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I've changed jobs too often. How should I handle this in my job search? : ITS Answers


In the past decade it has become common for many people to change jobs frequently, to the point where some employers in selected industry segments will wonder "what's wrong" with an individual who has not changed jobs frequently.

On the other hand, there are still many employers who will look on frequent changes unfavorably. The obvious implications for them are, that you won't stay long enough to make any significant contributions, and that if you were hired, perhaps your tendency to leave quickly will inspire many otherwise loyal employees to leave as well.

They may even question in their minds whether the frequent changes were possibly associated with either a lack of achievement on your part, so that you "left before you got fired," or a personality problem. Fortunately, there are several ways you can address this potential liability.

Mindset

Keep this in mind. If you have changed jobs frequently, and have each time made significant progress, there is very little stigma attached. In fact, there is no better evidence of your ability to contribute than to have an employer recognize it, by offering you a larger salary and increased responsibilities.

If you have not shown much progression, either with the same employer of different employers, you may be one of those people who wanted to develop a variety of skills before moving up, and did not want to move up too quickly in a specialized field, where opportunities for further advancement and/or making a switch, would be more difficult at that higher level. If that is the case, you have a solid reason for your frequent job changes.

Whatever your situation, determine that you will find a way to communicate your frequent changes in the past as a positive, not a negative.

Resume

It is sometimes possible to group a related series of positions on the resume, under one heading with one set of dates. This can be done by using a phrase instead of a single job title. For example, a person who has held three jobs of a similar nature in four years might use a heading that reads as follows: 1995-1999 ... Account Executive for "Hot Growth Agencies." The opening statement of the first paragraph might then read, "A highly sought after producer in a close-knit business community, was recruited to three positions in four years."

Another common method for minimizing the impact of frequent job changes on a resume is to use a primary structure not according to dates and titles, but to principal achievements in recent years, or according to functions. You can then place dates and titles in some inconspicuous part of the resume, not in bold type, and perhaps grouping some jobs under one period of time.

It will also help if you use a summary at the top of the resume which briefly highlights your consistent record of achievements and contributions. This will immediately offset any tendency on the employer's part to place much significance on the frequent job changes.

For the same reason, be sure to make visible on the resume that you have several enthusiastic references with respect to performance and personal character. This is particularly effective in removing any doubts about your performance and personality.

Interviews / e-mail / Letters

In correspondence and interviews you can turn this to an advantage by emphasizing that one of your primary objectives in this job change is to find an employer that will provide challenges and growth opportunities over the years, so that you can move from one good position to another without having to move from employer to employer.

Emphasize that stability and permanence are at the top of your list of priorities, and that the targeted company appears to be one that, on the surface at least, would provide them.

Your success in dealing with your record of job changes will depend heavily on your reasons for leaving various situations. As mentioned above, there are several acceptable reasons, including but not limited to, mergers and acquisitions, departure of talented people who either hired or mentored you, a need for more challenge, changes in corporate policies or direction, a desire to relocate, and financial offers that were too good to turn down.

Where it is in fact the case, you could explain how you gained increased responsibility for people, dollars, and capital invested in equipment and facilities. Point out where appropriate that you were recruited from one position to the next by people who were aware of your superior performance in the prior job.

If you are one of those people who accepted a lot of lateral shifts to gain specific skills and avoid becoming too specialized, emphasize that as a positive. Show how you were deliberately accumulating experiences which would best qualify you for the job you are now seeking.

Regardless of how you treat this potential liability, be ready to focus on the positives in many ways, to offset any negatives that may be associated with the frequent job changes. Specifically, it will be to your advantage to direct the interview to a discussion of the functional areas where the employer needs help.

Ask questions that direct the discussion toward the functions that will be most important for the person who wins the job, and when they are identified, relate examples of how you have used those precise abilities and strengths to make significant contributions to your employer.

The most memorable and credible way to do that is through concise situation-action-result format stories which show that you analyzed situations well, took appropriate actions, and achieved measurable results.

The actions in particular should show that you assessed situations quickly and correctly, then took actions in rapid-fire sequence, which got the desired results. These stories will demonstrate that you possess the confidence which stems from having addressed these challenges successfully, making frequent job changes in the past less of a concern.

You should also ask questions about the personal traits that will be most important in the person who wins the job. By introducing these into the equation, you will help your cause if you are ready to share examples of how you used those same traits to deliver specific benefits to your former employers. You can then point out that you're a close match both in terms of skills and personal characteristics, the "substance" that really matters. By implication, a record of frequent job changing becomes far less significant.

Because hiring decisions are seldom made purely on the basis of a logical match between needs and strengths, make sure you have all the intangibles going for you. Project enthusiasm, and show that you've taken the time to learn a lot about the company and the industry.

Toward the end of the interview, if you have taken the action steps recommended here, you will be able to make a statement such as, "You've heard about me from me, but you really need to hear about me from people who were in a position to see how I performed. It would be to my benefit if you did, and I hope you contact them." The confidence you exhibit and the positive implications of that statement will help offset any possible negatives associated with frequent job changes in the past.

Actions

Examine your past contributions closely, then prepare several action-oriented stories that demonstrate your personal strengths and get across your talent for moving rapidly to get results and deliver value in the types of situations that the employer can relate to.

Some of these stories can illustrate your abilities in certain job functions, and others can illustrate the personal strengths you think will be important for the type of job you seek. Many stories can illustrate both.

All of them should be good examples of your high energy level, initiative, and ability to work well with others and achieve in demanding circumstances. These are qualities that some employers may specifically question in light of frequent job changes.

Look for as many specific result indications as possible. Be prepared to give a wealth of evidence in the form of these memorable action-oriented stories which illustrate your ability to correctly size up situations and take actions that get the desired results again and again. This will reassure the prospective employer that you are valuable, ambitious, and determined to do even better things for your next employer.

Develop and coach enthusiastic references from selected individuals you can trust inside your current and former employer organization if you can, as well as a number outside of it, e.g., customers, suppliers, sales reps, consultants, etc., who will be happy to attest to your energy level, action orientation, ability todeliver results, and where appropriate, how highly valued you were at the company or companies where you worked, and how heavily recruited you were. Review your resume with these references, and make sure they keep a copy available to scan when and if they are called.

You can if you choose give them "special assignments," where in addition to an overall enthusiastic endorsement, each of them will be expected to emphasize a different strength or ability in a special functional area.

This step will enable you to make the statement in an interview that, "You've heard about my achievements, but only from me. You really need to hear it from people who have seen me in action. Experience in Function X is important to you, and for that I suggest you contact Mary Jones. Experience in Function Y is also essential, and for that you'll get good input from Phil White. Personal traits A and B are needed for this job, and the people who would know best about that are Sue Griffith and Tom Robbins." It would be to my benefit if you contact all of them, and I hope you will." Such a statement will erase any lingering doubts about your ability to perform that may have arisen from your frequent job changes in the past.

If you aren't already familiar with them, conduct research on any industry and companies that are your primary targets, using the Internet and/or resources in the Business Reference section of a good library. It will be to your advantage to write a small article about the major trends in that industry as they affect someone in the function you are targeting, whether it is general management, purchasing, sales, production, marketing, finance, customer service, information systems, or any other function.

In this way, you take the focus of the discussion totally away from questioning your frequent job changes in the past, toward the future, and specific ways you might contribute to the potential employer in a selected function. The anticipation and excitement that are often generated in such future-oriented, constructive discussions can play a key role in a positive hiring decision.

One last note on actions to take. If your frequent job changing is an indication of a serious problem, either in performance or personality, take a hard look at what is causing your need for a frequent change. If you conclude that part of the reason lies with you, get started on changing whatever traits are involved, or on getting the additional training and education you might need to make you a better performer.

If the reason lies primarily with the type of employment situations you've been accepting, be cautious in accepting your next job. Talk with as many people as you can, inside the company and out. To the best of your ability, make certain that your next opportunity is with the right people, in the right industry, and that their overall outlook for the future is favorable.



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