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In school I had several co-op work terms that were 4 months long. After graduating I've held several short term contracts and in between I worked e.g. retail to pay the bills. I had an interview where they "wanted to address the elephant in the room" and asked why all my jobs have been so short term. It seems like an obvious question but I didn't have an answer prepared. Though I didn't mean to, I left them interviewers with the impression that my other jobs hadn't been a good fit.

I sometimes wonder myself how it's happened all my jobs have been short term. Since graduating I have worked the following:

  1. worked retail and left for next job
  2. worked an office job for an internet company that was a bad experience. Ended up being part of a mass firing.
  3. worked in retail.
  4. worked 2x short term contracts. I think this was a good fit but the work ran out.
  5. worked in retail
  6. worked a contract with a possibility of renewal. Renewal offer was made and rescinded. The job was stressful but I think I could've got the hang of it.
  7. worked in retail, "didn't pass probation"
  8. worked in retail, "store had to let some people go"

It's getting a bit depressing. #6-#8 have all been in the Coronavirus lock down. What's the best way to present this in an interview? I'm wondering if there's an overall soft skill I need to work on that's been an issue. For example in #6 my client cared a lot about appearing confident. To me it seems a bit like "cheating" but I had a friend in #2 who told me he found out who decides who gets fired and made sure to make friends with him. I think in reality being "friends" with the right coworkers may help me a lot.

Should I include in my resume they were contracts so it doesn't look like I was fired after a month?

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  • The answer itself is not that important. Any of a number of generic answers will do. Having the answer at your fingertips is the important part. Prepare properly for interviews in the future.
    – Kilisi
    Feb 17 at 4:40
  • Considering you are still at the start of your carrer: At least anyone can see that you are trying hard! Having quite a few short term employments is not that unusual, especially considering the current 'situation'.. When asked, explain naturally what and why things turned out the way they did if the interviewer wants to go into details as explained already in Kate's answer below..
    – iLuvLogix
    Feb 17 at 7:12
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I think the best way to explain it is as you did here. They see one thing "all these jobs are short term" but you actually have three things.

  • all the jobs up to X are co-op work terms, they are always 4 months long (yes, the interviewer probably knows how co-op works, but it's ok to quickly remind them of that and of your graduation date.)
  • after I graduated, I wanted full time technical work (like this job I am applying for now) but at first I could only find short term contract positions. I took them to gain experience and to pay the bills.
  • between some of those contracts I had to take retail work because I do need an income; some of those are short because that's the nature of retail work (filling in during a busy season) and others because I got a technical job and was able to leave the retail job.

Don't say a huge long speech here, really one or two sentences for each bullet (specifically do not explain each job one by one in chronological order), because you don't want them to tune out before you get to the important part:

  • that's why I'm so happy to have found this position, for which I am an amazing fit and which I know I will love to do for absolutely years!

The unspoken question is "are you a job hopper?" "do you like working at a place for just a few months and then moving on to get more money or excitement or because your lack of skills has caught up with you?". You need to answer that by showing the not-that reason you have a lot of short term jobs, and explicitly say that you are the opposite of a job hopper. Reassure them. Your resume is not you, and you don't like the pattern you've been in, and that's why you applied for this job.

And yes, it might help your resume to list things as "Co-op work term" or "3 month contract - maternity fill" or whatever to help with the people who decided not to even interview you because they see a job hopping pattern on your resume.

Three wording notes. First, the word "find" in the explanation of your contract jobs is crucial. If you say "I could only get short term contract positions" you see how that is way weaker? Ditto "land", "be hired for" etc. Find puts the explanation in the job market, not your skills. Second, take the opportunity to emphasize that you were out there gaining technical skills, working on yourself, not just waiting for stuff to come to you, that you genuinely have more experience than a new grad. Third, if you were to list each job and the reasons you would have three problems: it takes too long and is boring, it makes the interviewer connect the dots themselves and they might not, and most of all: not all your retail jobs actually fit the pattern you're claiming (but the interviewers probably don't care.) By just claiming the pattern you're giving a much stronger answer.

5

They are assuming you are incompetent and getting fired or constantly leaving jobs for some reason. The real reason is that the jobs were never intended to be permanent or you got laid off.

Should I include in my resume they were contracts so it doesn't look like I was fired after a month?

Yes. Make it explicit that the work period was short in duration because it was agreed upon at the start that it was short in duration with a defined end period (possibility of renewal is still not permanent, so leave that off).

I would also add things like "store closed" or "division eliminated" to add context to those other short term periods.

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  • "The real reason is that the jobs were never intended to be permanent or you got laid off." I hope this is the real reason but if it's not I'd like to know what I need to work on. It's almost as if if I'm beginning to doubt myself. Feb 17 at 1:49
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You definitely want to paint a picture of someone who wants a long term job. And also that in many cases you have just had bad luck. There may also be some performance related stuff that you want to address. Breaking it down into a few strategies...

Highlight relevant experience, summarize less relevant experience:

If the job opportunity isn't in retail, summarize the retail positions as something like "start date - end date Retail positions in companies X, Y and Z" - so you aren't highlighting work that isn't so relevant. It shows that you did work, but lets you gloss over some of those job changes.

Vice versa is true if you apply for a retail job - any contracts can be summed up similarly.

When something is for a fixed time period, say it explicitly:

Something like "90 day contract for company XYZ". Even if there was an option to renew, which wasn't renewed - the terms of the contract were fixed.

I'm not sure I would advise that you go through each of the cases for why the job was terminated if it wasn't an agreed upon fixed contract.

Do be ready with something that can pull it all together

And put it in both your cover letter and be ready with a rendition you can give in person - practice it with a friend if you need to. Try not to sound robotic or un-genuine, but practice does help here.

Things to consider that well beyond your control:

  • Know how in demand the field you are working on is... there are fields out there where the kind of history you describe is normal. Employers who don't hire frequently may not actually know that (especially if they are a small business). Many sound engineers I know, for example - have the history you describe because the entry-level jobs in that business are very, very rare. Saying "this is pretty common among my peers" is valid if it's true. At the same time - don't B.S., it's too easy to get caught. I would absolutely not believe you, for example, if you were a software engineer in Boston giving me this line - the market is way too hot.

  • Do you have an unconventional background? Even in a hot job market - if you have an unusual resume, it can be hard to get your foot in the door. You can turn that into a win - but you have to get creative - what do you have that other candidates may not have. For example, many military veterans enter the market with skills from their time of service, that aren't from a typical university. Which means they don't always have resumes that fit keyword searches in bots. But many of them are good at pivoting pointing out that they have a sense of responsibility and discipline that is unusual for their age. Also, some can draw form their service work and describe how it would fit in a commercial world role.

  • Is your area going through a hard time? especially in an area with a less diverse economy, 1 big company that drastically changes their business can have a broad impact. Theoretically the company you interview with will know that already, but maybe not. Worth showing that you know.

Within your control, but equally valid:

  • You took on short term work because you liked the challenge of the role - sometimes the short term jobs or the risky jobs (like startups) will teach you more, faster, that a nice safe stable job. Be ready if that's your claim, to also claim what you got out of it.
  • The money - usually a short term contract will pay better - they are paying you for your willing to deal with the uncertainty of what you will do after your contract ends. It's OK to say you did it for the money. It also means you have to explain why the money isn't such a motivator for you now.
  • Needed flexibility for personal reasons - always valid, and you don't owe them detail. OTOH - making this up as a reason may lead to the (hopefully unasked question) - what are those reasons. At least in the US, it would be against typical business practice to ask... but if you end up working with them, they'll probably be trying to figure it out for the entire time they know you. People are just inquisitive this way. And YMMV across cultures and countries in whether you may or may not get asked point blank what the personal reason is.

A series of unfortunate events is also valid. At some point, that gets less and less plausible, and the series may be due to some of those environmental factors above - in which case, it's good to look clued in.

During-education:

Everyone should expect that while you are in school, you are working short term jobs. At 1-4 years after school, many people will blob their schooling and any career relevant work into 1 clump. Something like:

year X - year Y University of Whatever, degree in Something:

  • Date A - Date B Coop 1 @ company A, position A - did XYZ
  • Date C - Date D Coop 2 ....
  • Date E - Date F Coop 3 ....

Which makes it easy to see that whole pile as one big thing.

Are there any patterns you can fix?

From all the stuff above, I think there are ways you can and should clarify how many of these job changes are not relevant, beyond your control, and in short not red-flags.

There are a fair number, though, that are - the #6, 7, and 8 don't sound too great. Pretty much whenever a role ends, ask for feedback (if you haven't) - sounds like you've gotten at least some degree of feedback. You don't need to put any of it on your resume or disclose it to future potential employers - but you do want to look at the reasons why... it sounds from the post like you really want a longer term job, so you may need to see what's holding you back from that, and dedicate time to changing that. You can also ask jobs that turn you down for feedback - although many may not be able/willing to give that information depending on company policy. A third avenue is mentorship and volunteering in your area of career focus - it's often easier to get volunteer work, and there are some volunteer jobs that realize that one payment they can give is experience and mentoring. This can be particularly helpful for building your network, as well, since contacts from volunteering may know of job openings and may be able to be referrals.

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The answer itself is not that important. Any of a number of generic answers will do. Having the answer at your fingertips is the important part. Prepare properly for interviews in the future.

Preparing thoroughly for any sort of meeting is a critical skill to learn. It gives you self confidence and puts you in a strong position and it's not difficult. Don't wait until a high stress, time constrained situation forces you to pull out answers, have them ready.

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"We live in tough economic times. As my career has been getting underway, I've had to try a number of different opportunities - all of which were great experience builders!!"

I wouldn't worry about it too much; keep explanations minimal and short, don't "make a problem where one doesn't exist". Good luck!

Should I include in my resume they were contracts

Sure, the usual thing to say is "I've held a number of short-term roles, being:"

(I think "contract" per se is a word used more by electrical engineers and the like.)

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