so much more to life than status quo and clawing your way to the top of the popularity pyramid. It's sorta like that Monster.com commercial where he says you get a job and part of you withers away until you don't even feel like a person anymore. It's so true.

The Monster.com Commercial:
https://ispot.tv/a/I86o

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Is there any resume disadvantage to never being promoted within a company?

This depends on the industry and local job markets conditions. Some job markets are very dynamic (or rely heavily on contractors), and thus don't bat an eye if you change employment regularly.

Other more traditional markets (IT in some cities, and in the defense and energy sectors), an employer might raise an eyebrow (which I think is unfair given how much we have become dependent on contracting and subcontracting.)

So within a 5 year period (or for junior level developers), it is not uncommon to not have promotions within the same company within such a short period of time (relatively speaking.)

However, if you (the generic "you"), have been in the industry for more than 5 years, employers might have reasons to be concerned with a prospective employee if he/she does not show some sort of career progression.

The one exception is when people get to senior and staff level development positions (or architecture positions).

Not many companies have staff-level positions, and for those that do, it can be quite competitive (or politickey) to progress from senior to staff (or to architecture.)

Thus, the only progression for many senior-level developers is to jump into middle-management, or to stay at a senior level while racking up experience in multiple technical fields and development stacks (or become highly specialized in one profitable area.)

I hope this answers your question.

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Is never having received a promotion noticeable?

Yes, by someone actually paying attention to your resume and competent they will be able to notice that. Does it matter is the real question and the answer in the short is not really most tech companies realise that people move around jobs a lot.

There may be some hesitation by some that you are moving jobs and that you'll move within a year and they will have to recruit again. Small companies are bothered by this a lot larger companies it's just part of recruiting developers.

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