I like milk. For my entire life I have purchased it based upon the date code on the carton. The assumption is that the later the date code, the fresher the milk. You have date codes, too. Few people talk about them, but they can have major effects on your employability. Let me explain what I mean….

I had two lunches last week with two different recruiters. Both mentioned “employment date coding.” They just didn’t call it by that name. Why? Because the term employment date coding is a shorthand phrase I invented to describe one or more time stamps that many recruiters and hiring managers assign to job seekers. This may be the only article you ever read on this important concept, so I encourage you to read it thoroughly.

What is an employment date code? It is a date derived from your employment history. Let me explain.

Whether you are currently employed or unemployed, your employment date codes are on your resume. A recruiter or hiring manager can thus determine how long you have been at your current job, how long you were at your previous jobs, and the number of jobs you have had in the past five to ten years. In addition, if you are unemployed then they may also want to know your unemployed date code — when you left your last job.

Managing your date codes properly will positively affect your overall brand and your employability. One of the recruiters I met volunteered that he will only consider job seekers who (1) have a “clean” job history, (2) are currently employed, and (3) can demonstrate quantified results that justify their experience. His first two criteria are related to date coding! When I asked what he meant by a clean job history, he said that he expects the person to have no more than two jobs in the past five years and no more than four in the last ten years. Obviously, since he wants only employed job seekers, he is looking for people whose unemployment date code is “not applicable.”

Your brand is strongest and you are most employable when you have created a reasonably stable work history and are currently employed. But, of course, many people have had employment turbulence due to the major business downturns in the U.S. recessions of 2000/2001 and 2008/2009 as well as certain industry sector consolidations. This topic is discussed in more detail in Chapter 5 of Fast Track Your Job Search (and Career!) titled Career Satisfaction.

What can you do if you have changed jobs several times in the past five or ten years? The most obvious solution is to stay with your current employer three or more years, to demonstrated longevity. If you are unemployed, then this may be a good goal in choosing your next employer. Find the best place you can where you feel you can stay for a while.

If you are currently unemployed, some additional clarification is needed. Your dates of past employment that are shown on your resume are fixed. You may be able to get somewhat “creative” in how you present them, which could reduce downside effects. (This is a topic for another post) Your date when you left your last job and became unemployed is fixed, too. However, there is more to it than that….

And here is where my milk story becomes more relevant. If you are unemployed, no one will tell you but you need to hear it from me: You are like a carton of milk. Although you do not have a literal expiration date, each month that passes will tend to make you appear more questionable as a candidate. And after six months or so, some people may consider you “expired” as a job candidate. For these reasons, it is important that you not take the first few months of your job search too casually. Even if you have considerable financial resources, dragging out your job search is likely to reduce your marketability. “I decided to take a few months off” or “It’s a tough job market” are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Here is my one sentence synopsis: Manage your career to demonstrate longevity with past employers, try to conduct your job searches when employed, and get moving quickly when unemployed to avoid reductions in your marketability.

What do you think? Can you find a way to utilize this information to motivate yourself and succeed faster?


Richard Kirby is an executive career consultant, speaker on career strategies, and author of Fast Track Your Job Search (and Career!). Richard Kirby’s earlier experience includes managing engineering, human resources, marketing and sales teams for employers that ranged from a Fortune 100 to a VC-funded entrepreneurial startup. For the past 11 years at Executive Impact, Richard has helped hundreds of executives and professionals successfully navigate today’s transformed 21st century job market and achieve better employment for themselves. Richard’s expertise includes career assessments and goal setting, personal marketing/branding, resume enhancement, strategic networking and job interviewing, and “contrarian” job search methodologies. He is a Board Certified Coach (in career coaching) and a Certified Management Consultant (recognized by the ISO).