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I've moved on from three job positions over the past two years partially because of those companies' lack of innovation and unwillingness to change. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (for the company) but could come across as a negative in a cover letter and/or interview. Like I am criticizing them and I was told I should never criticize past employers in a cover letter/ job interview... but again these are the reasons the companies and I decided to part ways in mutual agreement.

I really want to get across that I am looking for a company/position that is ready to innovate and has a forward thinking 21st century vision planned that needs someone to initiate it. (me hopefully!) However, I would like to mention the lack of innovation because I feel that it gives clarity to HR or whoever reads my cover letter first.

I was hired for my past couple of positions with that expectation. The companies thought they were ready to move forward and after my analysis they found out that they weren't. I helped them out for a couple of months as best I could. This is what I truly enjoy doing and I am tired of bouncing around companies that are seemingly scared to move forward even if they say they are on craigslist ads. So how do I tell my prospects what they should expect from me without sounding negative or condescending?

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11 Answers 11

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Regarding your experiences:

Every company wants to innovate, even those companies who start businesses in heavily-diluted market sectors and flat-out copy the business models of other well-established companies. They are gambling on their ability to innovate by being able to do the same work better, faster, or cheaper than their competition.

The definition of "innovate" is simply "to make changes [or] do something in a new way". That's it. It doesn't necessarily mean being on the bleeding edge. It doesn't necessarily mean introducing a new product. It can be as mundane as changing the text of a button (which in some circumstances can double or triple conversions), tweaking the pricing/terms of an existing product, or marketing to a different niche.

These are all what I would call examples of business innovation; they're not really technical or design innovation. A lot of people didn't think there was anything particularly innovative about Twitter at first, until the network effect took hold and people could effectively create their own customized real-time newsreels.

My point is that you're using the term "innovation" to refer to something else. It's not entirely clear from your question what that something is... but you need to figure it out, and soon, because, as the famous quotation goes, what we've got here is failure to communicate.

What do you want?

You are presenting some vision to prospective employers/clients, they are hiring you based on that impression, and you are later finding out that it was a poor match. Clearly you didn't ask the right questions if you were surprised, and perhaps the answers you gave them were vague or misleading as well, if they were surprised.

What is your vision? What do you consider innovation? Figure out how to express that in the least subjective terms possible, and you will have a much clearer and less negative explanation of what went wrong.

For example, my twin career goals have always been to establish myself as a technical leader and to work on a product (or products) that will improve the quality of life for a lot of people. I've moved around a bit, but always with that clear goal. When I left my first job after nearly 10 years, it was because the company had not expressed any plans to expand the technology team - scratch goal #1 - and considered itself a service- rather than product-oriented organization, with the product only existing to support the service - scratch goal #2.

At no point did it ever feel awkward or negative discussing these points in an interview, because (a) these are not negative traits in every company, and (b) I only bothered speaking to employers who were actually expanding their teams and actively developing at least one semi-useful (IMO) product.

I am sure that my goals are not everyone's goals; you need to decide on what your goals are, and then it will be clear to you why your previous employers weren't a match and why a future, prospective employer might be. Then it's an easy conversation because you just have to tell the truth, you don't need to hold back or come up with euphemisms.

Asking the right questions:

First of all, your cover letter (do people still even use those?) should never elaborate on why you left or are considering leaving your current position. Because, frankly, the recruiter or hiring manager doesn't give a damn. They care why you're interested in their position; if you can't express that without referring back to your previous position, then you're an immediate no-hire.

But let's assume you move onto some interviews. Don't ask dumb questions like "are you willing to innovate?" because, as I said in the first paragraph, every company is. It's like asking "do you want to make money?" Of course they do, but you didn't specify how much or how often, and even then they might not be very good at it or even understand what's required.

In fact, hiring managers are probably already asking you the exact same questions you need to be asking them if you want to understand how they really work. For example:

  • What's the long-term vision for this company?
  • What do you imagine the role of [insert department name here] being in 5 years?
  • Why are you looking for a [insert job title here]? Is this a replacement or a new role?
  • What do you think makes [company name] better or more successful than its competitors?
  • Is there anything that [company name] is aiming to get better at?
  • If I were employed in this role and wanted to introduce a new [tool/product/process], who would I have to convince and what would it take to convince them?
  • It's 2 weeks before the deadline and all 10 people on the team insist that it will be impossible to finish on time. What do you do?
  • Pretend that I just came up with an idea which, if successful, could make you millions of dollars every year. But it would take 2 months to implement and cost $250k, and would only have a 10% chance of succeeding. Would you do it? Why or why not?

Recognize any of these? You should, they're mostly the exact same questions that almost every hiring manager asks you, just flipped around. Believe me, executives spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff, and most reasonably-competent hiring managers should either already know the answer to many (not necessarily all) of them or offer to get back to you on it. The interview isn't just for them to see if you're qualified, it's also for you to see if it's the sort of place you'd want to work.

These seem like really obvious questions, but I know that most candidates don't ask them, because interviewers always seem to be surprised when I do. It's amazing how much you can glean about a company's overall attitude just from asking a handful of totally generic questions. None of these are offensive or inherently negative questions, and collectively they will tell you a lot more about a company's definition of "innovation" than asking them that question directly.

If that's still not enough info, then go back to your goals, and think about more hypothetical questions that you could ask in order to find out if you see eye-to-eye with their corporate leadership.

P.S. I know some people will say that the HR person who interviews you is just going to say "I don't know" to a lot of these questions, and if you're interviewing for a very junior position then you probably either shouldn't ask them or suck it up if you get a non-answer back. But if they're recruiting for a senior position - presumably the kind of position where you could make a real difference - then it's not uncommon to get a short interview with someone from senior management, and not unreasonable to request one if you don't. They are, after all, the people who will largely dictate your career growth potential.

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I really want to get across that I am looking for a company/position that is ready to innovate and has a forward thinking 21st century vision planned that needs someone to initiate it. (me hopefully!)

Your method of choosing such companies is clearly suspect. Three jobs in two years either means you don't know how to choose the right company, or you can't actually deliver what your resume and interview promise.

If you focus on the "lack of innovation" at your prior three companies, it will clearly come across as being negative. Worse, it will reflect badly on your judgement. You make a mistake on your new company once - Ok. You make a mistake on your next company - well, not great, but it happens. You make a mistake on your third company in a row - something's wrong here, and the common factor in all three companies is you.

The companies thought they were ready to move forward and after my analysis they found out that they weren't.

Perhaps there's a hint in here. Perhaps you need to perform your "analysis" up front - before you are hired. Perhaps you need to offer your services of analysis as a separate contract offering with the potential to turn into a longer-term gig if the need arises.

If you are an expert in the field, and have convinced three companies to hire you with the possibility of "innovation" maybe you could come up with a compelling pitch offering a short duration gig just to perform the analysis. Then if it turns out to be helpful to both sides, move on from there.

This is what I truly enjoy doing and I am tired of bouncing around companies that are seemingly scared to move forward even if they say they are on craigslist ads.

Craigslist ads? Maybe that's the problem. I'm not sure what kinds of companies advertise for "innovation" on Craigslist. Maybe in your industry that's common (it's certainly not in mine), or maybe you should be finding your job leads elsewhere.

So how do I tell my prospects what they should expect from me without sounding negative or condescending?

A consulting gig should be all positive. There is no need to sound negative if you are there to help them understand if "innovation" is for them. If it is - that's positive. If it isn't - it's a positive thing that they have learned that about themselves before wasting any time or money.

Condescending is an attitude - don't have that attitude.

Consultants/Contractors should never badmouth their former clients! Your next potential client will simply suspect that you will do the same to them once your contract is over. Don't be that guy.

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When you say something like:

"I am tired of bouncing around companies that are seemingly scared to move forward even if they say they are on craigslist ads."

the interview ends right here. What makes you think that the problem is that they are too dumb and too scared?

Did it ever occur to you that companies innovate, just not in the way you want them to and not on your timetable?

The way not to say it is not to think it. If you don't say it and you think it, your thinking will bubble up sooner or later, In the long run - and it's not that long, we are talking from a few weeks to a few months at most - you can't hide what you think. It will probably take a couple more job bounces but eventually, some will be asking you why you went through five jobs in three years. At an interview.

From the way you've been changing jobs, it's clear that it never occurred to you that the essential pre-requisite for change to take place is that others buy into your vision, and they just weren't buying into your vision. And that your response to their lack of buy-in is that you picked and left. Did you ever stop and try to understand why they weren't buying in, and work through their objections one by one? Unless you learn to get others to buy in, you'll have some more practice in picking up and leaving after a few months.

You need to work out a far more positive way to engage the world you live in, and I am confident that you are smart enough to do it.

I gave you the bad news. But something good can come out of bad news. Really good, in fact. And it's up to you to make it happen.

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Your resume should be about your accomplishments, not the accomplishments (or "failures", in this case) of your past companies.

If part of your past job was to determine whether innovation should be implemented, that is an important skill to highlight. A key part of innovation is being wise enough NOT to invest company resources in something that will not be fruitful - and your past recommendations should have taken that into account.

The marketing spiel of being ready to innovate, forward thinking, etc. does not mean anything in concrete terms. Nobody innovates just for the sake of innovating. There are benefits and costs to the decision.

You tell your prospects what they should expect from you by highlighting your strategic thinking and decision process when it comes to innovation. What this means in specific terms depends on what your job actually is.

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I'll agree with others who say, short answer: No. Running down previous employers always looks bad.

ESPECIALLY the way you're describing it here. Effectively you're saying, "At my last three jobs I had all these great ideas but nobody was willing to implement them." If I was the interviewer and you'd said that about one job, okay, maybe so. But three in a row? It makes me start to wonder if your ideas were really so great after all. Maybe the reason why no one wants to implement your ideas is because they aren't such great ideas. Of course YOU think they were good ideas, but if three companies in a row said they weren't, the vote is 3 to 1 against you. If you get as far as an interview, then you can explain what your ideas were, and perhaps convince me that you were right and they were wrong. But you're not going to do that in a brief cover letter.

And just by the way, I know this wasn't your question, but I wonder about going through 3 jobs in 2 years on such a basis. I wasn't there, I don't know the details, but it really sounds to me like you had wildly unrealistic expectations. It sounds like you're saying that you walked into a company, took very little time to learn about what that company is doing or why they do the things they do, told them all these changes they ought to make, and when they didn't immediately completely change everything they'd been doing for the last 50 years, you got frustrated or mad and quit. I've worked in IT for 34 years, most of that as a consultant. And I couldn't imagine suggesting major changes after less than several months of analysis of existing practices. Then I'd expect to take months more putting together a solid proposal. And then many many months more explaining it to senior management, listening to their objections and suggestions, and making many many changes to the proposal to accommodate relevant facts that I didn't learn during my initial analysis, or failed to appreciate. You've got an average of 8 months at each job. That's barely enough time to BEGIN such a process, never mind enough time to conclude it's hopeless.

G. K. Chesterton once wrote that if someone tells him that some rule or custom or practice should be abolished, his first response is to ask the person why it was put in place originally. If they answer, "Because the people back then were idiots who didn't know what they were doing," he immediately dismisses this person's suggestions. Unless the person can give him a coherent explanation of why the rule was put in place to begin with, unless he demonstrates that he understands the thinking behind it and why it seemed to the folks then, rightly or wrongly, to be a good idea at the time, then he is not qualified to abolish it.

I've often heard young people brimming with ideas who get frustrated that the old folks don't rush out to embrace their suggestions. And yes, sometimes it's because people get stuck in a rut and are unwilling to try anything new. But often it's because those bad old ways have worked pretty well for a long time. It's foolish to refuse to try something new because of tradition or comfort. But it's equally foolish to embrace every new thing out of a desire for novelty and "progress". Maybe people don't embrace your suggestions because they are unproven. If you've only been with the company 8 months, maybe the people who have been there longer know a hundred things that you haven't considered. I've often, often heard, "Well that sounds good, but ..." Sometimes what follows is an excuse from someone who just doesn't want to change. But often it's a valid point.

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The simple answer is of course not.

I think the more important point at hand - seen in all the angry comments here :) ...

If you "think" like that, your thinking is in the wrong place.

All great innovators - every one - blame themselves, not others.

If you're so good, just get on with innovating. Use this QA to draw a line under your past; never think like that again.

Turn the arrow around, focus only on yourself and your own thoughts, and innovate away.

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As others have said: For interview purposes, try to focus on the fact that as a consultant you successfully produced recommendations on time and within budget. And, if true, that the companies agreed that these were in fact high-quality recommendations.

The fact that the advice turned out to require investments that the companies weren't ready to make can be stated during the interview if you are asked what the outcome was, but shouldn't be in the accusatory tone given here -- just leave it as "unfortunately, they decided they weren't ready to implement."

The fact that this has happened repeatedly may generate some pushback on whether your advice should have been better calibrated against their available resources and possible schedules and so on. Again, you need to have a good non-accusatory answer ready for each case that explains what they saw as the bottleneck, why that was unavoidable given what they had asked you to do for them, why you couldn't give them a staged plan that they felt more comfortable with, and so on.

As others have said: Craig's List advertisers are looking for a handyman, someone who can do a basic job cheaply (or at least for a low incremental cost when taken in useful stages) and effectively. If that isn't what you delivered, don't expect them to implement your advice. If that isn't what you want to deliver, Craig's List is the wrong place to find your jobs.

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I don't think you make a good employee. I don't make a good one either; it's not a bad thing, but it is what it is. That's one of the reasons I run my own consulting business.

I'll dare to say that MOST companies aren't ready for a steady stream of innovation no matter how much the employment postings, literature, and web sites boast. The reason for this is that innovation, in itself, doesn't pay any bills. A business cannot sustain any repeat business if it is always "re-innovating" its internal processes (including IT operations). Innovation takes time to plan, purchase, train, implement, and support.

As I wrote previously, I run my own consulting business. I get work from clients when they are ready to innovate within their organizations. Sometimes it's three months, and sometimes it is for much longer lengths of time. I like the excitement of being an important part of something new (and I think you might be very similar) but it totally turns me off to think of being the person who babysits things once all the newness has worn off. Some of us are cut out for the babysitting jobs, but I am not. I don't apologize for who I am because I understand that my role is very valuable. Just the same, once I've done my part, I move on to the next achievement.

Some of the other posts here mention that you should take a good look at yourself instead of making the employers out to be the problem. I think neither you or the employers are at fault here. You are repeatedly trying to impose what you want to be doing as a higher priority than the employers' current, actual needs. Now, what's the definition of insanity??? It's the act of doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

You either need to market your talents to a different crowd that needs what you're offering, OR get a job and just do what's asked of you.

Best of luck.

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You know how your grandmother used to tell you that if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all? Nowhere is that more applicable than on a resume/cover letter. You're just begging someone with 30 resumes in front of him to say "this person isn't likely to be happy anywhere" or "we're probably not innovative enough for him anyway." Any negativity on a resume about anything - an employer, yourself, the weather - is just a big neon sign begging for rejection. If by some stroke of luck you do get a call, it'll probably be from a manager who enjoys sullen, disgruntled employees and that's not likely to provide the kind of innovative environment you're hoping for.

If you need someone to gripe to about life's many injustices, don't do it in a cover letter. Get a dog.

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No. There's nothing stopping you of course, but in my experience you will put people off hiring you, because it is very easy for the written word to be taken the wrong way.

For example, you will agree that "A highly motivated and hardworking individual" would actually be worsened by adding to the sentence, "with a talent for spotting lack of innovation and unwillingness to change in others."

I am often reminded that people that exhibit their strengths and are careful not to concentrate on the weaknesses of others make themselves very appealing to work with. In interview I am constantly imagining how I will fit in with the existing team, and whether the benefits I bring will flourish within the environment provided.

If I brought up my previous employers' lack of innovation and unwillingness to change, personally I would also question my ability to accept responsibility for my current situation and my loyalty to aid in times of crisis.

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It sounds like you are approaching job prospects like an independent contractor instead of a new hire. I'd recommend taking a serious look at becoming a sub contractor. You may find that you are far better equipped to approach companies in this manner. Contractors:

  • Don't submit resumes, they pitch plans.
  • Take responsibility for delivering on their own concepts.
  • Are not limited by old fashioned ways of thinking.
  • Often work for companies for shorter time spans.
  • Create their own expectations and sell other companies on them.
  • Have an chance to meet with decision makers instead of recruiters.

To test out the waters on this one, go to a local Chamber of Commerce meeting (they will usually let first time visitors in for free) and talk to some of the business owners there. If you get a good feeling about their response to your ideas, seek our a local business incubator and see what it takes to get started.

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