In the Q&A section of the September 1, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we’re talking about how to convince an employer to hire you (or even just to interview you) when your resume reveals you have “jumped around a lot.”

I’ve offered some perspective and suggestions to the reader who asked the question in the newsletter. Now I’m asking you to advise how this reader should say it to the manager.

Why should an employer consider this applicant, much less hire him, if he has had four different jobs in four years? What should the applicant say to merit an interview or a job?

(Don’t get the newsletter? Sign up, and the next time we discuss a topic like this you’ll have the whole story! But feel free to chime in now anyway!)


  1. I’ve departed a few jobs after working for the employer for under two years. When the project was done, it didn’t make sense for me to stay on. I made sure to leave after a good milestone in the project, I documented my work thoroughly, and I took time to train teammates who took over supporting the systems I put in place. I also stayed in touch with them for a while, answering any questions they had. I continue to count many of my past coworkers as friends and colleagues.

  2. Well, you could hire on with a consulting firm. Then by the nature of your position, you’d likely end up job-hopping, but not employer-hopping. Do that for a couple of years, and you’ll have nothing to explain in the future.

    During the late 90’s, I was a job-hopper, but that was in a good economy. During the 2000-2001 crash, I was in a stable position for four years before I got the ax in a layoff in 2003. But that one 4-year stint was enough to remove the job-hopper label from my history. It only takes one.

  3. The reason the employer should consider this person over another is simple. It may be that the four positions held by the individual (in a four year span) may hold more significance and more value to the firm, than a single position held by another applicant (who likely sat for eight years, on one job, like a damn robot contributing little to nothing.) That is the usual reality of the world of average workers.

  4. I took a right turn out of research (PhD) and into commercial (but no MBA = big disadvantage) half-way through my career, in order to open up additional opportunities. However in retrospect, I ended up starting out 5-10 years after everyone else in business did, and could only land “big-titled” positions with smaller companies (family owned, start-ups, etc.) All of these were short term positions (less than two years). However doing a series of these types of companies seemed at the time like a way to get commercial experience and achieve increasing responsibility while wearing many different hats and learning many different disciplines. Unfortunately it also had the downside of severely pigeon-holing me into doing exactly that; larger companies see me as a job-hopper and are more interested in why I have had so many jobs, and refuse to focus on my broad experience. At this late stage (mid-40s) it seems like I am completely boxed in and struggling to hold onto one terrible short-term position after another (i.e. taking the high-risk positions with the shady start-ups that no one else will – even in this economy.) The HR dept. absolutely hates me and cannot get over the hops. I have had at least one recruiter tell me I should simply rewrite (“re-craft”) my resume to state I “consulted” for years for these companies as opposed to being an FTE. I am a pretty honest individual and wouldn’t feel comfortable with such twisting of fact. If anyone can figure a way to get out of this mess I would certainly welcome the feedback and thank you!

  5. Don’t create stories; just be honest and up-front and tell the employers why you job hopped and how some of it (company closure) was out of your control.

  6. In today’s market it is very common for people to have several positions in a relatively short time. Many times this is no fault of their own. In addition, many of the companies that demand longevity will not hesitate to throw you out after a few months or insist on a contract-to-hire arrangement. This being said, you should play to your strengths and leave with strong recommendations. In this new economy, ‘job-hopping’ will become the norm not the exception.

  7. I wouldn’t create stories, either, but the harsh fact is that lots of different employers on your resume makes you look like a job-hopper and companies don’t like that.

    I vote with the ju jitsu approach — turn your biggest negative into a positive. What did you learn, working for all those different companies with all those different ways of doing business, that you couldn’t have learned in working your way up in just one company? There had to have been many things you learned, about what works and what doesn’t, that you learned in a relatively short period of time.

    Those lessons might have been learned in one company (maybe not) over years and years. But working in a lot of different environments, with all sorts of people, gives you a breadth of experience that “company” men and women don’t have.

    Maybe I’m an optimist, but I think your record shows a willingness to try new things, continually refine your skills and be willing to take calculated risks in pursuit of industry excellence.

  8. I like what Etta Walsh suggests: demonstrate a willingness to try new things and take calculated risks in pursuit of industry excellence. Like anything else, when I look for a job, I will remain at that job as long as the company is able to retain me and as long as we share mutual interests in the work that needs to be done. When that changes, either in the company or in my personal situation, then another assignment becomes necessary. The first thing I will do is explore additional opportunities within the company, and if that does not work out, after examination, I look elsewhere. It has worked both ways for me. At times, I have found many assignments within a company, at times, I have had to move on, and at times, the employer has had to terminate the relationship.

    In my most recent job, the employer did have to terminate my job. The senior management was very up front with me. At least six months before it actually happened, we had a conversation, and we had several conversations in between. The senior management was able to secure my services on at least two additional projects before the end came, and when it finally happened, we left on positive terms. I would have no hesitation at all to work with them again and I would be delighted to work with anyone who was anywhere near as candid as this senior manager!

  9. I have skipped from one job to another in short spaces of time. Why? Trying to find a job where I can find satisfaction; where I can make a difference; where I am not micromanaged; where I am considered an important team member; where I can work on my strengths, not falter on my weaknesses; where my experience and input is valued (even if not used); where gossip is not part of the environment and backstabbing is not rewarded; where I am not reviewed by incompetent, in-the-box managers; where innovation is encouraged, on and on….

    Corporate brands shout out all these attributes, but in reality most of them fall off brand when it comes to internal management.

    So a good response to too many short stints would be to turn those points into positive aspirations(bracketed examples not necessarily mentioned in the job interview): searching for innovation and proactive thinking (rather than micromanagement); pride in teamwork (rather than a culture of gossiping and backstabbing); on-going communication (instead of annual reviews full of inappropriate surprises; etc.

    I fell into the trap about which you hinted: taking on the wrong jobs for me — again and again. I did not have a discussion about my expectations and aspirations and accepted positions just to get a job, knowing that these work killers were waiting in the wings.

    I hear your message loud and clear. Find your passion; research the industry and company; tell them how you are going to increase profit and reduce costs, etc. But how do you approach the discussion about your own expectations and aspirations to find work in a well managed, engaging organization without immediately killing your chances by appearing too self-absorbed, negative and threatening?

    Just asking. I plan to create my own work from now on. If I grow large enough to hire others, people will be banging at my doors for work: gossip about co-workers will not be tolerated; employees will be rewarded for their results, not on the basis of where they fit on a grid; archaic and damaging annual reviews will be banned, to be replaced by daily communication, briefing and debriefing; every employee, no matter what position will be equally valued; profit sharing will be front and centre; if jobs have to be elevated to avoid minimum wages, that will be done; employees will not have to fear being themselves for fear of suffering consequences; more rather than less will be expected; age will not be an issue, etc.

    One of the reasons for the dysfunctional job market is that all too many corporations are, themselves, dysfunctional!

  10. With regards to “How to Say It” for this particular example:

    “I view myself like a professional athlete who changes teams every year, but maintains the same level of commitment and loyalty to each team, client, or employer.”

    “When the painting is finished, I prefer to start mixing my paints and prepare the palette for the next portrait in my portfolio.”

  11. I have a series of contract jobs in my past that each lasted about a year. Frankly they helped me build my skill set faster than if I stayed in one job or one company during that same time period. I worked with more industries, corporate structures and methodology than any one company could ever have supplied me in the same span of time. And it shows, when I end up in a large company and know far more about the last web marketing tools or was already exposed to what they are just learning, it allows me to hit the ground running faster to make the company money faster and that’s generally what it is all about in my field.

    Besides, in today’s economy, letting HR or anyone else make assumptions as to why someone job hopped is just shooting yourself in the foot. If it looks like the person has some skill, get on the phone, a 15 minute phone conversation and help you find out if they do or not in a lot of cases.

  12. My suggestion would be for the applicant to identify what common elements were there in past positions and how that isn’t the case in this current situation. A key would be that the applicant isn’t out to overly bad mouth past employers, but rather identify situations that forced a move. If there was some bait and switch in terms of the environment then stating that up front may actually be useful for the company to know so that if they were lying to him about the position that this may make them think twice. Similarly, if certain perks are closer to required for someone these may also be worth stating up front. If the deal breakers that led to changing jobs can be stated up front and in a clear manner for the potential employer to understand why the moves happened, then they can assess for themselves to see whether or not someone is worth the risk.

  13. The one thing that stands out to me is the poster that remarked “At this late stage (mid-40s) it seems like I am completely boxed in and struggling to hold onto one terrible short-term position after another…”
    Man oh man, please get off that bus pal, in my opinion that is entirely in your own mind and THAT is why you appear to be “feeling boxed in and struggling….” Your age and experience are your benefits and assets. Would you want to go back in time to say 25? I would not at all, ever. You have to focus on your talents and strengths, and let that age thing go for Christ’s sake, (btw we are the same age so I know of what I speak.) I believe that living by age and regret is the most limiting frame of mind, especially currently. If I could hire a 45 or 50 year old, that is worldly, sharp and talented. Damn, I will do so in a flash over some green 25 year old that has the brain of a 10 year old – today all too common.

  14. Maybe there’s a 12-step program for job-hopping?

    Seriously, the matter could be that with all of the politics and low incentives to stay …these places aren’t challenging you enough to keep your attention …not hard to imagine actually.

    Maybe you should go it alone, find something that interests you and hang out your own shingle?