This is another awful question brought to you by the same folks who invented: “What is your greatest weakness?” There’s a litany of these tough questions, so be prepared.
You might be surprised that no matter what is on your resume, a recruiter can put you on the spot. Remember, perception is reality. One recruiter might be uneasy with a few six-month stints on your work history, while another looks askance at a few two-year terms.
Don’t get defensive. When the interview gets to why you’ve job hopped, the question is NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about them and the consequences to them if they hire you and you don’t stick. Recruiters and hiring managers have batting averages to protect. They don’t want to on-board you and have you quit, before enough time elapses so they get credit for making a great hire. Their job is like a sports scout who works for a professional athletic team. Scouts and recruiters don’t make money because they can play the game. They make money because they know how to pick talent that can play the game.
Your past history is one of the few inviolable clues to your future performance. However, recruiters know that your work history is like reviewing last year’s earnings from an investment. Past performance is not a perfect indicator of what might happen under different conditions. Listen to the ads for Fidelity, Charles Schwab, or any financial advisory firm, mutual fund or commodity. The disclaimer about risk tells their whole story.
That’s why you’re in the interview: to tell YOUR whole story. So, be prepared with a good account of what was going on at the time, and be honest.
Tip: Write out what you’re going to say and practice it beforehand, so it’s coherent.
Sometimes, it’s painful to let a stranger into a private part of your life that influenced your ability to stay at a job. You’ve got to trust that a compassionate person is listening; someone who wants to help you get this job. Frame that relationship in your mind, so you can talk to the recruiter without being overly self-conscious.
For example, Ronan is one of my career coaching clients who had several jobs over five years. Some of them were part-time, a few were full time, and none lasted longer than eight months. On top of that, he had not finished college. However, he had kept up a personal blog and podcast on fashion for over two years, which showed real commitment because his audience probably didn’t amount to more than ten people. On the strength of that demonstrated interest in fashion, he reached out to a fashion magazine with a web content producer job open. We knew in the interview, he’d be called out for job-hopping.
Clearly, a recruiter would see him as a flight risk, maybe not worth the investment of on-boarding and missing out on another candidate who had a better work history.
The truth of Ronan’s situation involved his increasingly ill grandmother. As an only child and only grandchild, he shared the care-giving role with his mother. He was traveling home on the weekends to spell his mom and get time with Nana. The care-giving and traveling were emotionally and physically exhausting. Six months before the interview, Nana passed away. What she had in common with Ronan, beyond their deep personal bond, was her history as a fashion designer for a women’s sportswear company, back in the day.
Ronan not only loved fashion, now he felt he was carrying on Nana’s legacy. As he and his mom were going through her things, Ronan only wanted her drawings, photos and the ads featuring her apparel. In his blog, he had done a good job of featuring some of them in a retrospective way. He even had some audio of an interview he did with her before she got really ill.
Your story might not be so heart wrenching. Maybe you were working just to store up enough cash to travel, and you left to explore the world every time you could buy a plane ticket. Maybe you were trying to find your purpose, your industry, or your heart’s desire. Maybe you weren’t sure where you wanted to live. The point is: tell the story that’s behind why you kept moving. Share the reason that you are no longer peripatetic.
Ronan just landed the job of his dreams. He’s being paid three times what he made last year, plus he got a relocation bonus, laptop, and expense account.