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Fool Me Once, Shame on You; Fool Me Twice, I'm an Idiot

Oct 12, 2007
I got a call earlier today from Robert, a candidate I met a few months ago while conducting a search for a Vice President of Marketing in South Florida. "A recruiter out of L.A. called me about a Director of Marketing position and I have a phone interview scheduled this afternoon with their Human Resources Manager," he said. "The recruiter told me to be prepared to discuss my work history because she'll want to go over it with a fine tooth comb. How should I address the fact that I've changed jobs several times over past few years, because I know it's going to come up."

Looking at Robert's resume, he has worked in 5 different positions (and companies) since 1998, which not be that bad were he averaging 2 years at each position. But, alas, the last 5 years goes something like this: 6 months at his most recent position, preceded by 3 years of independent consulting, and before that a 1 year and 3 year stint. Not exactly a model of stability.

Depending on how this HR Manager views self-employment, the 3 years he spent working for himself could be viewed as a positive or a negative. The fact that he only lasted 6 months at the position he accepted immediately after working for himself is definitely an obstacle he'll need to explain away. The first thing any good recruiter or hiring manager worth their salt should ask themselves when they see this on his resume is, "Is this a guy that got comfortable making his own hours while answering to no one, and then balked as soon as he was thrown back into a structured environment?"

Having gotten the low down on the situation from Robert, I do not believe that was the case. I think the company's president, to whom Robert reported, had an unrealistic expectations as to what Robert alone could accomplish. However, Robert definitely shares in the responsibility. He did a poor job of determining whether or not the appropriate resources required to accomplish the goals of the position would be made available to him. He made false assumptions as to the capabilities of the individuals that would be reporting to him as well as the level of flexibility he would have to either outsource specific tasks or hire additional personnel.

"And that's exactly what I would tell the HR Manager or anyone who asks," I advised him.

Employers have very specific (and generally high!) expectations of the positions they hire for, and unless you've got a work history that jumps up off the resume and kisses them on the mouth they're going to question some of the career decisions you've made. Get used to it.

Let's say a hiring manager's expectation is to bring a candidate on board, wind them up and let them perform in a particular role for at least 5 years. If the last 10 years of your work history is comprised of multiple 18 to 24 month tours of duty, then you're going to have to come up with a helluva good story as to why you think you'll be with their company for the long haul.

Why do we study history? So we're not doomed to repeat it!

For those of you that feel your most recent work history might be your Achilles' heel when it comes to interviewing is, my advice is:

1. Take responsibility for bad career decisions.

I get tired of hearing: "I was misled!" or "The job was misrepresented to me!" Were you lied to? Or did you misrepresent your capabilities? I mean, come on, even if the hiring manager blatantly lied directly to your face regarding every single facet of the position, there would be some signs that you were being conned. If you think a sales manager is exaggerating the amount of money you can make in commissions, ask to speak with a couple of their reps regarding the position, then ask them a couple questions "off the record." It's called due diligence and it's your responsibility.

2. Quit blaming other people for your failures or lack of judgment.

"I just didn't have the team in place to support our goals," does not get you off the hook. If you're applying for a management position, ask to meet some of the employees that will be working under you before accepting the position. Find out what flexibility you'll have when it comes to hiring, firing, outsourcing, etc. After all, it's your job to manage the team and make the right personnel decisions in order to meet your responsibilities. And if you plan on discussing how diabolical the office politics were at your last job during the interview, you might also want to plan on bursting into tears for dramatic effect. You might as well--you're not getting the job anyway.

3. Convince them you have learned your lesson(s).

Hey, we all make mistakes. I guarantee you the same HR manager that's grilling you on why you left some joe-job 10 years ago has a couple of 6-month jaunts in her closet as well. Sometimes we take a job simply because we need a job. No, it's not a strategy for long-term career success, but it keeps the lights on and the mortgage man at bay for a while. Employers just want to know that you're not going to bide your time on their job until you find the one your really want, or that you're taking the position because you're desperate for money.

It's important that you recognize and understand why certain job decisions were mistakes and what you could have done differently, either by qualifying the position further or by not taking it in the first place. Show them that you are going to do your due diligence when it comes to their position and then most importantly, DO IT!
About the Author
Thad Greer is an Executive Recruiter that specializes in identifying top operations, sales, and marketing talent nationwide. His website http://www.OperationsRecruiter.com, serves as a resource for employers and job seekers alike.
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