Monday, November 29, 2010

Which is worse: job hoppers or old dogs?

I see a lot of resumes and can tell you with assurance that people who read resumes as part of their job come to a lot of conclusions without asking any clarifying questions of the candidates the resumes represent.  Right or wrong, consciously or subconsciously, assumptions are drawn and decisions are made, which directly affect whether a candidate is moved forward to an interview.  Here's an example of such a situation. 

Recently, we were looking at two candidate's resumes for a senior level position.  Each appeared to have the required work experience and education for the job, and appeared to be capable of performing the essential duties for the position.  But, one had a history of changing jobs every 18 months for the last 10 years, and the other had been at one company for the last 18 years.  I scheduled a call with the hiring manager to discuss both candidates, and attached their resumes to the meeting invitation so that he could preview them before our conversation. When we got on the phone, he said he wasn't really interested in talking to either candidate, based on their longevity with prior positions. I knew where he was going, and why, and was prepared to speak to his concerns because I'd already vetted them with the candidates.  But, this situation is so common, I thought it might be one worth sharing with job seekers who might benefit from understanding what sometimes happens "behind the scenes" in the mysterious and frustrating "apply-phone interview-wait-hear nothing-receive decline email" cycle. 

What do hiring managers (and some recruiters) conclude from the resume of a person who has changed jobs every 18 months?  Here's the ugly truth:
  1. You can't hold a job; you don't get along well with others; you can't stick with something; you abandon ship when the going gets tough
  2. You will leave this job in 18 months, too
  3. You don't know what you want to do; you take the first job offered; you don't ask the right questions in the interview process
What could be the legitimate and explainable reasons for a person changing jobs every 18 months? 
  1. Series of layoffs; company closures/mergers/acquisitions; company relocations/restructures
  2. Moved with spouse who is primary breadwinner (this is absolutely legitimate for the candidate, but not necessarily reassuring for the hiring manager, see item #2 above)
So, what is a job seeker with this work history to do?  Well, first and foremost, if you have changed jobs every 18 months for the last 10 years, you really need to acknowledge that you have a sketchy work history, whatever the causes and explanations.  Second, you need to get clear and honest about the reasons for your various departures, and figure out how to articulate those reasons honestly and proactively.  If you're not getting interviews, you may have to put the reasons for leaving right on your resume.  If you're getting first interviews but not getting called back, you're probably not giving very good or believable or legitimate explanations for hopping around.  Bottom line:  you need to make sure your next job is a keeper, and plan to stick with it for 5 years.  And it's worth noting here that the following explanations just sound like excuses or further support the preconceived beliefs listed above, so you need to stop saying them:  "the job was misrepresented" (didn't ask good questions), "difference in company philosophy and my personal philosophy" (can't stick with it when it gets tough), "management differences" (doesn't get along well with others).   

Ok, let's take the alternate scenario:  a candidate who has been with one employer for 18 years.  Here's what hiring managers (and some recruiters) are saying behind your back:
  1. You havn't grown professionally for probably the last 10 years
  2. You're set in your ways and don't deal with change well
  3. You only know how to do it one way and haven't been exposed to anything different for 18 years
Of course there are also legitimate reasons for good people to stay at one company for 18 (or more) years, including:
  1. Progressive movement up and around the organization; variety of roles in different departments that have kept you growing professionally and personally
  2. Company worked hard to retain you over the years due to exemplary performance; salary couldn't be matched elsewhere
  3. Company worked with you during the phases of your life (children, illness, advanced degree programs), earning your loyalty and commitment
So how do you overcome the preconceived notion that you're an old dog and can't be taught any new tricks?  This is a lot easier to solve than the problem of the (perceived) job hopper, above.  You can demonstrate your progression within the organization by outlining your different job titles and accomplishments at each level.  Include the professional organizations you've belonged to and been active with over the years - they illustrate your connection to the 'outside world'.  Have you made presentations on topics you're an expert in? Served on a panel? Written articles?  Don't leave them off your resume. They are proof that you've kept up with the times and are relevant both inside and outside of the organization you've been with.  Bottom line: if you've continued to grow professionally over the years, tell the reader how and make it clear that you are a lifelong learner no matter what your company or role. 

Many hiring managers and recruiters operate with these unfair and limiting assumptions, to your (and probably their) detriment.  Your best bet is to be aware of them and prepare for them as best you can, on your resume and in your interviews.  I haven't even addressed all the unfair assumptions that are being made about people who have been unemployed, due to the economic situation...that's a topic for another day.

No comments: