All the ways to explain your job-hopping past to recruiters and employers

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

While long gone are the days when the norm was for one to spend an entire career in the same company, swapping jobs too often can still raise a recruiter’s eyebrow.

If you have had:

  1. multiple jobs in your work history, but have never stayed beyond two years for any of them or

  2. a history of leaving jobs after less than a year’s commitment to each, and have done so more than once,

you would be branded a categorical job-hopper by most employers today.

This may not pose a problem to you if you are in an industry where job-hopping is the norm (IT, hospitality, retail, etc.).

In most other industries, however, especially in the public sector, accounting, medical and law, job-hopping may still be stigmatised even if comparatively less than before.

On top of implying that you have commitment issues, job-hopping could also suggest that you had an irresponsible attitude towards your previous jobs. This worries potential employers that you might carry that forward to their companies should they take you in.

If you are currently job-hunting, you might be wondering how you could remove the label of being an “irresponsible job-hopper” to get your foot in the door.

Doing so will require dispelling potential worries by presenting valid reasons for job-hopping through your resume, cover letter, and interview – which we shall go over in turn.

Optimising your resume

Of all the components of an application, your resume would probably be the one causing you the most anxiety since it exposes all the dates of your previous jobs and reiterates that you are a job-hopper.

Instead of fretting over it, try to optimise your resume by being completely honest while steering recruiters’ attention towards the positives that are inherent in your work history.

Firstly, opt for a skills-based resume (like the one below) instead of a chronologically ordered one. This will help to take the attention off how messy your work history is by zooming in on what you can bring to the table.

Here's what you can do:

  1. Start with a 5-10 sentence long career summary. This brief introduction should focus on your areas of expertise/relevant skills.

  2. Follow up with sections elaborating on each area of expertise/relevant skill. You can use your work history to evidence how you have utilised each of these skills in practical settings.

  3. Include a brief chronology of your work history towards the end. Your resume should only include work experience that is relevant to the position you are applying for.

  4. Do not forget the basics. Remember to spell check, include your basic information and contact details!

While having a skills-based resume can help to reduce the apparent extent of your job-hopping by omitting irrelevant stints, remember that the ultimate tell-tale sign is if you have done multiple short stints.

So if there are any gaps that are six months or longer, you should give a satisfactory explanation in your cover letter, which we will look into in a bit.

Adapted from

Regarding the brief chronology of your work history, you may probably have been advised to give periods only in years or round them upwards to fluff it up. However, it is best to be completely transparent about this and further explain it in your cover letter.

"Transparency assures the recruiter that you have nothing to hide and acts as a springboard for building trust between you and your employer – which is crucial especially if you are planning to settle down in a company for the long term."

When detailing the months, do not doctor them – if you get hired and your boss later finds out that your resume is peppered with lies, the company has the right to fire you.

Focus your efforts on illustrating your skillset as best as you can. Should you market your skills well enough, you will get your foot in the door even if your work history isn’t as neat as you would like it to be.

Tackling the cover letter

In this pivotal component of your application, one of your aims should be to address the worries that you are a serial job-hopper and unable to commit by presenting a short explanatory narrative succinctly, honestly, and convincingly.

However, do not start with this. Focus on the primary purpose of the cover letter which is to frame your resume and application to the job. Include the short narrative after.

Ultimately, this short narrative should assure the recruiter that you genuinely want the job and that you are committed to staying.

When doing this, keep these rules in mind:

  1. Do not bad-mouth your former employers/bosses. Stay professional and keep it respectful. Should you need to discuss any negative reasons for leaving, save it for the interview. It is easier (and sometimes better) to give a fuller explanation in person.

  2. Try to demonstrate that you changed positions to gain something positive whenever possible. In addition, show the recruiter that you know what you want in your next role and that the position they are offering fits this.

Here are some ways and examples to explain your job-hopping history:

  • Change in the work environment: “My boss left and the work environment took a drastic turn for the negative.”

  • Change in role: “My role shifted away from what I was initially hired to do."

  • Layoff or restructuring: “XYZ Pte. Ltd. decided to dissolve its operations last month, so I am now available for immediate employment. The job opportunity that you are offering is a perfect fit for my career goals.”

  • Career switch: “Despite my fulfilling career in _______ , at some point I found ______ to be the most rewarding aspects of my work. I therefore made a career switch to further pursue ______.”

  • Time off caring for an ill relative: “I have spent the last few years as the primary caregiver of my _____ who was diagnosed with ____. During this trying period, I kept my skills updated by _____. I am now available to return to work because _____.”

  • Time off raising children: “I am now eager to resume my career after having stepped away from the workforce to raise my ____.”

  • Medical reasons: “Back in ____ I left XYZ Pte. Ltd. after being diagnosed with ____. Having fully recovered, I look forward to resuming my career by filling your company’s vacancy in _____.”* *Do not feel compelled to reveal any detailed medical information more than what's necessary. Only disclose what you are comfortable with disclosing.

  • Maternity Covers: “Back in _____ I was hired to replace a female employee of XYZ Pte. Ltd. during her maternity leave of _____ months.”

  • Short-term contract/freelance/temporary roles: “I was engaged for a 6-month contract role at XYZ Pte. Ltd. As rewarding as the experience was, I am now seeking to settle down in a full-time position because _______________. Your company is perfect for this because ________________.”

Important note: The above are brief examples and depending on the situation, further elaboration might be necessary. For example, what was so bad about the new work environment after your boss had left that convinced you to leave as well? And if you have made a career switch more than once, what reasons should the recruiter have for believing you that you are now certain about where your passions lie and that this role is the right fit for you?

Tying it all together in the Interview

Suppose your application has gotten you this far, congratulations! Now it is just a matter of being consistent and tying up loose ends.

Things to remember and do before the interview:

  1. Review the cover letter that you submitted to get your narrative straight – you wouldn’t want to contradict your own cover letter.

  2. Do not seem like you are trying to hide something. This would be much easier to do if both the resume and cover letter you submitted are void of untruths.

If the conversation touches on the topic of why you left a particular job, be consistent with your cover letter and be honest about it. Recruiters might want to observe if you can regale your narrative calmly – which suggests that your story is true – or if you will trip up or contradict yourself – which will raise suspicions.

If you need to discuss a negative reason for leaving a job, do not fumble or beat around the bush. If you were fired, it would impress the recruiter if you can own your mistakes and explain what you learned from the ordeal honestly and calmly.

If you left to escape a conflict-ridden workplace, express that you are interested in this company because you hope it will provide a better work environment from the good reviews you read about them on Glassdoor.

And if you can align the skills that you have picked up with the requirements of the job you are interviewing for, it could prove that your employment history isn’t a reason to reject you, but is what has shaped you to be the perfect person for the role.

See how a fellow Singaporean did just that here.

Go forth and conquer

Rather than trying to hide the negative, embrace the positive! You could also frame your job-hopping in such a way that it strengthens your application.

As someone with experience across many companies (and maybe many industries), you are bound to possess unique insights and ideas that cannot be cultivated in a single place.

Your job-hopping would have also forced you to pick things up quickly and allowed you to build many connections.

Not every recruiter will be disposed to giving your application serious consideration if you are a job-hopper. But if you can draw attention to your skills, provide reasonable explanations for job-hopping, and present your varied experiences as a plus, there will always be doors open for you.

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