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How To Ace An Interview When Your Work History Is All Over The Place

It’s been said (and written) that job-hopping is not just the future of the workforce, but the current state of affairs for millennials. Though, depending on what stats you’re looking at, we all may be job-hopping just as much as the boomer generation.

Still, it’s no secret that many job seekers find themselves in situations where their resumes and work history include lots of different jobs. Long gone are the days when sticking it through with a company for decades was the sign of progress and loyalty. No, these days, we’re all that much more likely to get promoted outside the company.

If your talents are known in the industry, it’s not unusual for hiring scouts to poach you from your workplace (hence the proliferation of all those non-compete clauses). So when you feel like you’ve had a million jobs, how do you present yourself in the best light to your potential new boss?

To find out how to best handle a variety of scenarios where you might find yourself job-hopping, we reached out to Prestell Askia. She’s the founder of The Askia Group, a management and professional development training firm that’s worked with Fortune 500 companies. So, whether you’ve job-hopped around a few companies or whether your resume boasts one too many internships, here’s how to come out on top no matter the scenario.

Convey, “This is who I am, rather than where I’ve been”

Girlboss: Let’s say you’re someone who is climbing the career ladder fast. You’ve gotten a lot of promotions, but your resume looks like it’s all over the place. What advice would you give to that employee as to how to proceed?

Prestell Askia: If you’ve got a background that includes climbing the corporate ladder quickly, because you’re good, you’ve been promoted, you’ve been taken from one company or another, in that instance, the ideal way is to modify how you present your experience. Rather than focusing on where your jobs have been in terms of companies or position, restructure and categorize your experience and the contributions you’ve made to those positions.

“List those ‘soft’ or human skills. Those skills that are referred to as more complex.”

One of the ways of doing that is at the very top of your resume, where you list your hard or technical skills, list those “soft” or human skills. Those skills that are referred to as more complex. That’s your leadership quality, [you’re] problem solver, team player, excellent communicator, etc. So, that by restructuring your resume, you can highlight those aspects of your background rather than the fact that you had five jobs in two and a half years, with two or three or five or whatever number of companies that you’ve worked with.

Say, “There were other opportunities available and I made the decision to leave.”

Maybe you’re having to discuss with a potential employer why you’ve had these different multiple jobs over the years, and the situation is that you had a bad manager, the workplace culture wasn’t a fit. What do you do?

The most effective verbiage, especially when you’re talking a one-on-one interview, is to simply say that, “It really wasn’t the best fit.” What that does is ensures that you’re not bad-mouthing your prior management, your prior company, even though it may have been totally dysfunctional, and many times that’s the case.

However, what it does is it puts you in a much better light, so that the interviewer does not assume that you will likewise bad-mouth his or her company, or his or her management skills, if they are the interviewing manager. The fact that it wasn’t a good fit means you say try any of these. “There were other opportunities available,” and, “I made a decision to leave” is much more palatable than to say, “I had a bad manager.” Or, “It was a dysfunctional company.”

If you’re a creative, focus on presentation and deliverables

If you’re a person who works in a creative field, where maybe you’re working on one contract or project at a time and it looks like you just have a lot of different places you’ve been at, what do you do?

That’s one where the most effective presentation, again, is to focus on the expertise and the areas of contributions, as opposed to the multiple jobs. There are so many people, especially millennials, who are entrepreneurs, who are independent contractors, and indeed, they work on project basis circumstances. What they want to do is focus on their creative mode and show what their talents are, as opposed to the numbers of jobs.

Use operative words to show you’re a fit

Let’s say you are applying for a job and your resume looks like it doesn’t necessarily apply to the job. It’s not immediately clear why you’d be a good fit for that new role, because of your given work history. What do you do to stand a chance as an applicant?

Say for instance, you have a degree in kinesiology. Physical education and physical therapy, and that was originally your degree, and you had some work experience in that area, and you clearly realized that’s not what you want to do, and you didn’t realize it at the time. However, you’ve taken courses in let’s say movie productions, where you’ve worked very limited, as a production assistant and you want to move into the entertainment industry.

Focus on your abilities to manage and execute products. Work on those operative words that people in the entertainment industry are looking for. Say you can manage from a production standpoint, a team of individuals to achieve a particular goal. I’d also use this type of verbiage, and that is the … There’s an old saying. “Good leaders manage resources and people, they don’t have to necessarily have the equivalent technical skills to go along with it.”

“Good leaders manage resources and people, they don’t have to necessarily have the equivalent technical skills to go along with it.”

What it does is presents those soft skills. This is truly applicable in those creative endeavors. When people have soft skills, they are transferable but not necessarily readily apparent in an old fashioned resume format.

When in doubt, focus on those soft skills in related fields

Let’s say you’re someone who’s fairly new to the workplace and you’re just starting out. Maybe your resume really consists of just a lot of internships or entry level positions at different companies. How do you talk about that experience?

For those people who are new and starting out in their career field, if they’ve got education that is related, but no experience, by all means include the education, and/or volunteer activities. Sometimes we volunteer and even though it’s not professional and it’s not paid [we discount it.] But those skills do count toward work experience. And then of course, in that instance, I would also list references that might be available to provide and enhance a little bit of discussion and talk about my leadership qualities, problem solving, and the fact that I’m an excellent communicator.

I had a young man who was interested in working with the fire department and he had experience at Best Buy and Rite Aid, and local retail, but he had gone to school and had taken classes for firefighting. Here’s what we did with his resume. The opening and the header was the job objective. In this instance, I listed public service: fire department.

In his profile area at the top of the resume, I listed a lot of his soft skills that he had gained as a result of his high school experience, as a result of working at Best Buy and Rite Aid, and the retail environment. Those profile skills included leadership qualities, problem solving [traits], excellent communicator, customer service focus. Along with the fact that he’s a team player and has organizational skills.

By presenting those upfront, even though he’s very young, he doesn’t have a lot of direct experience, what that does is show someone who’s reviewing for entry level firefighting interns, or firefighting positions, that he’s got those key skills that are necessary in not only the fire department, but most organizations.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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