March 26, 2010

Are you a job jumper? No, I work on contract!

Recently, I was interviewed by a recruiter who asked me why I called my blog 'The Job Jumper'. She seemed perplexed as to why I would title my blog after such a negative employment term.

Just like I mentioned in my bio, I told her that throughout my career, I've been able to gain invaluable work experience through contract work - frankly, it's been work experience that 99.9% of people my age won't get. I also said that because of the nature of my experience, it looks as though I'm a job jumper, even though I've legitimately been moving from contact to contract.

And from what I've heard from clients and friends of mine, it's a more common phenomenon - especially given the shift from permanent to contract employment. That means that more people's resumes read like a job jumpers would - many positions, many employers, and many pages of text - but it's due to employment trends and not the applicant's inability to stick with one job.

So how can you deal with contract work on your resume and ensure that it doesn't look like you're a job jumper?

I decided to do a search using the term "job jumper" to see what has been written on the topic. Surprisingly, I came across a great article about how job jumpers can deal with stop-and-start employment on their resume - and because of some similarities, the tips work great for those on contract.

The article starts by talking about the negativity associated with being a job jumper - and I would argue that some employers even see moving from contract to contract as negative.

In fact, I once had a hiring manager tell me that they would've expected that after a few contracts, I would have been offered a full-time permanent position. Quite frankly, she didn't understand the current labour market and the position sat unfilled for close to a year!

Anyways, the article then goes into how can handle job jumping - and yes, even contract work - on your resume.

Removing All Dates

It's considered a little controversial, but some job seekers who have job jumping backgrounds simply remove all dates from the "Employment History" sections of their CVs. Thus, a hiring or personnel manager cannot immediately tell from the CV if the applicant spent one month or two years at any of the companies listed.

However, know that this is somewhat of a "stop gap" measure, because some prospective employers are now taking it upon themselves to contact applicants' past employers to verify the legitimacy of the CV. Still, taking away the dates will give you an extra chance to snag an interview.

I only partly agree with this assessment here. I don't think removing dates is an effective measure - I'm sure that with some hiring managers, that's a red flag.

However, what you can do instead is simply go with the year. So rather than say you worked at a job from 'December 2003 to March 2004', just say '2003 - 2004'. This hides the short employment period and in a way, gives the illusion that you worked there longer.

Choosing Only Some Jobs

You can always list only a few of the jobs you've held rather than every one of them if you've worked for several organisations. For example, rather than writing all three of the businesses you worked for in 2004, why not choose just one? That way, your CV will still be honest, but you won't be looked at as a job jumper.

This tip is definitely a must-use for anybody who has worked a number of different contracts. Sometimes, it pays only to list certain jobs - and this point relates closely to the next one ...

Choosing Only Some Positions

Similarly, if you're applying for a specific position, you can arrange your employment history to reflect only those jobs you've held that are pertinent to the one you want. This is known as a "skills based" CV, and though it can be met with raised eyebrows, it may help you get a foot in the door.

I think this is the best suggestion for someone who has a great deal of contract work on their resume. Rather than listing everything - and having a resume that exceeds two pages - be discerning and only list relevant information.

Instead of using a "Work Experience" heading, call it "Relevant Experience" and only list jobs and positions that relate directly to the job you are applying for. This way, you present the most important information and you keep your resume within the one- to two-page range.

Of course, you can get creative with your resume to overcome the issue of lots of contract work. But what about the interview - how should you handle that?

Let Your Interviewer Set the Tone

During your interview, there's no need to announce with a tone of defensiveness, "I know I'm a job jumper!" In fact, there's a chance that the person interviewing you may not even ask too much about why you moved from position to position. (After all, he or she might have been a job jumper at one point in time, too!) Therefore, allow your interviewer to take the lead. If he or she doesn't bring up your employment history, you don't have to, either.

Simply put - just wait and see if your employment history comes up as a topic of conversation. It really shouldn't given the trend towards contract work and more and more hiring managers are aware that employees, especially younger ones, come armed with contract work.

Be Honest

On the other hand, if the subject of job jumping does rear its head, you'll need to address it with calm, grace, and efficiency. Plan ahead what you'll say when asked the big question: "Why did you have so many jobs in such a short period of time?" Some valid reasons include, but are not limited to: family relocation, downsizing/layoffs, the general trend towards contract work, etc.

In this case, you can also talk about general trends within the industry - and employment in general - and explain how being able to work a variety of contracts has given you a solid skill set. It's worked well for me and it has provided the basis for an interesting discussion into how my diverse work experiences would be an asset for their organization.

So in sum, those who work on contract can steal some of the techniques used by hardcore job jumpers - look at using year instead of month-year and consider listing only certain, relevant jobs. And in an interview, wait for the hiring manager to broach the subject - who knows, they may not!

Keep in mind that by making a few adjustments, your resume will read better and will showcase to a hiring manager why your contract work history - and the resulting diversity of skills and experience that you bring - make you an ideal candidate for the job.

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