Career Stalled? Here’s How to Spin It in Job Interviews
Switching employers every few years might be the way to make more money, but for many workers, the idea of taking a risk on a new job during a bad economy was just too scary. The problem, of course, is that few people work at the same place for our whole careers, retiring with a pension and a gold watch. Eventually, you’re probably going to start looking for a new job, and when you do, you’ll need to know how to make it clear that you’re still a go-getter, despite riding out the recession in one place.
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“There are ways of making even timid choices sound less passive or defeatist,” writes John Lees at HBR Blog Network. “For example, you can focus on the benefits of continuity, and the things you learned by sticking with projects over the long term. Unpack for an interviewer the way your role changed, even if your title didn’t. Plenty of companies in the recession laid off some people and redistributed their work to the survivors without promoting them; if this applies to you, talk about the additional responsibilities you took on (without trashing your current employer, of course).”
Lees also cautions interviewees not to blame the economy for their lack of movement. Instead, show how your career has moved forward, while you stayed put:
1. List all your skills, certifications, and major projects.
It’s unlikely that you’ve kept your job all this time without learning anything. If you really were treading water all this time, odds are, you would have made a layoff list by now. Think of everything you’ve learning, whether it’s how to use a specific tool or software package or how to deliver a presentation. Even if all you’ve learned is how to do a lot with very little resources, that’s valuable.
Now go to LinkedIn or PayScale’s Research Center, and look at the people who have the job title that you want at the company you’re targeting. Look for overlaps in skill sets, or abilities you forgot you had. These are the things to stress in your interview.
2. Think of your tenure as a story.
The interviewer might well ask you outright why you stayed so long, and you’ll need an answer. The best reply is short and sweet, but informed by an underlying narrative: namely, that you stayed because there was room to grow and learn and pick up new skills, and that you see this new opportunity as a chance to put that know-how to use.
3. Be positive.
Lees reminds us to never speak ill of our former employers; in general, you want to be upbeat. You don’t need to come off like an over-caffeinated cheerleader, but remember that hiring managers are picking people they’ll have to interact with every day. Enthusiasm and positivity are a more attractive proposition than someone who seems like he’ll turn on his teammates if a project hits a snag.
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