When your job search stalls, two things stand out as big culprits: resumes and wishful thinking. The next two questions from readers will help you flesh out better methods for managing your job search. We’ll cover resumes in this edition, Part 1, and wishful thinking about slowpoke employers next week, in Part 2.

In the March 11, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks how to disguise short-term jobs on a resume:

The longest I’ve been with an employer is two years. Is this an immediate alarm for employers when they look at my resume? If so, what are some ways I can disguise this history on my resume? Maybe by not listing so many employers, and maybe by putting more skills under each position? Also, is it a bad thing to have gaps in between jobs, or is it better to try to have temporary jobs that you can include on your resume?

Nick’s Reply

cinder-block-shoesWhen you’re drowning, is someone more likely to help you if you keep the concrete boot on your right foot, or if you move it to your left foot?

Come on — stop wasting your time worrying about how something looks on your resume. Throw out the resume! (Do you really want to defend a resume when you finally get to an interview?)

Disguising your history and work gaps will get you into trouble. There’s really no way to pretend. Please stop trying to game the process with clever resume techniques, and solve the bigger problem. Your best bet is to not use a resume to find a job.

Cultivate relationships with people connected to the businesses you want to work in. Demonstrate who you are and what you can do. These new contacts are your best chance at a direct introduction to managers who will rely on these recommendations to judge you — not on your flawed resume. Between 40%-70% of jobs are found through personal contacts. Resumes get in the way. (Resume Blasphemy explains the problem in more detail.)

So, what do you use instead of a resume when you get introduced to a manager? How do you communicate your value?

This is an excerpt from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3, Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), “It’s the people, Stupid,” pp. 6-8:

Your “written work” need not be a resume. Instead, create a brief business plan for each job you want to go after. This will ensure you have something useful to say when you finally talk to the right manager. (A recitation of your experience is not useful!)

  • business-planWhat’s the problem (or the opportunity) the manager faces?
  • What are the possible solutions?
  • What resources will you need to achieve it?
  • What’s your short-term and long-term plan for doing the work?
  • What are the obstacles?
  • What’s the payoff to the employer and to you?
  • What questions do you need answers to?

You’ll develop answers and a plan through your personal encounters. It’s an ongoing project. When you get close to your objective (the right manager), you’ll have everything you need to show you are a profitable hire.

Note that none of the bullet points above ever appear on a resume. While your competitors are busy writing about their history, you’re writing up a plan for your next employer’s future. Which do you think will impress the employer more?

Reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3, Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition), which includes these sections:

  • Where do jobs really come from?
  • Uncover hidden jobs
  • It’s the people, Stupid
  • Drop the ads and pick up the phone
  • Shared Experiences: Path to success
  • Pest or manager’s dream?
  • Searching for a top job confidentially
  • Don’t provide references – launch them!
  • I don’t know anybody!
  • PLUS: 5 How to Say It tips
  • PLUS: 8 sidebars packed with advice to give you the insider’s edge!

Resumes waste your time because they lull you into believing they “represent” and “sell” you. How many top sales reps do you know that make their sales quotas by sending out “product literature?” Get my point? It’s the people, Stupid! You have to go meet and talk to them, and make your case one on one! You can’t send out a flyer…

People invest inordinate amounts of time “honing” their resumes. Why? Partly because the employment system brainwashes them, and partly because messing around with a resume seems so much easier than going out to meet the people whose recommendations get other people hired — while you’re messing with that resume!

Next week, we’ll discuss another waste of time — slowpoke employers who interview you then keep you waiting. Don’t miss Part 2!

Do you like being unemployed? (Sorry — that’s of course a loaded question!) Then why stretch it out? How do you make your job search efforts count? Do you eliminate the time sucks? Do you mix it up, one on one, to get your interviews, or do you mail out sales flyers (aka, resumes)? How many loaded questions could I possibly squeeze into this teaser to encourage you to post your comments??

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  1. Nick,

    Today I cold called a newly hired hiring manager at a place that I know like the back of my hand. Within five minutes I expressed interest in his business challenges and found some commonalities (a city and an organization where we both worked previously). Though I acknowledged that he was most likely a busy man, he immediately set up a time for us to have coffee this week.

    I didn’t mention any job adverts in his department, and didn’t even say anything about people that I know who work/have worked there. I’ll just show him in person that I’m interested and capable in his work, and don’t care if a job comes out of it.

    Over a decade ago, I figured out that the right mix of confidence, assertiveness, and occasional indifference works well in my love life.
    (e.g, I approach women fearlessly)
    For some reason, however, I’ve been decidedly less confident in my professional life. In the past half year or so, I’ve started to feel like I should be bringing a little more swagger in my work life.

  2. The longest I’ve been with an employer is two years. Is this an immediate alarm for employers when they look at my resume?

    Of course, and it should be, resume or not. Why can’t he keep his job? Is he consistently underperforming, or a difficult person?

    Or, is it just a consequence of the economic downturn, downsizing, fire at will, bad bosses, bad luck…? There are many good reasons why people want to or have to change jobs often, but the candidate needs to think it through, and provide a sensible reply.

  3. If your correspondent is 40 and has had 10 jobs since he graduated from Hotshot U. I would like a whole bunch of detail. Is he a great salesman who doesn’t quite deliver once he has the job? maybe he is a jerk and no one can stand him for very long? maybe he’s an addict who is only pretty good at staying clean? maybe everyone “… is against him”?
    29 and never stayed at a job more than 2 years – I’d tend to listen. 45 and never stayed at a job 2 years – gimme a break.

  4. “The longest I’ve been with an employer is two years. Is this an immediate alarm for employers when they look at my resume?”

    This person already knows the answer to his question. The REAL question he needs to ask is why does he bounce between jobs so often. Purhaps he needs to look at changing careers is he is never satisfied or does not like what he does. Money can be a major factor in taking a job, but never overlook the importance of job satisfaction.

    I think he needs to take a long look inwards and make a decision to look for the right job with the right company for him. One should never be quick to take a job if the company is not a good fit. In the end, no amount of money is worth working in a position/company you do not like/respect.

    To answer his initial question, I believe he needs to own his past and be able to make an honest case why he is the best candidate and that he wants to stay and grow with the company. There is a lot to be said about starting with a company and advancing through the ranks based on getting results and performing above expectations.

  5. IT never ceases to amaze me how quickly people are to judge. REGARDLESS of the fact that he has had a jobs for only two years, this gentleman needs help in how to approach this issue NOW. Clearly he is worried that it maybe a problem for him. So lets just say he HAS thought about what field or job he wants and owned his own past and all the other things people have suggested in their comments? NOW what? Moving forward how can we HELP and assist? I love Nick’s first paragraph. That says everything in a nut shell. Obviously he may be asked why so many jobs in an interview/conversation and he will or ALREADY HAS prepared that answer for that WHEN he gets an interview and/or is further along with his contacts/making the contacts. So for NOW I say follow NIck’s advice and as many of us need a resume we can present to someone at some point, be PROUD of what you have done and others will be also. I do not know how many jobs this person has had but he does not need to go back in time forever and keep the resume short, not pages and pages. On mine, I clumped 3 jobs together that were over 13 years ago. Good Luck!!!! IF I was in this guy’s shoes and read the previous comments I would want to jump off the bridge.

  6. When people start at entry level or in a new field, there can be a tendency to change jobs frequently as you move up the chain.

    I know one guy who started entry level in web app development and has moved to other companies as his skill level has increased. I don’t think it is uncommon anymore for people to stay at a job for a couple of years or so and move on.

    The days of staying 20+ years at a company are not as common as it was many years ago.

    Since I don’t know what your situation is, I would spend time reflecting about why I moved from company to company. Maybe it was a lack of opportunity or the job was not a good fit.

    For a potential employer, I would highlight my skill set and show how that skill set can support the business.

  7. @Peter: I agree with you. While I understand the need sometimes to take a job, any job, to put food on the table, I find that short gigs are usually the result of taking the wrong job to begin with.

  8. The problem with many of these replies is that they require Monday morning quarterbacking. Yes, don’t take the wrong job at a bad company, staffed by jerks, that won’t promote you regardless of performing above expectations. Brilliant! The issue is that today’s employment world is like trying to get married after a 1st date. I do more in-depth research to improve my chances, but it is not 100% foolproof. In reading the following, consider that I have been in the workforce for 28 yrs: One can read opinions about the quality of company or job and one can ask around in their professional society or among former colleagues— but these opinions may be of limited value in a large corp. I have been very happy and extremely unhappy at the same company because my boss was changed after 2 years. How was I to predict this? I have had companies abruptly decide to relocate operations out-of-state after years in the same location. I have had companies spin off my unit or lay off my whole dept in reorg after a yrs of stability. How was I to predict this? I have had companies ask me where I see myself in 5 yrs and then not even be there in 5 yrs. I have had companies promise to promote me and then not do it, even after I hit and surpassed every performance milestone. These employers will string employees along until they get an offer elsewhere and then it is too late. How could I know conclusively that such an employer is dishonest in this way prior to taking the job? Sure, if the employer has done it to others and I know about it, that is a red flag. But, one does not always have that red flag in advance, or the employer doesn’t do this to everyone, but assumes (wrongly) that this particular employee doesn’t have the acumen to see it for what it is or (wrongly) believes this particular employee won’t move on? Sometimes people feel the need to move on due to inadequate compensation. A company will not always see the logic of paying an employee more if they can get away with heaping additional responsibilities on the employee without a pay increase. Sometimes the only way to get that increase is to leave. All of the obvious answers are only obvious in retrospect. That is the issue. I think it is wrong to assume that there is something wrong with the employee for changing jobs. In some industries, job change is more common, but a 20-yr-old newbie HR professional might not appreciate this fact. I agree with Nick’s approach of talking to the person you might want to work for so that short stints of employment are not misconstrued.

  9. @CAT Thank you for your empathy and call for others NOT to judge. Why is it always ASSUMED that there is something wrong with the employee/applicant?

    A little over a decade ago, just after completing graduate school I had no choice, but to take two internships, soon after graduation.

    Combined, I worked at both companies for two years. I liked both companies a lot, and had hoped a job offer would be extended after having done a really good job for each, but an offer never transpired.

    However, the second company,I will call Co. B, encouraged me to stay with them, offering to send me to a different city, and arm of the company. Being young, and impressionable, I allowed myself to be bullied into this position, even though I really didn’t want to go.

    After a year and a half in my new position with Co. B I was able to find a more fitting position, that paid more money, back in the city I had left. Six months into my new position, the recession and dot-com bubble hit (this was 2001), and the company — which had been around for 25 years — folded due to a mishandling of finances. I was given NO severance and NO assistance in finding another job.

    Ultimately, I had too many bills and had to succumb to the reality that I needed to regroup without the burden of so many financial pressures. I reluctantly moved back home to live with my parents.

    Since then, I have been underemployed, as the market in which I currently live doesn’t offer a lot of opportunity for someone with my background and skills. And with so many people now unemployed, employers rarely look at applicant’s outside of their city because there’s an over abundance of people to choose from in their city. (This is a trend that I started experiencing in the early aughts).

    Additionally, everything that society is talking about now (declining social mobility, downsizing in the workplace, income inequality,a highly educated workforce etc.) was beginning to bubble, under the surface, a decade ago — and earlier, according to many economists and historians who write about employment [Read Peter Capelli’s “Why Good People Can’t Find Jobs”].

    The Recession of 2001 looked like, for me, what it has looked like for many thousands more Americans in the past five years.

    Those of you who have been fortunate to find the right fit in their job situation, should count your blessings. But for younger generations (I am Gen X) it is becoming increasingly difficult — especially after a layoff — to rebound.

  10. Good comments but I lean to @Pat’s point. on the 2 year track record. Don’t be so quick to judge. I’ve been recruiting for over 10 years, & the 10 years weren’t the best the economy and job markets had to offer. Many of the comments assume the person had some control over his/her tenure. As a recruiter, I’ve lost count of how many people have been nailed by reorgs, downsizing, merger/acquisitions, and out-of-business scenarios in succession. People who’ve Changed companies without leaving their desks. They LOST their jobs, they didn’t go off chasing the next shining job option.
    And yes resume readers will assume they’re the poster child of whimsy, or ineptness and behave accordingly.
    Be that as it may, as Pat inferred the person needs to pay heed to the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Maybe they are not performing well, or maybe they are and the floor drops out from under them. But they need to self assess and then deal with reality.
    And another way for trying what Nick is saying is…they’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain because resume word weaseling isn’t going to do anything but waste time, time better put into learning how to network and
    thinking out of the box. If you’re going to write something write something different and aimed at that hiring manager and/or networking advocates who will find it refreshing and appealing. Resumes don’t get you jobs, they’re not meant to get you jobs, they’re meant to get you interviews. There’s no rule that a document that will get you an interview has to be a resume.
    I had a candidate who hit a home run to an interview for a program manager role with a very well done powerpoint for a real and very similar program he previously worked with. A deliverable. There was a resume but it was not compelling as it looked much like those of other qualified people.
    I got my 1st job in the computer industry, for which I wasn’t really qualified, via an imaginative cover letter. I broke all rules for business writing and having nothing to lose just wrote a humorous letter on why I was a good hire. It found it’s way to my eventual boss who ..had a great sense of humor.
    Nick’s advice as I see it is simply…think out of the box. You’re trying to find someone(s) in a company that does likewise & will see value

  11. @EDR: There are of course no guarantees. But I think the best way to optimize the outcome is to pick the target company as carefully as possible. Too often, job seekers respond to what comes along, which is very risky. Not to say someone shouldn’t take a job that came along esp if they need to pay the rent. But understand the risks.

    Your other point is far more important: Things change. Companies and managers morph. Worse, we misjudge. There’s no magic pill to fix that. If we could control that, we could get rich. Or at least be happier at work.

  12. @Don: This isn’t to argue with any of your points. I just would like everyone to think about this:

    “Resumes don’t get you jobs, they’re not meant to get you jobs, they’re meant to get you interviews. ”

    I disagree completely. A resume tells an employer about your history. Where and when and why did the world begin to believe that a dumb piece of paper (or Word file) is intended to “get you interviews?” It’s just not so.

    I think this all started when companies started soliciting lots and lots of applicants. There was no way they could address every applicant, so a resume became a person’s proxy. That was absolutely dumb. No one should have played along with that. Imagine: “Here’s my history, my keywords, everything I’ve ever done, all my credentials. Now YOU go figure out what the hell to do with me!”

    Give the manager the option to choose whom to interview from a handful of people the manager actually knows, has met, has had referred to her, and you’re toast. (Unfortunately, few managers manage to make such contacts. It’s why they fail to hire anyone and conclude there’s a talent shortage.)

    That’s what it means to hand someone your resume! What an atrocious assumption. What a silly expectation. How dumb can we all be?? A manager doesn’t decide to interview anyone based on a sheet of facts. Managers RESORT to making that choice from a resume because they think they have no other, better option.

    You can kick virtually every one of your competitors out of the running if you give the manager better ways to choose to interview you. A resume does not do anything for you – it can’t. It’s just a recitation of your history. It was never intended to be your proxy. It’s a file that helps the manager fill in the blanks about your history, once the manager judges you on other criteria. The world is miserable and unemployed today because people sit around waiting for a Word file to bring home the bacon.

    I don’t need to tell anyone this: It doesn’t work, except on such stray occasions that it’s called dumb luck.

    End of rant :-).

  13. I’m a bit late to these discussions (the hazards of spring breaks over the past two weeks at two different institutions, with reduced hours and services).

    Thank you Cat for your comments re not judging someone on why he has held jobs for two years. We really don’t know; it could be that the jobs were a poor fit and he took them because he needed a job/any job. It could be the culture of the industry/field in which he works. My brother has worked in prospective research (mostly at colleges and universities, but also at corporations and companies), and when he was starting out, he was changing jobs often–two years, maybe two years, six months at most was what he was putting in before moving on to the next job. I remember asking him about it once, and he said that in order to move up, he had to have enough experience in different places, hence the shorter stints. The longest he was at a job came much later–he was there four years, eight months. But the other reason was that as he gained experience, he wanted more money and more responsibility, and that meant having to change jobs. For whatever reason, the places he worked tended not to promote from within. So if he were to send Nick his résumé, it would look like he was a lousy worker (not true), that he made bad decisions re which jobs to take (also not true). His chopping and changing was due to the culture of his field. And several times he changed jobs when the environment and management changed, but then he was in good company as these places were losing many employees (quitting due to management). It was a good fit when he started, then he gets a new boss, or the boss gets a new boss, and things change. That is the kind of thing for which you can try to do all of the research, all of the networking in the world, and you’ve done your part, but you didn’t count on that, or you expected it, but perhaps not that soon into your tenure on the job. That happened to me in my last job. I started it in the late summer 2002; my first boss was great, but she resigned in late December 2002, so the new boss (who took over in January 2003) was an unknown to me. He turned out to be fantastic. Then he retired in May 2003, and the third boss took over. We got along very well and he was wonderful! But then attractive early retirement packages were offered to long time employees as part of a budget cutting measure, and he took it, retiring in December 2003. The fourth boss was horrid, and I had only been on the job for a little less than one year and one half! I’d done my research, have a very strong work ethic, and tried my best. There’s no way I could have anticipated that they (new management) would have decided to hire her, much less what kind of boss she would be. I don’t assume that only men make great bosses, because I’ve experienced great bosses who were both men and women, as well as terrible bosses who were both men and women. It is a human thing, not a gender thing. The economy was lousy, boss #4 had a five year non-tenure track contract, so I stuck it out, thinking “how bad can it get?”. The answer: pretty bad. When she left, I thought “finally! the program (and I) will be back with the school I’m supposed to be with, and things will be better.” Was I ever wrong, because boss #5 was even worse than boss #4. Additionally, there was other new management, who set about making life as miserable as possible for as many people as possible. If you were praised or did a good job, you got targeted. I didn’t anticipate that either.

    Even my brother, after getting a job several jobs ago that was closer to home, paid much better, etc., found out the hard way that even when you do your research, talk to insiders, make careful decisions, the result might not be what you think. He carefully researched a company, talked to several former co-workers and two former bosses who had worked for them; got introductions, etc., and when the company offered him the job, he took it. On his first day, he learned that the guy he was told was going to be his boss had been moved, and someone else was put in his place. He had anticipated working with the other guy, being trained by him, being shown the ropes, etc. The new boss did none of that, turning over the training to an underling who had applied multiple times for the job my brother got and was shot down (they always hired outsiders for that job, never hired internally) each time. She refused to train him, to help him in any way. My brother didn’t know the industry as well, didn’t have the same connections, and was expecting that his boss would have given him that entré, those contacts. He said that the woman who was supposed to train him would sometimes undermine him, give him wrong information, and when he asked for help, would not answer his questions. He was her boss, but he was dependent on her to show him the ropes (which she refused to do). He said no one would stop by to say hello, to go to lunch, the normal socializing that goes on in workplaces. He started to feel that he was going to be fired because he wasn’t learning the industry as quickly as he might have if he had gotten training and had help. He was putting in more hours, so even though he was getting a much fatter paycheck and was only minutes from home, he was getting home at the same time that he did when he had an hour plus commute at his old job. He connected with another former coworker, was told that they just hired someone, but that he’d rather hire my brother, so they revoked the job offer to other guy, and my brother got in. He was there for over four years, and left because of new management (who forced out so many employees that even HR took notice) and for a better paycheck.

    I do agree with Nick that job hunters need to do their homework, find out as much as they can about a job, prospective bosses and colleagues, the culture, and the employer as possible and truly think about values and fit. But I also know that sometimes, even when you do all of that, it still doesn’t work because of matters beyond your control. I couldn’t control my first three bosses resigning and retiring. If any one of them were still there, I’d still be there. My brother couldn’t control the fact that the guy he thought and was told was going to be his boss got moved elsewhere in the corporation, and had no control over who became his boss. He couldn’t control the behavior of the person who was supposed to train him. He had done his research too, and it didn’t matter. That doesn’t mean that it is an excuse not to do your homework, but that changing jobs often is not always a sign of flakiness or incompetence or a lack of intelligence or of not knowing what you want.

    I wonder how employers who look askance at people who have only held jobs for two or three years deal with people who were in the military. AD military typically PCS every two or three years. They might stay in the same general field (e.g., medical services, JAG, etc.), but usually with each PCS comes the opportunity for more responsibility (command duties) in addition to their other duties. I would hope that a civilian employer wouldn’t look at this as a sign of being unable to hold onto a job.