Two Voices: How to Interpret Nontraditional Work History on a Resumé

August 02, 2022
MRA Edge
Recruiting & Hiring
Read time: 6 mins

In today’s job market, employers have begun looking at resumés differently than in the past. Gaps in employment are no longer considered a disqualifier and frequent job changes are not necessarily a negative attribute.

Different candidates may provide similar reasons for leaving past jobs. Being prepared with follow-up questions can help recruiters learn more about what the candidate is looking for and if he or she will be a good fit for the position and company.

This can make a recruiter’s job difficult, so Nadine Miller, Recruiting Business Partner, and Katie Kestly, Recruiting Business Partner Lead at MRA, shared some insight to help recruiters interpret what gaps in employment or frequent job changes could mean on a resumé.

Katie Kestly on Employment Gaps

Many candidates are willing and eager to explain any employment gaps. Try to approach asking about gaps as a way to learn as much as possible about the candidate’s job-related experiences and transferrable skills. Allowing for a full explanation of what led to a job ending and how the time until the next job began can provide insight to a person’s personality, drive, goals, and personal convictions. Be cautious and prepared for the response, however. Some candidates may choose to share protected information about their health, criminal history, or other family information, so it is important to know what you can and cannot ask in an interview. It is best to avoid questions leading to responses that could expose bias, especially if they are not relevant to the position.

The following reasons are some of the most common given by candidates to explain gaps in employment and questions that can help recruiters learn more.

Reason for Gap Follow-Up Questions
Voluntary—This may include caring for family members, personal or professional development, travel, or volunteering.
  • Were you looking for employment between [x job and y job]?
  • Share some of your experiences during this time (only if time was spent on personal endeavors).
Involuntary—This may include a reduction in workforce, merger or acquisition, company closing, or other organizational decision.
  • Why did the opportunity end with your last employer?
  • How many others in the company were laid off?
  • Describe a time you volunteered or took on something new during your time off
Thoughtful Job Search—Some candidates endeavor to be thoughtful and selective after a period of instability or uncertainty.
  • Were there any opportunities for employment between [x job and y job]?
  • How did you stay current or improve skills between jobs?
  • How did you keep up with current business trends?
Co-workers/Work Environment—This may indicate difficulty working with others, work ethic, or problem-solving skills, but may also be related to leadership.
  • Describe a situation that contributed to your decision to leave.
  • Was there anyone to talk with about your concerns?
  • What would your former co-workers say was your greatest contribution?
General Reasons—Some candidates may have multiple reasons for employment gaps or may have gaps for reasons such as relocation, graduation, or other circumstances.
  • Rate your level of proficiency in [specific skill or job function], using either entry level, intermediate, advanced, or expert and share why you chose that response.
  • Tell me about a time you had to learn a new task. What tools or methods did you employ?
  • How do you analyze and use information or data to support your learning?

Nadine Miller on Frequent Job Changes

There are some hidden advantages to hiring a candidate that has made several job changes in a short period of time. Today, candidates are being encouraged to switch jobs every three years by career resources and many are listening to this advice. They are told that switching jobs will increase their skill set, make them more adaptive to change, expose them to new technologies, and make them a more valuable asset to any company.

The following reasons are some of the most common given by candidates for making changes and some questions that can help recruiters learn more about the motivation behind those moves.

Reason for Leaving Follow-Up Questions
Work Life Balance—Candidates are looking for positions that offer true work-life balance.
  • Can you provide an example of how your current company did not provide a good work-life balance?
  • What are you looking for in your next position that would fulfill what you are looking for in work-life balance?
  • Outline what your weekly work schedule needs to look like.
Broken Promises—Candidates trust what they hear during the interview process and will leave if there is no follow through.
  • What specific promises were broken at your current company?
  • Were you surprised by this?
  • What promises are most important to you in your next position?
Career Pathing—Candidates want a clear path for career growth.
  • What didn’t your company provide in the way of career growth?
  • What do you need in your next position that will fulfill what you are looking for in career growth?
  • What would you like the next five years in your career to look like?
Making a Difference—Candidates need to believe in the products and mission of their company and want to work for a company that makes a difference.
  • What changed after you started working for the company compared to what you learned during the interview process?
  • Can you share an example of how a company can make a difference?
  • What are you hoping we do that would make you feel proud to work for us?
Remote Work Opportunities—The perspective on this has changed over the past several years. Many candidates choose working remotely and prefer to work where it is an option.
  • What is the difference between what the company was offering and what you are looking for in a work schedule?
  • What is the ideal work schedule for you right now?
  • Do you ever see a time where you’d like to work in the office more often?

Poor Management—When a candidate quickly gives this as the reason for wanting to leave a company, it can indicate a candidate who:

  • Struggles with being a team player.
  • Has authority issues.
  • Is a lone wolf. This can indicate a tendency to cause disruption in a team.

It can also be a sign that the candidate is not self-aware of how what he or she says can be perceived by listeners.

  • Can you provide examples of how the management was ineffective?
  • Did you share your concerns about management with anyone?
  • What management style motivates you to do your best work?
  • What are your three to five expectations of senior leadership?
Poor Culture—This type of response may be given by a candidate who struggles to perceive the type of culture they are truly looking for and find they are not satisfied with the culture, or the way things are done, soon after hire.
  • Provide examples of how the company was not a good culture fit for you.
  • In what type of work environment are you most productive and happy?
  • What type of research do you conduct on a company before accepting an offer?
  • Describe your dream culture.