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I've been a programmer for 3 years professionally, jumping straight from dropping out of college with an irrelevant major into web development, which led to a series of job hops when I was still in my very early twenties (since age 19).

On average, I've held down a job for about ~9 months, with a total of 4 jobs.

  1. I left the first one because it was cooking the books and practiced envelope salaries with no written contracts,
  2. the second one because I jumped above board with my junior skill-set and wasn't able to meet goals (this seems to cause a lot of confusion - I stayed for 8 months total, with 6 months of good performance, then a personal crisis hit and I wasn't able to meet goals despite management support - they reached out and were ready to help, but I just let them down),
  3. the third one because of mismanagement by middle management and my lack of social awareness (a really nice startup idea died because of bad architecture I didn't speak out against due to lack of experience-backed authority),
  4. the fourth one due to ethical concerns about unfair competition,
  5. and the current one, which I'll soon be clocking a year in, and staying a while longer regardless, because I plan to move countries due to serious political instability - originally, I was going to stay here for several years, but with the current political climate in my country I cannot risk it.

Now, to me, 5 jobs in 3 years seems like a red flag to HR personnel - but I believe that all (except the second) job hops were more than appropriate given the circumstances. Will such a history rightfully risk putting me in a bad light before international employers? This sort of commitment on both sides feels a lot more serious than any domestic job.

I'm considering countries like the UK, USA, Australia. The latter especially has a good program for skilled immigration that I seem to qualify for.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Mar 18 '20 at 11:52
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You are still in your early 20's, right? I would not worry about it too much.

It is not unusual to try things out early in your career, and you needed to take what you could get at the time to get started. Yes, you're going to be judged as a "job-hopper" until you stabilize your job history. This will limit some opportunities at large companies with very rigid selection criteria or smaller companies with hiring managers who have particular expectations about the job history of new hires.

Everyone has different "red flags", and exceptions are made all the time. You might have to try harder, but you are not doomed.

The flip side of your employment history is that you've seen a few different environments including some bad ones. If you learned the right lessons, it means you will appreciate and thrive in an environment that's not dysfunctional.

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  • Not to mention that you are from a politically unstable country, which may act as a mitigating circumstance. – Mad Physicist Mar 17 '20 at 16:11
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    @MadPhysicist Or as an aggravating one, depending on which politically unstable country it is and where the OP ends up. Any place I can think of that is really politically unstable enough to warrant emigration is generally also a place at least some of the politically "stable" countries might be wary of. Especially regarding work visas etc. – DRF Mar 17 '20 at 16:23
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5 jobs in 3 years seems like a red flag to HR personnel

It is.

job hops were more than appropriate given the circumstances.

No one cares, all job hoppers deny being job hoppers and rationalise it as something else. Even given the reasoning you have provided it still looks like job hopping to me. But most HR won't even bother looking at the reasoning.

I've been a programmer for 3 years professionally

No you haven't, you have just jumped around trying to look like one. No offence, but that's what it looks like.

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    Kilisi is blunt but very accurate. In addition, you look like someone who would be difficult to work wth. Reality doesn't matter. It's just about perception. – Gregory Currie Mar 16 '20 at 7:11
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    "You've just jumped around trying to look like one." feels like unearnt personal animosity. If this was opinion central, I'd chip in on your assessment accuracy. – Ivan T. Mar 16 '20 at 7:27
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    It's what the HR will think if they get as far as spending time thinking about it. No personal animosity, I don't know you. You have taken at least one job that you were incapable of doing, and found reasons to leave all the rest. – Kilisi Mar 16 '20 at 7:28
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    Not really, but why try and rationalise it anyway? There isn't a need, Just play the hopping down. Don't draw attention to it. I've seen plenty of job hoppers get jobs. – Kilisi Mar 16 '20 at 8:24
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    That's too harsh. I know people who got fired from their new jobs because they insisted on being compliant. I know people who after starting were expected to work 14h/day (unpaid overtime obviously). I know those who were promised to work as project managers and then expected to work in data input (i.e. typing data in) the whole day. I was tricked that I would receive a big bonus as part of my salary - it resulted to be 50% lower that in my contract. The problem is, currently companies try to trick people into joining. Job hopping is not a long term solution, but then, what is? – BigMadAndy Mar 16 '20 at 10:21
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Frequent job changes are only as bad as you make them sound. Personally I have a period where I changed jobs every 6 - 9 months, as during that time I was a contractor working 6 or 9 month contracts. I make this clear on my CV, and I have no problem securing interviews when I'm looking for new jobs.

In your examples, your reason for leaving your third job is that the startup failed. There's no shame in leaving a company that shut down, and no one would expect a junior developer to be the person who caused that (and you're not, even if you feel like you are). Make it clear on your CV that you were there till the end.

Your current one you're leaving for a valid reason (emigrating to a new country), so make that clear in your covering letter.

If you had any sort of fixed term or hourly contract for the others, then emphasise that in your CV, and if it still looks bad then you could consider leaving your first job or two off altogether - people leave early jobs off their CVs all the time. My first professional development job was a 2 month contract, and I took that off a couple of years later as it was no longer relevant (obviously it should still be listed in things like background checks, but if you get that far then they already want you).

Don't talk about past employers' unethical practices, mismanagement or dodgy accounting. Stay positive about your previous employers - you're selling your attitude as much as your experience.

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    Being a contractor is fine, being a job hopper is not - and your answer seems to confuse those concepts. If you are an employee then you are generally expected to stay for few years before moving on, and if you make wrong company choices 4-5 times in a row, that's certainly not something to overlook. And that's the problem OP is facing, not that the company went under, but that he seems to pick poorly, so far. As for contractors, for them moving every few months is normal, and no one's going to ask reasons or look at it poorly, though it has its own set of issues when want to be employed. – Tymoteusz Paul Mar 16 '20 at 10:21
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    @TymoteuszPaul the problem the OP is facing is how to move forward and get interviews, despite having this past. We can berate them as much as we want, but it won't help anyone. – Player One Mar 16 '20 at 10:23
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    Not sure how you twist naming core of the issue as berating but alright. And confusing them further by trying to make up a world where that's perfectly fine and normal (it isn't, especially in the start of career) is not going to do them any good, hence the -1. – Tymoteusz Paul Mar 16 '20 at 10:26
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    @TymoteuszPaul my point is that telling them they "pick poorly", and that their job history isn't normal is not constructive. I don't mind the downvote, you're welcome to disagree. Personally, in the OP's place, I would choose to try and salvage my CV instead of feeling bad about it. – Player One Mar 16 '20 at 10:30
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    I agree with @PlayerOne, you can't undo what has been done. It's more of giving the OP an idea of how to do some damage control until they have stabilized their employment history. – JustSaying Mar 16 '20 at 16:01
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Context

If I were looking at your resume, and I saw that you were hopping between FAANGs every 9 months, I would assume you were booted for incompetence and would take that as a pretty strong reason to skip you. If I saw that you were working for very small companies, then I would assume that your short tenures may be as much due to those companies as yourself. What I would look for is to see if you are building up a body of expertise in a particular area, or just trying out random things. If your employers look like an intentional sequence of skill and professional progression, I might assume that you are ratcheting up. If they look haphazard, I might assume that you are barely squeaking in, and then not working out.

Skill

However, I am less interested in how long you worked for someone as I am what you learned during your time. I am most interested in whether you maximized the value of your time there, no matter how bad the company. So I will look at your projects, what you say about them, and try to see if there is a progression in sophistication, tools used, scope and responsibility. I will look for signs of an order-taker vs. an independent learner. Order takers/seat warmers are a dime a dozen, and I will leave those for someone else to hire. I want someone on my team who will work a job to pay the bills, but work on a side project to feed their passion. If I see you participating in user groups, OSS projects, showing off your hobby work on a personal website, or anything of that nature, I am far more interested in these things than the minute details of your work history.

My advice to you is to stop worrying about what doesn't matter so much and start worrying about what does: if I hire you, what can you deliver? Given the content of your question, my guess right now is: "Not all that much." If you spend the next several months working on what you can show the next employer, I think you will get much better action in the marketplace than if you obsess over your job history.

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    "FAANG is an acronym referring to the stocks of the five most popular and best-performing American technology companies: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Alphabet (formerly known as Google)" - I don't see any suggestion that OP has worked at any of these? – John Mar 17 '20 at 0:23
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    No, but I was giving examples of when I would be especially concerned about short-term hopping. I think it's good to show both sides of a decision boundary. – Lawnmower Man Mar 17 '20 at 0:30
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Generally a recruiter can only base you on your CV and employment history. If you have a long history of short employment stints, the next employer will have doubts about how long you are likely to remain at their company.

However, leaving your country is a somewhat different situation as you could say to a recruiter that you would have stayed long-term at your company but political reasons have forced you to emigrate. i.e. it is not another "job hop" but a change of country brought on by necessity.

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    And if it was the only incident then OP wouldn't have a problem, migrating is good enough reason. It's the 4 other instances that make this one bad. – Tymoteusz Paul Mar 16 '20 at 9:24
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Now, to me, 5 jobs in 3 years seems like a red flag to HR personnel - but I believe that all (except the second) job hops were more than appropriate given the circumstances. Will such a history rightfully risk putting me in a bad light before international employers?

For an international employer, yes.

You have a demonstrated lack of commitment (through no fault of your own). How could any international employer that goes to the trouble of sponsoring your visa be assured that you wouldn't find some reason to bail on them within the year too? That's a huge expense and legal risk to them. Even if you got past HR, I wouldn't take the risk on you myself and would assume you were visa-shopping.

For a domestic employer, there is nothing "bad" about your history. You worked brief stints for a series of small businesses or startups. This pattern is consistent with people that do contract work or work for volatile startups.

In any case never discuss your legal/ethical reasons for leaving, lest you come across as a crusader or troublemaker-- especially with international jobs, where you can expect exploitative behavior to become The Way Things Work Around Here.

Your best bet would be personal networking. If you know someone in a host country who could potentially champion your resume despite its history, I think that would be your best bet. Recruiting agencies might be able to help though I've never gotten anywhere with them myself.

I don't know what you're running from but if it's serious enough, one avenue you might consider exploiting is finding some other way to gain presence in any country besides your own-- like getting into one of those "teach English to kids in [Asia]" jobs and doing some in-person networking with your multinational colleagues to figure your next move out from there.

I wish you luck in your emigration.

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The answers which indicate that job hopping looks bad are correct. Here's what you need to do now:

Make the next job entry on your CV be for at least two years. Four years would be even better. You want to show that the past history of job hopping is over. It's important to stay even if the job seems awful. The whole point of staying is to show that you can handle the hard parts, and every job has hard parts.

The only exception I would make is for a job that is genuinely dangerous to your health and safety, or requiring you to perform illegal acts. Those jobs you must leave no matter what it looks like on your CV.

There's another point I want to make about jobs that are unpleasant. If you treat such a job as an opportunity for personal and professional growth, you may find that the unpleasantness is more indicative of growth that needs to happen in you than it is of something that is wrong with the job. You may also find that the job changes over time to become better.

I say this from personal experience: My current job was unpleasant for the first two years, with difficult interpersonal interactions and tasks I didn't like. But because I didn't want to leave a job so soon, I had to grow personally and professionally in able to deal with these difficulties. The growth has been very good for me. Also, the job and environment changed after those two years and it's now a pretty good job.

So: Stick with it. It'll help to mend your CV, and can be an opportunity for personal growth.

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