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Job-Hopping, Revisited

Sobering New Rules to Live By

Job-Hopping, Revisited

Have you had maybe a few too many IT jobs over the last few years? If you were chasing bigger opportunities -- and a bigger paycheck -- during the tech boom or were downsized repeatedly during the bust that followed, you may find that you'll need to address prospective employers' concerns that you're a job-hopper.

"If you were a chronic job-hopper during the dotcom days, people may be questioning your integrity and loyalty," says Allison Hemming, founder of the Pink Slip Parties, networking events for laid-off professionals. "Within the pink-slip community, there are people panicked over this question."

The overheated job market made job-hopping common during the boom, but those were different times. Companies now want to know a candidate's reasons for job-hopping, though dotcom-era switches may earn a special dispensation.

"I think there's an understanding that from 1997 to early 2000, it was part of the madness that the country was caught up in," says Jason Berkowitz, chief operating officer of Hunter Recruitment Advisors.

Nevertheless, hiring managers and recruiters emphasize the need to prepare for the inevitable questions about your employment history.

Follow these rules:

  • Steer the Conversation to the Positive: Rather than focusing on reasons an employer may see as a negative -- namely, chasing after options or a higher salary -- find ways to emphasize positive aspects of working at a variety of organizations.

  • Practice Your Answer: Too many techies enter interviews unprepared for questions about job-hopping. "They know it's coming, and they freak out when it comes, and then the interview's over," says Hemming, author of Work It! How to Get Ahead, Save Your Ass and Land a Job in Any Economy. She recommends writing down your answer, rehearsing it out loud, editing it and videotaping yourself. "Get comfortable with answering, and focus on the upside," she says. "You need to be ready."

Consider these specific tactics when planning how to handle a history of job-hopping on your resume and in interviews:

  • State Why You Left on Your Resume: Berkowitz says he sees more resumes where a parenthetical explanation -- "Company closed due to lack of funding," for example -- will appear after the dates of employment. You can even use your resume objective to indicate that you're seeking employment with a stable company, he notes.  

  • Communicate Your Soft Skills: With employers angling for techies with soft skills, emphasize how your experience at different companies allowed you to hone your ability to work with a variety of people, such as customers, senior executives and owners, recommends Evan Burks, senior vice president at staffing firm Comforce.  

  • Provide References: References from your job-hopping days, even from managers at a firm no longer in business, can show you were a prized employee.  

  • Show Your Loyalty: "You need to demonstrate that you stick to other things," says Hemming. A long-term commitment to volunteer work for a specific organization, for instance, can demonstrate that you're not always moving from one opportunity to another.  

  • Convey the Scope of Your Experience: Focus on how you got the chance to work on a variety of projects, thereby gaining skills needed by your prospective employer, Burks suggests.  

  • Have Solid Reasons for So Much Coming and Going: To a certain extent, employers want to get a sense of your reasons for joining and leaving a company. "You get a lot of really bad answers," Berkowitz says. "You get a lot of people saying they got offered a lot of stock options." Avoid being glib. Instead, strive to convey the thoughtful, well-researched reasons why you switched jobs.

  • Know How You Can Fill Their Needs: "Bring it back to them," advises Hemming. What problem does the prospective employer want to remedy? Think of a way your previous experiences will help the new company.

Of course, job-hopping may also call for a certain degree of self-examination. "Ask yourself, 'Why is this happening?'" Hemming recommends. "Could you be making smarter choices?"

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