Call it "The Job Hopper's Dilemma." It's the fear, uncertainty and doubt that overcomes IT professionals who've held multiple jobs during a short span of time when they need to apply for a new job. They worry that their job hopping will hamper their job searches, but they don't know how to mitigate the issue.
Job hoppers have good reason to be concerned, say career experts and professional résumé writers.
"Employers who are hiring these days are looking through a stack of résumés, and they're looking for any reason to trim down that stack, including job hopping," says Louise Kursmark, a professional résumé writer and principal of Best Impression, which provides career-related services to executives.
Indeed, 40 percent of the recruiters, hiring managers and HR professionals that Kursmark interviewed for a recent book listed job hopping as a reason for immediately discarding a résumé.
"If someone thinks you're a job hopper, you're never going to get an interview," says David Perry, author of Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0 (Wiley 2009).
Job seekers might think these snap judgments are unfair, especially if they believe they have valid reasons for leaving jobs after less than a year. But employers have their own valid concerns about job hoppers.
"Job hopping suggests instability," says Kursmark. "The concern is that you get fired a lot, which is not good; that you get bored a lot, which is not good; that you're not good at choosing jobs that are right for you; or that you misled an employer at the time of your hire."
Some employers worry that professionals hop from job to job to steal trade secrets or to get trained at the employers expense, and then to bring all that knowledge gained to a competitor, notes Nimish Thakkar, a certified career coach and professional résumé writer who runs ResumeCorner.com and SAICareers.com.
Because hiring is expensive, time consuming, and a drag on employers' resources, adds Kursmark, they don't want to risk hiring someone with a questionable employment record and having to go through the recruitment process all over again a few months later.
Given the many red flags job hopping raises for employers, it's no wonder it's a liability for job seekers.
"You can minimize the impact of job hopping, but you can't eliminate it," says Thakkar.
A job hopper's best defense, then, is to emphasize skills and accomplishments on the résumé rather than tenure with each job, the experts say. Here are seven tips for downplaying job hopping on your résumé. These tactics should increase your odds of getting called in for job interviews despite the appearance of job hopping in your past.
[ Need more job search tips? See CIO.com's IT Job Search Bible. ]
1. Make a good first impression.
If you've held a number of jobs in a short span of time, your résumé should focus on your value and accomplishments, say professional résumé writers.
If you're writing a two or three page résumé, Thakkar says to use half or more of the first page to summarize your value proposition to the prospective employer and your relevant accomplishments.
"Doing so will allow the hiring manager to judge the candiate based on her merit and promise as opposed to just the employment chronology," he says.
For the same reason, David Perry recommends a one page résumé that focuses on your skills, abilities, and specific projects you've completed. "You'll get interviewed based on your skills and the projects you've done," says Perry. "It completely takes the emphasis off of where you were and when you did it."
Whether you use a one or two page résumé, you must demonstrate that you're not irresponsible and that your job hopping isn't a result of repeatedly being fired. You want to show that you've made important contributions to each of your employers regardless of the length of your tenure, says Thakkar.
2. Group all of your contract or project-based work together on your résumé.
It's not uncommon for IT professionals to take on contract work during their careers, especially when they're between full-time jobs. It's also not uncommon for the projects they take on as contractors to be short-term.
Kursmark recommends grouping all of one's contract engagements under one heading, such as "Contract Work" or "IT Consultant and Contractor," and listing all of that work under one time period—the period during which the professional did all that work. It could be "January 2007 - Present."
Grouping all of that work under one umbrella makes several short-term projects look more like long-term employment. What's more, if, during the same period, you had a full-time job for only a few months because the job didn't work out, you could easily leave that job off your résumé without it looking like a gap in your employment history.
3. De-emphasize dates of employment on your résumé.
Don't draw attention to dates of employment on your résumé by setting them off on the page, putting them in bold text, on a separate line, or as headings above each position you've held. Instead, Kursmark suggests tucking them at the end of a title or job description.
Another way to de-emphasize dates, says Kursmark, is to use only years rather than months and years. Some people might argue that this tactic is misleading, and Kursmark notes that a job seeker will have to explain a short tenure in a job interview, but ultimately their goal is to get the interview. If an employer sees that a job seeker held a position for just a few months, from December 2008 through March 2009, for example, the job seeker might not get called in for an interview. But if you just use years, you draw less attention to a short tenure.
4. Explain a short tenure.
If circumstances beyond your control, such as a merger or global reorganization, contributed to your short tenure, Kursmark says a brief explanation of the event on your résumé can show hiring managers that you weren't job hopping. Just don't explain your reason for leaving every job listed on your résumé, says Kursmark. It can look like you're making excuses. You also don't want to give the impression that you're always in the first wave of downsizing at every company.
5. When in doubt, leave it out.
"It's perfectly o.k. to omit a job from your résumé that is irrelevant to the position you're applying for, that was short-term, or didn't work out," says Kursmark. "You don't have to include everything you've ever done." After all, she adds, the purpose of a résumé is to summarize a job seeker's qualifications and experience.
Thakkar agrees that leaving a job that lasted a year or less off your résumé shouldn't impact you too much. But if you leave off a job where you worked for two or more years, you must find a way to fill in that gap in your work history, he adds.
If a prospective employer finds out about a position you left off your résumé through a background or reference check, you'll obviously need to explain it. Kursmark advises job seekers to tell employers that they only included the professional experience that was most relevant to the prospective employer on their résumé.
6. Network your way to job opportunities.
If your résumé shows evidence of job hopping and you're applying for jobs you find online, your résumé is going to get screened out, says Thakkar. Networking is a more effective job search strategy for professionals concerned about the appearance of job hopping. If you can talk your way into a new job, "you're not just a résumé but a person with some value, skills and talent you can bring to an organization," says Kursmark. What's more, prospective employers will be less concerned with your employment history if you've already impressed them with your experience.
7. Diffuse employers' concerns about your job hopping.
If you're able to score a job interview despite job hopping in your past, you'll have to address your employment history during the interview, says Kursmark. So you need to be prepared to explain your short tenures in a positive and credible manner.
You could say that you spent a few years trying to discover what you wanted to do professionally, and as a result, you were willing to take jobs that weren't a perfect fit because you wanted to explore different fields, says Kursmark. If you offer that explanation, she adds, you will have to explain how you learned what you love to do and why the position for which you're interviewing is a perfect match.
"You want to assure the employer that you're not trying them on for size and that you're not going to be off in a couple of months," she says.
If you got fired from a job or left an employer, you could acknowledge that the job didn't work out because it wasn't a good fit, says Kursmark. She suggests discussing what you learned from the experience and why you won't ever make the same mistake again.
The purpose of all of these tactics: combat the perception that you're a risky candidate. By playing up your accomplishments and contributions and by downplaying dates of employment on your résumé, you can turn a sketchy work history into a non-issue.
"If you don't focus on your job hopping," says Perry, "employers aren't going to focus on it either."
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