What’s the Best Way for a Potential Employer To Interview a Job Hopper?
I just read an article making the case for changing the way we think about "job hoppers", and I couldn't agree more. One boss's job hopper could be another boss's best employee ever. And I say that having been a serial job hopper myself – and having had recruiters avoid me like the plague because of it!
Of course, there are situations where a resume is just filled with unconnected jobs all under a year, painting a rather unappealing picture. If that's all the resume screener sees of a job candidate (no cover letter, no personal recommendation, no unifying career story that explains why now is different), then it's understandable that an employer might not see all you have to offer.
But what if there is a good reason for that many jobs in such a short period of time? And what if the employer is actually throwing a great potential candidate into the "no" pile?
First let's define job hopper
At the most basic level, a job hopper is someone with a string of short-term jobs on their resume, and, at least at first glance, no good reason for this. Is two a string? Three?
With resumes coming into employers in the hundreds nowadays, it's understandable that a screener will look for potential red flags that make it easy to sort out the obvious rejects. But I've also seen resumes rejected far too quickly, calling a job seeker with 2 or 3 short-term jobs in a row, even with some great credentials, a job hopper. And for some, a year is "short-term", but not if you're in a miserable job with a miserable boss!
For me, if the candidate has taken the time to create a resume and cover letter that point nicely to the new job (even if some of their experiences are short term), and if I get a feeling that this might actually be a great fit for them and for us, I am willing to give them a chance.
I have found some outstanding non-cookie-cutter candidates this way. I worry that, as more and more systems do the weeding, we are losing some of the very people who can add depth and texture to an organization.
But, all that said, an employer has to protect themselves. And so, for me, even if you want to ease up on some of the rigid screening rules and call the person in, the interviewer needs to look for actual commitment and fit versus "I just want to look right for THIS job".
Looking at my own job hopping experience
Even though recruiters wouldn't touch me, I was always able to get the next employer to give me a chance based on what I had accomplished even in short-term jobs, and how well I had thought through the new job and what I bring to it. The unifying story I presented – along with my genuine enthusiasm and sincerity – made all the difference.
What I hadn't realized yet were the essential elements for me that were missing from each of the prior jobs: variety, ample chances to solve problems, and opportunities to continue to learn new things while helping others do the same. And it was a wise CITO of a major university who, even though I was miserable working for my boss at the time, watched me successfully pushing through process roadblocks and human barriers – and saw me as a potential asset to her organization.
She gave me the start of a long-term, successful consulting career where the constant change and problem-solving I craved were built into the mix – and where I got to be valued for the many of the very qualities that I displayed even in my short-term jobs.
So how should an interviewer look at a "job hopper?"
Well, if you've seen enough in their application package to call them in, first and foremost, I hope you can let go of the job hopper label and just see them as a potential employee. Longevity of jobs is simply an element to explore, such as someone not having the required degree or exact experience.
Personally, I'd start with the boring "tell me a little about yourself" question, and then follow up with the equally boring but useful "Why do you think you're right for this job?" And I'd really listen and watch their body language, making notes about points that potentially relate to job commitment. I'd want to know what is it about the jobs they didn't stick with, but it's easier to get at that after they've loosened up a bit.
And then I'd ask them to tell me about some of the jobs that didn't work out and why they think that's the case. I'd be looking to see if they've done some good thinking about what didn't work for them (is it always the job or the boss or is part of it about who they are and what they need), and then of course ask them again why they think this job in particular – what elements of the job – would be any better for their needs.
Have they changed anything in their lives or their way of thinking? How does a job feel when it isn't working for them? What do they do to try to make it better? And if they were always let go from a job, what have they learned that they bring to this new job?
OK … if they were always let go, I would start to worry, and probably would have explored that in the phone interview. Then again, in this modern economy, even that could be a series of bad luck. I knew a really good tech worker who had three companies in a row go belly up or drastically downsize.
It would be great if employers could always look past things like too many short-term jobs. But in many cases, their hesitancy comes with good reason. And even if they want to be open to each and every story, a pile of hundreds of resumes makes personal attention like that nigh onto impossible.
So in the end, it's a job seekers responsibility to help them see that they are more than just the sum of a few short-term jobs.
Still, I hope more employers begin to expand their screening to include people who may very well turn out to be the best employees they ever had. Is someone who stays for years and years in a job, perhaps stewing in their own misery, really a better employee for you?
If you can look at the whole picture of a candidate (resume, cover, social media, self-presentation) and see things in them that come together uniquely to fit your job opening and company – perhaps offering them the variety and challenge they need – then your organization will be richer for it.