Two Words No Employer Wants To Hear

I’ve been traveling again and discovered something. Potential employers have names for me–none of them very nice.

In baseball, I might be called a pinch hitter; in Christian service, a missionary evangelist; in school systems, a necessary evil.  Can you guess what my specialized career niche  is?  Let me give you more clues:

I sit in for, cover for, stand in for, provide extra hands to do, lay the ground work for, and assume the duties of

My motto is,”You called; I came. Work done; I’m gone. Next project!”

I’m a Jill of all trades. I used to be called a “gal Friday”. Networking partners never quite know how to help me because they can’t discern exactly what I do. Neither can I.  At networking meetings, when asked that pesky question, “And what do you do?” or, “what job are you looking for?” I would say, “Oh, a little of this and a little of that. I’m a generalist”.  —Not a good thing to say in a world where everybody seems to be a specialist in something. After that, people silently walk away with that pitying-contemptuous-puzzled look on their faces mumbling, “you really need to get some serious career counseling” or, “you need to find out what you really want to do”. That’s right. I’m that thankless, disregarded, nameless, mysterious person–“the temp”.

But, why make a career of working  many jobs for negligible pay and no benefits that you change as frequently as you do a baby with the runs?

Sometimes it’s love: a love of personal freedom; loving a frequently-relocated person; love of family; possession by the entreprenural spirit; a love for words on paper (or on line!); a love for the stage (or any kind of arts work); having many loves–“serial careerism”, according to author Rebecca McDonald, or “renaissance person”, another admired author coins. (See last post, “…slip-sliding away”) Other circumstances like having to travel with the harvest season or incarceration rips holes in work histories too. To recruiters and potential employers, these are folk said to have “not so hot” work histories. They are “damaged goods”.

For two decades my career was, “Executive Partner/Community Liaison and Household Manager”, a.k.a.: “wife and mom” (one of these days, I’ll blog about the job description). Now, with the nest empty and the senior partner retired, the challenge becomes explaining all those “little jobs” held for short periods of time. The job-gypsy lifestyle  never looks good either on traditional resumes or on job boards because both force  listing  jobs held chronologically. The prevailing wisdom says a good candidate will present this kind of  work history:

  • orderly, upward progression of jobs
  • held a respectable length of time in one industry
  • ever-increasing responsibility and salary

–a history that on paper looks like the candidate is a “winner”

A career temporary or a former small business owner who wants to become an  employee usually presents a functional resume, the standard cure many career counselors offer, centered around skill sets instead individual of jobs. The problem is that it tends to make a candidate look like this:

  • seems to have no specific target
  • does not understand herself or what she has to offer
  • does not know what she wants to do with her life
  • possibly emotionally or socially unstable
  • has a fear of commitment
  • dishonest or  disloyal
  • may have a difficult personality
  • possibly has a criminal record

In other words…a “looser”.

Potential employers sniff around for “red flags” when they see a functional resume coming across the desk.   They mount a witch hunt to figure out the chronological order of jobs. Interviews become rounds of “where’s Waldo?” They think, “what is this person trying to hide?”  No potential employer wants to hear a candidate is a “job hopper“. And another thing…They don’t like “virgins”, either. We’ll talk about that one next time.



3 thoughts on “Two Words No Employer Wants To Hear

  1. Pingback: …And They Don’t Like “Virgins” Either « VICTOREE’S BLOG: No White Flag

  2. Victoree,

    The issues you note affect many people, especially the older worker who may have gone through many career changes, some due to circumstances, some by choice.

    When a career spans decades filled with family, spouses, moves, aging parents, illness, death, rough economic times, job losses, back to school, and many other normal life issues, the career routes some travel are not always straight and that is glaringly reflected in a resume.

    Many don’t know early, if ever, what they want to be “when they grow up”. They often travel through life letting opportunities and circumstances drive their professional journey. I love the term “Renaissance Employee” as it most accurately describes those who have tried, and succeeded, at many things.

    Some may envy those who always knew what they wanted to do because it seemed that their life had more direction and somehow had more meaning. But the experiences we have lived and the jobs we have held become part of our life’s quilt.

    The most interesting quilts contain contrasting colors, textures, and designs with sturdy and sensible squares interwoven with fanciful and whimsical ones. Our experiences and our jobs, when quilted together, make a statement. They describe somehone who is open to new things, flexible, and capable of handling many roles.

    Not every employer will appreciate the Renaissance employee because they doubt the motives and assume the problems you stated. But those that do will have flexible, capable “Jacks or Jills of all trades” on board who are ready, able, and used to dealing with rapid change and shifting responsibilities. Sounds like a competitive advantage to me.


    • I agree with you, Sheila. I believe the path we take, with its quilt-like textures, is more the reality and the one many employers want to see is fantasy–especially for older workers. We have to have to interview smarter; have better, wiser strategies in place.


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