Vincent Krug has washed cars, painted houses and cleaned offices. He's worked in a liquor store, a plant nursery, an organic wholesale bakery and a local luncheonette. Bicycle messenger, head chef for a sorority house, a private contractor fighting forest fires? Krug has done that, too -- all before the age of 30.
"I guess I had a hard time trying to find myself," says Krug, of Ridgewood, N.J. "I was always looking for job security and most of the jobs were lousy money. Nobody offered health benefits. The funny thing is now I work as a fireman and I plan on sticking with this job for 25 years."
Career experts say Krug's job hopping is a little excessive, but not all that unusual.
Only 31 percent of workers 25 and over had been with their employer for more than 10 years in January 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median tenure of workers 55 to 64 (9.6 years) was more than three times longer than workers ages 25 to 34 (2.7 years). And that can't be explained by the sheer number of years they have been in the workforce.
"When I was coming along, you were expected to work for the same company for 25 years," says Curtis Crawford, author of "Corporate Rise: The X Principles of Extreme Personal Leadership." "If you did a great job and contributed successfully to the company you got a retirement plan, a gold watch and walked into the sunset. Today, the expectations are quite different."
WHAT'S BEHIND THE TREND
Gen Xers watched their parents work long hours, miss dinner and soccer games, then, despite their dedication, lose jobs because of mergers and acquisitions, says Michael Ball, author of "You're Too Smart for This: Beating the 100 Big Lies About Your First Job." Couple that with the MTV generation's desire for instant gratification and it's a formula for bouncing from one job to another.
Ball says the younger generations were raised to believe they can become whatever they want, whether it's a future Bill Gates or a 5-foot-5 runway model. There's a lot of overblown self-worth and a sense of entitlement: "We want money. We want to be happy. We want it now."
When that doesn't happen fast enough, they bail.
"They get a job, they're fact-checking and doing grunt work. They are like, 'Wait a minute. I thought I was going to be doing this,'" Ball says. "About 57 percent are likely to leave within the first year for that reason."
Gen Xers and Yers are also soul-searching, unsure what career to pursue.
Francine Madera, 22, graduated from college last year and has worked for a nonprofit in Miami, as a restaurant hostess and as a third grade teacher in the Teach for America program (she lasted six months.) Her latest gig is with public relations firm 5W Public Relations in New York, where she's been since February.
"Our generation is a lot more curious," Madera says. "I would love to change my job every three years. Sometimes I sit there and talk to my friend who is a nurse. I am like, 'Wow, I wonder what it would be like to go back to school and learn and do that for a few years.'"
Mark Kunzman, a 1998 Tulane grad, says he has changed jobs in pursuit of a dream: wanting to be an actor. He has worked in advertising, as a substitute teacher, in radio, as a set coordinator and a location scout, and was once an assistant to Harvey Weinstein. He recently started working as a real estate agent, but that's proven to be tough and he's thinking about getting an MBA.
"I am realizing now this is not what I want to do," says Kunzman. "There's no steady income. You get things lined up. They don't work out. I have assumed a large amount of debt. I am trying to find happiness."
Having a college degree and flexibility that could lead to a lot of career options makes it hard to choose just one, says Reed Baker, 24, a 2002 philosophy graduate from Emory University. The Queens, N.Y., native is the founder of Sophist Productions, an independent record label.
"The Baby Boomers were the last generation that felt like from the beginning they were going to have to do a job because they had to," says Baker. "Nobody wants to get stuck on a job. Young people want to get a job that moves them, excites them, that makes them some money in the process."
Crawford says a little job-hopping is good.
Gen Xers and Yers who want to become senior executives need do about 10 different jobs to acquire the necessary skills, he says. That means they need to change jobs every two to three years, making their skill set portable to climb the corporate ladder.
"They look at jobs as an opportunity to learn and grow and make a substantial contribution to the companies they work for," he says. "They don't feel any contract with the job personally. They're loyal to their skill base and the value they contribute."
Someone who stays too long in the same job at the same company may become insulated in their exposure, he says. When a corporation is looking for a senior executive, the bosses look for people with a broad set of experiences.
But when does job hopping become a negative?
When you move every two years to a new company in the same position instead of moving up. Or when you change entire fields frequently, which can make you look wishy-washy.
"To a large degree, you can't explain to me why you have moved from company one to company two to company three in three different disciplines," Crawford says. "There has to be some level of continuity. Maybe you haven't made up your mind yet. But when you have made up your mind, I would love to talk to you."
Trudy Bourgeois, president and CEO for the Center for Workforce Excellence in Plano, Texas, says too much job hopping can be a strike against an applicant. It shows a lack of commitment.
Bourgeois blames high turnover on poor leadership, with most people leaving their jobs because of problems with their boss instead of low pay or indecision. Generally, that boss is a Baby Boomer who doesn't challenge them, give them the opportunity to move up, or value them, she says.
Plus Baby Boomer bosses see wanting to leave at 5 p.m. as a lack of commitment and essentially punish young workers for wanting a good life/work balance. They came along in an era where working 90 hours a week was a badge of honor.
"We have got to create an environment that's inclusive and respects people for the way they get work done," says Bourgeois. "Young people want to do a good job. They want a life, too.
"I have interviewed hundreds of Gen Xers and Gen Yers. I think they want to find a really good company with really good managers. And when they find that, they stay."