Is the work history section of your CV losing you interviews?

If you find yourself applying for one job after the next but you’re just not getting those all-important interview calls, it’s time to take a look at your CV and see if it is letting you down. One area that job seekers frequently struggle with is the work history section. Sometimes, the way this information is presented does not put you in the very best light, or raises doubts in an employer’s mind. Here are five common problems with this CV section:

Moving quickly from one job to the next 

Employers like to see a track record which demonstrates lengthy service and therefore, loyalty. If your work history clearly shows that you don’t stick around for very long, then why would they hire you?

A committed candidate is important for an employer as they don’t want to waste the time and money it takes to advertise, interview, hire and train someone.

In his guide to hiring better employees, entrepreneur and angel investor Alan Hall states:

“Is the candidate serious about working for the long term? Or is he or she just passing through, always looking for something better? A history of past jobs and time spent at each provides clear insight on the matter.”

If your track record shows you only last a few months before you move along it could raise quite a few red flags. The employer could assume you get quickly bored, you take positions simply for the money or worse, that your employers are quick to let you go, which would of course relegate you to the bottom of the interview shortlist pile.

In order to explain your ‘job hopping’ you can:

(1) Provide brief explanations on your CV

These should appear at the end of each description of the role. Reasons might include, for example:

  • “I left this position to attend university and attain my degree.”
  • “This position was part time and I left for a role that offered more hours.”
  • “I left this position to raise a family.”
  • “This position was temporary / a fixed contract.”
  • “I left this position for a role that included more responsibility.”
  • “I left this position for a role that was more directly related to my career goals.”

(2) Include a cover letter

Including a cover letter is a great way to directly address anything that could raise suspicion when viewed on your CV, particularly if none of the above reasons can be given for your ‘job hopping’.

Briefly explain why you haven’t yet committed to a role or industry and what you are hoping to achieve in the future. For example:

“I have gained a wide range of skills from various positions over the past few years which put me in a strong position to focus upon my chosen career in customer service. My desire to help people has always moved me towards a customer service role, and I hope to fulfil this ambition at a company that puts its customers first.”

With the above statement you have addressed any concerns about your lack of career focus, and also reassured the recruiter of your goals for the future. You can find more help with writing your cover letter here.

Past roles are diverse and don’t follow a focused career path 

Different job roles

A diverse range of roles can suggest you struggle to commit.

Employers like to see a focused career progression and ideally your work history would show previous roles in the same or similar industry. If instead your experience delves in and out of all sorts of different jobs, you are likely to show a tendency to not commit. This type of work history on your CV would again raise doubt in the minds of the employer. They would be considering whether or not you are likely to commit to the role and the industry and absorb yourself in their business.

Your skill set would also likely be scattered across many different areas which may not align with the company. In some cases it could be to your advantage if you had a range of skills, but overall you are likely to be a jack of all trades, and a master of none.

You can alleviate this problem by:

(1) Focusing the descriptions of each role on transferable experience

“Go beyond the job titles and think about what you have consistently done well throughout your career,” advises Clare Whitmell in Forbes. “Some skills (such as communication, organisation and leadership skills) are useful in all roles.”

Every job you do will cover a range of skills and experience so you can choose to some extent what you say about your responsibilities. Pick out tasks and skills that are transferable to the current role. For example, if your past role was serving people in a restaurant but you’re applying for work as a Data Entry Clerk, pick out elements of the past role that relate to accuracy, use of IT systems (if applicable), literacy and numeracy, organisational abilities, administrative skills and good communication skills. All of these aspects are transferable across both roles.

(2) Being honest about why you took the job

Life does not always follow a convenient path, and sometimes we take work because frankly, we need the money. Whilst you wouldn’t offer quite such a direct reason on your CV, you can certainly offer some honesty to explain why you switched roles where appropriate. For example:

  • “I took this position to support myself whilst studying.”
  • “I took this position because it offered flexible hours allowing me work whilst raising my son.”
  • “I took this position to further develop my skills and experience whilst looking for a [full-time role / role in customer service].”

(3) Including a cover letter

In addition to explaining why you took such a diverse range of jobs, your cover letter can assure employers that you’re now fully focused on their industry. The letter can be used to explain diverse career choices and even turn your diverse history into a positive. For example, if you are applying for a customer care role you might say:

My work experience spans a range of industries, giving me a well-rounded understanding of customer care across different sectors.”

Irrelevant work experience 

Range of different careers

Consider how skills acquired in one role could apply to another: even if they are entirely different.

Any amount of work experience is an obvious advantage over none, but if your experience is entirely irrelevant to the company you could be struggling to get an interview. Direct experience is more likely to yield greater success, and with so many other candidates available to the hiring manager, you could be instantly rejected based on this.

To counter act this issue you can extract some of the more relatable skills and show how they can be transferable. So rather than looking for specific skills and experience which you don’t have, you could instead look for similar aspects. Soft skills are easily transferable, but not always so obvious to the employer. Your CV should attempt to highlight similar skills and experience and demonstrate how those ‘soft skills’ can be used to the employers benefit.

For example, if you’ve previously worked in a busy call centre handling complaints and you’re applying for your first teaching role, you might say:

“Working in the complaints department of a busy call centre required me to show excellent communication skills coupled with endless patience and the ability to adapt to a very wide range of complaint scenarios. Although initially joining the department as a junior, I progressed to mentoring all new team members, leading the team and problem-solving in difficult scenarios. “

Note the skills marked in bold are all transferable to a teaching role. You could even highlight this directly with a statement such as:

“The soft skills acquired in this role put me in a great position to deliver lessons that are clear and concise, and to explore ways to work with my students and earn their respect. Having mentored and trained a diverse range of individuals, I understand that each person learns in a different way, and I have proved myself capable of adapting my delivery for optimal learning.”

You can see in the above example that the candidate has demonstrated how their experience in a call centre is relevant to a prospective role as a teacher.

Employment gaps 

Another huge red flag to recruiters is an employment gap in your work history. If you were out of work for a lengthy period of time you are going to create suspicion. All employment gaps should be explained, and in some cases can be used as a positive on your job application.

When an employer sees a gap in the timeline of your work history, they are going to ask the following questions:

  • Why was that person out of work?
  • What where they doing with their time?
  • Does this make them unreliable?

You can quell these suspicions with concise explanations such as:

  • “I left this role to have my son.”
  • “I left this role to take a training course.”
  • “I was made redundant and I am seeking a new position. In the meantime I am [training / volunteering / freelancing / involved with XYZ project / mentoring].

If you left the role due to illness, there’s no need to give the full details but be aware that the recruiter will worry about recurrence. You therefore need to mention the illness but be clear that it is either cured or fully managed. If you did anything during your illness such as freelancing, volunteering or training, this should be mentioned. Failing that (and particularly if the illness is recent), you should explain how you managed to maintain or enhance your skill set.

Watch this video presented by author, speaker and coach Don Georgevich for more ideas on handling employment gaps, or read our guide: How to explain an employment gap on your CV.

About Martin Carline

Martin has been a senior manager of a large customer service team within the education services industry, dealing with all aspects of staff recruitment and management. He now authors and manages content for CV Template Master and a number of other leading websites. In his spare time, Martin is an accomplished pianist and teaches all styles with a particular focus on boogie woogie and blues.

3 thoughts on “Is the work history section of your CV losing you interviews?”

  1. I’ve been made redundant twice now and it makes me look like there’s something wrong with me. I am so frustrated by how I’m viewed.

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