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Your CV is immaculate (clear, short, error-free, job-specific, and gives concrete evidence of your obvious brilliance); you’re immediate goals are ambitious but realistic (you’re not hoping to head up, say, the English National Opera on the strength of a GCSE in Drama); and yet you’re still not getting invited to interview. What gives? One aspect of your CV which can inadvertently raise a red flag with recruiters is an inconsistent work history. Here we deal with common false assumptions would-be employers can make when shortlisting candidates for interview, and what you can do to prevent them jumping to the wrong conclusions about you.
“This person can’t hold down a job for more than five minutes.”
With the rise and rise of short-term, casualised contracts and ‘gig’ work in recent years, a string of temporary roles on a CV shouldn’t come as any great surprise to most prospective employers. But for some, old attitudes die hard. Recruitment is a costly exercise, so if they have any doubt about your staying power in the role, they may decide you’re too much of a risk to their business before they’ve even given you a fair chance.
That’s why it’s vital that your CV indicates that you haven't been changing jobs for the sake of it (as if anyone can afford to these days anyway!). If you had a run of temporary contracts, make it explicit – otherwise, the recruiter could imagine you were fired for indiscipline or just got bored one day and walked out! And if or where you have rapidly switched roles of your own volition, explain briefly how it improved your employability, specifying particularly the work skills you gained as a result that would be valuable in the advertised post.
Be sure to point out the positive side of your rich and varied CV: a range of work experiences is likely to have equipped you with a broader range of skills and greater versatility than many other applicants. And don’t forget to back any claims up with evidence of your performance and effectiveness – the more tangible the better.
“This candidate seems to lack commitment / direction.”
Other things you shouldn’t leave unexplained on a CV are gaps in employment. Take the opportunity to describe how any periods out of work have been productive, equipping you handsomely for the workplace, and not just empty space between jobs.
Taking time out to travel, study or otherwise broaden your horizons comes with attractive advantages to businesses. More employers than ever are granting staff extended spells of unpaid leave to pursue personal projects precisely because they see the perspectives, experience and qualities that rested, rejuvenated employees bring back to the business when they return. So make the links for them: describe directly how six months volunteering in a school in South America taught you exactly the kind of valuable practical or life skills – planning, organisation and communication skills, for example – that they are looking for in their next hire.
And remember, no employer worth their salt will ever discriminate against you or your application for having taken time off to raise a family, look after dependants or due to illness. Not least because it’s unlawful for them to do so.
“This one’s overqualified – they’ll get bored and leave after five minutes.”
Applying for a job you could plainly do standing on your head raises a different kind of dilemma. You may need to make it clear why you’d be prepared to stick at a job below your capability. An employer will worry that you will cause more trouble than you are worth. Do you want more money? Will you be after a promotion as soon as you’ve got your feet under the desk? Will your manager see you as a threat, creating unwanted tension in the team? Will you get bored, disillusioned and leave after five minutes?
You may need to put your case for consideration up front, to show them that you understand the role correctly and address any obvious concerns your application might raise. For instance, is your priority a better work-life balance? Even though you’ve worked at a higher level, are you actually happier in a less-demanding role? Are the vision and goals of the company more important to you than the nature of the job? A cover letter is probably the place to outline the context of your application rather than your CV.
Here's some more help with other potential reasons why you may not be getting an interview:
Visit our Getting That Job section for more advice on CVs, application forms and how to prepare for interviews.