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Job-Hopping, Revisited
Sobering New Rules to Live By

by Allan Hoffman

The job-hopping frenzy may have ended with the boom, but the excuses and explanations continue apace.

"If you were a chronic job-hopper during the dotcom days, people may be questioning your integrity and loyalty," says Allison Hemming, author of Work It! How to Get Ahead, Save Your Ass and Land a Job in Any Economy.

"Within the pink-slip community, there are people panicked over this question," says Hemming, founder of the Pink Slip Parties, networking events for laid-off professionals.

The overheated job market made job-hopping common during the boom -- no longer. Companies 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," says Hemming, "and they freak out when it comes, and then the interview's over." Hemming 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 in planning how to handle a history of job-hopping in a resume and interviews:
  • Reasons on Resume: Indicate why you left a company on a resume. Berkowitz, for instance, 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.
  • Communication 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, from customers and users to VPs and owners, recommends Evan Burks, senior vice president at Comforce Corp., the staffing firm.
  • References: References from your job-hopping days, even from managers at a firm no longer in business, can show you were a prized employee.
  • Job Objective: A resume's job objective can indicate you're seeking a stable company, Berkowitz notes.
  • 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 you're not always moving from one opportunity to another.
  • Skills: Focus on how you got the chance to work on a variety of projects, thereby gaining skills needed by your prospective employer, Burks suggests.
  • 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," says Berkowitz. "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.
  • Company's 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?"