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There are more than a few candidates whose job/employment history is less than stellar. 

In everyone’s career stuff happens and in most cases these situations can be managed effectively without inflicting major damage to future employment opportunities. 

However, when you see a resume with four to five jobs in a six or seven-year period of time, that spells trouble.  The candidate with a regrettable history may be an unsung star skills-wise, but has encountered a bad workplace environment, a terrible choice in a bounce-back job or a couple of unforeseen layoffs. 

For some recruiters, this type of job history merits red-flag status, meaning that the candidate will not be considered under any circumstance.  Why take a risk with their client relationship, these recruiters reason. For well-qualified candidates, other recruiters will at least take the time to sort through the career carnage in an initial screening interview.  The bad news for these candidates, they are unlikely to change the employer’s mind about their ability to end this career thread unless they get on top of the problem early in the screening process.

So what to do?  

What not to do is suffer death by a thousand cuts, waiting for the recruiter to ask about each job change individually.  The number of times a candidate is asked, so why did you leave, what happened there, or did you quit or were you asked to leave can be demoralizing, and usually the kiss of death. 

What candidates rarely do is to take a direct approach.  Getting out in front of these employment issues with a true but favorably worded disclosure of the various transitions which emphasize lessons learned and framing the recruiters’ inevitable follow-up questions, is the best course of action.  This is not something candidates can do on the fly.  It takes carefully thought out preparation, including the selection of references that can help add factual context to each transition.  What the references will say should be incorporated into the candidate’s “get out in front” explanation. 

Drafting a summary answer with a brief reference to each job change that opens the door for a more positive discussion and questions with the recruiter is the best way to go. 

When I entered healthcare, an executive who moved every four or five years was a job hopper, someone to be viewed with enormous skepticism.  Today, staying too long in one job can hurt an up and coming executive build a broad-based portfolio of experience that will lead to their dream job. 

Times have changed, and four jobs in six or seven years is problematic but not career ending if the candidate takes the initiative and prepares for each interview, not sitting back and waiting for the grand inquisition to begin.

© 2013 John Gregory Self