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I started as a dev in August 2019 for a government agency that was heavily tied to downtown office space. It was a one year contract (common in Canada for government) that was not renewed because in 2020, nobody was sure, when, if ever, office spaces would be filled again. Total of one year here.

I immediately found a new job with a new tech firm, but the division was cancelled 9 months later and I was left in this empty purgatory until I quit 3 months later (some weeks I didn't speak to anyone and just logged in to cover myself in case someone asked). Total of one year here.

I am at a third company where the last full time senior dev just quit effective immediately, the one part timer flat out told me "I don't want to have to deal with you." There is no manager here for me as we are a "self organizing team." They also hated the other full time senior dev for making them write down specs, so in our last meeting we wrote down nothing and I was just told to "go f*cking figure it out." I am also not learning anything here as nobody here has taken courses in these so they suggest absurd things.

For example, we use this very convoluted function on our pages as a way to restrict access instead of AuthGuard, which they say "too much work to learn."

I want to quit, but am wondering how I should address all of these relatively short stints on my resume/in interviews. I managed to line up half a dozen interviews already, but am concerned about this because I did not send my resume for those interviews yet (as they are referrals from former co-workers). Any advice?

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    "Any advice?" Interviews go both ways, you also have to ask questions and try to identify any red flag. Your first experience was sheer bad luck, but the last two might have been avoided by some due diligence on your side.
    – agemO
    May 2 at 13:35
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    May 4 at 18:57

8 Answers 8

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Most importantly: if you're getting interviews, then you probably don't have much to worry about. The primary purpose of a resume is to get you to the interview and you're managing that already.

That said, you do want to cover it. The first two here are easy to deal with as nobody should blame a junior dev for either the pandemic or a division being shut down:

  • August 2019 - August 2020: Make Offices Great (Canadian Government agency)
    [Brief description of what you did]; contract not renewed due to COVID.

  • August 2020 - August 2021: Widget Division, Some Tech Company
    [Brief description of what you did]; redundant due to the entire widget division being shut down.

Your most recent job is a bit trickier to handle; I'd suggest just not putting anything on your resume about why you're leaving and if the question is asked in an interview (which it probably will be), you can go with the truthful line that they company isn't well set up to grow the career of junior developers. Just try hard to avoid being directly critical of your current employer or employees.

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    Do people really put the reason they left/lost a job on their resume? To me that seems very strange. Maybe it depends on the country May 2 at 6:50
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    @IvoBeckers Probably depends indeed but I've also never listed a reason. If someone asks I can always explain in a conversation but not up front on the resume.
    – Blub
    May 2 at 6:52
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    @IvoBeckers: Frequent short stints are a red flag, and if I see too many red flags in a resume, I don't invite the applicant (because, unfortunately, the time I can spend on recruiting people is limited). So if there is something in the resume that is an obvious red flag for employers, and if you are at the tipping point of being or not being invited, a convincing explanation can tip the scales in your favor and give you a chance to explain everything in more detail in person.
    – Heinzi
    May 2 at 9:15
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    As someone who had a lot of bad luck in my job history, I strongly feel that "frequent short stints are a red flag" is a stigma that should not be there; When you get an application, you just see one side of the story with a heavy prejudice without knowing what's up. Maybe he's a job hopper, yes. Maybe the person had to flee multiple toxic workplaces and would love to find a job he/she can stick around for longer. We don't know. I personally would not reject an application just based on the amount and duration of positions in a CV. As this answer says, key is how you communicate the reasons.
    – pdu
    May 2 at 10:57
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    @IvoBeckers some personal experience, I've been made redundant 4 times from IT jobs (none of the companies still exist, they all went into administration), so against those companies I do put "due to redundancy" against them on my CV. I've spoken to a couple of HR folk and they've said that without that note against the job, they'd have thrown my CV out because of apparent job hopping.
    – Dark Hippo
    May 3 at 14:30
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Do not put your "reasons" into your resume. Your resume should include positive facts that can help you get a job. Leave the "reasons" for the interview, if and only if they ask for them.

There was a time when in the U.S. many employers would dismiss or lay off, many people. Because of this, many HR people thought I was job hopping and didn't think I would last more than 2 or 3 years. Actually, it was the other companies that would dismiss people every 2 to 3 years. One company I worked for hired "fresh meat" or graduates, then dismissed them when they were not needed (and would repeat this cycle).

In my interviews, not on my resume, I would explain why I transferred companies. I would not dwell on the topic for long.

So keep your resume and your interview positive. Explain to them how your skills can assist them with their needs (making money). Ask questions about why there is an opening and adjust your interview accordingly; you are in charge of the interview (shows initiative).

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    +1 "There was a time when in the U.S. ..." This still happens quite often. It happened to me just a few years ago. My last contract was ended a month early because of their budget. Temp-to-hire contracts sometimes never have the intention of converting to direct hire, they just want to look better to potential candidates. I, also, have never put the reason for a job ending on a resume and wait for it to come up in an interview, since most of them are the same reason - end of contract. Resumes are only intended to get you into the interview where the real Q&A happens. May 2 at 16:10
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    Mine were all permanent hirings. It was the stockholders and stakeholders that were demanding more money; so the companies took the easy way and laid off people. One company asked for 500, got 800 people to due voluntary "Reduction in Force". Another company only wanted the tech and laid off everybody not related to the tech. I didn't like the HR interviewer assuming all these were my fault. May 2 at 17:10
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    Yeah, the one mass layoff I've been in was the company deciding to use a single temp agency, instead of multiple companies, would cost less, so they brought in a totally new staffing company thinking that everyone would just roll over to the new contract, but the new company hired only a fraction of the existing people, but at lower pay and a lower technical rating. Hundreds ended up losing their jobs and many positions evaporated entirely, including the more advanced tiers of computer support. I think it ended up being pretty bad for the company and they ended up having to undo some of it. May 2 at 17:28
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This sort of thing is often wrapped into the "objective" statement on a resume. If you write there that you're looking for a stable, long term position, people will infer that your short term positions are either something you only wanted in the past, or something that has been outside your control.

Conversely, if your objective states you are looking for fast-paced, dynamic opportunities, employers with a lot of churn or a lot of risk will match with you. There are people who prefer not to get tied down, especially when they're young.

You want your interests here to align with your future employer's interests, so there's no reason not to be honest. If wanting something long term and stable makes them uncomfortable, you don't want to work there.

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I agree with Philip Kendall about how to phrase the way the first two jobs ended, but I disagree with putting it on your resume. A resume/CV is about the work you did and who you worked for, not why the work ended. It's a description of your skills and experiences. It's there to get a potential employer interested in you. Any questions about details of the work and environment should be left for the interview.

I've experienced much of what Thomas Matthews describes, but there's a lot more to it than that, even. My first job as a software developer pushed me out (to put it kindly) after 4 years. I was getting great reviews until that last year, then nothing I did was good enough even though I was producing more and better code than ever before. But their goalposts drastically changed and I asked too many questions about it.

I've also worked a contract that ended because of a mass layoff of several hundred people. Another contract ended because of budget restrictions. One job ended because I refused to take responsibility for things I had no control over.

In my previous "career" in computer repair, I spent 15 years getting about 8 years worth of work due to a massive saturation of computer techs in the area. Many of them were barely worth calling techs, since they didn't really know what they were doing, so they soured most employers on hiring directly. Many other computer techs were engineers that took that computer repair work in between contracts at the major employer of engineers in the area. This also soured employers on hiring directly, since they would only get these people a few months before they left for their "real job".

I've ended up on more contract/temporary jobs than I can remember. This type of short term work is becoming much more common and due to employers, rather than employees. You've probably heard of gig worker or gig economy. Not all of us working "gigs" want to be there. I'd much rather have a direct hire, long term job than a contract. I only take temp-to-hire contracts, but I've found out the hard way that some employers never intended to convert the position to direct hire, they just want to look better to potential employees, as I've commented on other answers here.

Reasonable employers understand that the job market is extremely volatile, especially the past 2 years. People job hop for a lot of reasons, and some excuses. One of the biggest reasons is to get higher pay. When I left my first software dev job, I got about a 30% pay raise. When that contract ended unexpectedly, my next contract was about another 20% raise. That converted me to a direct hire at another significant raise. In 18 months, I increased my original underpaid salary by roughly 2.5 times. I feel as if I got lucky on some of that, but I also realize that I was getting severely underpaid for that first job and I'm now being paid more along the lines I should be for having nearly 10 years professional experience, not to mention the 20 years of personal experience and script writing/website building/etc. I did for my computer tech jobs. But I'm getting off topic.

In the end, you being a junior employee at the beginning of your career shouldn't be held accountable for how your jobs ended. Too many employers will cut staff for pretty much any or no reason. And most employers will cut the junior employees before the seniors due to experience, longevity, willingness to be subjected to a toxic environment, good 'ol boys clubs/company politics, company specific subject matter expertise, company policy, or 1000 other reasons.

Definitely don't put the reasons for the end of a job on your resume. Leave that for the actual conversation of the interview. That way you can briefly elaborate on the situation, if it actually calls for it. Many of my reasons for leaving jobs is "End of contract", which I state just like that. And when an interviewer says that I've had a lot of contracts, I mention how often employers will only hire through a temp agency and that I'd rather have a direct hire position than a contract. So, state the reasons as simply as possible with as positive an angle as you can truthfully put on it.

Interviews are there for you to gauge the employer, too. Make sure their work environment is good for you and that you aren't being set up for failure. Interviews are absolutely a 2 way street. They are not just to test you for a good fit for them, but also to test them to see if they are a good fit for you. I've talked to recruiters that set up interviews for me to let them know that even though the interview went well, I wouldn't be interested in working for the company or that specific department. I didn't even wait for a job offer or rejection letter, I made sure to tell them my decision first. I've spent too many years working for bad managers, doing work that didn't have much to do with my job description, being treated as a lesser employee for being a contractor, and other bad situations to worry about hurting the feelings of people that won't even consider my feelings in their daily abuses.

Many people will likely disagree with what I have to say here, but there's a lot of research out there (more than I can reasonably list here) that says employees need to take more control over their careers to tell their employers what they will and won't do, as well as making sure the employee gets the compensation and work-life balance they deserve. A huge part of the recent Great Resignation is due to employees finally feeling like they have the freedom to quit the jobs they hate and find better jobs. With covid putting pretty much every industry on it's head, the job market is in a huge amount of churn right now, so people leaving their jobs is pretty common right now, not forgetting the massive unemployment due to layoffs during 2020 because of Covid-19.

So really, your situation isn't dire. It's a lot more common than you've probably been led to believe. Don't go into a job interview thinking you have something to hide. Employers can sense that kind of thing and many will dig until they find your insecurity. Some will simply take your insecurity as if it's about your skills, rather than your "unstable" job history. Been there, done that. Go in with confidence about your skills and yourself. Talk about what you can do for them and keep in mind anything you won't do. I've had to add something as "simple" as an open floor plan as a reason for not working for a company. I get far too distracted by other's conversations for me to effectively work in a situation like that. If I had taken that job, I'd have been setting myself up for failure, so know yourself, your limits, your strengths, and work from there.

Good luck and I hope everything works out for you!

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    In the US companies can and often fire at the drop of a hat. It is unreasonable then to expect employees to remain loyal when employers will not.
    – Neil Meyer
    May 4 at 20:19
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Most hiring staff are familiar with the disfunction in this industry. If asked in an interview, the important part is not to be overly negative. For the first two jobs, I would just explain it as "they were killed by COVID". Understandable, and no one looks bad. The current job, is a bit tricky, but you can give an explanation that makes no one look bad as this will more reflect on you.

There may be other reasons to leave the current job, but I would not do so with the requirement of "go ... figure it out." This gives you the opportunity to do things your way, you get to run the project. Sure you will have to implement the features they want, but you do so with no one looking over your shoulder.

The key with dealing with this kinds of people is not give them details. Small and short deliverables that show progress is important. For myself, I love these kind of opportunities.

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  • The problem with "go ... figure it out" is that when it comes to code reviews, or other peer or manager reviews, it turns into rock collector management where you'll never be correct no matter what you do. May 2 at 16:03
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I have also found myself in this position. The problem with all of these sorts of situations is that honesty is the best policy, but also being honest in this type of situation can hurt you. Even if it's not your fault, saying something like "my contract was not renewed because it was an office job and office lease expired" comes off to an employer as "my contract was not renewed because my contract expired and I was not skilled enough to have the company retain me in a different role". It doesn't really matter what you say, that's what an employer will hear, and that's unfortunate.

Further unfortunate is what user @Heinzi said in a comment, that being that since you have so many short jobs on your resume (this being your third), that many companies will disqualify you on that basis alone and not even give you a chance. Unfortunately, many companies do this and the industry standard is that it is a one-way street, where the company can disqualify the applicant on this basis but it is frowned upon for the applicant to disqualify the company on this basis; moreover the applicant is expected to be forthcoming with this sort of information, while the company is under no requirement to be forthcoming with similar data e.g. about turnover rates. You will have to deal with this, and unfortunately there is no good way of doing so.

The bad news is, there is no really good one-size-fits-all solution to your problem that I can simply give you and say "here, do this". I got incredibly lucky to find a company that was very good in terms of giving me interesting work to do, overlooking my resume issues, and having great people to work with. However, it was just plain old dumb luck and not at all strategy or skill. You're going to have to be lucky.

One thing you may want to ask about going forward, when you are going through interview processes, is regarding the company's turnover rate. Ask them specific questions regarding how many people have quit within the last month and why, and how many people they have fired and why. You can explain that you need this information because you don't want any more of these short positions on your resume and you want to make sure you're joining a stable company that's going to keep you engaged for the long term. You should use this information to guide your acceptance of whatever job offers you get, and not join companies with high turnover rates in the future.

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  • There are sites like GlassDoor, for example, that help people figure out turnover rates as well as how the company environment works. It's becoming more acceptable and accessible to find out this kind of information. I'll definitely agree that it's still not as common or as acceptable as it should be. May 2 at 17:35
  • @computercarguy Glassdoor, being a crowdsourced information portal, is not always the most up to date or reliable source of information. It's best to ask the company directly, and gauge your interest in the comany on their response (both the content of the response and your belief as to how truthful and honest it is)
    – Ertai87
    May 2 at 17:37
  • I agree that GlassDoor can be out of date and not always reliable, but the amount of different posts on the site can help people gauge the reliability of specific posts. As far as asking the interviewer, I doubt most of the ones I've talked to would have that kind of info. Many are just 1 manager out of dozens or hundreds in a company. They might not even have that info for just their dept. I've "sugar-coated" the reasons why I've left jobs, so why wouldn't an interviewer do the same? And some interviewers are really good at misdirection or flat out lying. May 2 at 17:45
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    @JosephDoggie What is your suggestion for screening out bad employers? Interviews are a two-way street, it's a time for the candidate to get to know the company just as much as it's a time for the company to get to know the candidate.
    – Ertai87
    May 3 at 15:20
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    @JosephDoggie And you feel bad about that? Consider the reverse, where an employer asks a candidate about their past work history and the candidate stands up and walks out of the interview, saying "this interview is over". Do you think the company feels bad about not extending an offer to that candidate? Sounds like you dodged a bullet to me.
    – Ertai87
    May 3 at 18:44
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Some great answers on this one but I wanted to add a little bit more as a warning to others that find themselves in the same situation.

Interviews are a two way street, you are also interviewing the company.

In the tech world the quality of companies is wildly varying and it's certainly not the utopia that some would make you believe. There are a lot of downright bad companies to work for in the tech sphere you've seen this for yourself now over the last few years.

Some things to look out for when interviewing:

  • Are the interviewers desperate to get anyone in the door, that's normally a bad sign
  • Do the interviewers ask you questions about best practice things, things like code reviews, CI/CD, software engineering practices ... etc. If they don't it probably means they don't care about that sort of thing
  • Try to ask small questions to gauge work life balance. Ask the interviewers about their weekend plans, hobbies things like this to see if they actually have a life outside work
  • If it's a big corp ask about process and infosec. Larger companies can kill productivity by asking for detailed daily timesheets and locking down your computer
  • Ask how the companies deals with an unruly underperforming dev, can tell you a lot about them how they deal with problems
  • If you can, check the company finances. If they are a public company they'll have to tell the public financial performance figures a company going down the toilet is generally more difficult to work with

All in all though don't generally be disheartened when it happens, make sure you get paid at the end of the day it's only a job.

Oh and good luck on your job search!

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  • Most tech companies are some level of desperate for talent. I would not consider an eagerness to hire as a bad thing. It could just as easily be a sign of unpresedented growth.
    – Neil Meyer
    May 4 at 20:10
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Resist the urge to write your life story in the resume. It is unlikely to get more than a cursory glance if you are lucky. More than one page is too much. Probably more than 4 paragraphs is too much.

Be careful how you approach interviews. If they dont ask about why you had three jobs in a short time then dont go telling them that.

It should be considered a negotiation. Be a little reserved about how you approach the whole thing.

Employing people is an act of faith. All business rely on workers but no potential employer can really be all that certain that an employee will be an asset to the workplace until he or she is in the job.

Just understand this in the interview. Be yourself. Be honest and then let the cards fall where they like.

There is the occasional situation where job posting is a sham and the position has already been filled internally but there still is a requirement to advertise publicly.

For the most part jobs are posted to be filled. Just dont go offering random pieces of information about yourself unless they ask you about it.

If there are any parts of your resume that is a potential problem they will ask you about it.

As with all interviews you are interviewing the workplace just as much as they are interviewing you.

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