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career insider

A lot of damage with little control

If you’re currently employed or unemployed and searching for your next job, you may be facing the problem of being identified as a job-hopper. Your many jobs can be a red flag forewarning that you are a hiring risk for your next employer.

Does your work history look like the yellow pages? These red flags are particularly damaging when your recent jobs are one year or less. How do you effectively explain your career movement? If you’ve had many jobs and you’re not sure how to correct that appearance, this column may help. It’s challenging to put a positive spin on the facts, but here are three tips that may help you.

This blame is listed first because it’s the hardest selection. Our egos muzzle us from making a direct statement like, "I made a bad decision leaving my last two jobs." We all try to hide the embarrassment of poor decisions. We have a tendency to blame others for our mistakes. Open honesty can get you the job because hiring managers don’t hear it often. You must convince the interviewer that you are not an opportunist or mercenary. Your best statement is, "I left for a better opportunity and it was a mistake." If the moves were only money-motivated, do not reveal that fact during your interviews.

This blame must be carefully constructed because it can be perceived that you’re negative or angry about your prior companies. You don’t want to be viewed as just another disgruntled employee. Companies can mislead candidates by over-selling and over-promising. Job duties, bonuses and advancement opportunities can be exaggerated in order for a candidate to accept their job offer. The blame may be "I believed what they told me," or "The bonuses never materialized," or "It’s a family company with no advancement and the corporate culture was nothing like they promised."

This blame can be the easiest to prove. Stating that two of your last employers lost major contracts and layoffs followed will certainly ring true. Just as most dot coms failed, many companies were truly surprised by their industry’s volatility. Include blaming the economy, if it impacted your prior companies. Documentation supporting your statements will help to be credible.

At the end of the day, honesty should prevail. You should have only one story to tell. When a person lies by stretching the truth, they are often unmasked by a good interviewer. Be truthful and it’s OK to play the blame game. We all try to put the best spin on our situations, just be ready to explain or prove your statements.

[QUICK TIP] Use your cover letter to confront your job movement head-on. State that you understand the possible concerns about your job movement, then list the valid reasons. By directly attacking the red flags, it’s possible to diffuse their importance. This candor can lead to an in-person interview where you can thoroughly explain your background.

PLEASE NOTE: emails received become the property of "Dear Headhunter" and may be published unless otherwise requested. Questions may be edited for content and length. All questions will be reviewed, some without a reply.

George Gurney has been a leader in the employment industry since 1976. He founded an executive search firm that conducts domestic and international assignments.  He has won numerous awards for recruiting excellence.  He has been a guest speaker at national conventions and seminars.