In the February 8, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to persuade a company to focus on skills, rather than on 12 years of jumping from job to job:
I have had 10 jobs in 12 years. All have been increasing in experience from a lowly copier technician, to parts runner, to computer technician, to part-owner of a company, to service manager with multi-million dollar accounts with 5-10 techs under me, and finally to high-end computer network technology for some big companies.
Now I’m looking for a network technology position in a smaller to medium-sized company. I’ve obtained some software certifications and taken some admin courses. All of my experience is baptism by fire and road-warrior stuff. The first question out of prospective employers is, “How come you’ve had 10 jobs in 12 years?” I want to shift the focus to what I can do for the company instead of defending my resume but I am not sure how to go about it.
Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)
To most employers, that’s a deadly resume. They are concerned you’re going to “bounce” after a year. They’ll lose what they’ve invested in you, and they’ll have to find a replacement—and that’s no simple feat. This would be true about any job hunter, whether it’s a network technologist like you, or a manager or an executive.
You need to provide an honest explanation that’s going to satisfy an employer. The best way to start is by pointing out that your references are excellent (I hope they are) and that your record of success on the job is stellar. Then, ask the employer, “What is it that concerns you?” Yes, ask point blank, even though you know what the answer is. Let the employer say it aloud. If you want to have a meaningful discussion, the subject needs to be addressed candidly.
Then, depending on the response you get, you must think fast on your feet and figure out how you’re going to help the employer avoid losing you in a year. Start by explaining what happened:
How to Say It
“The first five jobs were quick changes because I wanted to work with sophisticated technology, and each new job offered me dramatic new opportunities to learn and grow. The next five were with large companies, where it was hard to move from one function to the next higher one. The lack of good hires forced technical people like me to stay in one job too long.”
Let the employer ask you questions about this. Unless the employer can exhaust her concerns, you’re not going to get anywhere near an offer. Help her talk about what’s bothering her, or you’ll get no chance at persuasion.
I’m sure you realize that your first real problem is your judgment. If career stability has been your objective, you blew it. You chose companies that could not keep you challenged. Your second big problem is patience: You didn’t invest the time and effort to help one of those companies develop a career plan for you. (We can blame the companies, but it’s your career, and in the end, you’ve got to manage your employers if you want to achieve your own objectives.)
But lets get on with how you might handle this. Before the employer is going to get interested in what you can do for her, she needs to see a commitment…
In the newsletter, the next part is how to make the commitment: How to Say It. (If you want in on the additional advice next week, sign up for the newsletter now!) But my challenge to everyone here on the blog is, How would you say it?
How could you make the kind of commitment that would make a skeptical employer consider what you can do for her company? Is it even possible?