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How to Explain Job Hopping in an Interview

Two women talking at a table in an office.

​A resume filled with multiple jobs within a short amount of time will likely raise eyebrows and lead to questions. When handled well, explaining job hopping in an interview can be a way for the hiring manager to see the positive elements of your varied work experience while being assured that you don't plan to "jump ship."

Hiring and training new employees is expensive for employers, which is why companies may be hesitant to hire someone who, on paper, looks like a chronic job hopper. That being said, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2020 that the median employee tenure was 4.1 years. Chances are you're not the only applicant the interviewer has seen with some job hopping on their resume.

Your goal during the interview is to help the interviewer understand why you left those positions and to provide assurance that the position you're applying for is where you want to be. Here's how to do that.

Use the Cover Letter to Your Advantage

If you're nervous about not making it to the interview stage because there's some job hopping on your resume, mention it in your cover letter with a brief but honest explanation of why. For example, "During the pandemic, I took on several temporary projects." Or, "When my manager moved to a startup, he asked me to go with him. After working there for some time, I realized the startup environment wasn't the right fit for me."

End your cover letter by telling the hiring manager that if given the opportunity to interview for the position, you'd be happy to answer any questions about your employment history.

In the Interview, Be Strategically Transparent

There are many good reasons why someone would change jobs. During your interview, be transparent, but also try to explain your past employment in as positive a light as possible.

Maureen Farmer, who has coached thousands of clients for job interviews, advised, "It's important the job seeker is honest about the reasons for the changes, but many times when job seekers face this situation, they over-explain, which sounds defensive."

Don't bad-mouth your past employers, but be honest about why you weren't able to continue in those positions. Were the roles and responsibilities different than what you were told in the interview process? Did you quit to help care for a loved one navigating a medical crisis? Did you want the flexibility of a remote job? Keep it short and sweet but honest.

Once you're done answering, ask if the interviewer has any further questions about your work history. While it is important not to overshare, you also want to show your transparency and desire to address any questions.

Highlight Transferable Skills

Where possible, turn the conversation away from negative sentiments associated with job hopping such as "unreliable" or "disloyal." Focus instead on positive characteristics like "adaptable," "a quick learner" and "experienced."

Maria Flores worked in HR for six years before transitioning to her current role as COO. "I am more worried about individuals [who are] not open to the job-hopping experience, as it shows they are not willing to embrace new challenges, new workmates, new work environment and culture," she said. "Personally, I would rather have an enthusiastic applicant who is not afraid of taking risks by jumping from one work environment to another."

Share What Excites You About This Job

If you have some job hopping on your resume, it's not only important to clearly explain why those jobs didn't work out, you also have to assure the interviewer that you believe the position you're applying for will be a good long-term fit. Sit down with a pen and paper before going into the interview and write down what you want at your next job—it could be the flexibility to work remotely, professional development opportunities, or working for a company that is making a positive impact.

Research the company and position to make sure they align with your career goals. Sharing this with the interviewer will signal that you are serious about this being the right job for you, rather than just another in a long line of positions.

Remember, the Interviewer Is Human

"As a hiring manager, I've never viewed gaps in employment as a negative," said Bonny Albo[AC1] . "I've been on the other side of the fence where a dream job didn't pan out. I prefer interviewing people with a varied background and the maturity to explain what works for them and what doesn't (both in past and future positions). For me, someone who can't clearly detail why they had a string of jobs sounds more alarm bells than someone who knows exactly what happened, why, and has done their due diligence not to let it happen again, where possible."

Don't overthink it. Regardless of what your resume looks like, your work history will most likely be discussed during the interview process. By bringing up your job-hopping history, the interviewer will get some insight into how you handle a potentially stressful topic, how you speak about past employers and what you want for the future.

Krista Brown is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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