Readers sometimes point out that I don’t often link to career articles on other web sites. I know. It’s because most career articles are the same-old re-treads or desperate attempts by reporters to write something clever to satisfy their clueless editors. Don’t believe me? Visit The Wall Street Journal‘s Careers web site. You’ll find drivel like this: Explaining Short Job Stints. The article could have been titled, “Let’s Trick the Employers, Boys and Girls!”
This is The WSJ‘s idea of hard-core advice for difficult times. Reporter Elizabeth Garone recommends tricks for deailing with a daunting problem because the experts she cites can’t come up with any useful common sense. Let’s contrast the tricks she offers with some honest suggestions that protect the job hunter.
She suggests: To downplay jumping between two employers in six short months, do what executive-search expert Fred Coon says: Put the blame on your employers. Oh, yah. That’s nice work. Show the employer that you solve problems by blaming someone else. Smart thing to do while you’re talking to a guy about a job.
Instead, try this: Just ‘fess up. “I didn’t choose my last two employers carefully enough. I should have researched their financial viability more carefully in today’s bumpy economy. I learned an important lesson. So that’s what I did before coming to meet with you. I learned that your company’s strengths include… X, Y, Z. I also learned that you could use help with A, B, C. My objective is to have a job that lasts, and my method for getting it is to show you how I can make your business better. May I outline how I think I could help you improve your bottom line with respect to the job we’re talking about?”
She suggests: “Another approach is to move away from a chronological format into a functional, skills-based format. By doing this, your resume will focus on the results you delivered rather than the dates you worked a particular job.”
Instead, try this: Functional resumes are an old trick that any smart manager recognizes is intended to mislead the reader. I’d never use one. Stick to a chronological format, but don’t hesitate to leave that six-week boner off the resume. Keep the resume brief and add a note that says, “This brief resume outlines my experience. I’d be glad to provide additional details when we meet.” That’s honest, and it covers you. In your meeting, ‘fess up as discussed in the previous tip. Resumes and job applications are not legal depositions. They are outlines intended to get an employer’s attention. Keep them honest, but don’t hang yourself.
She suggests: Garone just can’t let this go. I think she realizes her first suggestion isn’t effective, so she belts the dead horse another one. “…there are still tricks to employ. Add a section called ‘Consulting, Freelancing, and Short Term Assignments’…”
Instead, try this: Ah, yes, tricks. Let’s use all the tricks we can, right after we blame the company…! Don’t use tricks. That section title she suggests is another red flag. Any dope of a manager knows that it means you’ve been out of work or had some short gigs. About the only useful note in Garone’s article is that most managers know it’s a tough economy and won’t hold you responsible for all the pain you have experienced. But they will get really pissed off if you play games with them.
She suggests: Whack the horse again and if the employer is a glue factory you might get hired. “This is a great way to list any short-term employment without calling attention to an abrupt ending with an employer.” Yah, here’s your chance to show a manager how you deal with significant problems honestly, intelligently and with integrity. Don’t call attention to problems. That’s how we want our employees to behave. Gimme a break.
Instead, try this: You can do this on the resume, in the cover letter, or in the interview. “My stints with my last two employers were short, as I’ve explained. But here’s what I was able to accomplish at each of those jobs in that very short time… and here are three ideas about how I believe I can do the job we’re talking about more efficiently…” The manager isn’t hiring your resume. She’s hiring your abilities. So rise to the occasion and use the opportunity to talk about what matters — what you can do. Don’t waste interview time with excuses.
She suggests: Garone cites a career coach on the problem of how to deal with written job applications: “Include any employment, even if it’s only for six weeks,” says Ms. Thomas. “If you omit employment on an application, it’s considered lying.”
Instead, try this: Omitting details on an application makes you a liar? I don’t think so. But including it makes you an idiot. The application undoubtedly has a section you must sign stating that you have told the truth. So tell the truth without behaving like an idiot. Fill out as much of the application as you want to, and add the same note I suggested above: “This is a brief outline of my employment history. I’d be glad to provide additional details when we meet.” Again, don’t let an application become a legal deposition. If this approach leads a personnel jockey to toss your application, it’s better to know now that’s their attitude before they waste your time in an interview.
The WSJ has been publishing drivel in its career pages since Tony Lee created the section to sell more advertising. For more on this low point in journalism’s history, see Job-Board Journalism: Selling out the American job hunter.
My rule of thumb is, if you want good ideas for your career, skip the career publications. Go to the best general business press and study good ideas for business. These often translate very well into methods for job hunting, interviewing, hiring, and succeeding at work. After all, it’s all business, right? The career press would prefer that you believe there’s such a thing as job-hunting and interviewing skills. Listen up. Companies don’t hire you for your job-hunting or interviewing skills. They want to know you do good business.
Although I don’t often link to other career advice, I do frequently find and share third-party tips you can use for career health — but they come from good articles about business, not about careers. In my next posting, I’ll share an excellent article that has almost nothing to do with career health on the surface, but points to profound ways to improve your job search and your work life.