You job hopped. There’s no shame in that. You surely had your reasons. And even if you didn’t, that period of leapfrogging from one position to another in the span of a few months or years doesn’t have to haunt the rest of your career.
Job hopping these days isn’t considered as much of a no-no. Some companies even look out specifically for candidates who seem willing to try new things, gain out-of-the-box experiences, really expand their skill sets to be versatile and multi-faceted. After all, you’ve got a breadth of expertise and a range that few of your fellow job seekers can boast. Use this to your advantage as often as you can—make it a bonus on a resume, not something to hide. Here's now.
Prove Your Know What You're Doing
Your biggest concern is probably appearing reliable enough for the rest of the companies out there to take you seriously. The last thing you want to do is have your otherwise stellar application disregarded (even after a stellar interview) for being a flight risk. There will be hiring managers and employers who be scrutinizing you for this—and plenty of risk-averse HR folks that will go with the steady and sure bet every time. Remember, they’re looking for people who have risen through the ranks—or been promoted at every company they’ve worked for. And that’s hard to do when you’re not around long enough for promotion or review at most of the companies you’ve worked for. They’re biggest worry is of course that you will bail after a few months or a year or two and they will have to scramble to fill your spot.
What can you do to keep yourself in the game when multiple-year stints of experience appear to be a prerequisite for hiring? Lots. If you’re applying to a company that isn’t into job hoppers on principle, there are plenty of ways you can tone down the job hopping on your resume and play up the skills you’ve gained in your checkered work history (instead of simply itemizing the checkered parts).
Make skills the focus.
Abandon the traditional chronological format. If you're far from traditional, doing "the norm" can hurt you. Opt instead for a hybrid resume, which crams your chronological work history at the bottom of your resume, and highlights your skillset up front.
Pimp out your heading or summary statement by choosing a handful of your best assets and skills to highlight, drawing on your full experience base. List your accomplishments. Show how you’ve excelled. Paint a picture that will convince any hiring manager that you would be an asset to them—purely based on what you can do. You can list the company where you acquired that skill or nailed that achievement in brackets at the end of every bullet. That way, the recruiter sees the companies you’ve worked for and the skills you’ve gained first, before seeing how little time you spent at each.
It’s also totally kosher to say you have “X years experience as Y,” provided you do. They don’t need to know yet that that experience was gathered across five jobs in as many years. What’s important is to emphasize the experience itself. You can spend the interview convincing them that the hopping makes your experience even more valuable as you’ve deployed your expertise in a wider variety of situations and come across a wider range of applications and other ways to prove your mettle.
Talk about what you want now.
Remember that what you want the person reading your resume to take away from it is that you are not a flight risk. Try including a line in your summary statement about how you’re looking for a long-term position with opportunities for growth, or for a position at a company that will allow you to be challenged and grow and help the company to grow as well. Make it clear wherever you left a position involuntarily (unless, of course, you were fired)—i.e. if there were layoffs or restructuring, or a company went under. This can show that you didn’t leave every job for a better title or a bigger paycheck and can go a long way towards showing that you aren’t incapable of loyalty.
Bonus points if you can show how you made a lasting contribution to the company—even if you weren’t there all that long. If you have a lot of this to boast about, consider including an entire section of your resume dedicated to “accomplishments,” and making sure to focus this section on ways in which your accomplishments contributed to the company, not just accolades you earned for yourself. The trick is to show you can be a team player and a “company man” here.
Don’t include everything.
You don’t have to. If you worked one gig for only a month or two between longer stints—unless that company taught you something or gave you a skill or experience you need to sell yourself for this job, you can always leave that one out. It’s also totally fair to omit jobs that aren’t immediately relevant to the job title you’re applying for with this particular resume. Unfortunately, as a job hopper, you’ll have to do even more work than everybody else when tailoring your documents to each position you apply for, but the time and effort you spend tinkering will certainly pay off.
Also, feel free to combine jobs into composite jobs. Did you spend a solid 3-5 years doing more or less the same thing, just at different companies? Contracting, perhaps? Freelancing or working in fields where work tends to ebb and flow? No worries! Group them all together under one general job header or composite position title. You did have that solid chunk of experience… it just wasn’t all at one company. No need to be penalized for this.
Deal with your gaps.
If you have any big gaps in your work history, there are ways around this too. One trick is to eliminate the months from your dates of employment at each company. That way, you won’t have to explain those 2-8 months where you weren’t working—unless it comes up in the interview. But if you have a gap you feel you need to address, just be honest about how you spent that time. Even if you weren’t “working” or getting paid, you still might have been accumulating valuable skills or experience related to the jobs you are applying for. Any special projects, continuing education, volunteer or community work, consulting, or apprenticeships are relevant and can even score you bonus points.
And if you’re just coming back to the workforce after a prolonged absence—for personal, professional, or family reasons—just be honest there too. Don’t feel the need to apologize. You did what was best for you and your family. There is zero shame in that. Keep your attitude positive and focus instead on showing how you’ve kept up-to-date with your industry while you were out of the game. Hint: a good social media and LinkedIn presence with lots of industry engagement can go a long way here. Having a strong personal brand shows that you haven’t just been slacking in your “time off,” but always striving to be as polished, current, and professional as possible—even when technically unemployed. This can also help you to make a good first impression as a person, not just a chronological list of job titles held.
Don't neglect your cover letter.
Perhaps your biggest trick in compensating for job-hopping or work history gaps in your resume is to make sure to accompany your document with a truly kick-ass cover letter. Make sure you stand out from the crowd. Be honest about your situation, but use the space you have to craft a narrative. Show them that they have no reason to fear. You’re no flight risk. You’re just a talented, experienced candidate ready and eager for the right opportunity at the right company to get stuck in and make your biggest contribution yet. Show you’re in it for the long haul by mentioning a few reasons why that company appeals to you so much. Show how you complete each other!
The overarching takeaway here is that you need to do a bit of storytelling. Spin your resume and cover letter to take a negative into an overwhelming positive. Make it part of your cachet and your personal brand. Tell a story about yourself that ties all of your disparate and wide-ranging experience together into one neat bundle that screams: hire me. Then head into the interview with the confidence that you are actually a catch, despite whatever fears HR might have given your non-traditional career path. Remember: use the cover letter to finesse the resume.
Tweak the resume to sell your strengths so hard that your “weaknesses” are more difficult to spot. Then spin the whole thing into a convincing tale of you being the perfect fit. Use the interview to answer any remaining questions with the true conviction of knowing that what you offer—while perhaps not what they were expecting, at least on paper—is just exactly and absolutely what they need. And go land that job!
And remember, you still need to edit and finetune your resume as you normally would. Here are some additional tips for creating your resume that are absolutely crucial in getting your foot in the door.
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