Your Career Q&A: Tailor Your Broad Experience to Specific Jobs

By Martin Yate Aug 23, 2016
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This week's column coaches HR professionals on how to make a wide-ranging HR background work for a new, narrower HR role. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column. 

I've been working contract HR assignments for the past 10 years. Now I really want to transition to a permanent position. My resume receives a decent amount of responses and I'm regularly called in to interview, but I haven't been able to close the deal and get a job.

Some of the reasons for not getting the position have been obvious, such as the company that said I was a final contender but offered it to an internal candidate, or the role was re-engineered and now has different requirements. At various other times, after going through the complete interview process, one manager said that I was overqualified, while another said I was selling myself short relative to the available position. The question I always get, particularly for positions that are long-term contract or contract-to-hire, is why have I worked contract for so long?

I make sure that I prepare for each interview and go in with a winning look and attitude. Each interview has a different nuance to it, and I look to learn from each experience. I'm currently between jobs and my unemployment insurance is coming to an end. My twin girls are graduating from high school and are college-bound, and I'm working to complete my much-needed undergrad degree. It's becoming much harder to maintain a healthy, fresh perspective as I continue to actively job search. I'm really at a loss and I'm open to receiving advice for how to improve.       



I'm sorry you are suffering through stormy weather. Losing out to an internal contender is no reason to feel bad. You know that an employer must offer growth opportunities to good employees whenever possible or face losing them. But when the concern is being overqualified or selling yourself short, we have to address issues of focus and performance at job interviews. Plus, we need to answer the question about your tenure as a contractor.

How Much Experience Is Too Much?

The older you get, the more it feels necessary to show how much you know. At the same time, the odds increase that you will be interviewed by a younger interviewer and that your well-intentioned attempts to show your superior knowledge can result in an interviewer seeing you as a know-it-all who might be a disruptive force and difficult to manage.

As you sit waiting for an interview to start, you might not realize that, subconsciously, every interviewer wants you to be the one. Behind that closed door, the interviewer is muttering, "All I want is someone who can do the job and who can work as a team player toward departmental goals; then I can make a job offer and get back to my work." What you have to do is give them the reasons to choose you.

You have to tailor how you present yourself to the needs of the job description and how you answer the questions the interviewer asks. We have all learned, "The customer is always right. Find out what they want and give it to them." So think about the deliverables of each job responsibility and concentrate on showing your competency in each area. Address those responsibilities and nothing more. This way you won't be sharing extraneous information; you'll only be speaking directly to what that customer wants to buy.

For each of the job's responsibilities, consider the problems that may crop up with regularity and how you have handled such situations in the past. Also think about how you can anticipate, identify and prevent those problems. Do this and you'll differentiate yourself from the competition.

'Why Have You Worked as a Contractor for So Long?'

This is a check-box question. Employers want a rational explanation and to know that there are no skeletons in your closet that could haunt them later. Your answer needs to be succinct yet complete, turning your contract experience into a distinct plus, perhaps something like:

"I was laid off from my first job and got a contract job in the interim. I'm not very good at doing nothing. Because I was obviously involved and willing to roll up my sleeves, one contract led to another.

The variety of challenges was fascinating and I got a wide range of experience working in different environments. This helps me size up a situation quickly and lets me call on solutions that factor in my breadth of experience.

The rapidity of change in all aspects of HR means that emergencies happen even in the best-run departments. My contract experience means I am used to parachuting into mayhem, keeping a cool head, containing the situation and working to get things back to normal ASAP. I get the job done and I can be counted on when things get tough.

In HR we play an important role in maximizing productivity and profitability, although we don't always get the recognition [smile]. Being a contractor just doesn't give me that opportunity to really feel part of a team. I really want that sense of belonging."


Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. 

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