Are You Bothered By Your Work History?

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Resumes, job applications, LinkedIn and other portals to cross through in your job search require your work history. Sometimes the story it tells does not work to your benefit. Perhaps you hopped jobs, had gaps of unemployment, or titles that looked like demotions and fickle scattering. There is good news! It’s often not the work history that undercuts you, but your difficulty in explaining it.

The key is to revisit any past issues or perceptions about what might have happened. Then make a strong case for yourself anyway. Many people struggle with this. They get in defensive mode about their past; they become guarded. It’s helpful to remember that while you should acknowledge what you have done before, there is always room for interpretation!

What you can do

First, keep in mind that employers don’t necessarily expect to get the perfect purple squirrel candidates for their jobs. Sure; they write job postings as though they expect to find perfection, but they anticipate applicants short in one area or another. So, don’t eliminate yourself because your background fails to meet one or more of the criteria. Second, be ready to explain any weaknesses in your work history that an interviewer might ask about:

I traveled abroad, because I wanted to do it before starting a career (family, etc.).

I accepted a lesser managerial role, because I was given the opportunity to work on a key initiative/special project.

I left the ___ business, because I wanted a product/service area that had more potential for growth.

My position was eliminated, because my Six Sigma was a bit lighter than my other two team members’ expertise. However, I’ve corrected that and am now strong.

I changed jobs three times, because I was looking for the best place to use my creative design skills. 

What if you’ve been fired from jobs for poor performance, personality clashes or other issues that create a negative picture? There are two approaches you can use:

One. Assume that they will not discover your full story. Create the most positive reason for why you may have left, one that is within the sphere of possibility. Make sure you speak positively about the job and the people in it. That’s not always an easy thing to do; but an upbeat mindset is essential. There is the chance they may already know you were fired when they ask you why you left. But that is a risk you have the option to take.

Two. Tell them what happened. Explain what you learned from the experience and about yourself. Talk about how based upon that experience, you would handle a similar situation differently. State that you are convinced you can work well with this organization and how you can contribute value. Honesty and transparency can garner a candidate points. Integrity serves one well, particularly when it’s blended with a sincere statement about having learned and grown.  That’s a success story! So, whatever your work history, focus on what you learned from it.

I was only there nine months, but I learned a great deal about the mechanics of a startup business.

Although I was there a short time and the job was not my best fit, I learned a lot about grant funding and technical writing.

Although I left the organization because of change in leadership direction, I got a great education in mergers and change management.

Ultimately, you want your work history to be a record of the value you have to offer. Interviewers do not really care about your weaknesses, work gaps or even choices in the past. What they want to know is what you can do … now … for them! Inventory and catalog your stories; and present motivation to show why you are a good candidate for this job, emphasizing your strengths, skills and experiences. Make a case for yourself and cut yourself some slack.

True; you might not sound like the perfect applicant, but remind yourself that it’s likely your competition won’t either!

Photo: david drexler

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