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Working Around Bad Luck on the Resume? 698

Posted by Cliff
from the explaining-your-experiences dept.
Dodger asks: "A year ago I was laid off from my job after 2 1/2 years, shortly after the product I was working on shipped. Later that year, a company moved me 1500 miles from Texas to California, to start working on a promising project, just to have the plug pulled by the corporation that funded it five weeks later, which resulted in another layoff. Now, there's a period of job seeking followed by a five week period of employment, followed by the current job seeking period on my resume. When the companies I interview with ask about that situation I simply explain, while trying not to whine or complain. What do other Slashdot readers do to make 'bad luck' (or bad employer choices) look less bad on their resume, and sound less bad in interviews?"
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Working Around Bad Luck on the Resume?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:15PM (#8322085)
    If the person interviewing you is a white coder who reads Slashdot tell them your job was outsourced.
  • by smccurry (572146) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:16PM (#8322089)
    If anyone knew, they would probably be working rather than reading slashdot.
    • Re:If anyone knew (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Docrates (148350) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:48PM (#8322398) Homepage
      Not true. Here's what you do:

      Say that the period of unemployment was actually you being a freelance IT consultant, then add that those brief jobs you got were consulting projects meant to be temporary.

      When they ask why you don't want to be a consultant anymore, tell them that the economy is getting better and you feel like it's a good time to get back on the job market.

      This will also make you look like you don't HAVE to get the job (although if you did you would certainly commit to it 100%), which rises their perception of you.

      Sounds like a sleazy thing to do? well, that's real life for you...
      • Re:If anyone knew (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TopShelf (92521) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:56PM (#8322467) Homepage Journal
        Another option is to simply leave off the super-short term stints. In these times, it's not unusual for someone to go several months between positions...
        • by Prior Restraint (179698) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:27PM (#8322673)

          Hear! Hear!

          On my resume, my employment history tends to look something like this:

          • 1998-2001: Company 1
          • 2001-Present: Company 2

          Everyone who interviews me simply assumes I've had continuous employment, and I see no need to disabuse them of that notion.

          • Re:If anyone knew (Score:5, Informative)

            by dubl-u (51156) * <[2523987012] [at] [pota.to]> on Thursday February 19, 2004 @01:51AM (#8323834)
            1998-2001 [...]2001-Present [...] Everyone who interviews me simply assumes I've had continuous employment

            I've interviewed circa a dozen people in the last couple of weeks, and I see this style much more than I used to. When I see only years in a resume, I assume it's because they're hiding something. I much prefer to see a month-based approach that's honest about gaps.
            • Re:If anyone knew (Score:5, Interesting)

              by DFossmeister (186254) <foss_donald@noSPAm.yahoo.com> on Thursday February 19, 2004 @09:12AM (#8325297) Homepage
              Month-based job listings are so tedious. One time when I was laid off, they brought in job-placement and employment specialists to help everyone polish their resume, teach those who didn't know how to do an interview, what to say about being laid off etc. One thing they specifically mentioned was the way you list your previous positions. They recommended just listing the years because most people reading the resume were only looking at the highlights anyway.

              The sole purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. You should not lie on it about anyting, but simply putting the year in which you worked at a job is not lying--its shorthand.
        • Re:If anyone knew (Score:5, Interesting)

          by chunkwhite86 (593696) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @03:00AM (#8324166)
          Another option is to simply leave off the super-short term stints. In these times, it's not unusual for someone to go several months between positions...

          But employers don't like resume gaps. They will want to know what you were doing in that time. Working "short-term temporary projects" sounds much better than "uuhhh... umm... looking for a job?".

          Just my two cents. See you later, Space Cowboys!
      • Re:If anyone knew (Score:4, Insightful)

        by secolactico (519805) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:17PM (#8322617) Journal
        Say that the period of unemployment was actually you being a freelance IT consultant, then add that those brief jobs you got were consulting projects meant to be temporary.

        I wouldn't recommend this unless you have quite a poker face. Job interviewers tend to smell bullshit like shit on a shoe (to paraphrase yet another movie) and often will not press the issue, they'll simply not hire you.

        Now, telling the truth haven't quite worked out, I guess, so if you do decide to go with it, make sure you polish your story, iron out details ("Sorry I can't give you names, I had an NDA with my clients") and if possible, ask a friend to "proof" you.
      • by Wolfier (94144) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:55PM (#8322723)
        Thanks for the tips.

        I'll know exactly what happens when I'm interviewing the next candidate who says this.
      • by kinnell (607819) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @03:59AM (#8324372)
        Say that the period of unemployment was actually you being a freelance IT consultant

        Even better, without actually claiming anything directly, hint that you were employed as a freelance CIA operative doing top secret undercover work which didn't officially exist, and even if it did, you wouldn't be able to talk about it. They'll never be able to prove otherwise. Or even just answer every question with "I'm not at liberty do discuss that part of my life".

    • Re:If anyone knew (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:21PM (#8322642)
      Work only for big companies with deep pockets and ask for very high compensation. You won't get a good compensation if you don't have the opportunity to screw it big. So, as you can see, you will likely fail, but they won't admit it because they are paying you the big bucks.

      Admiting that you are a failure is like admitting that they are a failure. You just go to work everyday with a smile and do things so-so... Eventually the project will fail, but you stayed late many days and you always were there to help, you just failed because you are incompetent, but they won't admit it.

      I've always been excellent on my jobs and I always lost my job when I finished. Now I always EXTEND... my job by delivering not so good stuff and therefore they always need me to fix it. Also I always orgaqnize meetings to resolve issues and force people to stay in meetings even if they don't need to. I say the opposite of course, but I always ask them to participate and let them know *how important they are* to define things. The result is always poor, documents are reviewed endlessly and my job is so secure now...

      Sorry guys, that's just the truth, I have a family to feed and property to buy. If being proficient and fast were profitable, that would be where I would like to be, but now I prefer the easy life of having a job for life, even if that means I have to do overtime every single day of my fuckedup life.

      Doing overtime is a sign that the company is not doing the right thing. Who am I to change that? If I could sell what I do and not my time, things would be different. I can do in 15 minutes what for others takes months if not their whole lifes, but they pay me by the hour. All software engineers are replaceable, go figure where did they learn that.
      • Re:If anyone knew (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DrCode (95839) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @02:10PM (#8328743)
        A bit cynical, but there's quite a bit of truth here. Another thing I've noticed is that if the software you write doesn't have enough bugs, managers will think you weren't working, or that the work you did was trivial. The guy who has lots of bugs, and makes a big show of fixing them, will end up being much more highly-rated.

        That said, my usually successful strategy is to churn out features extremely quickly, and to make sure people know about them. I'm liable to leave holes in the code, but I try to do good design. So when people find problems, I can usually impress them by fixing them almost immediately.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:17PM (#8322097)
    And during interview tell the truth that you were laid off. People understand the situation
    • by erice (13380) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:06PM (#8322533) Homepage
      Never forget: the purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. If you got the interview, then you know that there were no fatal flaws on your resume. If there were fatal flaws on the resume, you won't get the interview and, hense, won't be able to explain them away.
      • by skoaldipper (752281) <{skoalstr8} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:09AM (#8323206)
        Absolutely. The sole intention of a resume is to get your foot in the door. Especially in a technical field. Your credentials on paper speak for themself. However, your confidence, preparation, and presentation (for and) during the interview speak volumes about your actual qualifications. Careers of quality demand applicants with "marketing" experience, especially from those with technical backgrounds. A company can predict those skills by scrutinizing your original application, which consists of a resume, cover letter, letters of correspondence, emails, and phone conversations. Your ability to sell yourself (and not your credentials) will greatly increase your chance of an interview.

        Here's a personal case study. At the peak of the most recent recession, I was applying for technical positions with several different companies, in the span of two months. Believe it or not, over half of the applications I sent rewarded me with an interview. And, my recent career experience in the last 2 years is very similiar to the author of this post.

        Having close ties with several Human Resource Managers, experience in Technical Writing from college curriculum, and in general, lengthy job experience, here are important tips to remember about your resume (and the use of it):

        Do not saturate your resume on a bunch of openings related to your field. Focus on fewer positions of your liking and tailor each resume to that position. Remember, quality not quantity. Include a cover letter with each one. The content of a cover letter should cover a discussion about their company, your interests relating to their products (or services), and how your experience meets (or exceeds) the qualifications necessary for that position.

        Perceived "short comings" in your resume are interpreted differently by different employers. Case in point. Having a Masters in Computer Science and several years experience, I had to work in Construction for a few months to pay the bills. And, yes, in several resumes I sent towards technical positions, I put that experience on my resume. It shows responsibility and a hard work ethic. In addition, I had several short contracts related to my field. Those too were mixed in as well, when relevant. During several interviews, I had many employers spend more time discussing those jobs than more pertinent ones, and it reflected highly on me. It's a cautious, but careful, dance when you present yourself with a "spotty" resume. It will hurt you only if you have no stable work experience to present with it.

        During the interview, have many, many questions. Questions which show your interest in the company, and the direction/goals they are taking for the future. Surely, during the interview, you can expect to receive tough questions related to your resume (and, especially, any perceived short-comings you may feel about it). Spend several hours beforehand, if necessary, rehearsing your answers to questions relating to such.

        Most importantly, follow up each interview, immediately, with a "Thank You" letter. You should use it to clarify any questions or solidify any answers made during the interview. This letter is highly overlooked and makes you stand out amongst a swarm of fellow candidates. You are in a technical profession (I assume), and you should appear professional as well.

        When an offer is made, do not be so hasty to accept it. It is easy to do so in light of this economic market. Follow the offer with a letter or phone call, thanking them for the offer, state that you are considering the position, and will give them an answer within a specified time. You are the gold which an employer seeks to add to his treasure. Not vice-a-versa. Confidence, not arrogance, will solidify your employment.

        • by HeelToe (615905) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:35AM (#8323398) Homepage
          This is all very relevant good advice.

          I have used a number of these principles since beying laid off in 2002 for both finding a position with a new company and once there an internal move up the chain.

          One intangible that beyond this (or maybe reading between the parent poster's lines): do whatever it takes to prepare yourself for a conversation with your interviewer. Yes, this can be hard in a question-answer-question-answer type format, but figure out how you're going to weave things into a conversation. When you engage your interviewer in a conversation they can better connect with and relate to you. It also helps them visualize what you would be like on the job - most people will want to work with others they can successfully interact and collaborate with.

        • Yes! (Score:4, Informative)

          by Jeppe Salvesen (101622) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @05:00AM (#8324574)
          "During the interview, have many, many questions." Very important. Have a list of questions ready. "How do you prioritize between social skills and technical skills when you hire someone?". "How is the company doing?". "What sorts of pension funds and health insurance do you offer to your employees?". "Do the employees socialize outside job functions?". That sorta thing.

          This will look good to the potential employer - you are prepared, and you are also signalling that you are interested in finding a company that is right for you. It is also good for you, since you can often tell from the reply whether this is a good employer or not.
  • by fembots (753724) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:18PM (#8322105) Homepage
    I believe every employer appreciates a bit of honesty.
    • by purduephotog (218304) <hirsch@@@inorbit...com> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:27PM (#8322676) Homepage Journal
      If you can project those three items, you have the best shot you will ever get at nailing the job.

      I was asked in a whirl-wind style interview, literally "So I don't exactly understand why we are interviewing you. Your degree doesn't match the job openings". I then sincerely explained that, while my background is a dual degree in Chemistry/Chemical engineering, I've done imaging science the entire period of my employment. Threw in a few stories about projects I'd worked on, (You do have your "Problem, Action, Quantified Results" stories in your head, don't you???) and he accepted it.

      Another asked about the layoffs and specifically why I was targetd. You *know* they are going to want to ask that question- be prepared to handle it. Don't whine. Don't Whine. DON"T WHINE! Remember that. Explain it as "We were told that seniority would count significantly during the layoff process. As I had just entered the group a year (or your case, 5 weeks) ago, when they pulled the project funding I was the newest, hence the least 'points' awarded during the deselection criteria"

      Don't sound bitter- we all know you will be from the stories, and hearing 'laid off' doesn't have the stigma it once does. But dont' hide it in BS. If you present even a slightest bit, or get caught in a lie, you can kiss it goodbye. I've interviewed many a person and that is the one thing I listen for... I hear BS, you can use the resume to whipe it off the shoe.
      • by jtheory (626492) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:49AM (#8323483) Homepage Journal
        Don't whine. Don't Whine. DON"T WHINE!

        Great advice. Look at it this way -- one of the main things interviewers want to know is how you will react to adversity.

        If you whine about the successive layoffs (or lie about them, or rapidly change the subject), they're going to have a pretty clear picture of what you'll do when your project hits a big snag, or the customer comes back with last minute requirements: you're going to whine to everyone (even people you don't know, apparently) and drag down the morale of your team instead of doing anything useful. I guarantee this will leave a bad taste in their mouths after the interview.

        Don't get tripped up because it's not an on-the-job problem. This is just as much an opportunity to prove yourself and how you respond to serious problems (the worse the better, to some extent). Take a second to discuss what happened, and what you've been doing to get back into the game. If you were creative, or if you used your downtime to learn something new, all the better. Maybe you got dropped because you were too much of a one-trick pony... so you learned a new language, and wrote a mini webserver to practice. Tell them your plan (and make sure you've put a lot of thought into it). Be frank, crisp, logical, and upbeat.

        If you had to take some strange jobs to keep food on the table, that's okay. If you're uncomfortable about it, they will be too... but if you aren't, they'll probably just like you better for being pragmatic.

        [And of course, if you've been sitting there in a funk for 6 months, leeching off your girlfriend and watching TV, now's the time to move your ass, kiddo.]
    • by Epistax (544591) <epistax@NospAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:58PM (#8323120) Journal
      I agree completely. I've never hired anyone, but I've been hired before (feels good). It seems to me your resume tells if you're able to do the job. Your interview tells what kind of person you are. If you're a liar, they'll figure it out at the interview. If you'd lie on your resume, you'll lie in the interview, they'll notice it, not say a thing, and you're finished.

      Once you get the interview, you're qualified for the job (unless you lied), or they have some other interest in you (which might be as good/better than the job). Some people are more qualified for the job, but they might not be as personable. You'll get a job before these people every time. If you're the one getting interviews and not getting a job, you probably have a problem. It's usually that you do not act like yourself, such as putting on an image you view as confident but they'll see as arrogant.

      Set up a mock interview and video tape yourself. Look at the stupid expression on your face (yes it will be stupid). Fix it. Look in the mirror. Then go over what you said in the interview. Completely scripted responses are easily noticeable and not appreciated.

      There are two primary schools for the interviewer: new school and old school. Old school is more receptive to phoniness and arrogance, while new school sees that as being afraid to show yourself, and think you might not be stable. Try to judge the type the interviewer is (note that age is not a factor). Engineers and programmers are more likely to see new school (which I assume most readers will get). Every interview I've had but one has been new school. Those are better/more fun anyway!
  • One word: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZxCv (6138) * on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:18PM (#8322108) Homepage
    Lie.

    No, really, just be honest like you already have been. The people interviewing you are human too, and they can understand bad luck like anyone else. Just put your best qualities far enough out there and layoffs like this shouldn't even be a factor to the interviewer.
    • Re:One word: (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:24PM (#8322185)
      As someone who is watching his four female managers hire two candidates to help him out, I can say for sure that this is not true. They'll disqualify you for any reason they want. They rejected one perfectly suitable resume because his last job was as a magician at kids' parties; they said that it indicated that he didn't want the position as a career. I'd say your best bet is to say that it's been a bad economy, and that you spent that time looking, unless you gained experience that you'd like to use. Then again, they might misinterpret that, too.
    • Re:One word: (Score:4, Informative)

      by flint (118836) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:41PM (#8322339)
      I disagree. It really depends on your audience. If you are speaking to someone who's a peer or possibly a supervisor/manager of your peers they will empathize.

      However, if you are talking to someone from Personnel of a really high level manager who's got to sign off on you -- it's a different story. These people look predominantly at negative qualifiers. If you blame anything on bad luck, the market, poor management decisions, etc they will view this as an indication that you will give up when facing challenges and you will blame it on anything but yourself. They will interpret the smallest detail of your resume or interview as a microcosm of you. You're not a can-do, team-oriented person. You tend to blame others. You can't take responsibility for a mistake.

      So, I'd recommend that you figure out how to creatively deal with these gaps in the way that minimizes dishonesty but puts the best spin on the situation.
      • Re:One word: (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Kris_J (10111) * on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:28PM (#8322857) Journal
        No matter how bad the job market is, you don't need to work for a place that overanalyses this badly. The staff turnover at places like this is typically so bad that statistically they're only likely to show up as yet another blot on your job history anyway.
  • by Bishop, Martin (695163) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:18PM (#8322112)
    When they ask questions of prior jobs that were unsatisfactory, simply yell "That's none of your concern, you insensative clod!"
  • In the interview (Score:3, Insightful)

    by elvum (9344) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:18PM (#8322115) Journal
    Shrug and laugh about it. Attitude counts for a lot.
  • Shit happens (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NineNine (235196) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:19PM (#8322120)
    Just tell the interviewer that "shit happens". They'll understand. Worked for me!
  • Be honest (Score:5, Informative)

    by RedHatLinux (453603) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:19PM (#8322125) Homepage
    but be positive ... Don't whine or pout. Just explain the situation, highlight any positives and then try to steer the focus back on the better parts of your resume.
  • by Zakabog (603757) <john@jmaug. c o m> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:19PM (#8322127)
    If they ask about it, just do what you're doing now. Explain the situation to them and they'll probably understand, if they don't well you probably wouldn't want to work their anyway (well actually if they don't understand then they probably don't layoff people and I guess you would want to work their, oh well.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:20PM (#8322128)
    ...to bond with my fellow inmates.
  • by JoeLinux (20366) <joelinux@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:20PM (#8322136) Homepage
    Step #1:

    Get a job. ANY JOB. Showing you have a job indicates that you are a "go getter", willing to do what it takes. Trust me.

    Step #2:

    Hit the Pavement. When a job in your field opens up, even if it is a step down from your current pay grade, take it.

    Step #3:

    If your field is networking, start doing networks for churches/schools/etc. for free. Include it on your resume. If coding, get into an open source project. If business or law, go to hell. ;)

    Those will drastically help you reinforce the idea that you are not lazy, just unfortunate.
    • by twitter (104583) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:51PM (#8322426) Homepage Journal
      Your three steps kind of fall apart when you have left your mom's house and have a family. The attitude is good, but your steps drastically change. They become:
      1. Secure any and all benifits from your job or state. The state will pay you to find a job that does not waste your talent and experience. Unless you can find a job that pays substantially more and makes use of the resources society has already put into educating you, KEEP LOOKING. Take anyjob when the benifits run out.
      2. Calculate how long your savings will hold out before you have to sell your house. Few people really have the recomended six months of salary saved. Know when you have to make those hard choices between the roof over your head and the children's education and make them in advance.
      3. Hit the pavement for yourself first. The only kind of job you are going to get this way is a sales job at a small company. Everyone else posts their jobs on the web or on mailing lists. Work in a warehouse at a tech firm before you flip burgers. Sell before you sweat and sell yourself to small companies that can use what you know before you sell loans at the bank.
      4. Volunteer work should be ongoing, work or no work, but you should intensify it when you have the time.

      I'm ready to tell any interviewer exactly what I've done. There is NOTHING lazy about taking advantage of state benifits. It shows you knew where to look, took some of your tax money back the way it was supposed to be used and cared about your career. In fact, it's lazy and counterproductive to just take anyjob without first looking. It takes worlds of industry to fill out job applications, and cold call. By the time you are finished, everyone in the world should have seen your resume too. Many people will think I'm a pest, but no one can accuse me of being lazy.

  • by buckeyeguy (525140) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:20PM (#8322138) Homepage Journal
    Don't dodge, hedge, or otherwise try to avoid your real work experiences. It's just not worth it. And if you've worked in the same geographical area for awhile, you will find that everyone in IT knows everyone else in IT (maybe 5 times removed, like the Kevin Bacon thing), and your history will be known anyway.

    Besides, so what if a project fell flat because someone else pulled the plug? You took a chance on being part of it; sounds like a good resume item to me.

  • by MSBob (307239) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:21PM (#8322139)
    You weren't dismissed in spite of your project successfully shipping. You were disposed of because your project shipped. It's not uncommmon where moronic managers treat developers like construction crews. Hire when the work picks up and let go when the work is done. Most managers are too dim to understand the difference between skilled and unskilled labour.
  • by beni1207 (603012) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:21PM (#8322140)
    ...that you got fired for looking at goatse at work
  • Dogbert (Score:5, Funny)

    by binaryDigit (557647) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:21PM (#8322141)
    Reminds me of a funny Dogbert strip:

    Always put impressive but impossible to verify jobs on your resume.

    Employer: So Mr. Dogbert, it says here that you worked as a senior spy for the CIA.

    Dogbert: Yes, and I was told to kill anyone who asks for details about it.
  • They're dead, Jim (Score:4, Informative)

    by overshoot (39700) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:21PM (#8322150)
    Looking over my resume (thirty years of it) I find that over two-thirds of the companies there no longer exist. Your best answer is to list the contact information for each tango-uniform employer with [defunct] or something similar.

    Employers want to know how to get hold of your previous management, too, and pointing out that they're also not there any more tends to help.

  • by ThogScully (589935) <neilsd@neilschelly.com> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:22PM (#8322157) Homepage
    It'll be worth it in the end. Just doin't hesitate to tell the truth and when/if you get the job, you'll be far better off. Lying will only make them question you and give them a good reason not to employ you.
    -N
  • Creative (Score:4, Funny)

    by lukewarmfusion (726141) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:22PM (#8322160) Homepage Journal
    From plausible to absurd:

    I was spending time with my family
    Extended vacation
    Self-education/Wanted to learn something new
    I was writing a book
    Home renovation/improvment
    Spiritual retreat in the desert
    Creating and failing with dot-com startup
    Using exfoliation to remove tattoo
    Hunted down Steve Bartman to "express my feelings"

    Take your pick.
  • by philovivero (321158) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:22PM (#8322165) Homepage Journal
    I've had literally three companies go out of business on me, and one company I ethically could not work for (owner was trying to bilk millionaires out of investment cash) in the last 3.5 years. So 3.5 years, 4 companies.

    One recruiter I talked to started the conversation saying "I know the job market recently is what's to blame for your spotty employment" and then only ten minutes later said "My client is looking for someone who doesn't jump from job to job so much," so even someone who acknowledges the reason for your problems can very quickly forget it and start thinking you're a job jumper.

    So how did I solve this problem? I simply grouped all the jobs I worked for in the past 3.5 years as bullet items under a single 3.5-year job of Database Architect Consultant.

    This helps a lot, because consultants are supposed to have multiple employers (it doesn't hurt that I've also done some consulting work during this time).

    The problem then is that when you talk to companies, they assume you want to continue consulting. So begin the interview with "I've been doing W-2 consulting, and I really want the stability and long-term relationships I can get with a full-time job."

    It's really an interesting perception that people get when they look at a resume with many short-term jobs on it. They just can't get over the fact that it may be completely not your fault and they still somehow blame you.

    You need to understand this psychology and then mask that fact from them (for their own good!). Otherwise they will end up hiring some lamer who happened to work for a company that lasted a lot longer than your companies even though said lamer isn't as qualified as you.
  • by Saanvik (155780) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:23PM (#8322168) Homepage Journal

    It sounds like you're doing the right thing.

    As a hiring manager in a software company let me tell you, you're situation doesn't look bad, assuming it's exactly as you tell it. If I bring someone in for an interview, and they tell me what you've been through, I'd be more likely to empathize with their situatition rather than hold it against them. So, just tell the truth.

    The one thing that might be a problem is getting to the interview. You may need to do a bit of work on your cover letter to make it plain that the funding was cut rather than you losing the job because of cause.

    One other thing - you may not want to include a 5 week job on your resume. Unless you gained a lot of important job experience in 5 weeks, I'd be likely to write the entire thing off. Since resume space is limited, you may want to include a former job that is more relevant to the position you are applying to.

  • by cbreaker (561297) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:23PM (#8322177) Journal
    ... by getting interviews in the first place.
  • by rogerbo (74443) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:24PM (#8322190)
    I don't understand why in the US it is such an issue with having a gap in your resume? When I was 25 I quit my job in Australia and spent a full year travelling, living off my savings going through Asia/India/Europe. I told this to people from the US and they were horrified? How will you explain this to employers, they said? I tell them the truth, I decided to take a year off and travel.

    Here in Australia this is quite common and perfectly acceptable, also in europe it's no big deal many people over there do this.

    So if I lived in the US and I say I decided I didn't want to work because I had saved enough money to live on and I wanted to travel/write the american novel/sit at home and play video games/whatever, exactly why should an employer care?

    Same applies for periods of unemployment, why does a gap matter?
    • by fingusernames (695699) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:04PM (#8322523) Homepage
      It's due to what some consider the extreme American "work ethic." Here, you are expected to work hard, all the time, preferably six or seven days a week, until you "retire" (more and more people now work during "retirement"). While this makes having "a life" difficult, it is what led to America becoming a global economic, military, and political uberpower in, what, a couple mere centuries. Old habits die hard. It is why you are lucky to get two paid weeks of vacation here, vs. six or more in some European nations.

      This expected work ethic is not compatible with taking extended breaks. Being out of work is one thing... being voluntarily out of work is often seen as laziness.

      On the other hand, of course, such a work ethic is, generally, a common trait of all really successful people, regardless of nationality or where they live. I guess in America, most businesses want to hire people who have the drive to be successful in life. I just wish they would accept that sometimes, success oriented people also want to pause and smell the rose.

      Larry
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:23AM (#8323313)
        I think it's drawing a long bow to say that long work hours "led to America becoming a global economic, military, and political uberpower in, what, a couple mere centuries." How about:

        1. Abundant natural resources.
        2. Slavery, followed by cheap immigrant labour.
        3. A large population.
        4. Good education.
        5. Capitalism.
        6. A government willing to use its muscle (military and economic) to get its way.

        Working your butt off is less important than any of these.
    • by BitterOak (537666) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:05PM (#8322529)
      I don't understand why in the US it is such an issue with having a gap in your resume?

      Very simple reason. During that "gap" you might have had a job and make a complete pig's breakfast out of it. By accounting for all your time, your prospective employer has a chance to track down all your past employers and find out if you screwed up in a major way. If you have gaps all over the place, you may have just included those jobs where you didn't screw up, and left out the ones where you bankrupted the company by doing something monumentally stupid. Or you might have been in jail, rehab, or something equally unappealing to a prospective employer. So if you do choose to bum around Europe for a year, be damn sure to keep hotel and travel receipts!

  • by Kenja (541830) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:25PM (#8322197)
    Tell them you had to take an extended leave of absence due to a death in your family. If they try to verify this, kill a family member.
  • by jay-oh-eee! (750468) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:26PM (#8322205) Homepage
    The best thing to do would to simply explain to them that the man's trying to hold you down. Also, that you'll program for food.
  • hard to get (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarkSkiesAhead (562955) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:29PM (#8322247)

    One technique that can be applied to many job interviews is to turn the situation around and make them try to sell the job to you. If you have a history of being let go by former employers stress that it's important that your next job be with a stable, successful company and ask pointed questions about the new company. Let them try to convince you that the new company is respectable and trustworthy. Then they'll feel like they've invested something in you by convincing you.
  • Be honest (Score:5, Insightful)

    by merodach (630402) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:30PM (#8322257)
    If the layoffs are not your fault then the employer won't care as long as you are honest regarding the reasons. Don't sound bitter, and above all, DON'T make it sound as though the layoffs were a result of poor management. If pressed for details be very discreet and non-judgemental in the response - a "The company decided that they could no longer provide work for me" sounds MUCH better than "they canned me as soon as they finished using me". I as a manager don't mind seeing a period of unemployment if it is not a result of the person's actions and with the collapse of IT jobs that's unfortunately become common.
  • by originalhack (142366) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:31PM (#8322263)
    The key is getting past people who might toss your resume because of the short stint. If they took the trouble to even have a conversation, you are past that.

    I'd suggest you list the dates as... "10/2003-11/2003 (project cancelled)" to prevent the quick discard. After that, just be honest about your history and show no bitterness.

    I've hired over 100 engineers. One short hop (less than 2 or 3 years) requires explaining. Two short hops get the resume tossed.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:22PM (#8322649)
      Two short hops get the resume tossed.
      Not for nothing, but you sound like a nightmare hiring manager, who tosses out resumes for any or no reason, and pattern matches on buzzwords they don't understand. Got any other dogmatic rules for "tossing resumes" without reading them?

  • don't worry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AvitarX (172628) <me@@@brandywinehundred...org> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:32PM (#8322273) Journal
    The fact that you were able to get hired twice in your proffession during the down economy is an asset not a burdon.

    The fact that you were moved to CA either means you are desperate or worth a big investment. Make sure it spins good (even if it was desperation).

    If the out of work periods are short enough I would take it as a good sign that you are being snapped up, not bad that you were layed off.

    Don't lie. If you do anyone that has a personal reason for not liking you could possibly get HR to look into it and you could be fired for lieing on your resume.

    Just remember that your against people who were likly under-employed or out of work with no short projects inbetween.

    None of this is expierience (except the lieing thing) but it is what maked personal sense to me. So if someoen with actual expierence in your shoes disagrees they may be more correct then me.
  • by t0qer (230538) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:39PM (#8322326) Homepage Journal
    Depends on where you are in life but..

    When the layoff started happening I must have gone through about 4 companies in 3 years. (Silicon valley, it was nuts here!) It even got to the point where I could "smell" when a layoff was going to occur for anyone. Sort of like how one minute all the zebra's are munchin grass, and the next minute, before the lion goes into chase mode, they all look at that one and say, "He's next to go!"

    I got so sick of blurring my resume, lying, filling in the blanks, stretching out employment dates, overstating my job and depending on someone else for a paycheck that the last layoff was the last straw. I flipped my middle finger in the direction of all these guys "charging" me for doing my W-2 while they loaned themselves a mountain of company money to buy themselves a house while saying "Hey taxman, this isn't personal income, this is a "LOAN" from the company to me, haha on you"

    So I started my own company. No big deal. Just go down to your city office, pay your business tax, and if you want a corporation (I went LLC) just have an agent like thecompanycompany.com fill out your paperwork with the state for about $800.

    You know what you do for a living now right? Why not just offer it up to the general public with a real company. Call your old boss up and tell him you've started your own deal, and if he knows anyone looking for help. Chances are he'll hire you or pass your name around.

    There was this other slashdot article a while back about going on your own. I recomend searching the archives for it.
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:41PM (#8322345)
    Almost every unemployed techie these days got that way not because it was our own fault, but just like the examples above, projects get canceled or things or we were on a project that look good on the drawing board but didn't work in practice. The fact that our ex-employers weren't able to show to the state that the breakup was our fault so that we'd be denied unemployment pay is proof enough that it wasn't our fault.

    In fact, I've actually got a copy of state unemployment form that assigns a letter code for just about every reason you can think about for letting somebody go... and my ex-employer selected "U" for "Unknown". (Chosing not to disclose the reason would have been an "N" for "No contest".) If my ex-employer's HR department can't even figure out the reason that I was let go, that's a sign that we've got a long story here.

    My answer for why they can't speak to my immediate supervisor at my past job? "I have no idea where he is. From what I was told as I was leaving, it didn't seem like he was going to have the option of staying with them for much longer either. The rest of managers at the company were happy with the level of service I was providing their departments. Letting me go was not the only debatable business decision from him that his higher-ups were scratching their heads about. I've got the number for the HR exec there on the resume, he can confirm what I just told you."
  • Here are some tips (Score:4, Interesting)

    by airjrdn (681898) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:52PM (#8322430) Homepage
    As someone currently hiring 4 positions, I can offer you this...

    Be honest (about downtime in your case especially)
    Don't exaggerate your achievements
    Stay calm, don't bounce around in your chair
    Appear interested and "aware"
    Don't say "yeah" or "ok" after every sentence the interviewer says
    Smile

    Also, I know the IT scene is tough right now, but from the interviewer's perspective, it's hard finding good people too. We typically hire 2 to 4 IT staff each year, and finding good ones is a chore. I wish I had a dollar for every DBA interview candidate I've talked to that couldn't write a simple select statement when asked to. Bear in mind, their resume statement that they were "SQL Experts", or had x years of experience with SQL Server (yes, we're a Microsoft shop).
  • No matter how unfairly you believe you were treated, don't bitch and moan about it.

    We had to interview one job applicant who was recently laid off. He went into this long rant about how the management were incompetent, his coworkers were retards, it was all everyone else's fault, he was the second coming of Jesus Christ and everyone was just too stupid to see it, and so on. There was also a mini-version of that same rant in his resume!

    This frightening outburst was prompted by a fairly unprovocative question about what he did at his previous job.

    We were left in absolutely no doubt as to why he was sacked. Why would you want someone like that around, who casts blame on everyone else at the first opportunity and behind their back when under pressure?
  • by lateral (523650) <mark@compoundeye.co.PARISuk minus city> on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:56PM (#8322460)
    Being out of work is not a problem, it's a fact of life in the industry. What's important is how you deal with it.

    I hire developers and I'd guess about half of the people I interview are out of work. Being laid off is often a matter of luck so that actually doesn't interest me very much. How the candidate has responded to being out of work interests me a lot. It's a chance for me to see how they have responded to a real life problem. What are they doing with their time? Do they still programme for fun? Are they keeping their existing skills honed? What are they learning to give themselves an edge?

    An out of work developer who hasn't written any code for nine months is completely different from one who's putting together their own Linux distribution.

    L.

  • by El (94934) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @09:56PM (#8322461)
    I'd omit anything that is difficult to explain from your resume. In fact, instructor for the resume writing class I went to advised me not to include a job history going back more than 10-15 years, since it leads to age discrimination (yes, this means you need to omit your graduation date as well). Managers are only going to glance at your resume for 20-30 seconds, just looking for any reason to reject it. Don't give them a reason. Also, it is a good idea to rewrite your resume to show your qualifications for each individual job you're applying to. Not that I'd advise you to lie, but you need to emphasize the applicable skills and experience, and omit the inapplicable ones.
  • Always be in school (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 4/3PI*R^3 (102276) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:02PM (#8322509)
    Make a point of always being in school or some sort of formal training. If you have a bad lapse of employment you can simply drop the employment and document the time as furthering your education or expanding your skills in school.

    This also has the added benefit that it really does further your education and expand your skills.

    One last point. Being in school does not imply you have to be the student. A lot of technical colleges need adjunct instructors to teach a few evening and weekend courses. Putting on your resume that you taught impresses far too many people but it works.
  • by M0b1u5 (569472) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:19PM (#8322631) Homepage
    Getting a job from an interview is EASY. Getting the interview is the hard part.

    Forget about dwelling on your interview skills - because you have obviously thought long and hard about how to approach the interview - and the advice simply is; "be honest - but not TOO honest!".

    The tricky part is ensuring your application lies in the list of interviews.

    Remember, an HR department might see 500+ (or even 5000+ applications!) for some positions and in some locations.

    Now - picture yourself as the HR person receiving this applications. 500 cover letters with resumes attached - each one with 8 pages of information. That makes about 4500 pages to read.

    Sorry - if your resume/CV is longer than a SINGLE SIDE OF A4 PAPER you most likely will NOT get an interview.

    I don't care how many jobs you've had or how freaking successful you are - you need to condense ALL relevant information down to a single page!

    You will (of course!) in your covering letter, say something along the lines of:

    "My mercifully brief C.V. is attached, and I will present my full Resume at an interview, or on request."

    Four years ago, I was looking for work, and had professional help to get my CV down to a single side of A4 paper - and since that time, I have got interviews for every single position I have applied for. I even got to play three employers off against each other to land my current position. :)

    Hope this helps.

  • random suggestions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ScottSpeaks! (707844) * on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @10:41PM (#8322694) Homepage Journal
    When describing why you were out of work, don't say "I got laid off" or "I was made redundant" or anything else that makes you the subject of the story. That makes it sound like it's your fault. Instead say, "The company was forced to eliminate much of my department," which makes you sound more like the victim of a clamity, not some of the "fat" they were happy to trim to improve the balance sheet. If you can avoid making it about the company (where you were a very important part of their success, after all), that's even better. "The widget-making bust eliminated my position." But don't sound bitter about it. It's part of life, and you're OK with it.

    If you went back to work for just a short while, I'd feel free to just not mention that job, and just lump that in with the period before and after, when you were "consulting". You could mention it as an example of "projects" you did while you were otherwise-out-of-work, to demonstrate that you weren't just sitting on your ass, but being a self-motivated pro-active kinda guy.

    Just a random bit of advice for anyone who (like me) was singled out to be gotten rid of (for personal illegal-in-several-states reasons, for what it's worth): find a way to "launder" your resume without actually lying (which would be just plain stucking fupid). For example, go back to school, and pick up another degree or something. (If you have no income, financial aid is often available.) Sign up for the Peace Corps or something. Then put that on a chronological resume and employers may just assume you did it on purpose.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Wednesday February 18, 2004 @11:50PM (#8323049) Homepage
    That can happen to anyone, it's what you did while you were laid off. You'll be a lot more interesting with an answer like, "I hiked across New Zealand and wrote a web blog about it." Or spent the summer storm chasing, shot a movie, anything that doesn't say, "It took me completely by surprise and I had no cash banked." Which really says you don't plan ahead, have a backup plan, or have any interests.

    Another good thing to have is a real estate license. It can cover any gaps in your resumes by saying, "I worked a project for a commercial customer." They can't press you for details because that's confidential and they can't prove or disprove it. If they do want details you can be vague and say, "Their financing fell through." Which happens all the time. Best have a genuine real estate license, though. That can be expensive to get and costs money to maintain. But I find it very liberating to always have a fall back.

  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:00AM (#8323144) Journal
    ... and don't remember much.

    That will leave more jobs for the rest of us!

  • Don't sweat it. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hey! (33014) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:19AM (#8323292) Homepage Journal
    The purpose of the resume and cover letter is just to get you the interview.

    Really this will only matter in cases where HR has such a mountain of resumes they're screening by any criteria they can think of (e.g. "This guy drinks Dr. Pepper and our machines only have Coke.") In this case your chances of getting to the all important interview are nearly nil anyway.

    Your best bet is to network -- talk to friends and friend of friends, about places that might be considering hiring in the future.

  • Ask the Headhunter (Score:4, Informative)

    by jdavidb (449077) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @12:44AM (#8323448) Homepage Journal

    Instead of compiling a resume, follow the advice of Ask the Headhunter [asktheheadhunter.com]'s Nick Corcadilos and create a working resume: win the job by doing the job. Check out that website for the best job hunting advice I have ever seen. Read everything you can from the site, and get his book as well. He also produces an excellent weekly newsletter by email.

    Best advice ever about how to stand out from the crowd, bypass the resume/job listing sinkhole and get directly to a manager who wants to hire you.

  • by mgeneral (512297) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @02:11AM (#8323950)
    I read a lot of resume's, and this sort of stuff is very common...particularly during the dotcom boom/bust. I really don't pay attention to the history so much any more (as job loyalty and employer stability has been blurred with other less fortunate outcomes) and I really focus on someones character, attributes, and contributions.
    These things all promote your experience and talk a lot more about someone than what an employer can reasonably gather from the employment history.
  • by YouHaveSnail (202852) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @05:12AM (#8324614)
    Look, there's no need to apologize for what you've done if you haven't done anything wrong. Projects get cancelled... it's what happens in this line of work. Put down your relevant work experience, including that cancelled project if it's relevant. If/when it comes up in an interview, simply explain that the project was cancelled due to circumstances well beyond your control (assuming that's true) and that you're looking for an employer with somewhat more solid prospects. Tell them flat out that you're looking for an employer with more solid prospects than your last one, and ask them a question or two about the outlook for their business (in a completely interested, polite, and professional way, of course).
  • by ear1grey (697747) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @07:31AM (#8324996) Homepage
    Most folks seem to have commented on the resume, but not on the interview, so I'll mention that.

    Cutting through all the crap, interviews come down to just three things.

    1. Do you want it?
    2. Can you do it?
    3. Will you fit in?

    To re-introduce some of the crap...

    1. Do you want it?
    An employer wants to be sure you're actually interested and willing to commit to the company.

    2. Can you do it?
    They need to know that you are capable of doing the job they have in mind. Note that the job spec and the real job are two different things, so part of the interview process is where you help them by explaining what they're looking for (i.e. describe the job in terms of your skills and experience).

    3. Will you fit in?
    This is THE important one... bear in mind that assuming they've gone to the expense of getting you in for an interview you've pretty much convinced them of 1 and 2 already.

    In the long term, your integration will affect your motivation to stay, your capability to do the work, and you'll also affect these factors in the other employees.

    So, if the interviewer doesn't like who you appear to be, you can pretty much forget it.

    However, if you've had some bum luck with employers, it just doesn't matter. If you're pissed offdisappointed because of your redundancy, it's OK to show it: it illustrates that you'd committed to a job but the management, or the board, or the economy, or an infinite number of factors outside of your control screwed things up for you; and yet, you're still fighting, covered in crap and smelling terrible, but you've not given up.

    Now *that*, for an employer is a jigsaw-completing quality - determination and spirit are invaluable. Show this at an interview and your redundancy just got you your next job.
  • Selling Bad Luck (Score:4, Insightful)

    by salesgeek (263995) on Thursday February 19, 2004 @08:02AM (#8325068) Homepage
    I can telly you from sitting on the employer side of the interview table that 99% of candidates have had bad luck. If they had good luck, they would not be looking for a job at age 45! Most interviewers know this and so they are trying to sort out the good people from the people that have bad luck for a reason. As you seek your job:

    * Remember that everyone else has had bad luck!
    * Figure out how to stand out from the other hard luck cases. Highlight your involvement in the community or using your time to help your family.
    * Practice your story and make sure you accentuate the positive - what you got to do, etc. Be good an answering the hard questions.
    * GET REFERENCES FROM THOSE SHORT TERM EMPLOYERS!

    In the end, getting a job is easy:

    * Have passable resume
    * Get interview
    * BE ON TIME AND LOOK GOOD!
    * Sell yourself and don't game people by lying or embellishing the truth
    * ASK FOR THE JOB!
    * FOLLOW UP!
    * Did I mention, FOLLOW UP!
  • Just tell the truth! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) <abacaxi AT hotmail DOT com> on Thursday February 19, 2004 @09:10AM (#8325294)
    "Now, there's a period of job seeking followed by a five week period of employment, followed by the current job seeking period on my resume. When the companies I interview with ask about that situation I simply explain, while trying not to whine or complain. What do other Slashdot readers do to make 'bad luck' (or bad employer choices) look less bad on their resume, and sound less bad in interviews?"

    I list it accurately and tell the truth about it if asked. That means I have job endings including a pre-IPO start-up I bailed from when I spotted the vultures circling, one I left because of lousy management, one I left because of incredibly poor IT infrastructure, some because of layoffs due to economic downturns, getting declared "redundant" after a merger, a couple of "project was cancelled", and some "project had a sudden goal change and I was no longer a good fit".

    No one has been upset to see them, nor have they questioned the wisdom of my actions.

    If asked about "are there any positions you left off your resume, I say "Yes, either because it was short and irrelevant just to pay bills, or because I have no wish ot EVER do it again and if it's on the resume I keep getting asked to do it". Again, it doesn't seem to be a problem.

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