Is There Hope for a Job-Hopper?

Last Updated Nov 12, 2010 4:27 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I am 48 years old with an MBA in business management from a non-traditional university. In my younger years, I would skip around from job to job as boredom would quickly overtake the excitement of a new career path. Today, I find myself unemployed after being part of a department-wide downsizing a year and a half ago.

For the past year and a half, I have been self-employed and have worked to build name recognition, but now I want to go back to being an employee. My broad and diverse background is a gentle way to express the many things I've done in life. I have been that front desk person, the admin person, the HR recruiter, the holistic wellness expert, the emergency room clerk, the DJ, the newspaper reporter, the entrepreneur, the tradeshow consultant, the non-profit employee, the sales rep, the disaster response worker, the staffing specialist ... I even spent some time attempting to build the next QVC (obviously, that was a dismal failure!).

I have been released from, or asked to leave, five different positions. Why? Because each time I was told that since I could do the job of the CEO, the HR Director, the Business Manager, and/or the Regional Manager ... there simply "wasn't room for the two of us". From my perspective, all I did with each position was the job I was hired to do (I hope this statement doesn't make me a jerk).

Today I am gun-shy, so to speak. Have you come across others with this same dilemma? It is my experience that companies want their prospective employees to be an expert at one thing only; they do not want a "jack of all trades" such as I on their payroll. Am I a hopeless case, or is there light at the end of the tunnel?

There's always light at the end of the tunnel. The problem is that it is sometimes a train.

As you've surmised, your "broad" background looks an awful lot like job-hopping to those of us who figured out what we wanted to be when we were 7 and stuck with it for the rest of our lives. (Okay, when I was 7 I wanted to be a nurse, but then I found out that you had to deal with bodily fluids, and well, ick.) It's true that people are far more likely to move from company to company and from career to career now than they were years ago, but it's also true that we like to hire people who know what they are doing in the particular job we are hiring for.

I'm going to give you what I hope is a bit of insight into your firings. I have no doubt that you're a fabulous worker and that you're bright and that you have great ideas. But, I also have no doubt that you overstep boundaries.

Being told, "There isn't room for the two of us" isn't a compliment on your abilities, but a "nice" way of saying, "you are doing things way outside your job description, making decisions you shouldn't be making, and attempting to manage people and processes that you should not be managing. Meanwhile, you're neglecting the tasks you should be managing." They don't need two people in the lead job because what they do need is one person doing the job you were hired to do.

Of course, as you know, getting the job in the first place is going to be hard. Here are some tips:

You cannot go into the job search with the idea that you are a hopeless case. That will show through in the interview.

You've obviously got some talent interviewing or you wouldn't have been able to make so many career moves. Use that to your advantage.

Your best bet is to network with your former coworkers. They know your skills and may be able to spot positions you'd be good at.

When you find out about a job through networking, try to speak to the hiring manager before presenting your resume. Convince him that you're the right person before he sees your job-hopping past.

Pick out what you want to do, and rewrite your resume to reflect the skills you have that apply to the new job. For instance, if you decide you want to go back to being a tradeshow consultant, you'll need to demonstrate your organizational skills. So, under the "disaster response worker" portion of your resume, don't write "responded to disasters" (duh!) write about how you organized the other workers, managed the relief supplies, or whatever it is that you did.

Don't spread a wide net in your job search, hoping for anything. Job searches almost always go better when they are targeted.

Be prepared to answer why you want to be an employee. Really prepared, because you'll be grilled on it.

You also should do some introspection and decide if you really want to be an employee again. I suppose you aren't doing fabulously well at your current venture or you wouldn't be looking for a job, but perhaps you should try a different line of business. If you have issues with overstepping your manager's boundaries, it might be best for you to be the boss. (But of course, you'll have to learn how to delegate and trust that the work will get done once you have people working for you.)

And keep in mind, even if that light is coming from a train, just move to the side a little bit, and hop on it as it passes.


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