As an agency recruiter that has focused on specific geographic areas for almost twenty years, it's inevitable that I will come across resumes from the same applicant from time to time. Recently I received a resume that has been sent my way at least once a year over the past four years, and although the name on the resume is not memorable I had an unexplained negative association with this applicant before I even clicked the email.
Once I opened the resume it became more clear. As always, details have been changed and anonymized to protect the innocent.
The Semi-Random Word Block
There were no red flags at the top—contact info, a fairly decent summary. The first clue was the inclusion of one of those keyword fields (that I'm not a huge fan of) that usually look something like this:
Systems Architect * Managerial Skills * Network Administration * Training * Systems Integrator * Disaster Recovery * Good Communicator * Mobile Developer * Sales
I'm honestly never quite sure what the writer is trying to accomplish by including one of these fields, unless there is some focus. Unfortunately, they almost always end up with a hodgepodge of items that really don't go together. If I see Sales, Mobile Developer, and Network Administration, it can be confusing as to what you actually do. It's just not useful to cast such a wide net. But the bigger problem was to come.
Do Positive Job Hoppers Have Gaps?
The Experience section, when whittled down to the basic information, read something like this:
TITLE One (Contract) - COMPANY 1 - November 2015 - April 2016
TITLE Two - COMPANY 2 - April 2015 - September 2015
TITLE Three - COMPANY 3 - June 2014 - April 2015
TITLE Four - COMPANY 4 - April 2013 - April 2014
TITLE Five (Contract) - COMPANY 5 - October 2012 - March 2013
TITLE Six - COMPANY 6 - July 2010 - July 2012
TITLE Seven (Contract) - COMPANY 7 - June 2008 - Feb 2010
There are a handful of takeaways from the employment history.
The applicant held seven jobs over eight years. This is probably the item that stands out to most people, and although my trained eye obviously notices this fact it isn't necessarily a characteristic I'd use to disqualify a candidate. As I've written before, the expectation of tenure in the industry have changed considerably, and candidates with high-demand skillsets will be naturally more likely to see a fair amount of movement between employers. I sometimes call this "Positive Job Hopping," when someone moves to better opportunities on a frequent basis. Seven jobs in eight years may be a bit excessive, but if the moves were consistently positive I wouldn't perceive it negatively.
The applicant fluctuates between salaried and contract positions. This is at least one warning flag to watch, as most candidates are consistent as contract or permanent employees. If a candidate has a preference (as most do) for either contract or permanent work, why the fluctuation? The back-and-forth nature of employment status on this resume could imply that the applicant takes whatever work he/she can get.
The applicant has only had two "smooth" job transitions out of six moves. This is the giant red flag item for me. So-called "Positive Job Hoppers" who are making moves due to high demand for their skills may transition between employers frequently, but they move directly from job to job with no downtime in between (except the occasional week or two). A resume with mutiple moves over a short period of time with no downtime may indicate a series of incredibly attractive offers, whereas this applicant may have difficulty keeping a job.
Sometimes employment gaps can be explained through unfortunate circumstances, and personal issues (health, family) and unpredictable volatility in the software industry (layoffs and closures) will often lead to employment gaps. A pattern of employment gaps may be more difficult to explain, particularly if there is variation between contract and permanent employment.