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January 31, 2012
Take the Sting Out of Short-Term Jobs On Your Résumé
 
The recent economic turmoil has wreaked havoc on job seekers’ résumés…company layoffs, downsizing, mergers/acquisitions, top-grading, and even corporate closures have left many people looking for work with what is the career equivalent of an Achilles’ heel.

Still some job seekers have also been lured to companies only to find out that the business is struggling financially, and that the rosy projections presented in the interviewing process weren’t quite accurate. Or maybe the job or culture simply didn’t fit, and walking away was the best decision.

No matter the justification, there are millions of different reasons and circumstances as to why people end up having “bits and pieces” of jobs on their résumé. But what ends up happening is that these brief stings end up being seen as potential liabilities or else scream “job hopper” to potential employers.

You need to be smart about how you handle these and help solidify your background into something an employer can digest. Here are some approaches you might want to consider in order to take the sting out of short-term jobs:

1. Consolidate contract work under one roof.  Don’t treat each project as a separate employment record; instead, make yourself the employer (if you are truly self-employed and had to pay your own taxes), then list all the projects you worked on under one job record as “representative projects” — remember that the consistency here is that you have been employing yourself (not someone else), so taking the “you as a business” approach is a great way to bridge larger gaps in your work history.

2. Theme your résumé and list only pertinent jobs as “Relevant History.” Sometimes, we end up in jobs out of necessity rather than tactical career planning, then we decide to bail later after only a short period of time. By titling your work history as “Relevant History” you can give the employer what they care about in terms of relevant jobs, and then provide a brief summary of everything else under a separate section called “Additional Background.” The good news about this additional side bar is that you don’t have to list dates in there.

3. List it. If your last position was a short-term one but now it is sitting like an isolated island in a giant ocean of unemployment, then the push now is to show some kind of career traction…any career traction. Despite the fact that your time at the company was short in nature, outline your specific accomplishments as best as you can. Metrics are important to quantify those results.  Even if you weren’t actually able to realize tangible results, if you can pinpoint what the company was positioned to win, that’s good information for potential employers to know.
 
4. Leave it out. There is no law out there that requires you to list every single job you have ever held on your résumé. If your work experience is extremely short-term (we are talking a matter of days, weeks, or three months or less), you might consider leaving this off entirely just to avoid that can of worms, but be prepared to discuss #6. (See below.)

5. Volunteer. Volunteering in a professional capacity within you career field can be a longer-term bridging activity that can distract employer attention to the paid experience left dangling out there.

6. Put a spin on it...before they ask. You can write your résumé without the short-term job on it, but be aware that employer credit or background checks will likely reveal that you were employed at that company. The trick is that you can proactively address this in the interview by mentioning that you have some additional experience at ABC Company but after coming on board, you realized that there wasn’t a culture fit…focus then on what you were able to contribute in your short time there, then redirect the conversation to what you can do to the prospective employer. Don’t dwell on the previous employer and, heaven forbid, don’t say anything negative.  Practice your spin move so you don’t get flustered in the interview. The employer can (and likely will) ask about the other jobs.

Keeping these tips in mind can help you smooth out your work history and alleviate potential employer concerns. 

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Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Careers, which specializes in mid- to upper-management résumés. She is an active volunteer in her community and donates her time teaching a résumé writing class at the Oregon Employment Department every week to help empower unemployed professionals and workers.
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