How to make a job-hopping past work in your favor
When it comes time to start a job hunt, few things create job-search anxiety like something in your resume you can’t get rid of, can’t hide, and that may ultimately make you look like a bad choice to a potential employer — job-hopping.
While there are many possible excuses for job-hopping, they won’t matter if you can’t get far enough along in the hiring process to explain.
Luckily, job-hopping doesn’t carry as much of a negative connotation as it used to, but it can still count against you in the early stages of applying for a job.
So how can you spin your work history in a way that not only makes it seem natural but even makes you look smart for your choices? If you establish well-defined reasoning from the start, you’ll have multiple opportunities to make your case to a hiring manager or potential employer.
In this article, we’ll cover best practices for handling a job-hopping history professionally.
Job-hopping has a different meaning depending on who you ask. To one employer, a job hopper has less than two years at multiple jobs. Another may consider less than one year in a position as job-hopping.
Anything that shows a pattern of changing jobs frequently can hurt your application unless you can justify the bouncing from place to place.
If an employer suspects you’re a job-hopper, they may worry that you won’t commit to a position or that you’re hard to work with as an employee. They don’t want to invest the time and cost of training an employee if there’s a chance the employee won’t stick around long term.
In years past, it was common for employees to stay with one company for their entire career. But the benefit to staying in one place was working toward a pension offered by the employer or other financial incentives for loyalty.
These days, employees contribute to 401Ks through their employment, and those typically follow you from one job to the next. So rather than building financial equity tied to a job, you have more opportunities to find a company culture where you can thrive and grow as an employee and still enjoy strong financial compensation.
The freedom to hop from one job to another is gaining acceptance, but it’s younger workers who do the most moving around.
Over the past couple of years, people have been leaving jobs in record numbers. This has left companies struggling to fill some positions. Businesses are trying to keep up by providing strong company incentives, such as raising wages. Retailers like McDonald's, and even major financial institutions like Morgan Stanley, are boosting starting wages and salaries to fill empty roles.
One of the best ways to explain a job change to prospective employers is to look for opportunities to turn negatives into positives. You can do this by sorting out your reasons before it comes up in a professional situation.
A concise statement will help you develop a consistent story behind changing jobs. Skip the details and leave out your emotions.
If you find it difficult to put your reasons into words, do some simple research online using the keywords you can identify. Practice writing out your statement so that it flows naturally when you speak.
It’s a lot easier to keep your story straight when your story is true. It’s also easier to plead your case when it’s coming from memory, not imagination.
Dig deeper than immediate emotions that might cloud your true reasons for leaving a job. You didn’t work with toxic bullies who took credit for your ideas — the company simply didn’t cultivate a collaborative culture.
Never over-explain, especially in an interview. The temptation to over-explain is strong, especially if you’re worried someone may think poorly of you. This is when having your statement and reasons down on paper comes in handy.
We tend to fill empty air with words, even when they aren’t necessary. Interviews are where awkward pauses thrive, so try not to fill them all. Less is often better than more.
Even if your last employer was terrible and you ran away screaming, don’t trash talk them to your potential new employer.
While you may think it makes your previous employer look bad when you talk about them, it’s usually the other way around. It shows pettiness and makes you sound like a complainer — someone who is hard to work with and might be emotionally immature.
When you’re applying for a new job, you’ll likely have several opportunities to address your work history. You can start with your resume and then give more in-depth explanations in your cover letter. When you’re invited to interview, you’ll have the chance to clarify your history in person.
The type of resume you use can help de-emphasize job changes. Typically, resumes are ordered by work history over time. This is known as a chronological resume. It can emphasize that you’ve had several jobs over a short period, so consider using a different type.
Functional Resume — A functional resume is the second most common type used, behind chronological. The functional format focuses on skills over dates of employment. You can group skill sets and give very detailed descriptions of the skills you’ve mastered and how you used them to your employer’s advantage.
A few drawbacks to consider when flirting with a functional resume is that some hiring managers are more used to chronological resumes and they don’t scan well on ATS (applicant tracking systems). Hiring managers prefer to skim a resume for the main details, and a functional resume makes that more challenging.
Hybrid or Combination Resumes — A hybrid, or combination, resume can be a great option because it still highlights skills but can make dates stand out less. Hybrid resumes are also scannable and ATS-friendly. A hybrid resume will break your skills into categories, like leadership, management, technical, and service. This format allows you to describe your achievements and goals you accomplished at each position, while a chronological listing is secondary.
Your cover letter is a great opportunity to explain a hopping history. It’s where you get to talk to your potential employer directly via your own words. Start by thinking of the objections you think they’ll have to your history, and explain your reasoning in a positive light.
If you were bored and didn’t see things changing, you could say there were no challenges, and you couldn’t foresee any growth in the position. If you didn’t get along with coworkers, you could say the company culture and your goals weren’t the same.
If you can spin the negatives into positives in your letter, you’ll help ease the employer’s fears about giving you a chance. A cover letter explanation gives you the perfect opportunity to explain your reasons concisely and clearly
Make sure your cover letter matches what you plan to say in person. If you’re asked about your frequent job changes in the interview, don’t try to pass the blame to someone else.
Take responsibility for your own role in the split. Employers appreciate someone who can take responsibility for their own actions and the outcomes. Again, try not to over-explain, but you can ask if they have any questions. Leave out details that may paint the situation as messy.
Steer the conversation to what got you excited about the job you’re applying for. Show them how much you want the position and what you’ll do for them if they hire you.
Here’s a list ways to portray your job-hopping experience in a positive light:
Adaptability — Show how your past positions have prepared you for this job and how easily you can step into a new situation.
Thrive when faced with challenges — Demonstrate how, when faced with challenges in the past, you met them head-on to succeed.
Looking for fulfilling work where your ideas and work ethic are valued — Stress that you’re looking for a company culture that will value you and your work.
Looking for a company that allows growth — Explain that at your last position, you weren’t allowed to grow and thrive within your position.
Include recommendations and positive references from past employers and coworkers to show what a valued team member you are— Ask former and current employers and supervisors for a letter of recommendation or review of your work. As long as you left the job on good terms, most people are willing to help you along in your job search.
When explaining a job-hopping past, go further than just giving reasons for the changes. By including learned skills and achievements from those experiences, you demonstrate how they prepared you for a new challenge, turning a negative into a positive.
Start preparing to explain job-hopping the minute you leave a job by writing a brief exit statement while the thoughts are fresh in your mind. When building your resume, look for ways to show off all the things you’ve learned by working at various companies. Use your cover letter to describe the benefits those changes gave you and how those experiences could benefit your new employer.
And finally, take advantage of the interview opportunity to show a prospective employer that your employment history is what makes you the valuable resource that you are. Let them know you’re excited to show them what an asset you are.
When you’re ready to find your next job, sign up with Jobcase and discover resources for job searching, resume, and cover letter creation.