I have mentioned several times throughout my Tweets and Blog posts that short stints at jobs are looked upon by employers as a red flag. The response from the world at large has been mixed so I thought I would take some time to address what concerns go through our heads and what steps you can take to alleviate any concerns and move forward in the interview process.
When a hiring manager or recruiter sees 1-2 years or less at every job on your resume (or in the last several years at least) it can elicit some of the following assumptions:
1. This person isn’t loyal or committed.
2. They get bored easily or are inflexible with change and would rather jump ship that work through difficult circumstances/people.
3. This person jumps from job to job for 20% increases in salary along the way – only out for more money and will continue to be susceptible to recruiting while employed with us.
4. They are a “grass is always greener” type of person, and a blame-shifter. For every job you talk to them about, there is going to be some person who was “out to get them” or who “stood in the way” of their success – so they were forced to move on.
5. They were fired. I realize that it may seem harsh to assume the worst, but it’s a reality that job seekers should accept and try to work around.
I have certainly heard stories that are exceptions to the above 5 assumptions, and some include:
2) Start-up whose VC money dried up
3) Company relocates to a different state
4) Department is eliminated
5) You took a newly created job that was poorly defined and expectations were unrealistic
6) New boss came in and brought in their own team
7) Company was legitimately crazy; unethical/hostile work environment
So, what do you do if any of those are causes of your short tenures at your jobs in the last 5-10 years?
Well, first of all you have been unlucky, misinformed, misguided, or failed to do adequate research. Whatever the case may be, the first thing we need to do is figure out the most appropriate way to disclose relevant information on your resume that may shed some light on some of these reasons and divert any recruiters/hiring managers from any of the first 5 assumptions.
The second thing you need to do is be honest with yourself and if you can own any fault in the matter, learn from your mistakes and vow to not make them again. I met a gal once who kept accepting positions that were newly created because she loved the thrill and the challenge. She stayed at each new position only as long as the CEO of the company was willing to support her entire salary as pure overhead because the positions were poorly defined and loosely linked to revenue generation/profitability. I would highly recommend steering clear of “brand new” positions – at least if you are the first of second person to take it on. It would be extremely difficult in an interview process, to determine how defined the role actually is, and exactly what the expectations are of you – and frankly, what happens after a year if those expectations aren’t met? Recalibration in a collaborative environment, or “I guess this just isn’t working, thanks for giving us a shot but we feel it’s best to move in a different direction.”
Here are some tips you can use on your resume to explain short tenures:
1) Specify if a job was a contract. You can place the word on the resume right next to the job title in parenthesis and italics.
2) If you fell victim of a merger or acquisition, you can specify in parenthesis and italics next to the dates of employment “Lay-offs due to acquisition by _____________,” or “Laid off as a result of merger with ________________, or something like “Part of 2,000 employee layoff as a result of division closing.” The point I’m trying to make, is it’s OK to be appropriately honest without making things too complicated on a resume. If your whole department got laid off, then write in “Department eliminated during restructuring.” Do not make this explanation long that 5 or 6 words, if possible. The longer the explanation, the more desperate and/or long-winded you appear.
3) If your company asked you to relocate to Nebraska, then write in next to dates in parenthesis: “Resigned after corporate moved to Nebraska,” or “Closed local division,” or “California offices moved to east coast,” or “Company HQ moved to Hackensack; declined relocation and resigned.”
4) Unfortunately, if you have fallen victim to getting sold on a “brand new role” within a company and it didn’t pan out, there really isn’t anything you can appropriately note on a resume without looking desperate. You will have to be able to clearly articulate the contributions you were able to make during your time in the position, and tie it up with something like “Looking back, I realize that I should have asked more questions prior to accepting the role because when I joined the team it was pretty clear that the position wasn’t clearly defined and I was facing an uphill battle.” You need to avoid bad-mouthing your former employer and take responsibility for what in hindsight appears to have been a bad move on your part. It is a delicate dance, but own what you were able to bring to the table and try and transition into how your accomplishments can be a value add to the team you are talking about joining.
5) If you resigned from a company due to harassment, hostile work environment or anything unethical or illegal, do NOT put this anywhere on your resume. In fact, I would even recommend not disclosing that in an interview UNLESS you absolutely have to (like you resigned from ENRON in 2000 and everyone knows what happened). No matter how legit your claims were (and I’m not minimizing any of it), you don’t want to advertise that you have experience suing your employers because it tends to freak people out. In an interview process, when they inevitably ask you why that job ended you can say something like “I actually decided to leave Enron because I realized that the company culture and environment was really not a good fit for me . That was a huge learning experience in my life and I feel that I am very focused and clear on what it is that I want in my next job and what sort of company I can thrive in.”
6) If you joined a start-up company who couldn’t afford to pay your salary after their venture capital money dried up, then it is safe to put (Start-Up) next to the company name on your resume and we can pretty much figure out what happened.
7) A different way to show loyalty and commitment on a resume is to insert a “Volunteering” or “Interests/Hobbies” section at the bottom that lists associations that you have belonged to and been active in for longer than 2 years. NPO’s you have volunteered for with dates can also show longevity. You can even include churches where you’ve been a member and how long, or # of marathons you’ve run, which shows discipline and the ability to stick with something that isn’t easy. Black belt in Karate, Big Brother/Big Sister, Boy Scout – all of these things act to humanize you and counter-act some of the assumptions of flakiness.
I hope this advice helps those of you out there that are dealing with trying to explain your way around your resume to convince anyone who will listen that you aren’t a job hopper and that you are truly looking for your next “home” in your next job. My advice is to keep networking and meeting people so you can get strong leads and referrals into positions. Take a class or earn a certification – but keep focused on your path and you will soon start carving it again.
For all others that actually DO have the “grass is always greener” mentality or think that all of your previous bosses are out to get you because they are all jealous – you may have a psychological problem. There is a slim chance that you were fired from your last 3 jobs because “they just didn’t know how to utilize your talent.” Try looking in the mirror at the common denominator and stop acting so self-righteous in your interviews. We have your number, and we don’t want to be the punks who sign your pay checks for the next year.