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Overcoming Past Employment

By: Matt Lowney

Most people have been laid off, fired, had extended breaks in between jobs, or jumped from job to job quickly.  Each of these situations can create a sticky situation during an interview.  You know that interviewers are going to ask about these past employment improprieties, so you should be prepared to deal with these questions.  The key is to be open and honest, but extremely tactful in addressing these situations.

Job Hopping:
Twenty years ago, job-hopping meant having a job once a decade, but now an employer is lucky if an employee stays for even 5 years.  However, a growing number of employers are seeing candidates that have had multiple jobs in a short period of time.  The good news is that job-hopping does not carry the stigma it once did.  The bad news is that you will need to assure a potential employer that you are going to stay with them for the long haul.  First off, explain if there were any special circumstances that led to your frequent changes, such as caring ill family members or being laid off.  A savvy candidate will also point out that their varied experiences can actually be a positive.  Because you've packed a lot of experiences in a short period of time, you have the benefit of seeing a lot of different ways to get a job done. Try to paint a picture that these changes were intentional and have lead to a coherent progression from job to job.  Mostly the interviewer is looking for honesty; so make sure you explanation is sincere.

In hiring employees, most employers subscribe to the adage that past performance is the best predictor of future success.  As a result, being fired from one job is seen as a big strike against you in getting another.  However, a lot of very successful people have been fired and they have gone on to great things.  The number one rule you need to keep in mind is to not bash your former employer or boss.  You need to explain the situation that led to your dismissal and take responsibility for your actions.  Make sure to include a lesson that you learned as a result.  The interviewer is trying to judge your ability to be accountable you can be for your own actions.

Laid off:
In the world of employment there used to be a phrase that no company actually lays off its top performers.  In today's world of corporate downsizing and global outsourcing the stigma of being laid off is almost non-existent.  If you are able to provide measurable results and accomplishments at previous employers, you will have no problem overcoming the fact that you were laid off.

Extended breaks between jobs:
Extended breaks between jobs can be a very difficult situation to explain, especially if you left a job without having another one to go to.  If you are a mother that has stayed home to take care of children then there should be no problem.  Most hiring managers will ask a number of probing questions when they see extended breaks on a resume.  This situation could be the sign of an unstable employee or a measure of your ability to handle stress.  The number one reason most candidates give for leaving a job with another one lined up is stress.  If this is the case, be careful in how you address your answer.  No employer wants someone that was so fed up with their job that they just left.  Whatever the reason, you need to be up front with the interviewer that you are looking for a long-term employment situation.

Matt Lowney is a Nashville, Tenn., based corporate recruiter and career consultant specializing in the areas healthcare and information technology.  If you would like any additional information, please send an e-mail to: