What does it mean to a hiring manager if they need a GPS to track your career? If you’ve given in to wanderlust more than once, and are prone to relocation, it’s likely your work history reflects these serial scene changes and you’re a job hopper. Fear not! You’re in good company.
- It’s so hot right now. According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, the trend to embark on shorter and shorter professional stints is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s typical to have worked at a company for only three years (if you’re between the ages of 25 and 34). And a CareerBuilder report found almost half of the employees surveyed said they planned to stay at their job for less than two years.
- It works. Besides its popularity, the unique benefits of job hopping speak for themselves. In fact, this trend is gaining recognition as a viable step in carving out a fruitful nonprofit career. Having a variety of jobs allows you to grow in different settings with different communities, expands your contact pool, and can increase your salary.
But, if you still think your past could send up some red flags with hiring managers, and you’re bashful about sending out your seemingly manic mosaic of experiences, don’t worry. Here are a few ways to make your job hops work in your favor.
Hone that hopscotching
When you send in an application, you’re not going to be able to provide personalized context to a litany of work experiences. So, as a job hopper, how can you present yourself best on paper?
Here are some hints on how to tailor your resume to highlight your consistent attributes.
- Personalize your approach. Working in the nonprofit sector, you are likely mission driven; let the hiring manager see this. Don’t send out boilerplate applications, really hone in on what it is about the work that appeals to you. Draft your cover letter and format your resume in such a way that it speaks to that connection.
- Don’t leave out unrelated jobs. Gaps don’t translate well. Instead of skipping a seemingly unrelated position, keep it in your resume. Let them see the whole work history, even if you think it’s a bit unfocused.
- Stick to a theme, or find the thread that ties your story together. If you moved around from job to job but stayed in communications, focus on that. If you had many different positions, but consistently worked with underserved youth populations, allow your mission to tie your work together.
- Everyone’s journey tells a personal story, so don’t be so quick to apologize for your resume. Stay confident, excuses will put you at a disadvantage you don’t deserve. Embrace your journey and present it in such a way that your attributes speak for themselves.
Sell those skills
No matter your path, there are transferrable skills that will almost always apply from one job to the next, even if it’s basic services like punctuality, time management, or organization. Use these skills to shift the focus from your winding past to what you consistently bring to the table.
- Show off your adaptability and your ability to work with different organizations, companies, coworkers, and cultures. For example, if you started in the corporate sphere and shifted into the nonprofit sector, explain what your experiences in these different worlds can bring to the position.
- Use your cover letter and the interview to focus the hiring manager on the skills you’ve gained and let them know why this position appeals to you, why you’re excited about this opportunity, and touch on what would make you want to stay at their organization.
Pro Tip: The hiring managers knows you’re a job hopper and will be interviewing you with that in mind. Be ready for some “trigger” questions; they may even ask if you’re willing to commit to several years with them. Remember, you don’t have to make that kind of commitment on the spot and if it’s a spoken agreement, it isn’t set in stone.
Reasons for leaving
Here’s a question that’s sure to come up in the interview: “Why did you leave your last position? Or your last several positions?”
Make sure you are prepared to answer, and stick to the truth. Sure, bad exits happen, especially early in your career. So, what do you do if you left a job (or jobs) on questionable terms?
- Stay positive when talking about past experiences. Keep your explanations professional, check your emotional reactions, and avoid any negative talk or bashing.
- If you left a job for no reason, or had a phase where you were trying to find yourself and don’t want to come off as unreliable, break it down and, tell your story and focus on the talents you’ve acquired. Present what your path taught you about self-reliance, organization, and time-management.
- Making a risky decision to leave a job, especially a new job, is difficult. It takes a lot of inner strength to admit a position you may have just started is not a fit. While moves like this will keep you from making long-term career mistakes, be careful not to make premature cutting and running a habit.
Remember, avoid gaps in your resume, stick to a theme, don’t apologize, focus on your transferrable skills, promote your adaptability, and be careful how you speak about previous positions, especially those impulsive departures.
Are you a serial job hopper? Perhaps you’re just starting to explore your professional mobility? Are you a hiring manager who has hired job hoppers or tried to avoid them? Please, share your stories. We’d love to hear from you!
About the author: With a background in the performing arts and journalism, Caroline understands the often motley course of career change. She’s been a reporter at NPR, a music teacher, and co-managed a yoga resort in in northern Michigan. Her passions include helping at-risk youth, supporting women’s rights, and encouraging girls to study science.