Short work durations can be considered a problem

Hiring Managers, HR, and Recruiters are always looking for career “red flag”s. Those are things they consider potential problems in your work history such as being employed for a company for a short period of time. I’m going to call that a “short stint”.

Employers tend to not like red flags, so the more you have and the less you address them, the more likely the employer will move on to the next résumé.

If you are a strong fit for the role, the employer might decide to reach out to you to explain the short work duration. For instance, perhaps it was a 6-month contract but you didn’t indicate that on the résumé, cover letter, and Linkedin (big mistake!). 

But in my experience as a recruiter, most employers won’t bother reaching out to clarify information. They’re too busy and usually have dozens of other equally qualified candidates to choose from, so they’ll just move on to the next best résumé. 

This is good for them but means that you’ve potentially lost out on gainful employment. The loss is doubly painful if you had a reasonable explanation for the short work duration but weren’t given the opportunity to address it.

If you have one or more positions that were a short duration, you should address this from the very beginning in your career marketing documents (résumé/cover letter), in the interviews, and even your Linkedin profile to present yourself in a more favourable light.

What qualifies as a short work duration?

What is considered a “short” work duration is subjective and will vary somewhat depending on the industry as well as the nature and level of the position.

Generally speaking, employers like to see a mid-career candidate employed at each company for at least 3 to 5 years.  If the candidate held a series of positions within that same company, they like to see them in each position for at least a year or two. But like I said, it’s subjective and will vary.

Let’s examine some different scenarios to help you decide how you might want to address your unique situation.

Scenario #1 – The short stint was a while ago

Let’s say you have just one short stint.

If it was more than 5 years ago and you held a few long term positions before then with no serious work gaps, it’s less likely to be a problem.

But notice I say “less likely to be a problem”. The outcome depends on who you’re competing against. If the employer is comparing apples to apples, and you have a little red flag and the other candidate has no red flag, you might get immediately disqualified.

I know it’s not fair and might seem a bit ridiculous, but I’ve seen it happen.

My advice is to err on the side of caution and address any short stint in your career marketing documents when it’s something that was out of your control because these tend to be easier to show.

I explain what these are and how you can address them in more detail further down.

Scenario #2 – The short stint was recent

Now, let’s say you had one short term stint and it was the last job you held.

You had a great work progression and then “BOOM” – you’re no longer there. The fact that it’s recent and it’s the only short stint makes it really stand out – kind of  like a big red pimple on what is largely a no-blemish zone.

From the employer’s perspective, there is clearly a potential problem even if there wasn’t, but that’s not the point. The point is, how they perceive this. It’s the whole “perception vs reality” thing.  

Since employers tend to look for reasons to NOT interview/hire someone than the other way around, one short stint can be perceived as a potential problem.

You must absolutely address this elephant in the room from the get-go!  Everyone knows that it’s there and not addressing it doesn’t make it go away.

Be clear about contract work

If you held positions that were technically contracts with a specific end date, then make sure you clearly show that in your résumé and Linkedin profile.

Contract work might be something you will need to mention in the cover letter especially if you had many of them and your’re applying for a full time, permanent role. This situation probably needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Situations that were beyond your control

The best case scenario is that the short stint happened due to a situation that was clearly and understandably beyond your control. 

These include things like a company-wide layoff and a shutdown especially if it’s common industry knowledge and something that easily be “googled” to verify.

There’s no reason why you can’t show this on your résumé and Linkedin profile and mention it in a cover letter in order to alleviate any concerns. However, it is better to consult a professional résumé writer to determine the best way to handle this.

Remember to get favourable references from your employer which also reiterate that your termination was not your fault due to the layoff or shutdown.

Situations that are more problematic

While a shutdown and layoff are pretty easy to address, there are other scenarios that are more difficult to explain and where you really should consult with a professional résumé writer to determine the best course of action.These more complicated scenarios are as follows:

You resigned

No matter how you slice it, you left the company for a reason which means there was something you weren’t happy with and/or there was a problem. Remember, this is what the employer is thinking!

  • The job wasn’t what you signed up for (the company misled you)
  • The duties suddenly changed after a few months into the job
  • You realized you were “over your head”
  • You and your boss didn’t get along
  • You didn’t align with the company culture
  • The commute was longer than you anticipated
  • You became ill/injured
  • You had to take care of an ailing family member
  • Other personal problem (divorce, death of family member, etc.)
  • You suspected you were going to get fired and decided to be proactive
  • Other reason

You were fired

This is obviously the most challenging scenario to address whether it was an illegal termination or for just cause.

Should you remove one or more jobs from your résumé?

To delete or not delete a job from your résumé. That is the question.

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t delete a job unless there’s a great reason for it and even then, you must be strategic about it to ensure that the deletion doesn’t come back to haunt you.

It might be safe to delete a job from your résumé when:

  • It was less than 12 months in duration. The less the duration, the safer it is to delete it.
  • Deleting it doesn’t create a work gap of more than 11 months. When you get to a gap of one year or more, you have some explaining to do.
  • It was a few years ago (the longer ago it was, the less impact it will have if you delete it or not).
  • It was your most recent position (make sure the job before the one you deleted is maybe no more than 6 months ago, otherwise it look s like you’ve been looking for a long time which might need explanation).
  • It’s not common knowledge or “obvious” you were employed at the company. You don’t want the potential employer to google your name or the company only to find that you’re listed as having worked there.

It’s all about strategy

There are ways to deal with all of these situations in your career marketing documents and during interviews, but as I already mentioned, it takes some finesse and strategy. 

If you have more than one job you want to delete, you have to be more careful about this and have a great reason for doing so and then make sure that you are consistent with this across all of your career marketing documents.

I highly recommend you retain the services of a career professional to help you with this.  One wrong move can get you disqualified from the running. Feel free to contact me here.

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