The Art of Interviews, Resumes, and Job Hopping

Dear Work Coach,

A year and a half ago, I took a job I thought would be exciting and help me gain experience in technical writing. However, after a year this opportunity has turned into a nightmare. Company wide communication is non-existent, employees only hear about important product developments through the grapevine, my boss is a wimp who won’t stand up for her people, co-workers frequently ignore important job requests, e-mails, and phone messages, claiming they are too busy, making projects a near impossibility to finish.

Since I’ve been at this company for a short time, what do I tell prospective employers when they ask me why I am deciding to leave my current job? I need an answer that won’t make me seem like a silly job hopper or give the impression that something is the matter with me.

Thank you!

Justwondering

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Hi Justwondering!

I know only too well what you are going through, having worked in IT for many years doing technical and user documentation. I know it doesn’t help, but what you describe is not all that uncommon. Documentation/ technical writing especially is hard to get people to focus on when they have so much else to worry about. I’ve had to chase down many people and it can get frustrating. Unfortunately, this kind of work is often given low priority by everyone else, although it’s critical to getting a good audit, to the function of the department, and to risk management. But I do digress. 🙂

Sometimes there are things you can do to make things better for yourself and I’ve written about that a lot here, but I know you aren’t asking me that. What you want to know is how to explain a short time at a job when you’re interviewing for a new one. Good question.

Basically, you need to come up with a positive reason that makes you look good and doesn’t look like you’re bad-mouthing your last employer. One reason that’s always ok to give is you want more money. You can always frame it by saying you really like the people you’re working with but you would like a higher salary and that’s not possible there. The same works for “good growth potential” if that applies to the new position.

If you are applying for different type of work, then it’s easy; the type of work you want to do is a good excuse. But if it’s exactly the same, then, in addition to the first two reasons I mentioned, you need to look for a reason why this particular employer/ job/ conditions/ environment is a far better match for you. Again, say something nice about the former employer like you appreciate they gave you a chance to learn, but you are looking for more of a challenge than they can offer you there. I think you get the picture.

By the way…the more sincere you can be about your reasons, the more real and trustworthy you will come off to your interviewer. So try to be honest while framing it in a positive light for yourself.

I’ve had lots of short-term jobs and found my way into great positions anyway – even with a resume that wasn’t ideal. It’s all in the way you write your resume & cover letter, and in how you present yourself. Even though many HR departments weed for “job hoppers”, you can still get to a job. After all, you only need one “yes!”

The important thing is not to feel bad about it since you tried your best. Good technical writers are needed and there are a lot of people who move from job to job in the field.

All the employer wants is an answer that satisfies them and makes you look like someone who will stay with them and do a good job. So try to come up with an answer that feels real to you and shows you are making a move to advance your career. Remember to practice at home before your interview!

I wish you much luck in your search! Please let us know what you find. )

Ronnie Ann

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I also recently got a question from CinnCity78, a 30ish reader whose last job was in advertising, asking how to explain 4 jobs in 7 years with a 6-month gap. Here’s some of what I told her:

Hi CinnCity78!

I think the first thing is to make sure YOU feel fine about the whole thing (so you aren’t projecting embarrassment or self-doubt). So let me try to help with that. As I’ve said, I had many jobs I left voluntarily, and while it was a red flag to a lot of places, all you need is one right employer to say ”yes”.

And you are right…shorts tints in jobs are not all that that uncommon early in your career, although in a tight economy it’s an easy way to screen. So hone that cover letter, Cinn, and make sure it sells you. You might even want to try a resume that has a section on top that highlights your strengths or things you’ve done you want them to see up front.

Also, if you can, come up with something to put in that 6-month gap. Did you help out anywhere? Volunteer? Travel? Take a class? Try to write a book? Star in a movie. ) If not for the resume, at least have a good explanation for an interview. (It’s also important for this to be something real. A fake explanation can come back to bite you. Better to try to explain the gap than get caught in a lie.)

And now that you’ve explained that you aren’t interested in advertising any more…great! Now THAT’S a good reason. So have a GOOD explanation for why the new field you’re interviewing in is something you very much want. (This should be in your cover letter along with some statement about wanting to find a company to grow with.) The past is the past; a potential employer wants to know that you aren’t going to try them on for size too and then split.

Would temping work for you? It’s a good way to let a company see you and try you out without all that resume stuff getting in the way. And if you’re already temping but not at a company you have any interest in, ask for another assignment. Totally ok to do that when temping. And of course, keep looking on the outside too.

Hope some of this helps the rest of you too! Please feel free to share your stories or offer advice.

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If you’re curious, this post came from comments from Justwondering on April 30:

How Do I Interview After Being Fired?

and from CinnCity78 on April 23 and 29:

How to Tell If a Job Interview Went Well

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