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Jobs of Short Duration

Q. What is your opinion on resumes with short time periods at some or many positions?

A. When a job applicant lists a number of jobs where he or she was employed for a brief period of time, it can be a red flag. It may indicate an employee who has difficulty working well with others, one who has issues with authority, or a problem coming to work on time. Obviously, in most cases you would want to steer clear of such candidates.

However, we would not advise eliminating a person from the candidate pool based solely on his or her listing jobs of limited duration. First, the world has changed. It used to be normal for people to spend ten, fifteen or twenty years with an employer. That length of service is rare these days. Employment terms of three, four or five years have become more the norm.

Even if a resume lists several jobs of shorter duration, there may be legitimate reasons. Young people often have a series of short duration jobs while they are in school or even for their first job or two after school. More established workers might lose their jobs if the company they work for is acquired and their job is eliminated. Perhaps the company hired them for a short-term assignment that ran its course or the company went out of business. There are many completely legitimate reasons for truncated work assignments.

The fact that the candidate clearly disclosed that he or she had several jobs of limited duration is positive in at least one way. It’s an indication of honesty. Most applicants know that multiple short-term jobs won’t reflect well on them. The fact that a candidate is up front about their situation shows some character. What is more troubling than a candidate who has several short duration jobs on his or her resume is one that tries to cover up this fact, perhaps by not putting dates on the resume.

If the candidate is attractive, except for the short job stays, we would suggest finding out the reasons for the brief employment stints. Begin by asking the candidate. Walk through each job on the resume and make sure that you understand the reason for employment ending. If there are gaps in employment, ask what the candidate was doing during those periods. Some candidates will leave jobs that were of short duration off of their resume. Get a complete view of the candidate’s job profile, but don’t stop there.

To quote Ronald Regan, “Trust, but verify.” Have the candidate provide references from colleagues at each of the companies where he or she held jobs. Contact each of the references and ask specifically why the person left. Ask if the person would be eligible for rehire. However, there are more steps. Most candidates are clever enough to provide references who will say kind things about them. Ask the references for the names of others at the company who are familiar with the candidate’s work. Alternatively, call people, not listed as a reference by the candidate, who you know that work at the company. By pushing to get to the second level and beyond, you can assemble a very clear picture of why the jobs were of short duration.

A number of short duration jobs on a resume can be a red flag, but before eliminating a potentially strong candidate, make sure you understand why the jobs didn’t last.

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