Employers think I’m a job hopper!

A reader writes…

Dear Anita,

I know one of the things that stands out in a résumé (besides skills) is how long you have been with a company –  (working somewhere for 5 or 10 years, for example,  shows stability).  I also know it is professional to put all your jobs on the résumé, but when I do, I am often asked during interviews, “How come you have so many different jobs within a two year period?” I haven’t been able to find a stable job but have been getting calls from contract and temp jobs that last 4 months, 2 months, 6 months and I accept them (because when you need work, you accept it to pay the bills).

There are great employees out there that have skills that make them the perfect candidate but because of their job history, employers don’t trust them to stay with the company.  

So my question is this, how can you make your résumé look presentable even with a minimal stable job history?
Dear, “Stability,”

You have brought up an issue that probably impacts a good majority of my readers… and certainly warrants a full post!

How the heck do you “sell yourself” in a résumé as a dedicated employee, when your work history is full of short term temp assignments and/or contract work?  Jumping from job to job doesn’t exactly say, “I am a stable person who will stick with your company for years and years to come!”

It does say, however, that you have been working consistently and are versatile; yet reveals the fact that you just haven’t found that position or opportunity where you can commit long term.  For some people, temporary work is ideal for particular lifestyles.  Perhaps you’re a new parent wanting to earn extra income while tending to a child.  Maybe you’re a full-time student, just looking to make some extra cash.  Then there are those that have been laid off from a previous job and are simply exploring new industries and opportunities before deciding on their next career path.

All in all, I think hiring managers understand the reality and importance of temporary work, more than ever.  Rather than viewing it as “instability,” they know that people are simply trying to make ends meet during difficult times.  In fact, many employers have been faced with hiring freezes themselves. Their companies are either cutting full-time staff, or are battling budget cuts left and right!  Keep in mind; this also explains why job hunting is so competitive.  When companies are finally given the trigger to hire someone… they’re going to be ultra choosey and basically search for the pick of the litter. (This is why, as a job seeker, you need to be on top of your game, have a flawless résumé, and be ready to shine in that interview.)

Now back to your question, “How can you make your résumé look presentable even with a minimal stable job history?”

You don’t want a two page résumé that includes the days, weeks, or months, of each individual temp assignment you’ve ever had.  At a glance that will surely be a turn off to any hiring manager.

Here’s what I suggest:

Below your name and contact information that appears at the top, begin with a section called, “Summary of Qualifications.” There you will highlight 5 or 6 bullet points of key skills or experiences that directly pertain to the job you are seeking.  Maybe one sums up “’X’ number of years working in the ‘Y’ industry overseeing…. Or developing… Or assisting with….” <insert whatever applies>. Another bullet point may include specific computer skills, or industry/ trade specific knowledge.  Here is where you may list whether you’re bilingual (for example)… you get the idea?

Next comes the chronological list of “Employment” or “Work Experience.”  If you have been doing various temp jobs for the past two years, simply group all of that together as a single listing with the header, “Contract Work” (or something like that) – Then just list the years (NOT months or specific dates).  The key is, you’re still being completely honest… but you’re redirecting the focus from short intervals to a long period that included a variety of positions.

Now, within the section you’ve called “Contract Work,” use bullet points to outline each position in a single sentence (use present tense as what you’re really dong here is drawing attention to your various skills, responsibilities, and attributes).  For example:

Contract Work – (2010 – 2012)

  •  Accountant / Bookkeeper (insert company name) – Data entry, accounts receivable, and records management of a $X budget.  (NOTE: it’s always good to include quantitative figures wherever you can…  gives more substance to your résumé)
  • Customer Service Representative (insert company name) – Inbound / Outbound calls, up-sell to customers, demonstrate product features and benefits of over ‘X’ products and services.

Directly below the “Contract Work” section (that now gives the allusion it was a long term commitment… by bundling your short-term projects), you will list whatever you did before that.  If you were laid off from somewhere after working for 3 years (for example) you will list the date range in years. Then do the same for next job, etc. – No need to go back 40 years… keep it relevant.

End your résumé with your education, certifications, any awards, and/or accomplishments.

While your résumé must be honest and should include as much pertinent detail as possible to attract the attention of a hiring manager, it is in your cover letter or during the interview that you will have the opportunity to explain things further.  Try to keep the focus on your skills that will contribute to the job at hand more than concentrating on dates and time periods. Trust me…  listing a duration of temporary assignments in your résumé (whether it’s a period of 2 months or 2 years) looks much better than having  gaps in your work history.   

Don’t hesitate to be honest about your situation.  The way you openly explained it to me in your question made perfect sense and shows your determination and work ethic.  

I hope these tips help and wish you much success in landing that long-term position in 2012!

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. deathsinterlude
    May 02, 2013 @ 21:00:13

    I can see how employers could frown upon the lack of a stable job. I held 5 or 6 jobs in my previous career field (pathology assistant). Not one of them lasted a year each, and I had a sizeable gap between each position. I finally decided to bury that career for good.

    So upon analyzing why I couldn’t hold down a job in this career, I came up with 2 reasons: 1) The reason I’ll tell future employers: That I couldn’t get certified to do the job, thereby hampering my ability to hold onto one (which is true). 2) I don’t like being at a job for too long because I hate people getting too close to me (this is the REAL personal reason).

    Because of my spotty career history, I’m changing careers permanently to that of a Funeral Director. I figure that a spotty employment history really doesn’t matter in this industry. At least it shows them that I actually worked in a RELATED field (pathology and death are extremely close in nature). Mortuary science is a very taboo field that pays well, and I don’t have to worry about everyone being all up in my business. How many people can possibly own a funeral home? One? Two? I can deal with a very tiny number of people getting to know me, but not more than, say, 5 or 10 in a clique-like group of idiots. I want my privacy maintained very strictly, and this career can give me exactly that. And hey, I can potentially own (or co-own) a business! Seems like a winner to me.



  2. Angela
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:14:17

    Although I have a full-time LTE position I too am a contractually employed individual. When it comes to today’s world more and more employers seem to be going through staffing agencies for obvious reasons. Theyre doing credit checks and such as a way of “weening out” potentially high-risk candidates. Secondly, employers are not wishing to have to pay benefits and such hence the temporary “peak” or “seasonal employment statistics being on the rise. Your phone etiquette and email followups are an excellent way of expressing who you are. Lastly, you may wish to invest a dollar at your local dollar store and send a professional “Thankyou for your time yesterday…it was a pleasure meeting with so and so…Id like to remind you of my skillset (in like 4 bullets tops)… Now you will need to decide if a typed or handwritten note is needed based on the demeanor of the individuals you met with. As far as a choppy resume…Bold out your “key words” and use a smaller font (not less than 10) Also temp. jobs offer.



  3. Lori C
    Jan 06, 2012 @ 11:40:18

    I have a similar problem as Michelle, however, my having left the companies I worked for were solely because I could not locate affordable housing. I relocated out of state, several times, to live with family members to try to get back on my feet, but the situation continues to repeat. How to explain this (if it’s even possible) on a cover letter? Thank you.



  4. Robin
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 12:00:11

    I was wondering about this myself…it seems like the last three years has been filled with the “temp” hire positions and none that are planned to be “Perm”. I like the term “contract work” Thanks I am using it!



  5. m.capriola
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 12:02:32

    I agree with Anita on this. Many job applications will ask your reasons for leaving a job. Incorporate this into your resume.



  6. Michelle C
    Jan 03, 2012 @ 11:07:20


    I have a similar issue and have tried to find a way to word my resume so I don’t appear to be a job hopper. I on the other hand have not worked temp jobs, however, I had 3 jobs in a row that lasted only 2 years each. One business closed their doors, one went through downsizing, and the other I had medical issues after having my last child.

    I truly believe employers are looking at my resume and thinking I won’t stay longer than 2 years, and that is not the case at all. I’ve been searching for a company in which I can grow and be loyal.

    Any suggestions on how to present the choppy job history?




    • anitaclew
      Jan 03, 2012 @ 11:36:39

      Hi Michelle,
      One way to tackle this would be to list in smaller font (perhaps in italics) something like, “Company closure,” “Company downsize,” and “Extended maternity leave” directly below each respective header that lists the company name, your title, and date range. That way, it clarifies the 2-year tenure at each… showing none were work or performance related.



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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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