We recently had a discussion here about job “mulligans” and whether employees should be allowed one. You can check out the conversation here. Today’s question is related to the mulligan. How should a candidate explain those jobs on their resume and during an interview?
Hi Sharlyn. I’m not sure if you respond to requests like this, but your blog is very informative, so I thought I’d ask.
I have now gone through two interviews for a job that I’m a good fit for skills-wise, and current senior employees have vouched for me. However, in the past year, I had to quit one job due to mismatch of my skills/their needs, and was laid off from another. I’ve owned my own consulting company for the past year, so neither of these jobs are on my resume (consulting job = no gap in employment history).
During the initial interview with HR, I mentioned the mismatch of skills job. I did well in the 2nd interview with two potential peers and the hiring manager, but frankly I’m embarrassed about the past year of work history, and didn’t mention either job.
Based on hiring manager’s final comment, I’m fairly sure I’ll be called for a 3rd interview. Addressing the jobs is one thing, how do I address the fact that I didn’t mention it? I’d really appreciate your feedback. Thank you so much.
To offer us some perspective, I’ve reached out to two experts in the area of resume development and career coaching. Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, a certified Master Resume Writer (MRW) and president of CareerTrend. Lisa Rangel is president of Chameleon Resumes and a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW).
There used to be a stigma associated with multiple jobs during a short span of time (like a year). Is that still the case?
[Jacqui] Not as much as it used to be, especially since the recent economic downturn. However, stability and consistency still add value, so being equipped with and providing a coherent story around the overall consistency of your career – even if it includes recent short hops – will help allay concerns a hiring manager may have.
[Lisa] No, I do not believe there is as big of a stigma in having many positions in a short time period as their once was in the past. Over the last 5 years, it has become more common for great candidates to have multiple jobs in a short span of time for reasons beyond their control. Heightened merger and acquisition activity, company bankruptcies or relocations and talent gaps leading to quick, yet mismatched, hires are all too common rationales for candidates having short term stints nowadays. Multiple short-term stints can still be a red flag, but savvy interviewers can see past the many gigs to ask questions and see if the reasons for the path are acceptable. Good recruiters unearth the right talent this way.
Should a candidate list these short mismatched jobs on their resume? Why or why not?
[Jacqui] I think it all depends. If either or both of the jobs had relevance (via title, industry, product being marketed, service being rendered, etc.) to the candidate’s target goal, then they may consider listing one or both. As well, if the candidate does not have other employment or educational training – such as consulting experience, volunteer work or they returned to school full time – to bridge the gap, they may wish to include one or both positions.
The bottom line is, unless one or both of the jobs adds some value – i.e., even though the role was only held a short time, perhaps it was long enough for the candidate to learn a new skill or be exposed to a new product or marketplace positioning strategy, for example – then they should strongly consider ‘not’ listing it.
[Lisa] If the candidate had a gap on their resume prior to the short-term job, I would suggest listing the position to shorten the gap. If the candidate left a previous job to start the ill-fated position and an employment gap is not present, he may choose to leave the position off if he is pursuing positions in industries not likely to do a detailed background check. If the candidate is in a highly regulated industry, where all the omitted details will eventually be discovered, then it is best he put the jobs on the resume and start the process off right.
Generally speaking, if in doubt, putting the position on the resume may be best. It is important to realize one of the downsides of leaving it off the resume is if the short-term gig is discovered, it can shake trust between the interviewer and interviewee and invoke the “what else are you not telling me?” suspicion—which can be hard for the interviewee to recover from and kill the prospects of landing the position.
I’ve always heard a resume is summary of experience and so it’s okay not to list everything. Applications and interviews are a different story. Should a candidate mention these short mismatched jobs on their application and during the interview?
[Lisa] Yes, a resume is a summary of relevant experiences and it is okay to not list everything. To help discern the best judgment call on whether or not to leave off positions, here are some points to consider: It is more acceptable to leave off employment from over 15 years ago and less acceptable to leave off recent experiences. It is more permissible to leave off irrelevant experience than omit relevant experience that ended poorly. Generally speaking, it is better to own the ended-not-so-fabulously jobs and use it as an opportunity to find the right match, than bury it, cross your fingers and pray it does not come up (and if it does, hope that you can lie about it convincingly).
What advice would you give a candidate who has had a job that just wasn’t the right fit? How should I address the matter in an interview?
[Jacqui] Don’t let the experience weigh you down. It is okay, and happens to most people at least once or twice in their careers. In an interview, be prepared to respond to the ‘why you left,’ or ‘why you were let go’ question as simply and concisely as possible. Be honest if you (and your manager) determined the role and your skills were simply not a mesh. Or, maybe there were other extenuating factors, but be careful about delving into those unless you want to possibly raise red flags. Remember, and apply the adage, keep it simple sweetheart (KISS).
Is having a gap on your employment history a terrible thing? How should candidates discuss gaps in employment history?
[Lisa] Ok, is an employment gap a good thing? No…But it is truly terrible? Well, I think that depends on what you do with the time off and how you talk about the gap on an interview. Answering this question, like many other interviews, comes down to your attitude, perspective and motivation in discussing how you dealt with this challenge. Any challenge, and an employment gap is a challenge, should be spoken about in a “This is what learned from this experience” manner. Explain what you did during the employment gap to learn new skills. Outline how you made the most of the time off—and not just talk about how hard it is to look for a job during these economic times. Employers cannot teach optimism—they only want to hire those with opportunistic optimism. Describe your gap in a manner that shows how you are grateful for these turn of events, because without it, you would not have learned what you learned from having this experience.
Last question, this reader realizes they need to address the jobs that have been omitted from his employment history? What advice would you suggest regarding the fact they didn’t mention the jobs?
[Jacqui] Do not present the jobs in an apologetic way as if you ‘should have mentioned them earlier.’ Including them on the resume simply was not relevant, so you intentionally did not list them. Share the additional information perhaps as a value-add, and as an experience that you learned from, and in a matter of fact way. Then stop talking.
If the interviewer is further curious about what happened with either or both of the jobs, be prepared to present with honesty and in a concise way. For the job that wasn’t a fit, I think most hiring managers can relate in their own career at one time or another to this situation. They also have had employees who they later realized were not a fit, and have dealt with that.
The bottom line is that you learned from the experience – to ask better questions during the interview process, to vet out ‘fit’ early on, before entering into a new employee/employer relationship. Express that you were edified through the past how to better navigate new opportunities in the future, including solidifying skills in researching a company, asking better questions at the interview and such.
For the job from which you were laid off, keep that response simple and brief, too. For example, if you were last to be hired on, and there was a layoff, it is likely you were first to be laid off (just a matter of course in such situations). Say that, and then stop talking.
The point is, be brief, articulate, explanatory and humbly confident in your responses, and remember that it is your job, in these situations, to provide a story that assures the hiring decision maker that you are the best fit for the role. Prove, through your words, that you won’t let them down when they invest in you; in fact, you are ready to hit the ground running and promptly add value to their bottom line.
A big thanks to Lisa and Jacqui for sharing their expertise. Be sure to check out their blogs at Chameleon Resumes and CareerTrend. You can also follow them on Twitter at @LisaRangel and @ValueIntoWords.1
Keywords – Gaps will require explanation. Short term employment will require explanation. It’s reality, so be prepared to give a brief explanation and then move to the next interview topic.