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Proper reasons for change can calm job-hopping jitters

The stigma attached to job-hopping has vanished, says Julia Hartman, a marketing executive who has held 10 jobs in 15 years.

"I think there's a very big stigma to hiring job jumpers," counters Rick Abraham, a business-development executive whose five jobs in the past five years have been a sticking point in job interviews. "They say, "Why should we hire you? How do we know you'll be committed to this job?' "

And so the debate about job-hopping rages on. Certainly, some hiring managers have become more accepting of candidates whose resumes read like a rock group's world tour. They can hardly fail to notice that many outstanding _ and stable _ managers have been thrust unwillingly into the job market by mergers, acquisitions, layoffs, outsourcing and the growing use of contract and temporary professionals. Those seeking to push change in their companies recognize the benefits of broad experience and the ability to adapt quickly to new environments.

But to many hiring managers, job-hopping still raises questions of personality, performance and permanence. "Attitudes are changing, but not as much as people would have you believe," says Barry Shamis, a Redmond, Wash., corporate hiring consultant. "There are multiple generations out there who think job-hopping is a sin, and they are still the majority of people doing the hiring in this marketplace."

Because it appears that economic conditions will generate even more job-hopping in the future, what's a career kangaroo to do? The keys, experts say, are finding companies that favor varied resumes and having solid reasons for your moves.

Show interviewers that you bettered yourself and took on more responsibility with every move, Shamis recommends. Avoid frequent lateral moves, he adds. Continuous learning is a hot topic at most companies these days, so explaining that you jumped to learn new skills generally goes down smoothly, too.

"The person has to turn a negative into a positive by showing how his exposure to a lot of different systems is going to help a potential employer," Shamis says.

References are critical, says Abraham, 41, vice president of business development for Locus Direct Marketing Group, which manages corporate marketing campaigns. "If you say you left a job because the senior vice president was a tyrant, you have to have a reference who can back that up for you," he says.

Cultural adaptation is also a selling point. "You can show how you did well in this culture and that culture and how adaptable you are," he says.

Abraham has left jobs for a variety of reasons. The company faltered or a project ended or he grew bored and sought new challenges. "I have a lot of curiosity about what's happening in technology and marketing and want to be in the forefront of it," he says.

He isn't proud of his resume, however. "I sort of cringe about it," he says. "My choice would be to find a company and stay there the rest of my career."

While his breadth of experience certainly serves him well in business development, he also understands corporate nervousness over his past. "Nobody wants to hire a VP of business development who's going to develop all these relationships and then leave," he says. "You can do a lot of damage to the company."

Nevertheless, he believes, if you're in a position where you can't grow through more responsibility or technical knowledge, you have to think about a change.

So when a job change seems tempting, Shamis advises, research the prevailing career models at prospective employers. Job-hopping is commonplace in labor-strapped, creative industries such as high-tech or advertising, but frowned upon in more traditional industries, such as financial services.

Ms. Hartman, 39, the director of marketing and sales for Mercantile Software, a data base marketing company in Piscataway, N.J., contends that companies aggressively seeking change are happy hunting grounds for job-hoppers, particularly those with lofty career ambitions. "It's a bold strategy for people who are really going for it," she says.

For them, job-hopping is a planned strategy. Ms. Hartman, for example, decided she wanted to be the top marketing officer for a major corporation, an extravagant dream for someone who was an orchestra violinist. To acquire the needed skills, she raced through an MBA and a series of jobs, contract assignments and posts to learn various aspects of the business. She describes the process in her recently released book, Strategic Job Jumping _ How to Get From When You Are to Where You Want to Be.

"If you change your jobs within an industry, you get a 360-degree view of that industry," she says, "so you may be best qualified to see future opportunities and transform a firm to capitalize on those opportunities."

To help convince employers that her moves are worthwhile, Ms. Hartman maintains a personal work portfolio, including a presentation about marketing campaigns she mounted and excerpts from various reports and presentations she did.

If an employer still questions her commitment, she responds: "On the contrary, I get passionately involved in my jobs, because I've made a conscious choice to come to this company at this time for this assignment. This is the assignment I'm choosing for my career."